So the Tubes have been buzzing with, of all things, an interview with some Eighties Doctor Who figures who have copped to sticking political allegories in the storylines during Sylvester McCoy’s era.  Particular attention is paid to one serial called “The Happiness Patrol“*, which is now revealed to be an attack on Margaret Thatcher’s politics.  (Except for the giant candy monster, which is just there to be hilariously bad.)


A couple of problems here.  One: as a revelation, this is about as revelatory as “Gene Roddenberry was a secular humanist!”.  If it shocks you, well… hi, welcome to Earth, hope you enjoy your stay.  “The Happiness Patrol” as anti-Thatcher allegory was picked up on at the time–it’s not a difficult interpretation.

 The Kandyman, a monster from the 1988 Doctor Who serial



Two: in fact–Sylvester McCoy’s claims notwithstanding–as an allegory, it’s as subtle as a pink elephant. “The Happiness Patrol” serves just as well as an example of why Doctor Who shouldn’t do allegories: they’re terrible at them.  See also “The Sunmakers” (anti-tax), “The Green Death” (environmentalism), “The Two Doctors” (vegetarianism), and, from the new series, “Aliens of London / World War Three” (anti-Iraq war).**  It’s notable that none of these are universal fan favorites today; consensus is pretty strong on the merits of most stories, and the best-liked stories (“Genesis of the Daleks“, “The Caves of Androzani“,”The Curse of Fenric“, “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances“, and whatever favorite of yours that I haven’t listed here because otherwise this would be a really long list) tend to not have obvious takeaway Aesops.


Three, what do the pearl-clutchers allege that Doctor Who was trying to accomplish?  Mass riots in the streets?  Britain’s prepubescents marching on Whitehall?  Because that didn’t happen.  Okay, so they were trying to inculcate a dislike of Thatcher and her policies, so that Britain’s children would grow up to vote Labour… because these children would, somehow, be raised in a pro-Tory vacuum otherwise?  “The Happiness Patrol” was broadcast in 1988,  public mood had turned against Thatcher by the Nineties, and IMHO the changing of the public’s opinion of her government is best explained by the failures of said government.


Four, I have a serious problem with the unspoken assumption under all the handwringing, which is that Doctor Who should have been impartial.  What the hell does this mean?  Should they not have done stories that… I don’t know, commented on the world in any way?  This is fiction’s jobAll stories are about the world in which they’re made, and science fiction is always at least as much about the present as it is about the future.  The BBC should only ever make TV that everyone will agree with?


Which, finally, is impossible anyway. Showrunners have no control over what interpretation people give to the stories.  If Russell T. Davies says that the episode “Bad Wolf” was intended as an homage to reality TV, and bazillions of fans think it’s a satirical critique of reality TV, who’s right and who’s wrong?



* IMHO, you’re not missing much if you sit this serial out.  It’s one of those Eighties serials where the world sucks and the special effects are terrible and the soundtrack is synth-tastic.

**And, of course, lots of others.  Trust me, you’ll be able to tell which.


(Kandyman image yoinked from the Doctor Who Image Archive.)