Thoughts on ‘The Sunmakers’ (1977)

This one is another very quirky Robert Holmes effort. It’s a satire on bureaucracy and economic means of control, primarily taxation. Humanity has been shifted onto the planet Pluto, at the edge of the Solar System. Here it survives within vast industrial complexes by artificial means, its light, heat and fuel energy provided by a Company that ruthlessly exploits and taxes the human populations.

Normal existence amounts pretty much to this drudgery. Attempts to rebel are brutally punished in correction centres, where the subjects are tortured and slowly put to death. The only means of escape is out of the upper city and down to the underworld below, where ineffective groups of rebels scavenge and argue amongst themselves.

We are shown that the overseer of this nightmarish world is a malevolent alien known as the Collector, a deformed humanoid who has a genius for business and administration; unfortunately his execution is coloured by his evil and sadistic nature. He’s supported by a strata of human administrators (the ‘gatherers’) who know little better than to accept and support this status quo and for some reason address the Collector in the most staggeringly obseqious terms.

The plot (and its resolution) isn’t complicated at all: the Doctor encounters both parties, sizes up the matter and persuades the rebels to, well, rebel. Whilst doing this, the Doctor has to avoid being killed by the rebels, then avoid being processed in the correction centre and take finally care of Leela when she attempts a rescue and is captured in turn.

In fact, the Doctor only has to beat the system and not much else. Without the Doctor, the inhabitants of Pluto would just continue with their miserable lives as before. With his help, well one just has to look at the characterisations of Cordo, Bisham and Mandrel to see.

Over its course, The Sun Makers gives dramatic tension and peril over to humour. The cliffhanger to part one is a sequence where the Doctor is trapped and overcome by an ATM. The villain is more obsessed by processing transactions than the threat posed by his visitors; and his henchman is only useful for sychophantic fawning and grovelling (very amusing grovelling – probably the highlight of the serial).

Good things about the production are: Henry Woolf’s performance as the Collector – one of those detailed acting jobs which are a pleasure to observe. Louise Jameson looks fantastic in this, and her and Tom Baker are their customary excellent selves. In fact, the cast as a whole do a fine job. The Sunmakers does look a little cheap though, too obviously based in 20th century factory corridors and the studio installations are a bit toytown.







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