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Doctor Who - The Sun Makers

episode 95

UK 1977
produced by
Graham Williams for BBC
directed by Pennant Roberts
starring Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Richard Leech, Henry Woolf, David Rowlands, Jonina Scott, Roy Macready, William Simons, Michael Keating, Adrienne Burgess, Derek Crewe, Colin McCormack, Tom Kelly, Carole Hopkin, John Leeson (voice)
written by Robert Holmes, music by Dudley Simpson, visual effects by Peter Day, Peter Logan

TV series
Doctor Who, Doctor Who (Tom Baker), Doctor Who (classic series), Leela, K9

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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The Doctor (Tom Baker), Leela (Louise Jameson) and K9 (voiced by John Leeson) land on Pluto, according to the Doctor a lifeless rock, but according to reality, a planet inhabitated by humans that has 6 suns circling it. As soon as they've landed though they save a man, Cordo (Roy Macready) from committing suicide, and learn from him that he's come to the end of his line as he cannot pay his taxes - and it turns out Pluto is controlled by a ruthless ruling class that provide work for its subjects but then tax them blind, as everything on here revolves around "profit", which in turn makes the workers little more than slaves. The Doctor and Leela encourage Cordo to go to the underground to join the revolution - but once they've found the rebels they find them being little more than an unorganized gang of thieves. They persuade the Doctor to draw some money from the bank with a stolen bank card, but the Doctor gets captured and incarcerated. Leela wants  to free the Doctor, but the rebels refuse to help her, lacking in courage, so only Cordo supports her - but then she comes too late, and on top of that is captured. The Doctor meanwhile has been released by Gatherer Hade (Henry Woolf), the main tax collector on this part of Pluto, as Hade thinks the Doctor will lead him to the revolutionaries. But of course the Doctor knows that, feeds false information in the security cameras, and plans a revolution in revolution leader Mandrel's (William Simons) place, a revolution that starts with no longer spreading the whole city with a fear-inducing gas, then drawing the exploited work forces on the side of the revolution, and creating massive unrest. The Gatherer and his superior, the Collector (Henry Woolf) have of course a clue that the Doctor is spreading unrest and thus announce the public execution of Leela - but ultimately the Doctor saves the day of course and reveals the Collector to be an evil alien fungus feeding on other lifeforms for profit.

 

In a way, this is of course a typical Doctor Who episode of its era, the special effects are not too convincing, the sets and locations are so-so and pretty much a product of the tight budget more than everything else, the costumes are typical 1970s sci-fi wannabe, and the direction is functional rather than imaginative. On the plus side though you have Tom Baker turning in another of his trademark over-the-top performances, supported by a very able cast - especially the villains are spot on in this one.

But all of this can be said about most episodes of the series for sure, what makes this one special is that it's not so much science fiction but biting social satire packed into a futuristic corset, a piece taking on taxes, economy for profit's sake and both capitalism and communism gone over-the-top, and really makes some points that make one thinking, packed in a very entertaining romp that works just as well as a pure adventure story as it does as social commentary. Plus, one mustn't forget the cast of interesting characters this is populated with, from the cowardly rebels to the pompous Gatherer who in the end is shown as much a slave to the system as everybody else, to his turncoat assisant (Jonina Scott). It's quite simply a beautifully written episode that by far transcends its slightly sloppy looks.

 

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review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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directed by
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