Review of Doctor Who ‘The Sun Makers’ (Series 15)
In the run up to the 50th anniversary of ‘Doctor Who’ in November 2013, Neela Debnath with the help of BBC DVD, will be writing a review focusing on one story from each of the previous 31 series of the show. Each review will offer readers a snapshot from every series of ‘Doctor Who’ and celebrate the longest-running science fiction television programme in the world.
Written by the excellent Robert Holmes, The Sun Makers is essentially a satire of the British tax system in the Seventies. The serial saw the Doctor and Leela visit Pluto after noticing some odd activity on the planet which in theory should be a cold, lifeless rock. To their horror, they find an out of control bureaucratic regime known as the ‘Company’ controlling the planet’s inhabitants by working and taxing them to death.
Along with Leela, another companion has joined the Doctor. He may be small but he is mighty, he is of course the robot dog K-9 who was acquired by the Doctor in the serial The Invisible Enemy. Despite his heroic feats the Doctor sees the metal pooch as a hindrance. With the presence of K-9 the dynamic between the Doctor and his companions has changed once again and re-energises the show – there is also a lot more comedy with K-9 around.
Even though the script does not feel very strong, there are some nice touches to Holmes’ dystopia, in particular the Company’s use of a chemical to induce fear and supress freewill amongst the people, so that they will be too frightened to question the regime. Along with this is the public execution broadcast on television. To add to the bleakness of this world, people must pay to attend the execution which the Collector’ (Henry Woolf) considers it to be a shared experience that should be witnessed by all.
The villain of the serial is played masterfully by Woolf who is a caricature of the tax man. The Collector’s nasal voice and his ratty nature as he hunches over his machines making calculations is spot-on. It seems to me that it is more than just a coincidence that he shares some remarkable eyebrows, much like Dennis Healey who was the Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time.
Britain in the Seventies was a difficult time, with the economy in the worst state it had been in since the Wall Street Crash – indeed the times we are living in now have been hailed as the worst in history – but up until that point the Seventies was the lowest point in the world’s economy and inevitably money was at the forefront of the nation’s consciousness. Ironically, the serial may even hold some relevance in today’s financial climate. This is an incredibly satirical story of a world where people are worked to the bone and taxes are so high that it is impossible to live a decent quality of life.
However, returning to the serial itself, the other notable performance is from Jameson who is even feistier than before. Leela is fierce but smart and great when left to her own devices, she could have her own show because she is interesting as a character.
One of the most interesting things about this serial is the violence in it. There is no doubt that many things that were featured in the show in the Seventies would never make it onto our screens today, the depiction of violence is just one of those things. The fights in The Sun Makers are more graphic and grittier while Leela’s knife-wielding would just not be a part of the show today.
Considering the criticisms that society as a whole is becoming more violent due to television, film, the internet, etc. The Sun Makers contains some shocking moments, most notably when an angry mob hurls the Gatherer Hade (Richard Leech) off the edge of a building. A scene like that would be almost unthinkable in this day and age on Saturday night family prime time television. The violence on Doctor Who shows that it is a product of its time and that things have changed on the series since then.
The serial as a whole is mediocre and Holmes has written stronger stories. Some of the gripes in this serial include the changeable nature of the rebels – one minute they are against the Doctor and the next they are helping him, then the to-ing and fro-ing and getting captured by members of the Company and escaping, all of which feels like an attempt to kill time.
Saying this, Holmes’ characteristic wit and satire are there even if the former is less evident than the latter. This is one of those serials that can contemporary audiences can either take or leave. It feels merely average – particularly if it is taken purely at face value and without the context of the economic climate in 1977.
For more information about the classic series of ‘Doctor Who’ visit: www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/classic
For more information about the ‘Doctor Who’ DVDs visit: www.bbcshop.com
DVD & image credit: BBC
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