The Happiness Patrol

First Broadcast November 2nd, 1988 @ 7.35pm (5.3m viewers)

For the second story of Doctor Who’s 25th Season the calculating and proactive Seventh Doctor, fresh from taking care of the Daleks, flexes his muscles further. This time his attention is drawn to the human colony Terra Alpha. His aim, to bring down the government. And all in a single evening. The disturbing rumours are proved correct as residents who don’t display their constant happiness disappear. It has since been widely acknowledged that ‘The Happiness Patrol’ presented a satirical comment on Margaret Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister.

Shelia Hancock as Helen A - Doctor Who The Happiness Patrol c) BBC
Shelia Hancock as Helen A – Doctor Who The Happiness Patrol c) BBC

Helen A’s character is not however a parody on Thatcherism. There is no evidence that British citizens were executed for not being happy! Terra Alpha and Britain under Thatcher have no comparisons. The streets of the UK were not punctuated by ‘lift Muzak’ for example. Helen A is simply a female leader in an oppressive society. Beneath the surface is a much darker fiction, matching the disappeared of Chile for example. The comparison to the lead character can be easily made however. Given that the programme was produced and broadcast deep within the 1980’s actress Shelia Hancock spotted the intended target immediately. Oddly it became a news story in 2010. How it took 22 years for individuals who feel the need to comment on these things to notice is open to debate. After all, 5.3 million people watched this episode. Those viewers were also treated to one of the most memorable villains in Doctor Who’s history.

Memorable Moment (Spoiler Warning)

The Kandyman is an oddity in Doctor Who. Instantly recognisable because of a not so unique design, the concept behind the character had much potential. Writer Graeme Curry was interested in experimenting with the concept of sweets which kill. Also, the Kandy Kitchen was envisioned as being akin to the house from a fairy tale encountered by Hansel and Gretel. However, the design of the Kandyman ended up mirroring Bertie Bassett, used for advertising Liquorice Allsorts. Miraculously the BBC got away with it, promising not to use the character again. Brightly colourful, the Kandyman is an extraordinary villain and very memorable. He was perhaps ahead of his time because now, of course, the dangers of excess sugar in the diet are well known. Sadly the visualisation of the character overshadows the original concept.

This is a bold statement but if the 21st Century production team had free reign to remake the script for ‘The Happiness Patrol’ it would make for a superb story. Frustratingly it is the garish design, which not also offended Bassetts, of the Kandyman that draws the focus of ‘The Happiness Patrol’. But it is a story with intelligent themes, a dark Doctor bringing down a government and allowing people to live in freedom; the freedom to be happy but also sad if they want to be.

  • The Doctor – Sylvester McCoy
  • Ace – Sophie Aldred
  • Daisy K. – Georgina Hale
  • Earl Sigma – Richard D Sharp
  • Forum Doorman – Tim Scott
  • Gilbert M. – Harold Innocent
  • Harold V. – Tim Barker
  • Helen A. – Sheila Hancock
  • Joseph C. – Ronald Fraser
  • Kandy Man – David John Pope
  • Killjoy – Mary Healey
  • Newscaster – Annie Hulley
  • Priscilla P. – Rachel Bell
  • Silas P. – Jonathan Burn
  • Sniper – Steve Swinscoe
  • Sniper – Mark Carroll
  • Susan Q. – Lesley Dunlop
  • Trevor Sigma – John Normington
  • Wences – Philip Neve
  • Wulfric – Ryan Freedman
  • Director – Chris Clough
  • Producer – John Nathan-Turner
  • Writer – Graeme Curry
Also First Aired On This Day…
  • The Invasion: Episode One
  • Delta and the Bannermen: Part One
  • The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Empty Planet: Episode Two


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