Doctor Who : The Sun Makers
Cast - Tom Baker, Louise Jameson
Country of Origin - U.K.
Discs - 1
MSRP - $24.98
Distributor - BBC Home Video
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
The Serial (4.5/5)
Being a Doctor Who fan who only caught glimpses of the series on PBS as a kid, I feel there is a lot I missed out on. If you were to ask me the name of one complete serial I saw from my childhood, I couldn't tell you a single one. However, I do recognize a scene or an episode on occasion, the Sun Makers were one of those occasions. I didn't remember anything about this, and going into the DVD the only thing I knew is that it had a less than stellar reputation amongst Whovians, most of this is attributed to it's drab set design. I was, however, pleased to discover that not only is the Sun Makers truly an excellent serial, but it is one of of the unsung gems of Tom Baker's run as the Fourth Doctor.
I have stated in many reviews and articles on ECAV and across the internet that I simply have a passion for the place where politics and genre fiction meet. I feel that art is the best reflection of the turmoil of any given period, and the last place most people tend to check is genre fiction like sci-fi and horror, and yet it is found here in droves. The Sun Makers is an excellent piece in that regards with themes of overtaxation, class based oppression, and revolution.
The first scene alone had guaranteed that my attention would be undivided for the remainder. A working class man named Cordo has just paid for the Golden Death for his Father, on his Father's expected death day. He had expected a tax bill reflecting the amount he had long saved up for this day, only to find out that taxes had been raised, and he was short. This left him in the position of having to work a third shift per day (and sacrificing his 3 hours of sleep time) to make up the remainder. Burdened by the debt, and with no other option, but to work it off. Cordo decides to kill himself by throwing himself off the roof of the Megropolis complex.
Pretty heavy stuff for a show that's considered children's television?
It is this scene where the TARDIS materializes. The Doctor and his companion the Sevateem Warrior Leela (Louise Jameson) manage to prevent Cordo from completing his suicide attempt. It turns out that the planet they materialized on is Pluto. Formerly uninhabitable, due it's freezing cold climate, it has been heated with fake miniature suns provided by "The Company," who provide the sunlight to the rich, while overworking, and suppressing the working class poor.
The Doctor and Leela, and Cordo now on the run due to violations for being on the outside end up hiding amongst the rebellion in the underground city. The rebellion, sadly, is not made up of the nicest of people, and hold Leela hostage in order to force the Doctor to make a bank withdrawal with some sort of ATM card device, this gets the Doctor gassed, rendered unconscious, and taken to the Correction Center where he is to be tortured and possibly killed. He is prior to his torture released by the Gatherer who is the head of Megropolis One who thinks he can use the Doctor to strike at the rebellion. The Doctor, of course, plays along and gets entangled in a plot to start a revolution on Pluto, and take down The Gatherer, and his underlings, as well as The Company at large.
Let's start with the positives Tom Baker is excellent as the Doctor in this one. He did have a tendency to "dial it in" on occasion later in his run, but in the Sun Makers his Doctor is fully realized. The same would have to go for Louise Jameson as Sevateem warrior Leela, her performance here in one of the best she would give during her tenure on her Who. The direction by Pennant Roberts has a nice flow to it, and keeps things flowing at an excellent pace never really allowing things to dull down. The story by one of Doctor Who's great script writers Robert Holmes is also excellent, and while it may get overshadowed by some of his more "classic" work this is Holmes working in full control of his considerable powers.
The only real negatives I can really find with this serial is the drab set design, which in a way works for the feel of the episode, but becomes a bit tedious after 4 episodes. Doctor Who is notorious for having the Doctor and company running around endless corridors, the thing that sets this episode apart from those is that these corridors look just look the hallways they obviously are. Aside from that The Sun Makers is a great example of classic Doctor Who, and for fans thinking of revisting this is an obvious purchase. The serial truly is excellent, and deserves to be revaluated with this new release.
The Doctor Who Restoration Team in conjunction with BBC/2Entertain have released Doctor Who The Sun Makers in the serials original 1:33:1 aspect ratio. The transfer is quite clear and there is no visible print damage for the most part. Flesh tones are largely accurate, and I did not detect any problems with compression artifacting. The only negatives really apply to the very soft look of the exterior sequences, however, this has more to do with the production than the actual restoration and transfer.
The audio is presented in the original Dolby Digital Mono of its original broadcast. The track is similarly solid, nothing mind blowing, but the dialogue is completely audible throughout, and is mixed well with the music and effects. Subtitles are offered in English as well as a trivia track on the 2nd subtitle track.
The classic Doctor Who DVD releases have really set the standard for what is really an excellent package for a TV show on DVD, and the Sun Makers is no different in that regard. The extras kick off with an excellent commentary featuring Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Pennant Roberts, and Michael Keating. Most of the talking is done by Tom Baker who is always entertaining and informative as we waxes about his work on the Sun Makers.
This is followed up by a short featurette titled Running from the Tax Man which runs about 25 minutes in length, and goes into the background and behind the scenes of the Sun Makers and features contributions from Louise Jameson (who states that this is her favorite serial she was involved with). Aside from the usual behind the scene anecdotes, they also bring in a historian and astronomer to give political and scientific context to the goings on in the Sun Makers, really well done and one of the finest Doctor Who docs in recent memory. We then have a an interview with Doctor Who composer Dudley Simpson called The Doctor's Composer Part 2, and finally trailers for Day of the Daleks and the Sun Makers.
An excellent, and frequently overlooked serial of classic Doctor Who. The A/V is as good as recent releases, and the extras are excellent. Highly recommended.