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The Sun Makers

Reviewed by Paul Scoones

Contrary to last season, I'll be placing a Chris Boucher story higher than a Robert Holmes one when it comes round to Season Poll time. Image of the Fendahl was no great masterpiece, but was certainly better than The Sun Makers.

This wasn't a Holmesian classic; Holmes himself admitted as much. He came to write it only after claiming to be burnt out as far as story ideas went (not surprising, considering he has written more than anyone else for Doctor Who), and then finding himself the victim of a tax audit. This prompted him to write a stinging satire, harsh enough to require some considerable toning-down by producer Graham Williams, but personally, I felt it was toned down too much. The story lacked 'bite' - the occasional poor set and generally 'hammy' acting did little to alleviate the situation. Admittedly, the rooftop and long white corridor scenes, (filmed on location at a tobacco factory in Bristol), were impressive, but the studio sets, especially the PCM production plant, were awful; those colourful controls looked anything but functional.

On the acting side, Michael Keating's part as the rogue Goudry was good. (This part got him the role of Vila Restal in Blake's 7, the only character to appear in every episode. More recently, he was in the running for the part of the Seventh Doctor). The creepy, pallid-faced Collector had a few nice moments, reminding me of a 'prototype' Sil; there are many character similarities between the two. On the whole, though, the cast of characters was untypically (for Holmes) more than a little bland.

As for the regular cast, K9 was exhibiting the totally unrobotic personality it/he became well known for. On one level, K9 interprets every instruction as literally as a computer brain should, but on another level, it/he is also capable of moods and temperament - a computer that is both logical and illogical. The opening TARDTS scene with K9 wanting to go 'walkies' was nothing short of absurd, not to mention the regular sulks it has at the slightest provocation. K9 behaves more like a disobedient child than a computer at times Louise Jameson's Leela was a real asset to this story - here is an actress who deserves better scripts, and yet does what she can with those she gets. Her scenes in Episode 3 where she is defiant towards the Collector and his heavies were great; the 'steaming' sequence was as close as this story came to having a thrilling moment. Incidentally, it was once mooted that she should not survive the public steaming, but Graham Williams was hoping he could get her to stay on into the next season; she didn't, but stayed to the very end of this one. Tom Baker was his usual comic self - this is one of the firm indicators of the complete domination Baker achieved over the reportedly 'young and inexperienced' Graham Williams. It wasn't until JNT took over the reins after serving as production unit manager throughout Williams' tenure, that the series lost its tag as 'The Tom Baker Show'. I'll swear many of Baker's lines contained impromptu changes to the original script. "You've nothing to lose but your chains" came out as "You've nothing to lose but your claims," undoubtedly far funnier to Baker in the light of this serial's tax satire theme. His well-known dislike of K9 was blatantly obvious in the final minutes of the story, when he shouted at the dog to shut up!

Seeing this story for the first time (it wasn't screened in the first run of Tom Baker stories in NZ), I was expecting something a little better after reading the opinions of other fans. The problem here, I suspect, is that most feel a natural allegiance to Robert Holmes above other writers because of his impressive record of success in Doctor Who.

This item appeared in TSV 4 (February 1988).

Index nodes: The Sun Makers
Reprinted in: Special Reprint Edition