When this storyline from the fifteenth season of Doctor Who begins, The Doctor (Tom Baker), Leela (the rather fetching Louise Jameson) and K9 (John Leeson) find their way to Pluto, which, over some time, has been colonized by humans. The air now has enough oxygen to support human life and as such, cities have sprung up on the planet - but unlike the cities on Earth, each of the Plutonian megacities has its own sun! These suns were built by a massive corporation who have used them as an excuse to milk tax dollars out of the planet's populace and taken things to a ridiculous extreme, even going after relatives of the recently deceased who hadn't paid up before they passed.
This brings us to the story of a working class man named Cordo who, since his father passed away, has been chased for some of those aforementioned tax dollars - but he knows there's no way he'll ever come up with the kind of money he now 'owes' and so he decides to commit suicide by jumping off one of the tallest buildings around. Of course, The Doctor and Leela arrive just in the nick of time to save Cordo, at which point they take an interest in his case and decide to investigate the men who made these suns and who are basically committing grand scale extortion on the population of an entire planet.
A fair bit more political than your average Doctor Who adventure, The Sun Makers may not rank up there with the best that the series has to offer but it sure is a fun diversion with some neat ideas and some classic characters. Those who enjoy Baker as The Doctor will already be onboard here and he proves here as he has in his many other outings as the character why he's one of the more popular actors to have played the part. He delivers his dialogue with enthusiasm and quirky charm and his back and forth with some of the supporting characters stands out as clever and very well delivered. Louise Jameson also gets more screen time here than she has in other episodes that Leela appears in, and her character is given more to do here than just follow The Doctor around, so her fans will also appreciate that. On the negative side, well, there's K9, but he's not as irritating here as he is in a few other appearances.
The direction is solid and the story progresses at a good pace throughout, making good use of the various locations and sets built for the show. Some interesting design work is on display in a few spots which shows some creativity on the part of the production team, and Dudley Simpson's score is also used very effectively here to help build suspense and drama when called for. The strength of this particular serial, however, lies in the script and in the performances. Written by longtime Who scribe Robert Holmes, the satire and barbed comedy that works its way into the script is quite clever and will probably lend itself more to adults revisiting the show than it would have to the younger audience it probably appealed to when first broadcast. There's enough adventure and intrigue and sci-fi shenanigans here, however, that The Sun Makers remains an entertaining chapter in the legacy of the series and a story well worth revisiting for fans of the series, new and old alike.The DVD:
This installment of Doctor Who arrives on DVD in its original fullframe aspect ratio. Now, a lot of the episodes from the seventies were shot on 16mm film stock when taking place outside and on tape when shooting took place inside, which resulted in some fairly noticeable cuts between the two formats. This episode was not one of those, it was all shot on standard broadcast television cameras. There are moments where the picture is muddy looking and fairly murky and detail is generally below average throughout playback as the transfer is sourced from the master tape - but this is probably as good as it's ever going to get. It's all watchable enough and scenes shot inside tend to look cleaner and clearer than those shot outdoors (probably due to better lighting), but this isn't really a great transfer even if it's obvious that the powers that be have done their best with the material that they had available. The disc is well authored in that there are no problems with compression artifacts and as soft as it all is, at least it's clean in that there aren't any nasty issues with print damage. Again, for what it is, this looks fine and those accustomed to earlier DVD releases from this era of the show will know what to expect and have no problems - but those expecting pristine quality will be disappointed.Sound:
The sole audio option on this release is an English language Dolby Digital Mono track that comes with optional subtitles available in English only. The quality of the track is fine in that it's always easy to understand and there are no problems to report in terms of hiss or distortion. There isn't a whole lot of range - this is an older mono mix after all - but the levels are well balanced and the feature sounds just fine.Extras:
Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Pennant Roberts and Michael Keating get together for an audio commentary, though Baker is the only constant through the episodes that make up this storyline, with the other participants contributing to one or two of the four episodes a piece. This doesn't hurt things, really, as Baker is a great storyteller who doesn't seem to mind taking the lead here. He's a great source of information on the series and of course on his work on the series, while the others chime in and discuss their contributions and give their thoughts on how this particular storyline came to be and how it holds up compared to other Who tales.
From there, be sure to check out the twenty-five minute featurette, Running From The Tax Man which includes the involvement of Louise Jameson, Pennant Roberts and Michael Keating in addition to author and historian Dominic Sandbrook and astronomer Marek Kukula who discuss the politics behind the series and the science behind the planet of Pluto respectively. It's interesting and well thought out and it covers some atypical aspects of the production - fans will enjoy this. Also worth watching is the eighteen minute The Doctor's Composer Part 2, which is the second part of a lengthy interview segment with series' composer Dudley Simpson. Interviewed in Sydney, where he grew up and now lives after retiring, Simpson is a very entertaining interviewee with a great memory and an obvious affection not only for the work he did on the Who material but for other series' as well.
Rounding out the extras are a half a minute of outtakes, a still gallery, trailers for The Sun Makers and for Day Of The Daleks and an optional information subtitles track - basically a fun trivia text track that plays out as you watch the episodes. Menus and episode selection are also included. For the DVD-Rom equipped, there are also some PDF materials you can dig around through if you like.Final Thoughts:
A fun and entertaining story with a bit more depth and satire to it than you might expect, Doctor Who - The Sun Makers features some great performances from Baker and Jameson, some fun effects work, a few interesting twists and turns and really just stands out as a fun four part adventure story. The DVD release looks and sounds as good as anyone could probably hope for, and the inclusion of loads of interesting supplemental material really helps to round out the package nicely. Highly recommended for fans of the Doctor.