Ace was the breath of fresh air Doctor Who needed as it entered the latter half of the 1980s. Played perfectly by Sophie Aldred she was the best companion in ages. Her feisty take on life and constant twinkle in her eye made her so appealing.
She was surely a starting point for the characterization of Rose Tyler, don’t you agree? Ace came in as the show was sliding in the ratings and her first adventure, which came at the end of Season 24 was one of the most criticised of its entire run.
Anyway this 2-disc set contains 2 of her adventures, Dragonfire and The Happiness Patrol, both suffer the same faults but have much to offer. So here’s the second disc from the set, The Happiness Patrol.
Though it suffers from the same production restraints and cheapness as Dragonfire, The Happiness Patrol is one of those Seventh Doctor adventures that really does improve with age.
On the planet Terra Alpha, the population constantly displays happy smiles. Anyone feeling remotely glum disappears. Quickly. Having heard disturbing rumours, the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Ace arrive to topple the entire regime.
Doctor Who is at its best when influenced by real-life and this swipe at Thatcherism and all its evils is a wonderful, if slightly too colourful romp. McCoy is showing his darker side here whilst Aldred is well into character. Sheila Hancock deserves all the praise that’s heaped upon here as the ruler with a real caustic side and constant sneer. In fact the supporting cast is filled with some wonderful cameo moments, a bit like spot the classic Brit thespian. The over-lit sets ruin some of the atmosphere and it’s a shame the production wasn’t allowed to be shot in the original idea of a film-noir monochrome style.
The Kandy Man himself is far more effective than when I originally saw this, I recall being totally embarrassed by this evil Bertie Bassett style baddie but now I see the hideous fun they were aiming for.
This is a more adult story in terms of themes; it shows why melancholy and feeling like Autumn are important to human characteristics. It’s about being who YOU want to be rather than having things and feelings thrust onto you and transforming into something you just aren’t. A great story.
Commentary – Toby Hadoke is back in the hosting chair along with Sophie Aldred, Graeme Curry, Andrew Cartmel, Chris Clough and composer Dominic Glynn deliver a corker of a commentary, as usual a lot of the thanks goes to Hadoke whose encyclopedic knowledge helps bring out some cracking memories. One of the best I’ve heard.
Happiness Will Prevail – Andrew Cartmel, Sophie Aldred, writer Graeme Curry, director Chris Clough and the Kandy Man himself David John Pope discuss the inception of the story. This a slightly less serious than others that have gone on before, reflecting the off-beat storyline.
Deleted And Extended Scenes – Another collection of trims from the cutting room floor totaling almost 25 minutes.
When Worlds Collide – A great extra, this looks at how politics was reflected in the show, sometime subtly sometimes like a sledgehammer but this exhaustive look at the who history of the show is a very absorbing piece. Full credit to writer Nicholas Pegg for giving us an incredibly informative and genuinely interesting extra. The best one of the set.
Photo Gallery – Shots from the production accompanied by the score.
Audio Options – As with the first disc you can jump between the Commentary, Original Feature Audio or listen to the Isolated Score.
Info Text – Do I have to keep telling you? Play this at your first opportunity.
PDF Materials – More Radio Times listings from the original transmission date.
Coming Soon – The same trailer for Death To The Daleks that’s on the first disc in this set.
This box-set is a timely reminder of how good the Doctor and Ace were as a team. They endured the stormiest of times but gave us some memorable moments and although these aren’t their finest moments there’s still much to enjoy.
The Doctor Who: Ace Adventures boxset – comprising The Happiness Patrol and Dragonfire – can be purchased for the not-unreasonable price of £19.97 from Amazon!