Thursday, 25 July 2013

Who@25: The Happiness Patrol (Part One)

Originally Broadcast 2nd November 1988

Written by: Graeme Curry

In a nutshell: The Doctor and Ace arrive on Terra Alpha, where happiness will prevail.

Review: I think it’s almost impossible for ‘The Happiness Patrol’ to be even better than the opening Dalek story but I’m going to enter it open minded and hope it carries on this series in style and if the opening scene is anything to go by, it certainly has style and tonnes of tone. It feels a bit noir but I think the fashion of 1980s BBC studios let it down, which is a problem that I think stands in the way of a lot of Doctor Who from the JN-T era.

The Doctor and Ace arrive on the scene, talking about dinosaurs. It creates a nice sense of friendship and companionship between the duo, making it much more fun and easy for the audience to get on with the characters. The Doctor talks about not liking the planet much. Compared to how he normally reacts with love and interest, it strikes as being wrong. Now we know something must be wrong with this place. There’s some great dialogue throughout this episode. I think the entire episode has some really strong dialogue and Curry especially excels when writing conversations between two or three characters. The interaction is just great and the dialogue so fast that it’s brilliant. I really wish Curry wrote some more Who stories but sadly this was his sole outing on the show.

The effects have really moved on in the last few years; Helen A being projected onto the fruit machine looks faultless. Overall I’m finding it hard to find anything to disapprove of in this episode. The acting is strong, the dialogue is expertly crafted and the sets are fairly convincing as well. If I were to pick something that was weak, I think it would be the cutting between scenes. It’s unusual to see this in classic Who and we’re following about three or four stories here and it slightly holds up some of the interest in certain characters as we’re spending too much time cutting away from them. I’d be interested to see an edit where the cuts aren’t so rapid.

There’s a surprising turn of events when Harold V is killed via an electrocuted fruit machine. Sophie Aldred really sells the scene, showing so much anger at his ridiculed death and then an even bigger shock (forgive the pun) as McCoy’s Doctor tells Ace that they will make these people pay. It’s rare to see the Doctor hell bent on revenge and it’s the next stage in turning the seventh Doctor dark to go with him blowing up Skaro last week.

I do have a couple of minus points nearer the end of this episode. Fifi is the obvious one. It isn’t convincing but then I don’t think it’s as horrible as people make out, but I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for some of Who’s effects. The other negative point is the noise the ‘go-kart’ makes as it’s driving down the BBC studio when the Doctor and Ace are on the run. It’s very loud and clangy and distracts me when we should have a good underscore present instead.

When Silas P arrives to set up the Doctor it creates a nice sense of continuity with the opening of the episode, with the viewer begging the Doctor to see through the undercover ruse before he gets arrested and executed. The resolution to this is brilliant and so funny, with Silas P ending up looking unhappy instead of the Doctor.

The episode ends with the Doctor being caught by the Kandyman in a pretty decent cliffhanger. I’ve not touched on some of the major talking points of this episode yet, which I’ll turn to over the next two episodes, but this has been a really strong and powerful opening episode. I can’t say it’s better then ‘Remembrance Of The Daleks’ but it certainly does try to give it a run for it’s money. I can’t wait for part two because it’s so much fun. Happiness will prevail!

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