We’re now officially told that it’s a good idea to be happy. Politicians have started talking about happiness rather than just prosperity, and there is even a research programme on the subject, trying to identify the essence of human well-being. And it’s nice and entirely appropriate that we are being encouraged to some public displays of shared celebration next Friday: let a thousand street parties blossom!Dr. Williams is, of course, right, as is his colleague Doctor Who; that other eminent sage T.H. White had something to say on the matter in his posthumously published The Book of Merlyn:
Now it’s certainly a good thing that people have publicly acknowledged that there is more to life than the level of our Gross National Product, that we’re just beginning to say out loud that corporate prosperity divorced from personal and communal fulfillment or stability is an empty thing. It’s when we try and put more flesh on this that it becomes more complicated – and, worse still, more self-conscious. Some of you might just remember an episode of Doctor Who a couple of decades ago called ‘The Happiness Patrol’ where the Doctor arrives on a planet in which unhappiness is a capital crime, and blues musicians lead a dangerous underground existence. But less dramatically, most of us know the horrible experience of a family outing where things aren’t going too well and Mum or Dad keeps saying, through ever more tightly gritted teeth, ‘This is fun, isn’t it?’
There’s the catch: the deepest happiness is something that has crept up on us when we weren’t looking. We can look back and say, Yes, I was happy then – and we can’t reproduce it.
Imagine a rusty bolt on the garden door, which has been set wrong, or the door has sagged on its hinges since it was put on, and for years the bolt has never been shot efficiently: except by hammering it, or by lifting the door a little, and wriggling it home with effort. Imagine then that the old bolt is unscrewed, rubbed with emery paper, bathed in paraffin, polished with fine sand, generously oiled, and reset by a skilled workman with such nicety that it bolts and unbolts with the pressure of a finger - with the pressure of a feather - almost so that you could blow it open or shut. Can you imagine the feelings of the bolt? They are the feelings of glory which convalescent people have, after a fever. It would look forward to being bolted, yearning for the raptures of its sweet, succesful motion.Happiness as a byproduct of being one's own best self. I like that, really, I do.
For happiness is only a bye-product of function, as light is a bye-product of the electric current running through the wires. If the current cannot run efficiently, the light does not come. That is why nobody finds happiness, who seeks it on its own account. But man must seek to be like the working bolt; like the unimpeded run of electricity; like the convalescent whose eyes, long thwarted in their sockets by headache and fever, so that it was a grievous pain to move them, now flash from side to side with the ease of fishes in clean water. The eyes are working, the current is working, the bolt is working. So the light shines. That is happiness: working well.
Now, not only do I agree with the sentiment expressed by Doctor Williams but it's interesting that he is not reaching out for a well-beloved (to non-fans) episode of the show; he's picking a politically left of center episode, whose standing is, shall we say, controversial. In short, Dr. Williams is revealing a suspiciously geeky knowledge of Doctor Who. This makes me like him a little better, I confess. Although, remember Damian Thompson's rejection on the suspicion that "Archbishop Rowan Williams is reminiscent of Doctor Who's arch-enemy the Master, as played by Roger Delgado in the incomparable Pertwee era, on the ground that "I think that's a bit unfair. On the Master"? Well, guess what?
As Dr. Williams' statement regarding The Happiness Patrol indicates, and as Dr. Sandifer's linked analysis ofthe episode supports, the Sylvester McCoy era is Doctor Who with a strong viewpoint. The Doctor himself is brilliantly mecurial as played by McCoy, clowing one minute, only to suggest hitherto hidden depths of deviousness and manipulativeness. The scripts perk up after a dreary start, and, while often far from perfect, the series rises from the nadir of the Colin Baker era (not Baker's fault, though, as I previously noted), has found its voice and its function again.
One might say it was happy.
And, bonus in-joke for fellow Whovians: