Tonight’s episode of Doctor Who is sponsored by Bertie Bassett. I mean, really, just as the show is starting to improve, it descends into pantomime again. The Kandy Man probably seemed like a clever idea at the time, a squeaky-voiced sugar-coated psychopathic robot, but it’s just laughably bad to watch, and only adds to the overriding feeling of silliness in this serial.
Which is a shame, because it does have some good ideas, or at least good intentions. “What if it was illegal to be unhappy” is the sort of nightmarish scenario that creates some of the best conceptual science-fiction, however it’s just too broad to work. At every level you just think “that would never happen”. It’s just not feasible for anybody to enforce a society where happiness is mandatory. Not without some other sci-fi element at work, a psychic energy field or mood altering drugs in the water supply, something like that. The Happiness Patrol takes an all too simplistic approach – if you’re looking miserable, you’re put out of your misery. It’s satirical, it’s political, it’s possibly saying something insightful about the nature of happiness, but it just doesn’t hold together.
Fortunately, Sylvester McCoy is pretty great in this and I’m already warming to his style. He has an impressive range in just this one story, at one point talking a sniper out of shooting him by bluntly putting the nature of death in front of him, and then later roaring in fake laughter to confuse the armed guards. The other cast are not so good. Sheila Hancock is fine (particularly at the end when she’s crying over her dead dog puppet thing), but Georgina Hale hams it up with her nasally speech that ruins everything she says. The other cast are forgettable and Ace is her usual rebellious teenage self.
While some of the production is well-accomplished, the overall look of this serial is cheap and small. This is supposed to be a vast human colony, but it seems to contain a couple of tiny streets. It very badly looks like a small television or stage set, especially when the Doctor is making a getaway in his little buggy, travelling at a generous five miles per hour. Perhaps better direction could have helped it, but I’m not sure. The camera work in the tunnels is better, but not great.
No, I’m afraid this one did not hit the mark. Its silliness, cheapness and naffness undermine any social point it’s trying to make, and I’m not quite sure what point that is anyway. Still, it has created something of an iconic villain, even if it’s for the wrong reasons.