Doctor Who
The Sun Makers

Starring: Tom Baker
BBC Video
BBCV 7133
Certificate: U
Available now

The Doctor, Leela and K9 arrive on Pluto in the far future. By this time, the planet has been made habitable by a series of artificial suns and colonised by humans. But the population is over-worked and over-taxed by its unfeeling corporate rulers...

This four-parter is a fairly unusual example from Graham Williams's tenure as producer of Doctor Who in that it features no monsters - at least, not until the very end of the story. Up until that point, the villains of the piece, Gatherer Hade (played by the appropriately named Richard Leech) and the Collector (Henry Woolf) are human in appearance. Oh, they're grossly exaggerated caricatures of fiscal greed, to be sure (Woolf's whining vocal delivery pre-empts Deep Space Nine's Grand Nagus Zek by a decade or two), but they are humanoid nevertheless.

The era's trademark emphasis on humour is very much in evidence, even if the men in monster suits are not. However, thanks to the writing of Robert Holmes, this is not one of those toe-curling examples of puerile comedy, but rather one of the finest parodies that the series has ever done. Holmes had allegedly received a hefty bill from the Inland Revenue while he was shaping his ideas for this story, and the result is this cutting satire on crippling taxation and debt.

The opening minutes of Part One drive home the tragically absurd plight of an ordinary worker, Cordo (Roy MacReady), who is taxed for the cost of his father's funeral and taxed for the extra shifts that he needs to put in to try and make ends meet. Puns and sight gags both subtle and obvious permeate the production, including Holmes's references to liquidation and "corridor P-45" and costume designer Christine Rawlins's humbug-coloured garb for the greedy Gatherer Hade. Beneath all the jokes, however, there lies a serious message about the dangers of spiralling and inescapable debt, that of both individuals and entire Third World nations.

The production values are remarkably high for the period, especially when you consider that this story is part of the typically cheap-looking fifteenth season. The absence of rubber monsters helps enormously, and many of the corridor scenes were filmed on location, which gives a greater sense of scale to Pluto's capital city, Megropolis One. Unfortunately, K9's drive system sounds dreadfully noisy during these corridor scenes, while his laser gun seems to possess an incredible ability to hit its target no matter which way his nose happens to be pointing at the time!

This story holds additional interest for fans of Blake's 7, who will notice the presence of Michael (Vila) Keating, in a slightly earlier freedom-fighter role as the rebel Goudry.

The Sun Makers: a brilliant fun maker.

Richard McGinlay