The TARDIS comes to an unexpected stop on a world that the Doctor hasn’t explored before, but moments after he and Leela step out of the TARDIS and onto the top of an immense building, Leela spots a man moments away from committing suicide. The time travelers stop him from jumping off the building and try to learn what has brought him to the brink. They learn that they’re actually on Pluto, which is now surrounded by artificial suns and colonized by the Company – which also employs virtually everyone who lives on Pluto, and and which also taxes them into poverty. Cordo, stuck with a debt he’ll never be able to afford to repay after failing to pay in full the tax on his father’s death, sees only despair, until he remembers stories of the Others, a group of underground rebels who fight against the Company’s taxes and bureaucracy. With the help of the Doctor, Leela and K-9, Cordo finds the Others and pledges to join them, only to discover that sticking it to the man could make him a dead man.
written by Robert Holmes
directed by Pennant Roberts
music by Dudley Simpson
Guest Cast: Roy Macready (Cordo), Richard Leech (Gatherer Hade), Jonina Scott (Marn), Michael Keating (Goudry), William Simons (Mandrel), Adrienne Burgess (Veet), Henry Woolf (Collector), David Rowlands (Bisham), Colin McCormack (Commander), Derek Crewe (Synge), Carole Hopkin (Nurse), Tom Kelly (Guard)
Broadcast from November 26 through December 17, 1977
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: A great many books on the subject of Doctor Who have elevated The Sun Makers to a Swiftian parody of the British tax system, but what I discovered, rewatching it all these years later, is that it’s incredibly uneven. There’s a grim grittiness to the first episode, what with its fleecing of innocent taxpayers and a man driven almost to suicide, that is completely hijacked by the time part 4 unspools, by which time it’s become a classic example of the campiness that most dead-serious fans of the show wish casual observers and critics could forget. The rough-and-tumble rebels who seem prepared to kill to avenge the downtrodden in part 1 seem like light comedy characters by the end of the story. Even their adversary, Gatherer Hade, who seems all to ready to tax a man to death in part 1, becomes a buffoonish blowhard by the time he gets his comeuppance.
There are quite a few good moments here for Leela, though many of them seem to be a case of Louise Jameson making lemonade out of the lemons she was given; the script all but reduces even the regulars to caricature. This is very surprising when one considers that the whole thing is written by Robert Holmes, generally considered one of Doctor Who’s best writers, old series or new – and he’d done quite well with the character of Leela in The Talons Of Weng-Chiang. It’s interesting also to see Michael Keating, who would later play Vila, the only character to appear in all 52 episodes of Blake’s 7, essaying a not entirely dissimilar character here – but with a seedy edge that was eventually leached out of Vila’s character. (It’s probably no coincidence that director Pennant Roberts also helmed a number of Blake’s 7 episodes.)
The Sun Makers is certainly entertaining, but only if you can overlook a lack of consistency of tone from the story’s beginning to its end.