In 1966 George Harrison wasn’t happy with the huge tax bill he and the other Beatles got from the Inland Revenue. He let out his frustration by writing ‘Taxman’, the opening track for what Entertainment Weekly consider to be the greatest album ever recorded. Robert Holmes wrote ‘The Sun Makers’ for the exact same reason.
From a production standpoint, ‘The Sun Makers’ looks pretty bad. The costumes are drab, the sets bland, the props cheap (the Collectors' chair is obviously a ordinary electric wheelchair with a cardboard cover) and Pennant Robert’s direction is so lifeless it could get work as an extra on The Walking Dead. For example, take the shootout in the corridor between Leela and the Guards. It is just embarrassing in how badly shot and edited this entire sequence is.
Fortunately, Holmes’ terrific script more than makes up for the production team’s failings. Plot-wise, ‘The Sun Makers’ is your basic “Doctor helps oppressed masses overthrow evil tyrant” scenario. What sets this one apart from the dozen or so other variations we've seen over the years is that this one is almost exclusively played for laughs. While much of the political content was toned down by Graham Williams, ‘The Sun Makers’ is still a hilarious satire of the British tax system, filled with references and sly digs at the establishment. The labyrinth corridors of Megropolis One have names like P45 while the Collector’s personal guard is called the Inner Retinu, which sounds a lot like Inland Revenue.
Holmes didn’t just reserve his scorn for Jim Callaghan’s left wing government. The oppressive taxation in this story is not being carried out by socialists, but by a foe far more insidious than Daleks or Cybermen – greedy capitalists! The entire human race has been privatized by an intergalactic conglomerate and is being run strictly for profit. As is always the case, the rich live a life of wealth and comfort, while those less fortunate must struggle daily just to put food on the table. A utopia by Margaret Thatcher’s standards and a vision of the future that seems just around the corner.
The Droge of Gabrielides once offered a whole star system for the Doctor’s head.
Notes and Quotes
--First time we see the Doctor playing chess with K-9, something that would become a recurring joke.
--The painting of Megropolis One looks terrible:
Was the budget so small they can't even afford decent matte paintings?
--Pluto has six artificial suns, called n-station fusion satellite, one for each Megropolis. The humans in 'Utopia' really could've used one of those.
Cordo: "Praise the Company."
Mandrel: "Stuff the Company!"
The Doctor: “Don't you think commercial imperialism is as bad as military conquest?”
Mandrel: “Don't threaten me, Doctor. The Gatherer doesn't give anyone money. He takes but he doesn't give. So you better have a good story.”
The Doctor: “Once upon a time there were three sisters...”
The Doctor: “No. Don't kill him. He hasn't done you any harm.”
Leela: “Then I shall kill him before he does!”
Leela: “These 'taxes', they are like sacrifices to tribal gods?”
The Doctor: “Well, roughly speaking, but paying taxes is more painful.”
Mandrel: "What have we got to lose?"
The Doctor: "Only your claims."
--Someone's been reading Karl Marx.
The Doctor: “Somehow I have the impression you're thinking of killing yourself.”
Cordo: “It's the taxes.”
The Doctor: “Hmm?”
Cordo: “It's the taxes, I can't pay the taxes!”
The Doctor: “Oh, the taxes! My dear old thing, all you need is a wily accountant!”
Three out of four Talmars.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.