“The Sun Makers” is an adventure of the fifteenth season of “Doctor Who” classic series, which aired in 1977. It follows “Image of the Fendahl” and it’s a four parts adventure written by Robert Holmes and directed by Pennant Roberts.
Cordo can longer pay taxes that are getting higher all the time and decides to end his life. The arrival of the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and Leela (Louise Jameson) interrupts his suicide attempt and the man explains to the two travelers the reasons for his desperation.
The Doctor realizes that he and Leela have arrived on Pluto, which was made habitable for humans thanks to six artificial suns. However, the workers are taxed by the Company, which also acts as a local government. The meeting with a group of renegades shows another dark side of that society.
This DVD edition has a limited amount of extras. There are typical contents such as production subtitles, a gallery of pictures from this adventure, the Radio Times Billings and a promo of the “Doctor Who” DVDs soon to be published.
There are various comments in the adventure episodes alternative audio track by its protagonists Tom Baker and Louise Jameson, actor Michael Keating and director Pennant Roberts.
Running from the Tax Man. A documentary almost 25 minute long about the production of this adventure.
Trailer. The original trailer broadcast on BBC1 in 1977.
The Doctor’s Composer – Part 2. The second part, about 18 minute long, of a documentary about the composer Dudley Simpson.
Outtakes. Various attempts to shoot a scene despite some problems with a prop.
Robert Holmes had decided to leave his role as “Doctor Who” script editor to return to being a full-time screenwriter. He started developing an idea for the show that initially had colonialism as its central theme but was modified after the author had some problems with the Inland Revenue services, the British tax collection department. The adventure almost became a way to relieve the stress caused by the rules he found twisted and arbitrary.
The satirical element towards the tax system was even expanded during the development of the script in agreement with director Pennant Roberts, to the point that it became a central part in the plot. The theme of taxation is connected to the political one but producer Graham Williams asked to tone down the political references, which consequently are much more subtle and indirect. They require some knowledge of the British political framework of those years to be recognized, otherwise the production subtitles are helpful.
The choice of an openly satirical approach led, among other things, to deliberately over-the-top performances by some actors. Usually Robert Holmes gave his characters realistic traits in creating their personalities, in “The Sun Makers” they tend to be better suited to a serial full of surreal moments. This doesn’t mean that everyone has comic traits, on the contrary the renegades are often cutthroats, certainly not to be considered heroes in the revolution of which they become protagonists almost by accident. Between surreal moments there are others rather brutal.
The satirical setting fits well with the Fourth Doctor, whose behavior for once seems sober compared to some of the characters of “The Sun Makers”. Leela is also a strong point of this serial thanks to the fact that Robert Holmes knew the character well so he knew how to use her well.
The author and director managed for once to take advantage of the tight budget of the classic “Doctor Who” series. The city on Pluto is bare and this helps to create the impression of an environment in which ordinary citizens live in spartan conditions.
The satire was certainly nothing new in “Doctor Who” but rarely in the show it reached the levels of “The Sun Makers”. That also brought controversy about this serial but I think the plot is too surreal to be taken seriously. In essence it’s a case in which it’s useful to make some reflections on the themes contained but keeping reality separate from the television adventure.
“The Sun Makers” isn’t among the adventures remembered as classics but in my opinion it’s overall good. The DVD edition is a bit limited and seems to be generally oriented towards “Doctor Who” fans interested in having the complete collection.