32 Cool Things About
(and 18 Stupid Ones)
(But we're not telling you which is which)
(We're expecting you to work that out for yourselves)
By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore
Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 448
1. There's a skull-like face painted on the wall near the theatre.
2. It's echoed in the masks on the striking killjoys in Part Three, which is a nice touch.
3. The Happiness Patrol, who were originally to have been dressed like cheerleaders, are instead dressed like 1950s cinema usherettes.
4. The male Happiness Patrol members, by contrast, appear to have been outfitted by Jean-Paul Gaultier with their form-fitting T-shirts and charming jaunty hats.
5. One interesting detail is that the actors' faces are deliberately plastered with Fuller's Earth, to give their makeup a cracked, worn-out, feel, building on the idea of a society in decline.
6.The writer's original idea was to have Terra Alpha as a kind of spick-and-span, unreal, amusement park, but John Ashbridge opted instead for a run-down, dilapidated, seaside-town look, which makes it all rather more British.
7. Although apparently video effects designer Dave Chapman's suggestion that they film it in Portmeirion was not meant seriously, you can sort of see the logic.
8. There's also more than a little indebtedness to Terry Gilliam's Brazil, what with the ductwork, the fedoras and the soot-darkened narrow streets.
9. One problem this creates is that, whereas in an American setup the Pipe People read as analogues for Native people, forced to the margins by colonization, there's no real British equivalent niche for them to occupy.
10. Also, even in the American setup, the Pipe People are pretty surplus to narrative requirements.
11.Another ultimately meaningless character is Trevor Sigma, the census taker. Since the facade of happiness isn't for his benefit, there's not really much point to his presence.
12. Why do Ace and the Doctor start the story talking about “Invasion of the Dinosaurs”? While there's a connection that can be made with the plan in that story to return Earth to an imagined Golden Age, it's never made in the dialogue, and the reference as it stands is just to leave the new viewer wondering who this Brigadier fellow is.
13. Actually, according to “The Armageddon Factor”, Theta Sigma was the Doctor's name, and “Thete” was his nickname at college.
14. The Happiness Patrol's pink-and-purple wigs mostly work, but Daisy K's hairdo makes her look as if she's wearing one of those nylon dusters that you can buy in pound-shops.
15. To be fair, most video-games of the period didn't exactly give a much better reward for winning than a crap joke from Helen A.
16. Cy Town, the actor who plays the fondant surprise victim, was concerned at the time that the dye from the gunge would turn his hair pink.
17. It bears repeating: Although the gay subtext reads in a number of places in this story (the Happiness Patrol's entrapment of the killjoy at the start, for instance), the idea that the fondant surprise victim is wearing a pink triangle is a myth (he's wearing a black jumpsuit open over a pink shirt).
18. It may not have added much to the narrative, but it's a real shame that the coda to the fondant surprise death, in which Joseph C takes a fingerful of fondant off the corpse, tastes it and exclaims “Mmm, strawberry!” didn't make it into the final.
19. The Kandyman does “bored dejection” very well.
20. It's nice to see a bit more ethnic diversity in the cast than usual.
21. It's less nice that there's only one non-white supporting character (Earl Sigma), and, although he's a medical student, he's mostly depicted wandering about playing the blues on a harmonica.
22. Helen A makes a speech about how important family is right before killing Harold V, a man who got into trouble when he went to look for his missing brother. Just to make it very plain to everyone that she's based on Margaret Thatcher.
23. Also, in the extended version of that scene, Sheila Hancock does an uncannily Thatcherlike slow nod.
24. Think what you will, we rather like Fifi; the puppetry alone is just fantastic.
25. The character's also thematically appropriate: a cute, seemingly inoffensive pet that's actually a vicious predator under it all.
26. "You take the vermin in the pipes, I'll take the vermin in the Forum”, says Helen A to Fifi. making the parallel neatly obvious.
27. Unfortunately some of the scenes of Fifi charging through the tunnels haven't entirely stood the test of time.
28. Everything Silas P says, when he's criticising Helen A's regime in his persona as an undercover killjoy, is absolutely true.
29. Although critics of the serial often say that it would have worked better with a human-appearing Kandyman as the writer intended, the Basset Allsorts robot does actually give the whole thing a twisted sense of surreal bizarreness.
30. It also changes Harold Innocent's lines “They don't know his moods. He's terrible when he's roused” from a straight complaint into something really quite funny.
31. The Doctor does have a point that someone largely made out of sugar is going to have a few problems running a kitchen.
32. And Gilbert M's standing around gleefully taunting the immobilised Kandy Man, as the robot spends most of Part Two welded to the floor by lemonade, is simply priceless.
33. Since Ace's Nitro-Nine bombs are contained in deodorant bottles, it's a fair question how Priscilla P recognises them as explosives. Perhaps the terrorists she refers to had a similar sense of humour to Ace.
34. “How would you describe the Kandy Man's confection?” “It can only be the work of a schizophrenic obsessive”. Which also reflects on Gilbert M, who created the robot, lives with it and hates it.
35. Admitting she's sad makes Susan Q happy. There's an entertaining irony in that.
36. The Pipe People screaming their dialogue in artificially-deep voices makes them hard to understand and distinctly lacking in nuance.
37. The bit where the Doctor talks the sniper down from shooting him, playing on the fact that there's a big difference between talking about killing people at a distance and killing them face to face, is probably one of the best scenes in the whole serial.
38. This is one story in which McCoy's spoon-playing adds to the narrative, rather than being just an eccentric character detail.
39. The German title of this serial, “Die Macht der Frohlichkeit” translates as “The Power of Happiness”, not “The Happiness Force”, whatever you may be told.
40. The announcement “A depression is moving towards Forum Square” is a blink-and-you-miss it pun on meteorological terminology.
41. Cy Town can be seen among the rejoicing drones in Part Three. Hang on, wasn't he killed two episodes ago?
42. The sequence where Priscilla P forces Daisy K to play the fruit machine is a nice encapsulation of how, when order breaks down in totalitarian societies, they turn on their own.
43. Ace: “What was that?” Earl: “Sounded like an A flat to me”. Bonnie Langford's been gone for one story, and the Doctor's still bedevilled with companion-figures with perfect pitch.
44. This is also the second time in the McCoy Era that we've had musical tones shattering physical objects.
45. The rebelling drones destroying the Nevani sugar-beet factory is singularly misguided. What do they expect to live on once they've overthrown the government?
46. The backstory of Gilbert M is interesting enough, but begs the question of why someone working in germ development also came to be a skilled roboticist.
47. There's no real thematic link between the reason for Gilbert M's exile and the rest of the story, either. Under the circumstances, one would have expected something candy-related.
48. Although his heading off with Joseph C does make sense; presumably, the Kandy Man gone, he's looking for yet another passive-aggressive same-sex relationship.
49. Nice to see that magnetic tape will make a comeback in the future, and according to a cut scene in which Susan Q tells Ace her backstory, so will 78RPM records.
50. One might argue that this serial is sexist, given that it depicts a female-dominated society obsessed with pink and masking a predatory ruthless nature with a facade of happy inoffensiveness. However, it gets away with it through having some very well-rounded female characters, including some well-realised and complex villains.