Recap: Doctor Who S25 E2 "The Happiness Patrol"
"I can hear the sound of empires toppling."
Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, referred to this story in his 2011 Easter sermon, on the subject of happiness and joy. No, really.
The Doctor and Ace visit the human colony planet of Terra Alpha, where unhappiness has been outlawed, and people who can't keep a smile on their face at all times have a tendency to... disappear.
While the Doctor befriends a blues-playing tourist named Earl and Ace meets her Girl of the Week
Susan Q, the TARDIS gets a nice pink makeover from the Happiness Patrol. Everyone gets thrown into prison a few times over. Well, into the "waiting zone", that is — because a happy place like Terra Alpha couldn't possibly have prisons. They also meet the Kandy Man (who bears a striking resemblance to the advertising mascot Bertie Bassett
— not deliberate, but the BBC got in trouble from Bassetts all the same), a psychotic killer robot made of candy, whom the Doctor defeats in a Curb-Stomp Battle
by sticking its feet to the floor with lemonade. The underground Mole Men
and the working class join in the battle against the current regime as well, as does a hapless interstellar census bureau employee, after the Doctor runs circles around him intellectually.
The Doctor goes a bit too far in his investigations, though, and soon comes face-to-face with a very powerful gun. In a rather serious scene for what's otherwise the most perfectly camp
episode in a while, he dares the gunman to shoot him point blank, which causes a Heel Realisation
in the soldier and leaves the Doctor able to continue his staged uprising. It all culminates in a sort of song-and-dance number, with the Doctor proclaiming that the oppressed working class people are really tremendously happy
and therefore can't be arrested. The Happiness Patrol is very unhappy about this turn of events. So the Doctor tells them that they should now logically arrest each other
for being glum. Which they promptly do.
The local dictator, Helen A (who bears a striking resemblance
to Margaret Thatcher
— deliberate, Word of God
would later say) decides to get the hell out before her society comes crashing in on itself. Sadly for her, her gentle husband runs away together with Kandy Man's creator, and the two make off with the only escape pod. And
her mutated rat-dog-thing Fifi is killed using The Power of Blues
. Helen breaks down crying, realising perhaps for the first time that happiness isn't everything.
- All Crimes Are Equal: Ostentatious public displays of grief, wearing dark clothes, reading depressing poetry (limericks get a pass), and walking in the rain are all capital crimes in these parts.
- Amazon Brigade: The Happiness Patrol.
- An Aesop: "There are no other colours, without the blues."
- Best Served Cold: Ace nearly feeds Priscilla her own wig, but the Doctor nabs her in mid-flight. He barks at Ace to stay frosty or she'll compromise his whole plan — But he also promises that revenge will be sweet, indeed:
I want to make them very, very unhappy. Doctor: (Voice drops into a hiss
Don't worry, Ace. We will.
- Bittersweet Ending: Helen A is finally forced to confront her sadness upon the death of her beloved pet. However, her government is overthrown and the people are free to experience whatever emotions they damn well want, happy or sad.
- In any other series this would be a Downer Ending, the force keeping everyone happy is gone and misery prevails. Naturally Doctor Who turns it on its head.
- Blasting It out of Their Hands: Susan Q disarming Daisy K.
- Bond One-Liner: As it's immediately after the vicious execution of a political prisoner, done as a Kick the Dog.
- Combined with Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Deconstructed; the members of the Happiness Patrol keep coming out with these just before or after they kill someone, but they're all uniformly unfunny, half-witted things like "Have a nice death!" or "You look unhappy about something!" that only serve to further reinforce what smug, sociopathic and terrible people with awful senses of humour they are.
- Bound and Gagged: In episode 2 Ace is briefly gagged for saying "Up the Killjoys!"
- And Priscilla P in Episode 3.
- And Daisy towards the end.
- Breaking Speech: The Seventh Doctor continues his grand tradition of beating his enemies down with speeches that deconstruct their flaws and weaknesses, firstly with the sniper he confronts on the rooftops, and then finally Helen A herself: With her empire up in smoke, Helen plans to flee and find a world more receptive to her monomaniacal ideals— but then, out of the shadows steps the Doctor. "You can't get away, Helen A."
- Canned Orders Over Loudspeaker: Helen A never allows her people a single moment's peace. Her broadcasts seem to take inspiration from Brave New World's Mustapha Mond.
- Chekhov's Boomerang: While being held captive by the Kandyman, the Doctor manages to freeze him in place with lemonade. Anticipating a second encounter with (now irate) robot, Seven steals an entire bottle of the stuff from Joseph as he's freshening up someone's drink. Yoink.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Earl Sigma, the offworlder blues musician.
- Comically Missing the Point: At one point, the Doctor comes across an undercover Happiness Patrol agent who makes a rather cruel game of provoking Hope Spots in killjoys he comes across before revealing his true identity with a business card. When he pulls this on the Doctor, upon learning the agent's identity the Doctor cheerfully remarks that the agent might be able to pass on a message to Helen A for him.
- Conspicuous Trenchcoat: Silas P.'s "undercover" garb leaves a lot to be desired. He's wearing a bright pink cardigan under his drab Killjoy disguise.
- Continuity Nod: The Doctor tells Ace that the Brigadier once saw a triceratops in the London Underground. He also mentions again that Theta Sigma was his college nickname.
- Covered in Gunge: In a decidedly non-comedic version — Helen A's favourite execution method involves large quantities of hot strawberry fondant, either suffocating you or scalding you to death.
- Crapsaccharine World: Terra Alpha is an inverted Oceania. On the surface, life under the regime is pretty good. Helen A's built over 1000 new factories, has solved the problem of shortages, pipes camp music into every workplace, and has abolished prisons. At night, however, goon squads go around rounding up undesirables and/or blasting them with their fun guns.
- Creator Cameo: Director Chris Clough voices Fifi.
- Culture Police: The eponymous Patrol. A rather creepy use of the trope, as they go beyond enforcing any kind of culture...
- Cute as a Bouncing Betty: The patrolwomen's "Fun Guns". These are later turned on the enemy when Susan Q. defects.
- Custom Uniform: When she first appears, Susan Q is one of a group of Happiness Patrol mooks, but she's wearing the more elaborate wig of a speaking character.
- Defector from Decadence: Susan Q.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The story has generated a lot of discussion about the political meanings and agendas behind a lot of what's going on, particularly concerning 1980s politics and gay rights among others; Helen A and her cronies are stand-ins for Margaret Thatcher and her government, a young woman describing her realization that she was "unhappy" is played as if she was coming out in another sense (i.e. a 'closeted' blues fan), and so forth. This might also explain the inaction on the part of Terra Alpha's neighbors: Trevor reveals that his purpose is to take a census of everyone who's disappeared rather, suggesting that the planetary government he reports to would rather make lists of the dead than do anything to stop those lists growing...
- Silas P.'s entrapment of killjoys by blending in among them is a particularly barbed commentary of the police. This tactic is altogether too common with undercover cops looking to cuff 'deviants'.
- Dystopian Edict
- '80s Hair: Like you wouldn't believe. The hairstyles of the Happiness Patrol also call to mind feathered hats from the forties, another homage to film noir.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Even Daisy K, herself a willing and eager stooge of Helen A's regime, considers Priscilla P an out-of-control fanatic.
- Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: They don't appear, but Ace seems to believe this; at the beginning of the episode she's excitedly begging the Doctor if they can go see some.
- Evil Chef: The Kandy Man.
- Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor: The "happy" characters' actual jokes are limited to sadistic mockery of the people they're killing and torturing.
- Lampshaded with the "prize" for winning the slot machine in the Waiting Zone — a poorly delivered joke from Helen A — which the Doctor thoroughly deconstructs with respect to its sheer awfulness.
- Exact Words: The Doctor, posing as a galactic census taker, talks his way into Helen A's office where he finds that everything is above-board and legal. 100% transparency. Yep.
Helen: I think you'll find everyone on Terra Alpha is very happy.
Doctor: Some people on Terra Alpha are very difficult to find.
- Extremely Short Timespan: The Doctor challenges himelf to orchestrate the complete collapse of a ruthless despotic society over the course of a single evening. He does so without any knowledge of the regime's inner workings, having no plan in place, and willingly getting himself arrested. And he succeeds.
- Faux Affably Evil: The Kandy Man. He considers himself a confectionery artist even though his talents are used more for executing dissidents.
- Fascist, but Inefficient: Terra Alpha is clearly starting to fall apart at the seams when the Doctor gets there, but he manages to press the right buttons to bring down Helen A's government entirely.
- Fascists' Bed Time: Dusk is the most dangerous time to be out wandering. Andrew Cartmel used this setting as an excuse to shoot the episode with minimal light, contrary to standard BBC procedure.
- Felony Misdemeanor: A Type 3. On Terra Alpha, being a 'Killjoy' (i.e. being unhappy) is punishible by death.
- Film Noir: Despite the gaudy nature of Terra Alpha, the 'outdoor' scenes of the story are all filmed in a consciously film-noir style, with lots of long, dark shadows all over the place. A couple of the male characters wear long coats and wide-brimmed fedoras as well. The Doctor and Earl use music to communicate across the city, and at one point the duo sing/play a few bars from "As Time Goes By". Reportedly the episode was originally planned to be in black and white.
- Five-Bad Band:
- Fluffy Tamer: Helen A truly loves her snarling pet Fifi.
- Fluffy the Terrible
- Glurge Addict: Helen A, to the point where her execution methods involve sweets.
- Happiness Is Mandatory: And if you're not happy, you get the death penalty.
- Heel-Face Turn: After bonding with Ace over their taste in music, Susan Q deliberately lets her escape, and from then on is on the Doctor's side.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: The Kandy Man is ultimately killed by the very execution method he was in charge of.
- Homoerotic Subtext: The story is very easily interpreted as a gay rights allegory. The TARDIS gets painted pink, Ace and her Girl of the Week had to have some rather Les Yay lines cut just to get past the BBC censors, and the story ends with two men running off together.
- Improbable Hairstyle: At first glance, Helen A looks to be wearing a hat — but no. That is a combination 80's perm/ponytail with whitewalls and toppped off with a big pink stripe(!).
- Ironic Echo: "Happiness will prevail." (smile)
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Helen A protests that the secret police and summary executions only "came later" — after a few stubborn citizens refused to embrace her philosophy. By now, the "routine disappearances" number over half a million(!).
- Killer Robot: Made of candy.
- Lady Land: A subtle example (at least relatively, given many examples of the trope); most of the characters with power and authority in the story are women (the Happiness Patrol, for example, is composed primarily or entirely of women), and it's heavily suggested that Terra Alphan society is biased in favour of women instead of men; at one point the two male snipers gripe that women always get the better jobs — and guns. It avoids most of the usual "utopian Author Tract" tropes usually associated with the trope, in that Terra Alpha is hardly a better place because the women are in control instead of the men. (insert real world analogy here)
Alex: (grousing) Don't see any women doing roof duty. Women always get the better jobs.
David: Women always get the best guns.
- Lady in Red: Helen A. is wearing what appears to be chair upholstery with sleeves.
- Let Me at Him!: Priscilla stands over the cooked Harold quipping about his fate. This causes Ace to go aggro, and the Doctor snatches her before she does something stupid.
- Let no Crisis Go to Waste: Before Helen A took over, Terra Alpha had its share of problems. One of the planet's biggest hurdles was overpopulation. The census bureau has strict protocols for address that issue, but Helen smilingly assures them her own methods are far more "effective."
- Let's See You Do Better: Gilbert M all but says this about people who think confectionery is easy.
- Love Hurts: Between Helen A's ruthless Stepford Smiler persona and determination to be utterly happy at all costs, and her strangely bitter-yet-wistful retort upon the Doctor's accusation that her perfect world is a world without love that "I always thought love is overrated", it's implied that something like this might be lurking somewhere in Helen A's backstory.
- Low-Speed Chase: The Patrol's go-karts don't seem to travel much faster than walking pace, which makes the sequence where the Doctor and Ace steal one in order to escape slightly ridiculous.
- Mad Artist: The Kandy Man is a mad culinary artist.
- Mauve Shirt: The moment his exposition is concluded, Harold gets electrocuted by the same slot machine whose jokes he denigrated earlier. Apparently, Helen opted to wipe out the whole clan rather than suffer another traitor.
- Motive Rant: Helen A delivers one at the end during her confrontation with the Doctor.
- My Card: Silas is only allowed to slap on the handcuffs once you accept it.
- My Rule-Fu Is Stronger Than Yours: The Doctor arranges for the protesting killjoys to gather en mass in Forum Square, knowing that this will trigger a crackdown from the authorities, and two teams of the Happiness Patrol are sent to terminate the killjoys with prejudice. When the hit squad gets there, however, the killjoys have shed their dark clothes, cast aside their funeral dirge and are now firing off party steamers and dancing like its 2099 — and thus are no longer killjoys, meaning the Happiness Patrol can't touch them. And to really sweeten the cake, when the second team arrives they find the first team milling about confused, glum and generally acting like killjoys — and promptly arrest them.
- A Nazi by Any Other Name: Earl sadly hums on his harmonica, only to frantically burst into polka music when Priscilla drives past, slapping a pink sticker on his lapel.
- Newspeak: There are no prisons on Terra Alpha, only "waiting zones"! —but cross that line and you're a dead man.
- Helen A's administration is fond of euphemisms. They aren't carrying out purges, merely "controlling" the population with "disappearances." Also, when Helen A meets with Trevor Sigma and the Doctor, she coyly informs Trevor that she's adopted the Galactic Census Bureau's recommendations... but not their guidelines. Trevor is too naive to pick up on this, but the Doctor is not impressed. He later confronts Helen A as she's arranging an execution and throws the euphemism back at her:
"And which member of the population are you attempting to 'control' today?!"
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Helen A is basically a sci-fi Stepford Smiler version of Margaret Thatcher.
- One-Letter Name: All the Terra Alphans have a personal name followed by a single letter indicating their social rank.
- Pass the Popcorn: Helen A. munches candies while observing her televised executions.
- Persecution Flip: The conservatively-dressed "killjoys" are the oppressed minority, while Helen A's shock-troopers all resemble painted drag queens.
- Photo Op With The Dog: Once captured (again), Ace refuses to cooperate with Helen A by joining her Patrol. Cue Joseph, rushing in with a flashbulb camera. We cut to a recruitment poster with Ace's stunned expression plastered on it.
- Police State
- The Power of Blues
- Punch Clock Villain: A running theme in the Cartmel era. The snipers on the rooftops are depicted almost as blue-collar blokes, grumbling about their long hours and viewing the protesters below as mere specks. When the Doctor gets in their faces and thrusts his chest toward the gun barrel, he shames them out of complacency.
- Salt and Pepper: The Doctor and Earl playing their respective instruments in the sewers, with their upturned hats sitting side-by-side.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Gilbert M. and Joseph C. Together.
- The use of letters as surnames recalls Josef K in The Trial.
- Ace relates the plot of Mark Dinning's "death disc" song "Teen Angel".
- Susan Q, the Happiness Patrol member who does a Heel-Face Turn, is probably named in reference to Dale Hawkins's R & B song "Susie Q".
- Slasher Smile: By Helen's edict. "And don't forget, when you smile, I want to see those teeth."
- Sociopathic Soldier: Priscilla P
- Stepford Smiler: An entire culture of them, led by a Margaret Thatcher No Celebrities Were Harmed who enforces this way of life with the death penalty.
- Sympathy for the Devil: Helen A weeping over her beloved pet Stigorax, Fifi, as it dies in the gutter. This just minutes after she's been deposed and her consort has betrayed her to the rebels (and skipped off with another man!). This is all a bit harsh, even for Ace, but it shuts the book on the Happiness Patrol for good.
Ace: Shouldn't we do something, Professor?
Doctor: (ice cold) 'Tis done.
- Take Me to Your Leader: The Doctor, working under a self-imposed time limit, figures the quickest way to liberate Terra Alpha is to get himself arrested. Amusingly, this takes some doing on his part.
- Talking Your Way Out: Faced with an enthusiastic sniper, the Doctor simply goes up and demands that the sniper shoot him, end his life; the sniper gives up. It's a CMOA, but it also ends up making the Doctor look more a little... creepy — both snipers are really unnerved at the end. Creepy or not, however, the Doctor still talks a fanatic into doubting and rejecting all his convictions under the space of a minute while having a gun pointed at him the whole time, which is impressive to say the least.
- Thoughtcrime: Policed by the Happiness Patrol.
- Tranquil Fury: The Doctor keeps his game face on while being detained by Priscilla and her cronies — but underneath the sly expression, he's clearly fuming with rage.
- Uncanny Valley Makeup: All the Terra Alpha characters. Gilbert M and Joseph C take theirs off while running away together, which doesn't actually make it any less homoerotic.
- Villainous Breakdown: Indeed, the whole crux is the Doctor trying to provoke one. If Helen A loses her composure, her whole philosophy is discredited. By Episode Three, Helen is clearly going to pieces over the state of things but, to her credit, somehow manages to maintain her stiff upper lip —until she discovers her pet dog Fifi, the only thing she has ever loved, is dead. Cue harmonica.
- Weaksauce Weakness: The Kandy Man can be rendered immobile with a quick spray of lemonade to his feet.
- What Measure Is a Mook?: A despairing Susan Q. admits she's nowhere near sadistic enough to be Happiness Patrol material, and thus expendable. "She won't shed any tears over me. Let's face it, no one will. Even if they wanted to, they wouldn't be allowed."
- You Gotta Have Pink Hair: Helen A and The Happiness Patrol.