Friday 14 February 2014

Story 95 - The Sunmakers

In which the TARDIS materialises on the roof of Megropolis One, on the planet Pluto. Earth has been abandoned and humanity lives in these vast cities, where they work for an institution known simply as the Company. Several artificial suns are maintained by them. Every aspect of life - and death - is heavily taxed. A low grade worker named Cordo has discovered that his savings won't cover the cost of his father's funeral, and he cannot work the additional hours to meet the shortfall. He elects to go to the roof to throw himself off. He is stopped by the Doctor and Leela. The roof is forbidden to workers and as guards approach, Cordo leads the Doctor and Leela into the city. They must shelter in the lowermost levels. Gatherer Hade and his assistant Marn go to the roof and find the TARDIS. They suspect the Doctor and Leela to be Ajacks - a disruptive group who have appeared in other Megropolises. In the undercity, the Doctor and his companions are captured by a criminal gang led by Mandrel. To prove his loyalty, the Doctor must use a fake bank card to steal funds for the gang. He is captured by guards, however.

The Doctor wakes to find himself in the Correction Centre with a fellow captive named Bisham. He knows about the Company's use of an anxiety-inducing gas called PCM, which is pumped through the city to keep the population subservient. Hade has the Doctor released so that he can lead them to other Ajacks and uncover their plans. Unaware of his release, Leela and Cordo go to the Correction Centre to rescue him - along with K9. They free Bisham, but Leela is herself captured as they flee. The Collector, the Company's representative and therefore ruler of the planet, decides to have Leela executed. She will be steamed to death, live on public TV.

The Doctor succeeds in rescuing her and encourages Mandrel to lead a proper revolution. First of all, the PCM gas pumping station is captured. When Hade discovers rebellious workers on the roof, his objections are ignored and he is thrown off. Marn wisely elects to join the  rebels. The Doctor sabotages the Collector's computers. They are reprogrammed to show unsustainable losses. The Collector - really a disguised member of the Usurian race - cannot cope with these and reverts to his natural form - that of a small green blob, which can safely be bottled up. The citizens are free. The Doctor recommends that they try to resettle the Earth.

This four part story was written by Robert Holmes, and also marks his swansong as Story Editor. As with the previous adventure, incoming Story Editor Anthony Read also helped script edit uncredited. It was broadcast between 26th November and 17th December, 1977.
Louise Jameson has always cited it as her favourite story. She loved the darkly humorous writing, and enjoyed being reunited with director Pennant Roberts.
Apparently, Holmes' principal influence in writing this script was a heavy income tax demand. The Doctor is at his most anti-establishment / anti-capitalist in this. He engineers a revolution in a day (or so) - paraphrasing Marx and Engels at one point. The villains are greedy and enslave primarily through taxation. Lots of financial references peppering the script. The Collector proves to be a Usurian - a play on "usurers" (lenders of money who charge interest). His costume is based on a pin-stripe suit (once de rigueur for finance types). Hade's costume also has pin-stripe elements, coupled with the look of an eastern potentate. There is a corridor P45 (a tax document you get when you leave a job in the UK). The fake bank card given to the Doctor appears to be closely modelled on a well-known Credit Card design. The Collector's personal guards are known as the Internal Retinue.
Other story influences include Orwell's 1984, and other dystopian future visions such as THX-1138 and Brave New World.

A wonderful guest cast is on show. Richard Leech gets a lot of the best lines as Gatherer Hade. His scenes with Henry Woolf's Collector are a joy. Hade may be amoral, but he is not the worst villain we have ever encountered - so his rather brutal summary execution comes as quite a shock. I would have preferred to have seen him humbled - and impoverished - like his boss.
Mandrel is William Simons, who went on to appear for many years in the rural police drama Heartbeat. Amongst his gang is a character named Goudry, played by Michael Keating. He would shortly find fame as the cowardly thief Vila in Blake's 7.
Episode endings are:

  1. The Doctor is attempting to use the fake bank card in a cash machine. The booth suddenly locks and floods with gas...
  2. Leela, K9, Bisham and Cordo find themselves trapped by guards...
  3. Leela is strapped helpless to a trolley inside the steam chamber...
  4. Leaving Pluto in the TARDIS, K9 is about to resume their game of chess when the Doctor deliberately jolts the ship - preventing K9 from beating him...

Overall, a great little story - one of Holmes' best. Lots of humour. Hade and the Collector are brilliant characters. Praise the Company!!!
Things you might like to know:

  • Marn, and a gang member named Veet, were originally written to be male characters. Director Roberts changed them to female roles to provide more of a balance.
  • Henry Woolf was most well known at the time for his role in a children's educational series called Words And Pictures. He was also a close collaborator of playwright Harold Pinter, as well as a renowned performer of the works of Samuel Beckett. He now lives in Canada.
  • This is the last time we will see Leela's original, darker, costume.
  • Usurians seem to know all about the Doctor (a history of economic subversion) and Gallifrey (of little commercial interest). The latter seems strange, the ability to travel in time being a fool-proof way of making money. Just look at the Meddling Monk's compound interest scam...
  • Poor old Pluto. Now relegated to the status of a dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt.
  • There were two main filming locations. The undercity is Camden Town tube station - sections not open to the public. The Megropolis roof and those very long featureless corridors were recorded at the Wills tobacco factory in Bristol. In those pre-CGI days, an expansive roof-scape was needed that would not allow any other buildings, hills etc. to be seen in the background. Unfortunately, at one point you do see a car park sign.
  • At one point during scripting, this was going to be Leela's final story - the character actually being killed off in the scene where she enters the Collector's safe.

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