‘Doctor Who’: ‘The Sun Makers’ DVD review

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During the 1970s, there were only three certainties in life: death, taxes and Doctor Who. Unlike subsequent decades, where the series either lived under the threat of being axed or actually was axed (even now, with the show being one of the BBC’s most lucrative bands, the spectre of cancellation haunts fans like the memory of Colin Baker’s patchwork coat haunts people with four photopigments), you could guarantee the existence of Doctor Who in the seventies, come strikes, droughts, changes of government or comedians defecting to ITV. And usually, like ‘The Sun Makers’, it was pretty damn good.

Robert Holmes, who was Doctor Who’s best writer until the invention of a certain Steven Moffat, had gripes against the taxman and the BBC in 1977, and combined them to great effect in this satirical and bloodthirsty story. The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Leela (Louise Jameson) discover a plutocracy on Pluto, with apopulation being exploited by a greedy ‘Company’ that is as faceless as it is ruthless and a band of rebels seeking to overthrow it.

Baker and Jameson have great fun with the snarky script (‘Do you think he’s insulting me?’ – ‘With a face like his? He would not dare. Let me get him, Doctor, I could cut his heart out.’) and Henry Woolf as the Denis Healey-ish Collector gets his fair share of great lines, too: ‘This is the moment when I get a real feeling of job satisfaction,’ he gloats over Leela’s impending death.

Yet it’s not all fun and games: the dismal cheat of a cliffhanger at the end of Part 2 notwithstanding, there’s a great deal of suspense and violence in ‘The Sun Makers’ that, while cartoonish and swaddled in dodgy special effects, is more gruesome than modern Doctor Who would ever dare to be. It also contains more shots in corridors, both on location and in the studio, than the series would ever get away with today.

Extras: Although superficially appearing a little lighter in terms of bonus material than recent DVDs in the classic Doctor Who range, ‘The Sun Makers’ is deceptively wealthy in extras. ‘Running From The Taxman’ features lessons in political history from Dominic Sandbrook and astronomy from Marke Kukula as well as interviews with Pennant Roberts and Louise Jameson (‘My absolute favourite story’), while ‘The Doctor’s Composer’ concludes the story of Dudley Simpson’s lengthy tenure providing music for the series, culminating in the sad moment when incoming producer John Nathan-Turner dispensed with his services in 1980. ‘I’ll miss it like mad,’ Simpson remembers saying when he heard the news, ‘it’s been my baby for a long time.’

However, the most enjoyable additional feature on the disc is the audio commentary featuring Roberts, Jameson, Michael Keating and – of course – Tom Baker. The star of the show is in hilariously animated good form, grunting, groaning and whispering throughout whilst dispensing an endless series of oblique anecdotes (‘I remember wanting to come down very hard on Mary Whitehouse’; ‘There was a terrible outbreak of dandruff in Brighton in the mid-seventies’; ‘I was thinking this morning, I’ve been alive for 27,314 days’) and ribald responses to the episodes he’s watching with us.

‘Those lips,’ he rhapsodises at a close-up of Leela. ‘Look at those lips.’ Later, he’s bellowing, ‘DARLING, I’M COMING, I’M COMING!’ In fact, it’s almost as eccentric, endearing and enthralling a performance as he’s ever given.

Released on Monday 1st August 2011 by 2Entertain.

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