The Doctor and Ace visit a human colony of the planet Terra Alpha, where the pink-haired all-female secret police, the Happiness Patrol, roam the streets murdering so called Killjoys. The Leader, Helen A (Sheila Handcock) is obsessed with eliminating unhappiness. One of her senior advisers, Gilbert M (Harold Innocent) has invented the Kandyman (David John Pope), who is a grotesque candy-based robot. Displays of grief, wearing dark clothes, reading poetry except for limericks, and walking in the rain are capital offenses. Those found guilty of unhappiness are drowned in molten candy. The Happiness Patrol is armed with Fun Guns that vaporize you.
The Doctor and Ace meet an unhappy guard named Susan Q (Lesley Dunlop) and Earl Sigma (Richard D. Sharp), a wandering harmonica player. Along with the Pipe People, the goblin-like native inhabitants who live in the pipe-filled basements, they struggle to overthrow Helen A’s tyranny. They have public protests in which rebels show their unhappiness, attempting to expose Helen A’s population plan to the visiting Official Galactic Census Taker Trevor Sigma (John Normington).
The first to be disposed of by the rebels is Fifi (voice of director Chris Clough), Helen’s pet Stigorax, a rat-like dog-creature who hunts down the Pipe People, when Earl uses his harmonica to cause an avalanche of sugar that crushes the creature in the pipes below the city. Then they destroy the Kandyman with his own deadly fondant surprise. One of the best jokes: the rebels begin a protest with dark clothes and angry shouts, and when the Happiness Patrol shows up, they are dressed in bright colours and tossing confetti. The Doctor declares that they are really tremendously happy and cannot be arrested. The Happiness Patrol is unhappy about this and the Doctor says they should arrest themselves, which they do.
Realizing that it’s all over for her, Helen tries to escape in a rocket, but discovers the rocket has been commandeered by Gilbert M and her husband Joseph C (Ronald Fraser). She tries to flee but the Doctor lectures her about Happiness only working because it contrasts with and balances sadness. She learns what sadness means when she discovers the remains of her beloved rat Fifi and wails with grief.
The production was going to be broadcast in Black and White to enhance its film-noir look, but to Sylvester McCoy’s disgust, the BBC chickened out. It was also going to be scored by Muzak, but this idea was rejected as aggravating to viewers. Helen A was, of course, a parody of Margaret Thatcher. As McCoy said, “Our feeling was that Margaret Thatcher was far more terrifying than any monster Doctor Who had encountered.” The scene in which the Doctor asks the people to put down their tools was a reference to the British Miner’s Strike of 1984-5. As the script progressed, the Marxist rhetoric was somewhat toned down. The idea of having single-letter surnames was supposed to make you think of Josef K in The Trial, by Franz Kafka.
The Doctor sings “As Time Goes By,” from Casablanca. The Doctor and Earl Sigma do a duet on spoons. There was once a proposal for a William Hartnell story in which laughter was forbidden and seriousness was enforced by law on some planet, but that never happened. The CEO of Bassett Foods threatened to sue over copyright infringement because their mascot was made of Licorice Allsorts and bore a striking resemblance to Kandyman, but nothing came of it. Susan Q was demoted from Susan L because she had a blues record. In a quote from George Bernard Shaw, the Blues was referred to as the Brandy of the Damned.
The Doctor turns on his dark side when someone pulls a gun on him and he walks forward until it touches his chest. His face and his voice turn cold as ice and he berates the gunman so forcefully that the man retires in confusion. There is the usual richness of secondary characters. Sheila Hancock understood immediately that she was to channel Margaret Thatcher with some subtlety, and she is a joy to watch. Several minor characters are equally wonderful. The harmonica-playing bluesman (Richard D. Sharp) provides moments of sweet, longing melancholy in the midst of the action and satire. I am a blues fan from way back and I never hear music like that in SF. It reveals as nothing else could that sadness is as precious as joy. I have been unable to find out if Richard D. Sharp was actually playing the harp, but the music by Dominic Glynn in this and other Who stories is fabulous.
Some reviewers praised the story as a clever and funny satire, or even a minor masterpiece, and mentioned the irony, social commentary, and Sylvester McCoy’s acting, though it was also called the strangest and most peculiar Doctor Who Story ever. There was a gay subtext, in that the TARDIS was painted pink, the Kandyman wore a pink triangle badge, and the story ends with Helen’s husband leaving her for another man. The Archbishop of Canterbury mentioned the story in his 2011 Easter Sermon on Happiness and Joy.