Timestamp #95: The Sun Makers

Doctor Who: The Sun Makers
(4 episodes, s15e13-e16, 1977)



This story is an allegory about something. It seems almost as certain as death, but paid annually. I just can’t put my finger on it. I suppose it will come to me eventually.

On Pluto, a man named Cordo receives word that his father has died. Strangely, he is relieved, and has his “death taxes” ready for payment to Gatherer Hade. Cordo discovers that death taxes have been raised, and unfortunately, he has nothing more to give. The gatherer increases Cordo’s working hours to compensate, leaving him with no time to sleep.

In the TARDIS, the Doctor is playing chess against K9 and Leela. They land on Pluto, and the Doctor is amazed to see that it has been terraformed with vast cities and breathable atmosphere. Leela spots Cordo about to jump off one of the buildings, and together they stop him.

Hade is informed of an airspace violation and illegal landing. Overjoyed at the revenues, he heads out to arrest the perpetrators and discovers the TARDIS. The Doctor, Leela, and Cordo run to avoid the gatherer and avoid being sent to the correction centers, which are apparently very bad. Cordo mentions the “undercity” and rumors of tax evaders and outlaws live, and the travelers offer to accompany him. In short order, they find the outlaws.

Trivia: Pluto has six suns, which the Doctor determines are in-station fusion satellites. This title inspiration never really comes to bear on the plot again.

Meanwhile, K9 gives up on waiting for the Doctor and leaves the TARDIS. The dog makes his way through the city, and Hade and his aide Marn watch the progress. The outlaws give the Doctor a task by Mandrel, the outlaw leader: He is to take a Consumcard to the Consum Bank with Cordo. If he doesn’t return by a certain time, they’ll kill Leela. As the Doctor and Cordo set out, they encounter K9. Since Hade and Marn are watching K9 on the tracker, they also discover the Doctor, who they presume is an arms smuggler. Hade decides to go to the palace and warn the Collector.

The Doctor and Cordo reach the bank and attempt to deposit the Consumcard. Unfortunately, the Doctor is trapped in the booth which fills with gas. He is apprehended, but Cordo escapes. The Doctor wakes up in the Correction Center with another prisoner, Bisham, who inadvertently shares just how much freedom is restricted in this civilization, including the use of a gas in the atmosphere to increase anxiety and decrease will. During their discussion, the Doctor sabotages the circuitry, which electrocutes their guard. As the Doctor’s time runs out, Mandrel orders Leela to be seized, but she fights back. Cordo returns with news of the Doctor’s capture, and Leela tries to rouse the rebels to fight with her. In the end, only Cordo accompanies her to rescue the Doctor. The duo find K9, and the dog accompanies them on their journey.

Hade and the Collector discuss how to suppress the supposed uprising. The Collector promises half of his guard to assist in exchange for a five percent increase in taxes to cover the cost. As workers fix the reprogramming circuitry, the Doctor is freed by Marn. He leaves his bag of jelly babies with Bisham, and Marn escorts the Time Lord to see Hade. The gatherer pays him the value of the forged Consumcard and forgives the offense, obviously in an attempt to instill a false sense of security in the rebels. Marn also places a tracker on the Doctor as he leaves.

Leela, Cordo, and K9 break into the Correction Center and find Bisham. They all leave to continue tracking the Doctor, who has returned to the undercity and Mandrel’s gang. Mandrel is convinced that the Doctor is a spy for the gatherer, and Leela’s group is maneuvered into a trap. Leela has K9 spring a trap of their own and the group escapes, but Leela is shot and apprehended in the attempt. She is taken to the Correction Center for medical attention, and the Collector orders her to be brought to him when she has recovered.

Mandrel attempts to torture the Doctor for information, but he is rescued by Bisham and Cordo. The three of them plan an insurrection with Mandrel’s gang against the Company. Strangely, they have no idea what the Company does or where their money goes. The Doctor tricks the trackers with a footage loop of him walking the same path.

Leela is brought before the Collector, who learns of the Sevateem and the TARDIS. He dismisses Leela and researches the Time Lords, then informs Hade of the Doctor’s true identity. The Collector orders Leela to be publicly executed, and issues a bounty on the Doctor, dead or alive, to be paid out by Hade. The commander of the guard visits Leela in the Correction Center and taunts her with news of her execution. That guy’s gonna get a taste of her knife, isn’t he?

Marn and Hade follow the false scanner trail and discover the trick. Meanwhile, the Doctor’s team takes control of the vapor towers, the nerve center for the city’s power. They learn of Leela’s pending execution by steaming, a particularly gruesome death, and K9 offers to traverse the pipes and disable the system. The Doctor then crawls to the condenser and rescues Leela, but his efforts are betrayed by an inadvertent call from Mandrel.

The rebels are clearing the atmosphere of the mind-altering gas, and the Doctor decides to take over the Collector’s public video system and announce the rebellion to the world. The Collector is informed that some of the workers are refusing to work, a side-effect of the atmosphere purification, sending the leader into a fervor.

The Doctor and Leela break into the palace and, after a rather humorous hypnotism sequence, begin to explore the Collector’s systems. They discover the Company vault and crack it, but as Leela rushes in, she is knocked unconscious by a security field. The public video system broadcasts a message that the rebellion has taken over, and in the face of a mob, Marn joins the rebels. On the roof, Hade confronts a group of workers and is tossed over the side for his trouble.

The Collector returns to the palace and the Doctor sits down for the typical fourth episode exposition. The Collector is an Usurian, and his species made a deal with the humans: In exchange for a colony on Mars to save humanity, the Usurians taxed them to the extreme. Once Mars was exhausted, they moved the operation to Pluto, and once this operation is over, the Collector plans to abandon them and move on. It’s a plan of galactic domination through business instead of war.

The Doctor inadvertently awakens the hypnotized guard who provides a distraction for the Collector to unveil his Doomsday contingency plan: A sprinkler system filled with poison that will kill every human almost instantly. Luckily, Leela distracts the guard with a knife to his shoulder, then stops the Collector from throwing the switch. As the rebels storm the palace, the Collector reverts to his natural form (a lump of seaweed) that is easily stopped.

With the threat stopped and the day saved, the travelers head back to the TARDIS. Leela and K9 pick up their chess game once again, and the Doctor flips the board by throwing the TARDIS for a loop. With mock sincerity, he apologizes and offers to start the match again.

It was a simplistic but straightforward story, but a little too on the nose with the commentary.

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”


UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Underworld



The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.



6 thoughts on “Timestamp #95: The Sun Makers

  1. This one is interesting to me because it’s Robert Holmes writing in the Graham Williams era, so it’s a mix of the more light-hearted comedy tone that Williams was going for with some of the more horrific elements that Holmes liked. Being steamed to death sounds like a horrible way to die.

    As you probably guessed, Holmes wasn’t happy with his taxes that year and decided to write a story about it. One of the corridor numbers is even the number for a British tax form, so that’s about as “on the nose” as you can get.

    Holmes leaves as script editor after this. As a result the next two stories are kind of rush jobs as his successor, Anthony Read takes over. The next season will be a better example of Read’s take on the show.

    One thing that I liked about this one is that Leela had to deal with being scared due to the effects of the gas. It’s something that she hadn’t had to deal with before, and I kind of liked it.

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