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19 April 2017 @ 08:34 pm
The Randomiser: The Happiness Patrol  
"Oh dear, this looks cheap," Tame Layman said as the opening shot swept along the corridors of Terra Alpha.

And, well, it does. As a classic Who fan, I'm fairly forgiving of sets and even more so of special effects, but once it was pointed out it was painfully obvious that the streets of Terra Alpha consisted of a painted studio floor and some painted plywood. Other sets worked better. I particularly liked the whimsy of the Candy Kitchen, though even that looked more like a stage set (albeit an elaborate one) than an actual kitchen.

I'm equally in two minds about the costumes which, to be honest, also look cheap though I don't think that is their main problem - though it is possibly a contributory factor. The Kandy Man, much maligned at the time, doesn't actually bother me that much. It is mostly the eponymous Happiness Patrol itself that fails to convince. There is something about the combination of women in high heels, mini-skirts and guns that always makes me feel that an ill-advised point about the evils of feminism is being made (see Galaxy Four - a story I've not seen so I may be misjudging). Thankfully the script doesn't go there, though it can't help making the odd reference to the implied gender-role reversal: "women get all the best guns" a man muses at one point. The white face-paint worn by the elite of Terra Alpha similarly is either a rather laboured point about powerful women and make-up or a rather more interesting point about ornamentation and culturul standards of beauty. It frankly could be either. I think the costumes are either a case of a thoughtful costume designer hampered by a miniscule budget or an unimaginative costume designer being rescued by a great script.

Because the script here is very good, clearly good enough to elict excellent performances from Sheila Hancock, Ronald Fraser and Harold Innocent all of whom, frankly, could have wandered through the script with the bemusement one feels Joan Sims did a few years earlier but who, instead, rise above the cheap sets and slightly farcical costuming. The Happiness Patrol is, possibly infamously, supposed to present a cariacatured Margaret Thatcher. While this is moderately obvious from the performance, it is only moderately so, and I think one of the strengths of the script is that while it may have been motivated by a desire present topical social commentary, its tale of the way dictators allow themselves to believe that their actions are for the public good. What is more that anything apparently evil they do, they have been forced into by people who accept what is good for them. It's a message that continues to be relevant and is a much more nuanced view of villainy that Doctor Who normally presents.

"That was really rather good," Tame Layman said at the end, showing that a good script and fine performances can lift Doctor Who well above what you might expect its budget to allow.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/442719.html.
philmophlegm: cyberleaderphilmophlegm on April 19th, 2017 07:45 pm (UTC)
I rate it as one of the worst of all Who stories. Not Dragonfire bad, but close.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on April 20th, 2017 06:12 pm (UTC)
Is that just because it looks cheap? Or do you think the political commentary is more obviously partisan and of its time than I do?
philmophlegm: dalekphilmophlegm on April 21st, 2017 08:10 am (UTC)
The cheapness, the contrived setup, the one joke society, the ludicrousness of having Bertie Bassett as a villain, the direction, the lighting, the set design, the costume design, all of that. To be honest, it's only more recently that I've seen that it's supposed to be a "searing indictment of fatcher's britun" or whatever. I just assume that all BBC programmes are left wing by default, so when you get one that is apparently meant to be, it's hard to notice...
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on April 21st, 2017 07:10 pm (UTC)
Mostly the cheapness then...

It must be said, given everyone involved apparently thought they were delivering a searing indictment of Thatcherism I don't think there is much of that one screen - beyond the fact that the evil dictator is female. I don't think a desire to be loved and agreed with by everyone was really one of Thatcher's faults. As daniel_saunders notes the tale is much more about social conformity and enforced jollity than anything particularly specific to 1980s conservatism.
philmophlegm: Victoria Waterfieldphilmophlegm on April 21st, 2017 10:56 pm (UTC)
There is a strand of criticism / analysis that sees any fictional female politician from the 1980s as a Thatcher allegory (Servalan is another one). That would be pretty crap and sexist criticism / analysis, except that in this case it seems to be true!
louisedennislouisedennis on April 23rd, 2017 07:23 pm (UTC)
Doesn't Servalan pre-date Thatcher? Or at least Thatcher as PM.
philmophlegm: aimingforhisheadphilmophlegm on April 23rd, 2017 09:27 pm (UTC)
As PM, yes, but only just. But google for "servalan thatcher allegory", and you'll see what I mean.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on April 19th, 2017 08:38 pm (UTC)
I think it's dated well. As an attack on Thatcherism (as opposed to a personal attack on Mrs Thatcher), it's fairly weak, but as an examination of happiness and social conformity, it works well, perhaps even better now that right and left seem to cooperate in maintaining a plasticky consumerist culture that tells us that happiness can be bought or given by the state. I've always liked it, and that hasn't changed even as my politics have moved somewhat right-wards over the years, which is telling. My biggest criticism is that it's a bit of a runaround: it has a strong idea for a society, but isn't quite sure of what story it can tell with it, so it ends up having everyone run about.

I think the director Chris Clough thought that the make-up was supposed to look like a society past its best holding on to its past. Or something.

I don't think Galaxy Four is about feminism, btw, but I guess more about that when you get to it.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on April 20th, 2017 06:15 pm (UTC)
Yes, I don't think you would know it was an attack on Thatcherism, even with Sheila Hancock's performance I don't think it is obvious now Thatcher isn't such a dominant figure in British life. But I think one of its strengths is that it survives that and becomes much more an examination of leaders who, broadly speaking, believe they know best and believe that people should like them as a result.
liadtbunny: DW Aceliadtbunny on April 20th, 2017 03:32 pm (UTC)
They say something about the make-up on the DVD. I think the thick make-up represents a cracked society or something. I like 'The Happiness Patrol', it's good enough to get over the sets & not being over lit helps too.

I wasn't impressed with the female soldiers in 'Galaxy Four' they kept having naps! Like women don't have the stamina to be soldiers?
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on April 20th, 2017 06:17 pm (UTC)
I seem to recall from the novelisation, that most of the female soldiers are supposed to be mindless clones of some kind - they come across as pretty pathetic in the book though - lots of cowering and whimpering whenever Maaga shouts at them.

It's certainly a relief that Happiness Patrol isn't over lit - but I think the lack of budget is still pretty painfully obvious.
sueworld2003sueworld2003 on April 21st, 2017 07:00 am (UTC)
Well as someone who actually worked on it (I made Fifi and the Pipe people and my friend made the Kandyman) the reason it looked cheap was because it was. There was practically two pence and luncheon voucher in the kitty for this one. *g*

Every season had at least one story that had to suffer due to the budget going on other stories and HP was ours.

All things considered I think it could have turned out much, much worse sadly.
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on April 21st, 2017 07:06 pm (UTC)
Oh I appreciate there was only thrupence to spend and, best will the world, thrupence can't be made to look a million dollars. FWIW I think Fifi is one of the really good looking parts of the episode.
sueworld2003sueworld2003 on April 23rd, 2017 11:09 pm (UTC)
Thanks. It could have been miles better but for the time and money it was the best you were gonna get sadly.
philmophlegm: I'vegotasportscarphilmophlegm on April 23rd, 2017 09:30 pm (UTC)
The execution of the prop design really isn't bad at all given the cost constraints you must have been under. But even a big budget Bertie Bassett is still going to look like Bertie Bassett...
sueworld2003sueworld2003 on April 23rd, 2017 11:07 pm (UTC)
Well blame the designer for that. The Kandyman wasn't described like that in the original script. He was just some bloke in a lab coat and glasses.

But I thought my friend Robert Allsopp really did the best they could with the design.