The Happiness Patrol
Target novelisation
Doctor Who - The Happiness Patrol

Author Graeme Curry Cover image
Published 1990
ISBN 0 426 20339 9
First Edition Cover Alistair Pearson

Back cover blurb: I would also like to take this opportunity to squash the persistent rumours about mysterious "disappearances" and emphasize that rural and urban areas are now enjoying a life of harmony and peace. I'm sure you're glad to hear this. And I'm happy you're glad. Helen A, ruler of colony Terra Alpha, is determined that happiness will prevail. And if any killjoys insist on being miserable, the fun guns of the Happiness Patrol will remove them; or they will vanish into the Kandy Kitchen, where the Kandy Man will deal with them. When the Doctor and Ace spend a night in the dark streets of Terra Alpha they have to keep a smile on their faces - or else! - while making contact with the native Pipe People and trying to convince the colonists that they can have too much of a good thing - even sweets and happiness.


"As Time Goes By" by Jason A. Miller 23/6/13

"More than anything else, this is our Doctor Who - that which is appropriate to our age and generation. It goes beyond camp into protest. It's not sad, it's angry. And we love it to pieces."
- The Discontinuity Guide (1995)
Once upon a time, The Happiness Patrol sailed so far over my head that it barely registered in my imagination. Watching from the United States, I had never heard of Bertie Bassett and thought the Kandy Man was Doctor Who descending into self-parody. At age 16, I knew little of what Margaret Thatcher (whose death occurred on the day that I re-read the Part Two material of the novelization) had wrought upon Great Britain and didn't know the first thing about the gay rights movement. In fact, if not for the Discontinuity Guide entry, this story's political subtext would have been entirely lost on me. All I noticed when I was younger was that the first two continuity references in the story linked back to Invasion of the Dinosaurs and The Armageddon Factor, neither of which usually trigger associations of brilliance... But even when seen on TV now, now that I know a bit more than I did at age 16, the episode is still easy to mistake for confusing nonsense. Like most of its McCoy-era cousins, you get the sense that Doctor Who sacrificed a lot of clarity and audience goodwill when it came up with the three-part story.

Graeme Curry's novelization of Happiness Patrol was published in 1990. Other Season 25/26 scribes such as Ben Aaronovitch, Marc Platt and Ian Briggs used the book format brilliantly, expanding on their themes and turning their subtext into text. Curry, however, really does not greatly expand on the themes for which The Discontinuity Guide lauds his story, unless these themes are carefully buried in cultural allusions that I didn't spot. Is it possible that Curry really was writing a ludicrous story, and that the subtext was both A) an accidental invention of the production team (director Chris Clough not being famous for subtle, arty, moody episodes) and B) the authors of The Discontinuity Guide?

On TV, scenes in The Happiness Patrol appeared to be connected together by nothing more whim. One noteworthy misfire is in Part Three, where Trevor Sigma, the bowler and bow tie-clad census taker, shows the Doctor a long scroll bearing the names of every unhappy Terra Alphan soul executed by Helen A's regime. This should be the moment in the story: the Doctor tosses the scroll into the air, it unfurls down to the bottom of the Forum steps and all the away across the square, so long is the list of victims. The scene begs for a long shot of paper unspooling, followed by a few seconds of reaction shot from Sylvester McCoy and John Normington, the two actors, who certainly would have known what to do. But Clough cuts away, or is forced by the story's running time to cut away, before this even registers as the creepy moment that it should be. When you turn to the corresponding scene in the novelization, however, you don't get a whole lot more than what Clough showed us. No description of how far the roll of paper extended across Forum Square. No reaction shots on the Doctor or Trevor Sigma.

What the novelization adds instead are extra scenes of torment and despair. Of course, that's not necessarily bad, and there's still a good amount to praise about the adaptation. Curry's first sentence, "The woman wanted to die," is a terrific grabber - especially as delivered by Rula Lenska in the audiobook edition. Curry uses the extra space to expand on several characters' back-story and motivations. The fondant surprise execution victim from Part One is given an identity; we learn a lot more about the symbiotic relationship between Thatcher-esque dictator Helen A and her pet attack-dog Fifi; the colonists of Terra Alpha play a game called "stumpball, a combination of cricket and baseball"; and we're told that, on Future Earth, Versailles has been destroyed and Venice has finally sunk.

The Part Two cliffhanger on TV, when someone has died in Happiness Patrol auditions and the Doctor learns that Ace is the next scheduled performer, is hastily resolved by the Doctor sending good-guy Earl Sigma to start a diversion. In the book, Curry prolongs the moment by including the body bag of the victim, and inserting a scene in which dour audition audience members are arrested and shipped off to slave labor. We also learn a bit more about the subterranean Pipe People (an alien race that gets all their nutrition from... sugar cane), with their garbled syntax and scientific name ("Alpidae", about which Google tells me nothing). So that's what's new. Rather than make overt the political subtext, which The Discontinuity Guide thinks is much richer and deeper than that which I recognized on TV in 1989, the book gives us more, and repetitive, scenes of death and depression. This is an odd mix of humor and torture, much like "Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead" being the #1 song on the UK iTunes list the week Thatcher died.

It might have been all worthwhile just for getting to see Curry's original version of the Kandy Man in print:

He was tall and powerfully built, dressed in a white lab coat and white trousers. He wore red-framed spectacles and a red bow-tie. Several red and white striped pens protruded from the pocket of his coat. His skin was pale and was covered with a soft white powder. [...] There was a soft, sucking sound as his feet touched the floor.
This verges on brilliance... until the end of the book, when we're given an entire data-dump back-story of how Kandy Man came to be. The Doctor likens the sound of the Kandy Man's feet to "the sound of leeches being pulled from human skin" (eww). Less is more, right? Yes, the TV look of Kandy Man should have looked more like Curry's original idea, but by the same token, Curry's expanded role for Kandy Man in the novelization doesn't necessarily add much... pardon the pun... flavor to the character.

The Happiness Patrol novelization is, in the end, like candy itself. The prose and the extra scenes seem like a really good idea at first, but the extra-large portion size becomes too much of a good thing.