purplecat: The Tardis against the spiralling clock face effect of the Capaldi opening credits. (Doctor Who)
[personal profile] purplecat
"Oh dear, this looks cheap," Tame Layman said as the opening shot swept along the corridors of Terra Alpha.

And, well, it does. As a classic Who fan, I'm fairly forgiving of sets and even more so of special effects, but once it was pointed out it was painfully obvious that the streets of Terra Alpha consisted of a painted studio floor and some painted plywood. Other sets worked better. I particularly liked the whimsy of the Candy Kitchen, though even that looked more like a stage set (albeit an elaborate one) than an actual kitchen.

I'm equally in two minds about the costumes which, to be honest, also look cheap though I don't think that is their main problem - though it is possibly a contributory factor. The Kandy Man, much maligned at the time, doesn't actually bother me that much. It is mostly the eponymous Happiness Patrol itself that fails to convince. There is something about the combination of women in high heels, mini-skirts and guns that always makes me feel that an ill-advised point about the evils of feminism is being made (see Galaxy Four - a story I've not seen so I may be misjudging). Thankfully the script doesn't go there, though it can't help making the odd reference to the implied gender-role reversal: "women get all the best guns" a man muses at one point. The white face-paint worn by the elite of Terra Alpha similarly is either a rather laboured point about powerful women and make-up or a rather more interesting point about ornamentation and culturul standards of beauty. It frankly could be either. I think the costumes are either a case of a thoughtful costume designer hampered by a miniscule budget or an unimaginative costume designer being rescued by a great script.

Because the script here is very good, clearly good enough to elict excellent performances from Sheila Hancock, Ronald Fraser and Harold Innocent all of whom, frankly, could have wandered through the script with the bemusement one feels Joan Sims did a few years earlier but who, instead, rise above the cheap sets and slightly farcical costuming. The Happiness Patrol is, possibly infamously, supposed to present a cariacatured Margaret Thatcher. While this is moderately obvious from the performance, it is only moderately so, and I think one of the strengths of the script is that while it may have been motivated by a desire present topical social commentary, its tale of the way dictators allow themselves to believe that their actions are for the public good. What is more that anything apparently evil they do, they have been forced into by people who accept what is good for them. It's a message that continues to be relevant and is a much more nuanced view of villainy that Doctor Who normally presents.

"That was really rather good," Tame Layman said at the end, showing that a good script and fine performances can lift Doctor Who well above what you might expect its budget to allow.
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