Cool Things About “The Sun Makers"
(And 8 Stupid Ones)
(But we're not telling you which is which)
(We're expecting you to work that out for yourselves)
By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore
Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 482
1. The way Cordo's father's death is announced at the start of the serial is played as an inverse of a birth, with Cordo waiting anxiously outside, a nurse congratulating him and telling him his father's time of death and weight.
2. The entryway to the Gatherer Hade's office looks like the ribs of a giant whale.
3. Hade's costume is also quite good, with his hat implying a balding man and his tunic suggesting a brightly-coloured vest and watchchain, like some kind of Dickensian caricature of a banker.
4. It's well known that Holmes was originally planning a satire of colonialism, which he then converted into a satire on taxation in a fit of rage at the Inland Revenue. However, considering that taxation is one of the instruments of colonialism, the two are not exactly unconnected.
5. And the Collector's explanation of the Usurians' treatment of the solar system — coming in and taking over a weak government and exploiting the hell out of the population — replicates the standard colonialist playbook.
6. It's a bit sad that this isn't made more explicit, because it's one thing to go about exploiting one world and then moving on to the next world, but when you've only got one world to exploit, as with our own stateless multinational corporations, then you're in trouble.
7. Gatherer Hade mispronounces the wood of his table as “Maho-gany”. Presumably it comes from Metuhbilis, near Spearidon.
8. “Full mercy attendance” implies that Cordo's father was euthanised.
9. There's a cut scene in Part Two where Cordo explains to Leela that all work-units who are too old or sick to work are gassed, which would mean “full mercy attendance” implies the choice of a more humane mode of execution.
10. By the way, the infotext in Part Four is wrong to indicate that the reference to the concept of work-units having a “death day” by the guard who confronts Goudry and Veet is lost because of that scene disappearing, since Cordo refers to it in Part One, if you can remember that far back!
11. Oh, and it also continues the analogy with childbirth, since, in our society, it's “birth days” that we're obsessed with.
12. From Gatherer Hade's recitation, we learn that VAT on Pluto is only 10%. They don't know how lucky they are.
13. The Doctor tells Leela to “shut up”, patronises the circuits out of K9 and generally exhibits the sort of behaviour that really ought to be completely inexcusable, but somehow Tom Baker manages to get away with it.
14. The scene where the Doctor tries to go for a walk without K9 figuring it out and coming along, by spelling out “WALK”, is absolutely adorable, and rather familiar for deluded pet owners.
15. K9 is generally well written in this story, acting as if there really is a dog's personality behind the computer brain and fatal laser-pistol.
16. The idea of keeping a population subdued through perpetual debt is something not only apt for the 1970s, but also the 21st Century.
17. Likewise press hysteria in the 2010s does the work of anxiety-inducing drugs in "The Sun Makers".
18. As for the security cameras everywhere… well, you get the idea.
19. Gatherer Hade is played by Richard Leech, and the Collector by Henry Woolf. One wonders if they were hired for their surnames.
20. The Gatherer conflating the proverb about one rotten apple spoiling the barrel, with mighty oaks growing from little acorns, when describing the criminal underworld, implies subtly that he thinks the underworld is developing into a rival state within a state.
21. When Michael Keating steps out of the shadows and the Doctor greets him with a cheery “Hello!”, it’s hard not to anticipate his next line as, “You must be Vila Restal.”
22. In fact, given the themes of totalitarianism, resistance, crime and the use of Camden Deep Tube Shelter (which would later appear in the Blake's 7 episode “Ultraworld”), plus the shared personnel both behind and in front of the camera, the whole serial reads like a dry run for the latter space-opera.
23. Even though the resistance are outsiders, they still can't quite manage to overcome their ingrained class prejudices.
24. Also, nobody bar the Doctor and Leela question the idea of making money and generating profits, even though it's actually a very artificial system which, as Part Four indicates, falls apart under the slightest pressure.
25. “There is no light down here, only that which we make ourselves”. Metaphor alert!
26. The “Consumcard” subplot is a nice reminder that the whole concept of credit and debit cards is actually relatively recent.
27. The infotext notes that Woolf was cast “against” the script's description of the Collector as bodily enormous. However, the fact that he's tiny actually works better, since we have someone who is physically insignificant but wields tremendous social power.
28. While this is far from the worst example, this story does show up one of the limitations of futuristic vehicles in Doctor Who; everyone acts as if the cart is traveling tremendously fast, when it's obvious that it could be outrun by a snail with arthritis.
29. Leela and her crew drive straight at the bodies of the guards, and we cut away right before she, apparently, mashes them into a bloody pulp under her wheels.
30. Initially trained with a knife and a blowpipe, Leela seems pretty adept at picking up the use of various laser and projectile weapons, suggesting she has some kind of personal affinity for armaments.
31. “Tell this gorilla to get his paws off me!” How does Leela know what a gorilla is?
32. The idea that the Usurians conducted a market survey of Gallifrey is strangely charming, conjuring up images of bemused Patrexes in heliotrope robes being doorstepped by green blobs with clipboards.
33. The infotext, referring to the fact that the “duodecaphonic” speakers were originally “sexaphonic”, observes rightly that there's a double-entendre in the name. It doesn't note, however, that there's also a sly literary reference to Brave New World, in which the “sexaphone” was a musical instrument which affected the libido.
34. “Breathing taxes” is obviously satire, until you think about the charges levied for such basic needs as fresh water. And on the various other insane things which have been taxed over the years, such as windows and spare bedrooms.
35. “He hasn't done you any harm.” “Then I shall kill him before he does.” Can't argue with that.
36. “The work-units are absolutely forbidden to see the light of the sun. It's far too good for them.” Prefiguring such ridiculous concepts as the “executive washroom”.
37. And the fact that the scene of the workers enjoying the sunlight is filmed under the gloomy clouds of Bristol just deepens the satire — it's not only that they aren't allowed to see the sun, it's not even a very good sun to begin with.
38. “I always whisper when I opening safes.” But as the Doctor’s subsequent line is, “It always looks so easy,” this implies he’s never actually tried to open a safe before. In which case, he must be going by what he’s seen in films and on television. Nevertheless, a non-whispering Third Doctor previously cracked a safe during Episode Three of “Terror of the Autons”. As both stories were scripted by Robert Holmes, you would have thought he would have remembered that.
39. The idea that Leela might have been killed off at the point when she enters the safe doesn't actually make any thematic sense, or fit with the rhythm of the story at all.
40. Marne joining the revolution is hardly surprising — history and literature are full of apparatchiks who change sides with prevailing political moods.
41. The way Tom Baker picks up the chair in his final confrontation with the Collector, then puts it down as he says “no, I won't kill you” suggests that he really was considering beating him to death.
42. Yes, we know “Usurian” isn't actually meant as an antisemitic slur, but the whole thing is veering uncomfortably on the stereotype of the conspiracy of evil Jewish bankers controlling the capitalist system.
43. We'd argue that the wider satire of neoliberalism does allow the serial to get away with it, in that a capitalist elite which prospers at the expense of the poor does really exist — however, it's an elite which is not limited to a single ethnic group, nationality, or religion.
44. “Don't you think commercial imperialism is as bad as military conquest?” Aren't they much the same thing?
45. The revelation that the Collector has been sitting on a mobile commode for four episodes is yet another example of Holmes working scatological jokes into his scripts.
46. “Would you take orders from a lump of seaweed?” Insert your own joke about the physical qualities of 1970s British politicians here.
47. The Gatherer was ultimately hoist by his own petard, since the Doctor putting a 2% tax on growth into the system was what blew it.
48. In defense of taxation: taxes, properly used, go to support education, infrastructure, health, security, and other things from which both people and corporations benefit. Indeed, corporate taxation could be seen as a form of shareholder dividend, repaying the government its indirect investment into the company. So, fun though it is to satirise, let's not go too far in condemning the revenue system.
49. The whole serial wouldn't be out of place, albeit shortened, in the 1960s SF-anthology series Out Of The Unknown. Both that some of its best episodes were political satires and allegories, and in that "The Sun Makers"' costume design is surprisingly Sixties-modernist.
50. The ending may be upbeat, but the general trend that revolutions
against corrupt systems in the name of the people usually wind up
reverting to totalitarianism, before finally settling down to a
compromise, isn't very promising for the humans' future. And the fact
that this group do emerge from a particularly aggressive and violent
system also strikes a note of foreboding.