The countdown continues.....
A FEMALE VILLAIN (OR, I GUESS, A VILLAINESS)
As we continue down the list, I find myself wanting to express my love for a villain of the female persuasion. Before some of you start trying to accuse me of just trying to be a Social Justice Warrior or something of that sort (that's been going around a lot, lately, in fandom!), I did not place her here strictly because she's a woman and we need to increase villainess awareness or something like that. I really do think that, out of all the one-time-only baddies to grace the series, she is truly the third best. Gender has nothing to do with it.
It seemed most logical to pick a villainess from the Seventh Doctor era. He had the most enjoyable female enemies (although Eleven had some good ones, too). Perhaps, because his first battle was against the Rani, the writers seemed to like how he stood up to evil women. Even in stories like Silver Nemesis, where the plot wasn't as good as some of the other tales from that season - characters like Lady Peinforte could still make things that much more fun. She's not the winner of this particular award, by the way. Neither is Morgaine from Battlefield. Although, she came quite close...
When it was first transmitted, Happiness Patrol was, very much, considered a vote-splitter among fandom. You either loved it for its bravery or hated it for its camp sensibilities. There seemed to be no in-between. Over the years, negative opinion regarding the story seems to have mellowed. There's still a segment of fandom that will eternally hate it, but most people now seem to see it for the work of brilliance that it truly is.
Helen A is, without a doubt, one of the key things that makes Happiness Patrol so awesome. She is a blatant parody of Margeret Thatcher, yes. But I love that they didn't just stop there. She would've been so two dimensional if they had. But, instead, they went so much further with the character.
Probably what I love most about Helen A is that she never does any of her own dirty work. She has a team of people who are eager to please her that will perform all those morbid forms of execution on her behalf. That, to me, is a villain with real power. She just sits in her office and puts on this pretense of domestic bliss while the real evil is executed through delegation. It's a great trait to give a baddie. Particularly when so many other villains in the series love to directly administer the pain to their victims. Helen A is far more inclined to just watch and enjoy while minions take care of the blood-spilling for her. Just like Sil, that sense of perversity at enjoying the pain of others from a safe distance makes her that much more unsettling.
Much praise must also go to Sheila Hancock. With her garish business suit, white clown-face makeup and silly wig, one would expect her to go ridiculously over-the-top with everything. Her character both looks and is quite ludicrous. And yet, somehow, she gets us to believe in her. She keeps her performance on the right side of sincerity so that we are able to feel for her as she reaches her undoing.
The fall of Helen A is what truly wins her this title. I'm always impressed when a writer comes up with a better solution to the story than to just kill off the baddie in the final episode. Helen A's defeat is, easily, the most creative of all resolutions. The confrontation between her and Seven as she tries to slip away in a shuttle is one of the best hero/villain face-offs in the history of the show (how cool is it when Sylvester produces a coin from nowhere and professes: "Two sides - one coin!") We really don't know where things are going to go with these two. To all intents and purposes, it really looks like Helen A is going to make it aboard that shuttle with just a stern lecture from the Doctor.
And then they drop Fifi on us. Fifi, who we thought was just a side-story to create more peril and make Helen A seem more twisted and bizarre, had a higher purpose, after all. As Helen A kneels before the dying Stigorax and bawls - we can't help but marvel at the brilliance of the moment. Helen A has truly lost. There could be no worse way to punish her.
What could have been just a cheap political satire becomes one of the best-layered one-time-only villains in all of Doctor Who. Helen A is not only a great villainess, but she beats most of the one-time-only boy baddies that have tried butt heads with our favorite Time Lord throughout the years.
I adore her.
We'll keep the countdown rollin'.....