Monday, 13 January 2014

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Sun Makers

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The Collector and his high-pitched whining really get ta ya.
Doctor Who - Season 15, Story Four - The Sun Makers
Written between 17th and 18th July 2013

Taxes. Tax the rich, tax the poor. Tax the windows, tax the door. There is no more contentious issue in politics than taxation, a fundamental and vital part of any stable political system that nonetheless is open to a great deal of abuse in the wrong hands. The Sun Makers, like its spiritual successor The Happiness Patrol, throws a lot of ideas out there to write a powerful, quite jovial satire of the entire Captialist system, and it does so with a stylistic flair that feels a lot more succinct than the rest of Robert Holmes tenure. That being an important thing, considering that this was his final story as script editor.
     The Doctor and Leela accidentally land on the dwarf-planet Pluto, which has become the last resting place for Humanity after an alien-run company took control of them. People call each other "Citizen" and consider themselves as work units, slaving away at dreary existences while kept docile by the use of airborne chemicals. While initially suspected of being a terrorist, it turns out that the Company is aware of the Time-Lords and the shrewd monarch known only as The Collector can only watch as The Doctor helps lead a rebellion of the underclasses to take back Humanity's freedom.
     It's probably not that accurate to compare The Sun Makers with The Happiness Patrol - both are satiring different British political parties and the attacks in the later are much less subtle. The Sun Makers excels by itself because it is a decent adventure story anyway. Things are presented in quite the opposite way, I think, with the issue being overwork and overtaxation due to the inate problems with the Captialist system. I think the reason why I like stories with big governments and civilisations is because the potential to draw parallels to real-world issues is that much greater. And I love a story that can be cheeky like that. Especially when it manages to be so vicious about it. The episode's core focus is an attack on the Inland Revenue, who here are respresented by the Company, and while they are taken to ridiculous extremes, the parallels between the problems in this story and real-life encounters with the Tax man are not too far off.
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The Gatherer and his funky outfit.
      The side characters representing the civilisation's underground did end up going a bit panto, and there was the constant thread of cheesy overacting weaving in and out. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course, but it did come off as a little weird with The Collector, a man whose only alien traits seemed to be his short stature and an annoyingly high-pitched voice which really begins to grate after a while. It is a memorable characterisation, evoking many of the qualities that the slimy Sil later would. There was a superb ability all round in the conviction that they gave towards making the concept of this futuristic Pluto into a reality.
     But really the story's killer edge is its level of humour, worked out not just by those performances but also in the absurdity of the premise. The script, like The Invisible Enemy, is focussed more towards that humour, even if a lot of the subtle themes will go straight over the kids heads in a way unlike violent or sexual references often fail to. The serial manages to coast for about ten minutes or so with The Doctor turning up simply on the humour arising from the extravagent Gatherer and his overzealous collecting.
     The Sun Makers made my classics list very easily, and for the first time in a while. It stands out in a season that stinks of mediocrity as a story that, while still suffering from the same lack of direction as the rest, is a solid satire of the present government and well-done story of revolution and freedom to boot. It has a timeless quality in its mix of humour and tragedy, a style which is typical of Robert Holmes. It would be another seven years before he'd write for the series, but his legacy would carry on as one of the best Who writers who ever lived. And if you need an example of why, The Sun Makers will do the job.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Apparently it's really bad. I don't know anything else about it. We plunge into Doctor Who's Underworld.

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