This was always one of my favorite Who’s as a youngster and it is a joy to watch it again as an adult and think about what we are seeing. Since the reviews above [or below] do a fine job in outlining the plot, my tact will be discussing the look and feel of this superior, offbeat entry in the series.
If nothing else, this Who episode makes me think of George Lucas’ first feature, THX-1138, and I am sure that the producers and designers studied that film for ideas, such as the drugged, dehumanized work units and the use of sterile, pre-exitsing “modern” locales. Some of the hallways, subway tubes and of course the rooftop set were probably all located in the same factory or power plant. The familiarity of the settings, redefined for science fiction, produce an odd reaction within the viewer that work very well in serving the plot.
The contructed sets actually remind me of 3d game levels; the wall fixtures are decorated with flat, 2 dimensional slabs of “textures” that represent circuit boards and electrical conduits. While the illusion they present is incomplete in places, the result as a whole creates a very believable world. There is also a claustrophobic nature to the episode that nicely fits in with this futuristic plutocracy; the whole Megropolis is one big production machine, and the humans are merely expendable drones that service it — echoes of Metropolis, THX-1138, Soylent Green, Logan’s Run, Silent Running, et al.
The only part of the story that seems underdeveloped is that of The Others; They have a nice little pit with great looking duct fixtures to skulk about in, but where are they looting all of their provender from? Where do they plan to spend the 1000 telmars? Where did Mandrel get that bullwhip? I can buy into the idea of a group of malcontents living like rats in the undercity, but I wish some more time had been given to showing just how they make their keep. As is they just supply the plot with a readymade bunch of grungy, amoral roustabouts that The Doctor can use to ferment the rebellion against the Company, glory be to the Company. I’m willing to overlook it.
Doctor Who adventures pass or fail on the strengths of their villains, and The Sun Makers has two great villains in the form of The Gatherer ["Perhaps everyone runs from the Taxman."] and the slimy, gross, sneering Collector. I love the scenes where he sits at his control desk, fiddling with computations, issuing proclomations, mumbling figures and pressing levers that go BOINK. It is also interesting seeing The Doctor pit his wits against an Alien Menace that doesn’t want to reduce the galaxy to ashes for a change, just make dividends, keep up production, and enjoy a proper Steaming every once in a while. My favorite line from the adventure is when The Collector describes The Doctor with the expression “He has a long history of violence and of economic subversion. He will not be sympathetic to my company’s business methods.” Contemporary PC sensitive viewers may be uncomfortable with a hunched over little villain confinded to a wheelchair, but the explanation of why The Collector can’t leave the chair provides a great laugh. The only bigger laugh comes from watching the people tip The Gatherer over the edge of the roof at the end. Ha ha.
And then there is Leela … Leela is my favorite of The Doctor’s companions, and her role in this episode is pivotal to the plot rather than just penciled in to give The Doctor someone to explain things to. As a “degenerate unsported Telurian colonial savage” she is completely bemused by the culture she encounters but, as usual, adapts well to the situation and provides the spark that ignites the insurrection in her failed attempt to rescue The Doctor. My only question is, why do she and the rebel female character who wants her skins suddenly seemed to have bonded at the end, to the extent where they do some dopey combat buddy handshake? The last time they had seen each other they weren’t exactly on the best of terms. But with her blue eyes, dusky skin and scanty costume [I think we see more of Louise's bod in this one than any other in the series] she provides a truly human “Girl Power” counterpoint to the sanitized, impotent futuristic world she is thrust into. Her little bondage scene in the Correction Center also suggests things that cannot be printed here … ahem.
One thing that kind of raised an eyebrow when watching this again was the opening and closing segments in the TARDIS where Baker’s Who is nothing short of rude and petulant to Leela and K9. Why? Was the screenwriter trying to show The Doctor on one of his crabby mood days or were they improvising, and was this Baker’s idea of humor? Hearing him tell Leela to “Shut Up” just sounds wrong, though if I am not mistaken she soon left the series after this entry. Perhaps they were trying to set Leela up to where she would be ready to jump ship in the Invasion of Time, but I think a swift one to The Doctor’s family jewels…
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The Sunmakers is one of the more popular Tom Baker Doctor Whos. The Doctor, Leela, and K9arrive on the third moon of Pluto to find a human colony bogged down in taxes and work levied by the infamous company. In this colony, crimes are punished by being sent to a re-education center and the greatest crime is tax evasion. The ruler of this colony is the impish company representative who’s voice would make the crypt keeper proud. There’s a lot of opportunity for humorous dialogue (“let’s say he wants to make a double vision tax for people with two eyes”)and the story works hard to make a statement about beuracracy out of control. This is a classic Doctor Who of the Tom Baker Era.
On another note… if you’re looking for new Dr. Who material. Look for the audio releases of the missing episodes. Look for my list “Missing Dr. Who’s on Audio and Video” to find out about this. The jewel cases look really cool although amazon.com USA has not printed pictures for most of them on their web pages. Look for “The Web of Fear” for starters. “The Dalek’s Master Plan” Audio Release is awsome too. Also check out Big Finnish productions for the new audio adventures of Dr. Who featuring Doctors ranging from Peter Davison to Paul Mcgann. Was this review helpful? Did you learn something new from it? Please vote Yes.
A rather unusual story, ‘The Sunmakers’ is a highly clever, tongue-in-cheek dig at over-taxation and government and corporate beauracracy. Written by the incomparable Robert Holmes, this story deals with the plight of humanity, now confined to a terraformed Pluto and subservient to a greedy corporation which provides the means by which humans survive. The Doctor, Leela and K-9 become involved in the power struggle between the scheming officials of The Company and the uncultured rebels of the underground.The characters Holmes creates for this story are highly effective, from the lowly, desperate worker Cordo to the marvellously larger-than-life Gatherer Hade and the slimy, evil alien Collector. The dialogue sparkles as well, with almost everyone getting his or her share of memorable lines. The caliber of the guest cast is universally high, with the aforementioned Hade and Collector stealing their scenes brilliantly. Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are typically superb, with Baker owning a priceless scene in the medical ward where he bumbles about in a stait jacket, all the while chatting to a fellow patient and plotting his escape. The climax featuring the Collector and the Doctor is also a fascinating scene.Overall, ‘The Sunmakers’ is a fun and biting satire, brilliantly conceived, written and acted. Praise to The Company indeed.