Some Idiot Defends the Kandy Man: The Happiness Patrol in Perspective

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Guest contributor Francis Milan looks back on the 1988 story.

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To introduce this article, I thought it only fitting to quote my future self:

“The Kandy Man is unscrupulous and malignant to the point of petulance. I mean, strip down the twirling eyes, and the Bertie Bassett facade, and you’re left with an insane abomination.”

- Some idiot, the future

“But the Kandy Man,” a Whovian somewhere scoffs as his sardonic eye narrows, “is the most stupid, rubbish, dumb and stupid villain there’s ever been. You really are an idiot. Though remarkably handsome.”

Okay, okay. So I exaggerate slightly. Although, I did carry a similar view not that long ago. Well, I’m not a narcissist; but I dismissed the Kandy Man as a desperate ratings-milker condemned to an eternity of mockery by the fandom. Soon enough, I decided to sit down, elbow on knee, fingers stroking beard, and muse over what the fuss was all about. I watched the episode too. I’d hate to reveal my conclusions too early on -- but he does have a funny voice. Let me expand a little…

The Orwellian dystopia is a concept often bandied about in popular culture. Never, in Doctor Who, has it been so pertinently utilised to such an outstanding effect. The Happiness Patrol is totally consistent; the episode’s horrific undertones are dextrously obscured by its cringeworthy plot devices. Going into it fairly open-mindedly, I came to the familiar conclusion that it is a criminally maligned and misunderstood gem. And don’t worry, I’ll get round to the Kandy Man soon enough. They’re the real juicy bits. And I’m not just talking about his soft centre.

“Happiness will prevail!”

Terra Alpha is a colony governed by an autocracy that’s frighteningly wacky. It dictates that unceasing ‘happiness’ is compulsory. Subjects of the domineering Helen A are dressed in cheerful colours, but this society operates the way it does on the basis that no one there really enjoys what they’re doing. Each resident is branded with a unique label; a forename followed by an initial -- a rule ostensibly encouraging individuality. However, the concept Helen A and the unapparent powers-that-be fail to harness is that true individuality comes with the freedom of choice. One woman’s undertaking of the quest for a euphoric civilisation is a fatal misconception; her people -- and soon enough, she too -- are the ones who suffer because of it.

“Look at them, Fifi -- dreary clothes, turgid music, and terrible deportment. They really are so depressing.”

The Killjoys -- a label for those happy to express a broad spectrum of emotions -- are the people being persecuted by their government. Of course, we can all relate. This applies to almost anybody. Their grim, depressing marches are a shocking realisation -- by forcefully combatting their government, they must effectively combat the ‘happiness’ it enforces. Misery is treated as a virtue. The things that society is deprived of are the things they come to more strongly desire -- which is horrific in context. Quite rightly, it justifies a varied, free lifestyle -- the true access of happiness among your population.

It’s always a tragedy when characters fall victim to their own hypocrisy. It’s interesting to see the way Helen A operates when she ignores her own low morals and strange contradictions. Her sweet pretexts cloak her vicious underbody; but it goes further than that: from such small quirks as her affection towards her hideous pet, to baffling blunders. How can she enforce vibrant colours when the environment has a pallid topography? The immersing, drab stone walls are enough to depress anyone. It seems not just that she cannot enforce happiness properly; because her intrinsic perception of happiness is wrong. It serves the underlying moral for the whole adventure.

“Women always get the best guns.”

However wrong it may seem, we find it an alien concept; there’s no denying the abnormality of Terra Alpha’s hierarchy of power. Few men have a look-in when it comes to the running of the female-governerned state. We wouldn’t find such a radical role reversal in our society. However, as this episode went on the air, the most powerful person in the UK was a woman: Margaret Thatcher was Britain’s first female Prime Minister. The story is widely regarded as a political satire in this light. But let it not go unsaid: the writer’s fuddy-duddy intransigence gives no excuse to drastically hyperbolise the effects of women in power. The fictional scenario -- and the harshness the writer uses to present it -- encourage us to understand that traditionalist conventions can inflict bigoted beliefs. And just how seriously wrong it is.

“Why don’t you do it then? Look me in the eye. Pull the trigger. End my life.

In my opinion, this is the story complemented with the finest of Sylvester McCoy’s performances in televised Doctor Who. The Doctor stumbles across two male snipers, and sensing their feeble insecurity, bravely taunts them with the reality about guns. The Doctor has reached the epoch of his life where he’s becoming too complacent with his achievements. He takes risks; lavishing in the drama and addicted to change. In fact, his recklessly confident attitude ironically paves the way for the show’s approaching downfall.

“Just because Helen A employs me as her executioner, doesn’t mean I can’t be… creative.”

Suitably accompanied by a psychopathic waltz, the Kandy Man is anything but tacky or cutesy-wutesy. Confined to his Kandy Kitchen, (blimey, I could make quite a grim nursery rhyme out of this) he boils up a deadly sweet broth which he forces into the gullets of rebels. It’s a way of life that seems so simple to him -- that’s what he’s programmed to do. He is unscrupulous and malignant to the point of petulance. I mean, strip down the twirling eyes, and the Bertie Bassett facade, and you’re left with an insane abomination. His fascinating actions are testament to the damage that can be caused by an individual with no moral criterion. He has no inner urges to refute his madness; which caused, consequently, his comedic downfall. I’m all for the gimmicky and incompetent villains. Does that make me such a mug? Erm. Actually, don’t answer that.

“Don’t you see? Happiness is nothing unless it co-exists with sadness.”

The resolution does by no means demean the compelling set-up. The villains, in a traditionally fitting way, succumb to their own oppression -- but not before suffering them first-hand for long enough. The Kandy Man discovers his own insufficiencies as a villain, as his superficial sweetness is eroded by a flush of his deadly mixture. And Helen A finally realises her idealism is ridiculous and impossible to uphold, as the Doctor leaves her emotionally shattered by the death of Fifi.

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Conclusion

As if there was any doubt about The Happiness Patrol‘s brilliance. It’s zeitgeisty, subversive, and still manages to serve as a stellar piece of entertainment. Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred slot seamlessly into the role of Terra Alpha’s antithesis and play off it to perfection. And, as for the Kandy Man? Timeless, to say the least. A man after my own soft centre.

Step back in time...