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Audio Book Review


Doctor Who
The Happiness Patrol


Author: Graeme Curry
Read by: Rula Lenska
BBC Audio
RRP: £17.61
ISBN: 978 1 4084 0996 1
Available 02 July 2009

Helen A, ruler of Earth colony Terra Alpha, is determined that happiness will prevail. And if any killjoys insist upon being miserable, the fun guns of the Happiness Patrol will remove them; or they will vanish into the Kandy Kitchen, where the Kandy Man will deal with them. When the Doctor and Ace spend a night on the dark streets of Terra Alpha they have to keep a smile on their faces - or else! - while making contact with the native Pipe People and trying to convince the colonists that they can have too much of a good thing - even sweets and happiness...

When this series of talking novelisations began, BBC Audio carefully selected narrators that were relevant to the story in question, in that they had appeared in the original television production. Often this was an actor that had played a companion in the serial, such as William Russell (Ian Chesterton) or Caroline John (Liz Shaw). Before long, though, some of the connections were beginning to become tenuous, so that, for example, The Doomsday Weapon and The Space War were read by Geoffrey Beevers, who had played the Master not in those particular stories but in The Keeper of Traken. Evidently the producers couldn’t find anyone even remotely associated with the 1988 Sylvester McCoy serial The Happiness Patrol (what, no Sheila Hancock, Sophie Aldred or even Lesley Dunlop?) so instead we have Rula Lenska, who played Styles in the 1984 Peter Davison serial Resurrection of the Daleks.

To be fair, Lenska is an appropriate choice of reader from a vocal point of view, given the number of female characters in this story, particularly the villainous Helen A, a character that doesn’t work as well on the page as when performed by a talented actress (on screen it was Sheila Hancock). Lenska’s impersonation of the Seventh Doctor is far less successful, sounding too harsh and too Scottish (McCoy had only a faint Scottish accent when he played the role).

The novelisation has a number of advantages over the television production, however, most notably its presentation of the Kandy Man. On TV, he was a screaming psychopath with spinning eyes and an uncomfortable resemblance to Bertie Bassett (Bassett’s certainly thought so - the company complained to the BBC). Here the Kandy Man has a deeper voice and, though he is still made from confectionery, resembles a pink-skinned human in a lab coat. The street scenes also work better - on TV, designer John Asbridge’s attempts to visualise once-gaudy but now run-down decor unfortunately just resembled bad sets and didn’t look much like exterior streets at all. Here we also get to hear properly what the Pipe People are saying.

Reinstating material that was cut from his scripts for timing reasons, author Graeme Curry also shows us the scene that would have introduced us to the Kandy Man, and fills in background information about the creation of that character, the origins of the Pipe People, and the economy of Terra Alpha. We are also made aware of the thoughts and feelings of even the most minor characters, including the non-speaking Andrew X, the victim of the strawberry-flavoured fondant surprise.

A downside of the novelisation and this unabridged presentation of it is that the story outstays its welcome. In terms of exploring the dystopia of Terra Alpha, the listener has “got it” long before the end of CD 1 (of four) and is ready to see the regime toppled. There’s little mystery to the plot, even regarding the Pipe People, because Curry reveals their identities and thought processes at an early stage.

Still, I’m glad that this worthy out-of-print novelisation (which enjoyed only a single print run in 1990) has been preserved in audio form, allowing Happiness to prevail... and I’m sure BBC Audio is happy that I’m glad!


Richard McGinlay

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