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Review #3617: Classic Doctor Who: “The Sun Makers”

Posted on the 01 August 2012 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: John Keegan

Written by Robert Holmes
Directed by Pennent Roberts

This particular serial leaves me a bit conflicted. On the one hand, there are a lot of nice little elements that Holmes brings to the table, even if it’s in a more satirical mold than his usual social commentaries. But the satirical angle to the story leaves me a bit cold, especially when it becomes less nuanced and more laughable and silly.

Review #3617: Classic Doctor Who: “The Sun Makers”

Holmes was always great at taking contemporary issues and exploring them in the context of the series, and in this case, he takes on the revised tax laws in Britain at the time with pointed focus. In fact, he does so almost to a fault; one could say that he steps right up to the line without quite crossing over it. And he reframes the entire matter in a way that modern audiences might take even more to heart: the notion of corporate interests taking control of monetary matters so completely that they have reordered Plutonian society to their whims.

This is, of course, historically a very real thing. In the United States, for instance, several mining companies would pay their employees with company coins that could only be used in the company store. This made it all but impossible for the workers to leave the job, which meant those companies could overlook harsh and dangerous conditions with relative impunity. The circumstances in “The Sun Makers” are sufficiently similar to engender a resonance.

It is all but undermined, however, by the intentional choice of having the Collector speak in one of the most grating and ridiculous voices I’ve ever heard. While every Classic Who story has its dodgy elements, thanks to the budget restrictions, this is purely a creative choice. And every time I manage to suspend my disbelief, that characters would come along, open his mouth, and rip me right out of the story.

Holmes does a reasonably good job with Leela, and his depiction of the Doctor, while a bit more comical, still has that edge that we’ve come to know and love. The main issue with the cast (beyond what I mentioned above) is the lack of memorable characterizations among the rebelling masses. Many of the Classic Who stories succeed based on the writing, and therefore the characters and how they are given life by the cast.

This is also the first major use of K9 in a story after “The Invisible Enemy”. I have a feeling I am going to be irritated by him every time he shows up on the screen. I recognize the utility of K9 from a “family friendly” perspective, and there is a bit of appropriate whimsy in the Doctor adopting a robotic dog, but not even the eternal 8-year-old within me finds him tiresome.

I also found myself wondering just what the Doctor was leaving behind. With revolutionary concepts being all the rage these days, it’s easy to forget that overthrowing a government means ripping away the framework of an entire society. Beyond that, revolutions are often fought by individuals and groups with very different belief systems, but a common goal of eliminating the status quo. (In fact, the violent side of the rebels is front and center, suggesting things are unlikely to go well after the revolution runs its course!)

Leela’s tenure as Companion began when the Doctor found himself on a world that had fallen into a deadly cycle due to his earlier interference. He hadn’t considered the consequences of his actions. That was in a rather unique situation, however; this is something that is a lot more predictable. So did the Doctor know that this moment was necessary in the development of human history? Or was he simply siding with the oppressed because that’s the typical formula?

Perhaps that is the best way to describe this serial: formulaic. To a fault.

Writing: 1/2
Acting: 1/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 1/4

Final Score: 5/10

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