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Digital Subscriptions > Doctor Who Magazine > 503 > The Sun Makers

The Sun Makers

On the planet Pluto, the Megropolis people are ruled over and exploited by a greedy elite. Can the Doctor and Leela help start the revolution?

The Sun Makers is one of the most radical Doctor Who stories. After three-and-a-half years of classic horror fiction with science-fiction trappings, suddenly Doctor Who does a comedy. A satirical comedy about the British tax system. Watching it, Who fans must have felt like Beatles fans placing the needle on Revolver, expecting more mop-toppy love songs and instead getting George Harrison whinging sardonically about paying too much tax. The Sun Makers is Doctor Who’s Taxman. It still follows the formula of reworking something as science-fiction, but this time the starting point isn’t an old novel on writer Robert Holmes’ bookshelf; it’s a brown envelope from the Inland Revenue on his doormat.

Interviewed in 1981, Holmes nominated The Sun Makers as one of his favourite Doctor Who scripts, because it gave him an opportunity to be satirical and include a larger-than-usual amount of humour. It has all his trademarks – florid dialogue, detailed worldbuilding and larger-than-life villains. Hade and the Collector are Dickensian grotesques – living versions of James Gillray caricatures – and the story’s large amount of ‘intertextuality’ [see Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text (1983)] sometimes makes it seem more like Monty Python than science-fiction. But it demonstrated that social satire was another genre that Doctor Who could appropriate, paving the way for stories such as Vengeance on Varos (1985), Paradise Towers (1987), The Happiness Patrol (1988), The Long Game and Bad Wolf (both 2005) and The Beast Below (2010).

Part One

FIRST BROADCAST: 26 NOVEMBER 1977

Citizen Cordo (Roy Macready) is informed by a nurse (Carole Hopkin) that his father has died and Gatherer Hade is waiting for his death taxes.

◼ Robert Holmes’ script is unusually thin on description; the setting is merely ‘corridor’ and Cordo ‘wears the drab clothes of a D-Grade citizen’.

◼ The everyman character recalls Winston Smith from George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) which seems to have been a source of inspiration for Robert Holmes. Like the novel, this world features ever-present hidden cameras, a sadistic correction centre and public executions as entertainment. Both Smith and Cordo seeks out an underground organisation (although Smith turns out to be mistaken) and both stories explore the Marxist idea of the proletariat rising up against their oppressors – Nineteen Eighty-Four presents a society where such a revolution is unthinkable, while in the more optimistic world of The Sun Makers the revolution succeeds.

Cordo goes to see Gatherer Hade (Richard Leech) in his office.

◼ Described in the camera script as ‘a fine room, almost sumptuous in the sombre way befitting a Gatherer’s status’.

◼ Several of designer Tony Snoaden’s sets for this story are surrounded by black walls and are expressionistic in style, giving the story a theatrical feel, perhaps drawing on the original 1964 theatre production of The Royal Hunt for the Sun. The dehumanising regime is reflected in the oversized scale; the ribcage in the Gatherer’s office, the quadrant doors, the ubiquitous Lego nodules and the window set too high in a wall.

A Nazca-culture gold mask, from ancient Peru. Inset: The seal seen throughout the story.
© GETTY

◼ Inspired by the concept of the multiple suns, Snoaden originally intended for the story to have a more elaborate look based on pre-Columbian iconography. However, due to budget constraints this idea was abandoned and instead Snoaden appears to have taken inspiration from the modernist architecture of Willem Marinus Dudok, particularly Hilversum Town Hall. The sun god face and badge are the only remnants of the original approach retained in the finished production; the badge is based specifically on a Nazcan funerary mask while the sun god face seems to have been designed by Snoaden as it doesn’t resemble any pre-Columbian artefact. It would go on to appear in Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) and an episode of The Two of Us (1986-90).

Cordo is impressed by Hade’s desk. He has never seen wood before.

◼ Hade’s mispronunciation of ‘mahogany’ was an unscripted addition made by Leech, neatly setting up the character’s misquotations of Earth phrases. In the camera script, he then ‘opens a bill the size of a tabloid newspaper’.

Cordo is horrified to learn that he owes 117 talmars. He only has 86.

◼ At the time of the story’s broadcast, ‘Death Tax’ was a nickname for Capital Transfer Tax, now renamed Inheritance Tax, although in The Sun Makers it is a tax on death itself rather than the deceased’s estate.

◼ An ad valorum tax is one proportional to the value of the goods or transaction, such as VAT. Following the mathematics; 132 talmars minus a tax of 10 percent gives 120 talmars; deduct the disposal fee of 10 talmars and 18 talmars for the attendants, which means the golden death costs 92 talmars including tax. It previously cost 80 talmars including tax, and the tax rate has increased by 17 percent, so the golden death costs 71 talmars pre-tax and the tax has gone up from 13 percent to 30 percent.

As a D-Grade worker, Cordo has no hope of being able to make the money he owes. Hade dismisses him.

◼ D-Grade being a play on ‘degrade’.

◼ The idea of a society stratified into five castes is reminiscent of the dystopian novel Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley. The novel also includes corpses being recycled and ‘Conditioning Centres’ for children similar to The Sun Makers’ ‘Preparation Centres’.

◼ We learn that a week on Pluto is seven days, but the length of a day is never specified, only that it is the length of a double shift plus three hours. In reality, a day on Pluto lasts 6.39 Earth days, but given the artificial suns and perpetual daylight, it is not necessarily the length of a day in the Megropolis.

◼ In the script ‘deathday’, ‘deathweight’ and ‘sleeptime’ are single-word terms.

“Grinding oppression of the masses is the only policy that pays dividends.”

Doctor Who (Tom Baker) is engaged in a game of chess against K9 (voiced by John Leeson), with Leela (Louise Jameson) moving the pieces.

◼ The script states that the match should be the ‘end game, Spassky v Fisher [sic], 16/7/72’. While K9 correctly gives Fischer’s final two moves – queen to knight six and bishop to queen six – the board is laid out incorrectly, so the Doctor’s final move is not Spassky’s final move.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Contents include: an exclusive, in-depth interview with Fifth Doctor Peter Davision; Doctor Who's executive producer, Brian Minchin, talks about the next series; showrunner Steven Moffat answers readers' questions; new comic strip action for the Doctor and Jess in the final episode of The Pestilent Heart; the Time Team watch the 2010 Eleventh Doctor story The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood; The Fact of Fiction takes a close look at the 1977 Fourth Doctor adventure The Sun Makers; the mysteries of the TARDIS wardrobe are considered in Wotcha!; plus reviews, previews, prize-winning competitions and more!
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