As far as I know, this is the only story to have ever made it into an address by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Here is what Dr Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, had to say about the story in 2011:
Some of you might just remember an episode of Doctor Who a couple of decades ago called ‘The Happiness Patrol’ where the Doctor arrives on a planet in which unhappiness is a capital crime, and blues musicians lead a dangerous underground existence. But less dramatically, most of us know the horrible experience of a family outing where things aren’t going too well and Mum or Dad keeps saying, through ever more tightly gritted teeth, ‘This is fun, isn’t it?’
There’s the catch: the deepest happiness is something that has crept up on us when we weren’t looking. We can look back and say, Yes, I was happy then – and we can’t reproduce it. It seems that, just as we can’t find fulfilment in just loving ourselves, so we can’t just generate happiness for ourselves. It comes from outside, from relationships, environment, the unexpected stimulus of beauty – but not from any programme that we can identify. It’s a perfectly good idea to test and tabulate the ways people measure their own happiness – but beware of thinking that it will yield a foolproof method for being happy.
The previous year, The Happiness Patrol hit the headlines when its supposed anti-Thatcher agenda was bizarrely dredged up by journalists many years after the event. But Doctor Who was big news at the time, experiencing perhaps its most popular year ever, so anything that could be rehashed to make a story was obviously viewed as worthwhile by the media. Here’s what The Telegraph had to say:
Left-wing script writers infiltrated Doctor Who to give it anti-Thatcher plot lines in the late 1980s in a failed attempt “to overthrow the Government” Sylvester McCoy has claimed.
McCoy, who played the seventh doctor from 1987 to 1989, and Andrew Cartmel, the script editor at the time, both admitted the conspiracy, saying that it “seemed the right thing to do”.
Here’s the BBC’s reaction:
A spokesman for the BBC said it was “baffled” by the claims.
I’m not surprised! If The Happiness Patrol was an attempt to “bring down the government” with a caricature of Thatcher, it was a pretty weak attempt. I mean, come on, this was the era of Spitting Image. And it all spectacularly misses the point, because if there is a message lurking under the surface of The Happiness Patrol then it isn’t anything to do with Thatcher and her politics – it’s about gay rights, with everyone having to conform to the norm, or face punishment, and then there is the entrapment and of course the pink TARDIS. But whatever you choose to take from this story or read into it, there is no doubt that it is thought-provoking and entertaining, giving us plenty to talk about. A Doctor Who story from the 80s that only went out to five million viewers at the time, and makes it into headlines and an Archbishop’s address two decades later is most definitely punching above its weight.
But this is one of those stories that is divisive. It’s marmite. And the main reason for that is the Kandyman. Nothing I write or anyone writes is going to change the opinion of those who love him or those who hate him. It’s just one of those things that you either like or you don’t (Fifi on the other hand, is very obviously a puppet and rightfully is a bit of a source of embarrassment). My opinion of the Kandyman is informed by the age I was when I first saw him – for a child watching he was the scariest thing ever! I still think he is an utterly brilliant creation, and voiced in such a creepy way. I can remember everyone talking about him at school, and if Doctor Who achieves that the day after broadcast then it is doing its job and doing it well. RP
The view from across the pond:
I can’t sugarcoat it: I’m not sweet on The Happiness Patrol. While I liked McCoy as the Doctor, I find his era marked by halves; as I’ve said elsewhere. This season was a 4-story season. It had the excellent Remembrance of the Daleks and Silver Nemesis. And it had The Happiness Patrol and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy which, for me, were the two weak stories for this season. The Happiness Patrol was slow, though thankfully we only had to endure 3 parts. This episode sees the TARDIS painted pink. There’s a ravenous puppet (which probably could have been kicked off by anyone it attacked). There’s harmonica music….! But worst of all: there’s Kandyman, a character literally made of candy. I’ll credit Roger with this: his voice was creepy! But this is a villain we can actually get to stick to the floor. Muscle power be damned, a little sugary mess and this villain is glued to the spot. How great a threat would this thing really be??? I guess there I should give Doctor Who credit for experimenting with the variety of villains though, no matter how tacky. I guess there are all-sorts of villains. (How many puns can we come up with for this guy; I’m only just getting started.)
But all good science fiction should do at least one important thing: it should make us think. While this episode is not a favorite by any means, there’s a lot of allegory here. I never bought the whole anti-government agenda but frankly even if it were, that shouldn’t be something to put down. Science fiction, by its very nature, should be allowed to tell a story to get us thinking. Parables, fables and allegories were used since time immemorial to make a point without putting anyone down and science fiction does this better than any other genre today. Maybe if we see our governments flaws allegorically, we can see the reality that much more clearly. One of the most constructive tools we can use as a people (company/government included) is a mirror and to look at ourselves in that mirror to see what’s right and what’s wrong and make the necessary corrections is priceless. If The Happiness Patrol offered us a chance to look in the mirror, that’s a good thing and it deserves some acknowledgement for it. And if a government doesn’t like it, does that mean it hit too close to home?
Equally if there was a message about gay rights, where the harm in getting us to look at ourselves to determine if what we do is right. Why must people conform to be accepted? I don’t like any agenda being pushed; religious, political or other, but I’m fine with a story being told to make us question ourselves. If the wrongness of being forced to conform was the message of the episode, it does that fairly well. And clearly it struck a chord for people to be talking about it years, even decades, later.
Maybe the hidden agenda was just to get kids hearing some jazz music. Or maybe it was to tell kids that too much candy can be bad for us. Whatever the reason, if it gets us thinking and maybe looking at ourselves a little more critically, that’s a good thing.
Let’s end with a peep at this whopper of a nerdy creation, it’ll give you riesen to snicker! As villains go, he gets the lowest skor this side of the Milky Way, bar none! The Doctor doesn’t need a lifesaver to get out of this sticky situation. He gets into mounds of trouble, but to crunch this guy, he doesn’t have to lift butterfinger…. Talk about an opportunity gone to waist.
Donut say I didn’t warn you… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Silver Nemesis