'THE SUN MAKERS' DVD (BBCDVD2955)
RELEASED IN AUGUST 2011.
The TARDIS, along with the Doctor, Leela and K-9, arrives on Pluto in the distant future. The time travelLers discover the planet has a breathable atmosphere and enjoys heat from six small suns, but the humans who live there are taxed and exploited heavily for the privilege.
When Leela is captured and sentenced to death, the Doctor must save his companion, as well as stopping the ruthless Company, before it is too late...
The Sun Makers
26th november 1977 - 17th december 1977
The Sun Makers represents Graham Williams’ vision for Doctor Who at its most articulate. It’s no secret that back in 1977 the series’ new producer was under great pressure to steer the ship in a much lighter direction, and with this satirical script outgoing script editor Robert Holmes was able to indulge Williams’ comedic aspirations for the show without undermining its central drama, while at the same time hitting back at the UK government, whose recent VAT sweep had really raised his heckles.
When people look back at The Sun Makers, its most outstanding feature is its less than subtle indictment of UK tax law. Holmes’ witty script is strewn with all manner of pecuniary puns, the perceived injustice of his tax bill inspiring the writer to pen some of his most barbed dialogue. Exchanges such as “These taxes, they are like sacrifices to tribal gods?” / “Paying tax is more painful,” plainly evidence the writer’s rage, as does the villains’ disproportionately brutal comeuppance in Part 4. However, Holmes was careful not to make this story all about taxation – after all, nobody likes paying tax, but it’s hardly evil, and if it is then it’s a necessary evil. Consequently The Sun Makers’ villains are not a limb of a state, but an oppressive corporation styled after those that effectively ran India back in Britain’s days of empire (or, perhaps more pertinently, Uxarieus in Malcolm Hulke’s Colony in Space). Holmes has to be applauded for being bold enough to write a science fiction serial in which the baddies do not want to conquer the universe by way of might – they want to insidiously gain economic dominion over it. The people of Pluto that we see in this story are enslaved in an all new, yet all too familiar, way.
“Don’t you think commercial imperialism is just as bad as military conquest?”
As one would assume from its opening scene’s 1984 homage, this serial’s Megropolis One is a dystopia. Featureless corridors are complemented by concrete block architecture – it’s reminiscent of Hull, only with six artificial suns. However, much like the UK’s striking miners of the time, the workers of Megropolis One never see the sunlight – they are pallid and poor, while those sat on top of them live ostentatious lives of luxury. To its credit though, The Sun Makers doesn’t lionise the workers of Pluto or paint them as whiter-than-white revolutionaries; Holmes distils all the spite borne of revolution and vests it in his rebels. Even Leela struggles to hold her own against their abhorrently vicious leader, Mandrel (William Simons). This lends the piece a disturbing sense of legitimacy that’s its sardonic veneer belies.
“You have nothing to lose but your claims!”
As a general rule of thumb, for Doctor Who to work the actors need to play their parts seriously, even if those parts appear to be anything but on the page – especially if, in fact. The Sun Makers is an exception to this precept though, and a spectacular one at that. Richard Leech’s grandiloquent Gatherer Hade, for instance, is one of the most theatrical, overblown villains in the series’ long history, yet somehow he’s terrifyingly believable. His eyebrows may be a cruel nod to then-chancellor of the exchequer Denis Healy, and his costume may resemble a livid boiled sweet, but his self-supposed intelligentsia and unwittingly disparaging honorifics (“Your corpulence” being my firm favourite) reek of the vacuous pomp associated with high office. Henry Woolf’s cartoonish Collector is an even more outrageous caricature, but again he’s alarmingly close to many a number-crunching, bonus-driven high-up - and, again, mischievously equipped with a pair of Healy eyebrowsTM.
“Galileo would have been impressed.”
The DVD’s commentary is a bundle of laughs, as I’ve come to expect from any that carries Tom Baker’s name. This time around the former Time Lord spends as long trying to rile Blake’s 7 star Michael Keating (by feigning ignorance of that show, despite having once waxed lyrical about him being the only difference between it and Who) as he does recalling his memories of The Sun Makers, which all seem to revolve around his allegedly vivid memories of a dandruff outbreak. Baker and Keating are joined by Leela actress Louise Jameson, who serves as a perfect foil to Baker’s compelling silliness through her astute and enlightening musings about her favourite Doctor Who’s serial’s origins and merits. Her recollection that Holmes wrote The Sun Makers as a send-up of the BBC, which he had reportedly resolved to leave for good, hence the infamous corridor P45, is particularly remarkable.
Above: Louise Jameson wouldn't consider Running from the Tax Man -
in fact, The Sun Makers is her favourite Doctor Who story
The centrepiece documentary, Running from the Tax Man, boasts fewer stars than the commentary, but Jameson is again hand to set out her thoughts, and this time in a more structured manner. She is joined by astronomer Marek Kukula, who discusses the discovery of the tenth ‘planet’ referred to in this story, Cassius (‘Eris’ for now…), and the reclassification of both Pluto and Eris as dwarf planets (which, again, we can expect to be overturned well before the time of The Sun Makers), as well as writer and historian Dominic Sandbrook, who frankly carries the twenty-five minutes through his succinct dissection of the story’s involuntary ring-wing leanings, and trivia concerning its production (I’d certainly have been interested to see the mooted South American-inspired design for Megropolis One). The disc also features an amusing selection of outtakes and the second instalment of The Doctor’s Composer, which this time around looks at Dudley Simpson’s 1970s work on Who, covering everything from Spearhead from Space to being fired from working on “his baby” over lunch by John Nathan-Turner.
The Sun Makers is thus a gritty tale that vilifies commercial imperialism, the tax man and perhaps even Auntie Beeb, but it does so with biting flair and charming cartoon overstatement. By turns harrowing and humorous, these four episodes echo Louise Jameson’s insurance broker father’s profound declaration that “Life is one big, long tax bill,” while offering their viewers a short reprieve from it.
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