Our Doctor Who expert, Tony Cross, is journeying through all of time and space to bring us his thoughts on every available Doctor story. Today is the Fourth Doctor adventure The Sun Makers...
The Sun Makers is brilliant. It might all be tower blocks, corridors & slightly over-large rooms with flashing lights but this is a work of Robert Holmes at his best.
The script balances semi-regular peril for the main cast with adult cleverness, including sneaky references to P45's. (On the other hand you could argue it's a magnificent two fingers at HMRC written by a man facing a rather large tax bill)
Basically The Doctor flexes his revolutionary muscles & brings down a rapacious corporate imperialist regime keeping the human race in tax slavery on Pluto in less time than it takes to cook a Christmas pudding. From the moment he & Leela prevent Cordo (Ray McReady) from throwing himself off the roof in despair at his inability to pay his father's death taxes the Doctor is rolling along in anarchist joy.
Leela too, with her belligerent honour, gives heart to a people kept in slavery by a combination of ridiculous taxation, an atmosphere filled with a drug to keep people suppressed & the employees of the company desperate to drive profits.
As usual a good script brings out some excellent performances but I think there are two highlights.
Firstly, Richard Leech's pompous, obsequious & egotistical Gatherer Hade. Hade's a bastard child of all those Pertwee era bastions of smuggery that are the British Civil Service. It's a performance that borders on pantomimesque but stays mostly on the right side of ham. It is helped by his costume, which makes him look like a giant humbug.
Secondly there is Henry Woolf's oleaginous Collector, who heads up the Company's operations. He's a nasty little squint. All chrome dome & gurgling. It's his voice, which reminds me a bit of Sil that is the highlight. It's high-pitched & whiny. It's snide, nasty & when he needs to be pathetic. It's not naturalistic but pray how else would you play a sentient seaweed that's taken on human form.
There's a lovely moment when he's confronting the Doctor where he reaches across a strokes Tom's voluminous curls that is beautifully timed.
I should also note the appearance of Michael Keating as Goudry. Keating, of course, is better known as Villa in Blake's 7. Villa was always my favourite character in Blake's 7 so it's nice to see him here.
What's great about a lot of the characters in this is the way their encounters with the Doctor & Leela seem to wake them up from their slumbers & get them ready for revolution. It helps of course when important parts of the infrastructure are looked after by two blokes. This being late 70s Doctor Who I'm afraid the baddies look shockingly understaffed.
But the Doctor's a whirlwind of revolutionary leadership here interfering like it is going out of fashion.
It's an eminently quotable script to, almost as witty as City of Death (but not quite & I must stop getting ahead of myself).
This is also the first story that feels Graham Williamsy. There's less violence, less horror & more wit.
I imagine at the time it was the sort of story fans whinged about for being 'silly', forgetting for that Doctor Who did virtually out & out comedy with The Romans or the Myth Makers.
What it does do though is make one realise the importance of actors playing it straight. The Sun Makers works because everyone acts as if they are in something serious. The minute actors start playing silly buggers because the story seems silly is when things go to pieces.
Anyway I could waffle on all day about this. It never really comes up high on the list of great Doctor Who stories this but it should do & it was even better this time round for me than the last time.
In fact I could quite happily watch it again now.
Tony Cross is the creator of the wonderful Centurion Blog's found HERE and HERE.
Image – BBC.