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24 September 2014

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The Sun Makers

Production Code: 4W

First Transmitted

1 - 26/11/1977 18:05

2 - 03/12/1977 18:05

3 - 10/12/1977 18:05

4 - 17/12/1977 18:05


The TARDIS arrives in the future on the planet Pluto where there are now six suns, a breathable atmosphere and a large industrial community. The Company controls the planet and exploits the workers, pays them a pittance and then taxes them on everything imaginable. The Doctor and Leela join forces with an underground band of rebels led by a man named Mandrel.

They learn that the head of the Company's operations on Pluto, represented by the human official Gatherer Hade, is an Usurian known as the Collector. The Usurians enslave planets through economic means and then fleece the inhabitants with exorbitant taxes. The Company keeps the citizens in line by diffusing a calming gas, PCM, through the air conditioning system.

The Doctor manages to stop this, and the workers then rise up against the Company and hurl Gatherer Hade to his death from the roof of a tall building. The Doctor meanwhile gains access to the Company computer and programs it to apply a two per cent growth tax. The Collector, unable to cope with the loss of his profits, reverts to his natural form - a type of poisonous fungus - and is rendered harmless.

Episode Endings

With Leela held hostage by the rebels, the Doctor is forced to attempt to withdraw some money - a thousand talmars - from a consumbank booth using a stolen and forged consumcard. Suddenly the door of the booth slams down and a strident alarm sounds. The booth fills with gas, and the Doctor is overcome.

Leela, K9 and two workers named Cordo and Bisham are trapped as a vehicle containing a group of armed guards rapidly approaches them down a corridor.

Leela is strapped to a trolley by the Collector's guards and rolled into a condensation chamber to face death by steaming. The Doctor tries to reach her through some vents, but time is running out as the temperature is building in the heat exchanger and the steam will very shortly have to be released into the system. Leela resolutely awaits her fate...

Back in the TARDIS, K9 is waiting to finish the game of chess that he was on the point of winning against the Doctor when they arrived on Pluto. The Doctor makes an adjustment to the TARDIS controls that causes the ship to lurch violently, sending the chess pieces flying. He tells K9 that as soon as he has reset the coordinates, they can finish the game. K9 groans.


The Space Merchants.

Cartier's 1984 (the first shot is identical).

Brave New World.

The Iron Sun.

Robin Hood.

Isaac Asimov's Nightfall.

The Inland Revenue and taxation.

The BBC TV logo.

Visually influenced by Metropolis.

The Doctor misquotes Das Kapital ('What've we got to lose?' 'Only your claims!')

The Doctor and K9's chess game derives from Spassky vs Fisher in 1972.

Dialogue Triumphs

Cordo : "Praise the Company."

Mandrel : "Stuff the Company!"

Hade : "Citizen Doc-tor. What an unusual name!"

The Doctor : "Yes, especially for an Ajacks."

Hade : "Indeed. There are so many Wurgs and Keeks in Megropolis Three that I sometimes wonder how my colleague Gatherer Pyle manages to keep track of them all."

The Collector : [As Leela is about to be killed in the steamer, with microphones set up to broadcast her screams.] "This is the moment when I get a real feeling of job satisfaction!"


The Company is based on Usurius. Usurians are listed in Professor Thripsted's Flora and Fauna of the Universe as a poisonous fungi. Three types of gas are mentioned: Dianane, a deadly poison (to which Usurians are immune), Balarium, a muscle neutraliser, which also effects speech, and Pentocyleinicmethylhydrane (PCM), an anxiety inducing agent.

The sonic screwdriver is able to open the Company safe.


Megropolis 3, Pluto.

Future History

The Company came to Earth when its natural resources were almost gone and shifted the population to Mars, after their technicians made it habitable [previous Martian colonies, like those mentioned in The Daleks Masterplan, did not involve terraforming]. Once Mars too had been exhausted the operation moved to Pluto, missing out the four intervening planets which the Collector describes as being 'not economically viable'. The Doctor says he hopes the humans will be able to return to a regenerated Earth.

Pluto was believed to be the outermost body in the solar system until the discovery of Cassius. Pluto has six megropolises (each with its own in station fusion satellite). The miners in Megropolis 3 are known as Ajacks (The Gatherer believes the Doctor is one.)

Popular Ajacks names include Wurg and Keek. School is called Preparation Centre and money units are Talmars. Kandor, an Executive Grade from Megropolis 4, once survived three years in a correction centre. PCM is pumped into the air to keep the population subservient. The Usurians have a file on Gallifrey.


The Doctor says the Droge of Gabrielides offered a whole star system for his head. The Company holds records on the Doctor's activities: he has a long history of 'violence and economic subversion'.


The Gatherer employs many amusing forms of address for the Collector, including not only 'your Excellency' but also such gems as 'your Magnificence', 'your Sagacity' and 'your Enormity'.

Michael Keating, now better known for his role as Vila in Blake's 7, plays the rebel Goudry.

There are a number of Aztec influences in the story's costume and set designs - most notably in the Gatherer's crested hat, the badges worn by Company executives and the large 'sun god' symbol suspended at the back of the Gatherers' office. These were a nod toward the original intention of set designer Tony Snoaden and costume designer Christine Rawlins to base their work on Mexican propagandist art, an idea that had been vetoed by director Pennant Roberts.


When the Gatherer is to be thrown off the roof by an angry mob, his exclamation and facial expression suggest someone who's watched too many Kenneth Williams films.

The Collector's computer makes various silly 'Boing!' noises.

You can see car park insignia on the roof top.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Tom Baker

Leela - Louise Jameson

Voice of K9 - John Leeson

Bisham - David Rowlands

Collector - Henry Woolf

Commander - Colin McCormack

Cordo - Roy Macready

Goudry - Michael Keating

Guard - Tom Kelly

Hade - Richard Leech

Mandrel - William Simons

Marn - Jonina Scott

Nurse - Carole Hopkin

Synge - Derek Crewe

Veet - Adrienne Burgess


Director - Pennant Roberts

Assistant Floor Manager - Linda Graeme

Costumes - Christine Rawlins

Designer - Tony Snoaden

Film Cameraman - John Tiley

Film Editor - Tariq Anwar

Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson

Make-Up - Janis Gould

Producer - Graham Williams

Production Assistant - Leon Arnold

Production Unit Manager - John Nathan-Turner

Script Editor - Robert Holmes

Special Sounds - Paddy Kingsland

Studio Lighting - Derek Slee

Studio Sound - Michael McCarthy

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - Peter Day

Visual Effects - Peter Logan

Writer - Robert Holmes

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'Perhaps everyone runs from the taxman!' A clever script is balanced by a straight-forward plot, although the subtlety of some of the jokes will be lost on a younger audience. The Doctor's political asides ('Probably too many economists in the government!') have improved with age, however.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

Robert Holmes' time as script editor of Doctor Who is notable for the number of stories that he wrote (or heavily rewrote) himself, so it is fitting that it should have ended with another; and The Sun Makers provides a further excellent illustration of why many commentators regard him as one of the finest writers the series ever had. Indeed John McElroy, writing in the Doctor Who Appreciation Society Yearbook 1977/78, went so far as to suggest that it ranks 'as one of the best and most original Doctor Who stories ever':

'The story was so refreshing because it dealt with civil war - and although in the end the aliens were ultimately responsible, the story was delightfully free from "bug-eyed monsters".

'The story also worked because the humour level was judged to perfection - [for example] most of the corridors were named after [UK] tax forms (P45, P60 etc).'

It is the high level of sophisticated humour in the story that really sets it apart from those around it; in fact this is arguably the first story since season three's The Myth Makers to make humour its central focus, almost its raison d'etre. Holmes uses a fairly straightforward, even cliched science-fiction backdrop - that of a group of oppressed humans struggling to free themselves from the tyranny of their alien masters - to make what is in essence a wickedly barbed attack on bureaucracy and, in particular, the UK tax system as administered by the Inland Revenue.

'I thought this story an excellent political satire,' wrote Howard D Langford in TARDIS Volume 3 Number 3, dated May/June 1978, 'which well demonstrated the versatility of the Doctor Who format. The Gatherer was an amazing character, and his speeches especially to the Collector were very funny, run through with irony. The story was an example of how action and humour can be combined to make a point in an entertaining and thoughtful way. I liked the way the Gatherer was flung from the building, refusing to believe that rebellion was possible, demonstrating that he was just as much a pawn as the work units (very reminiscent of 1984)...'

Andrew Pixley, reviewing the story in In-Vision Issue 27, dated October 1990, also thought that the humour worked extremely well:

'The emotionless nurse who tells Cordo that his father has died and then slams the screen shut as he offers her the Golden Death payment must bring back memories for any who have struggled with the officialdom of the Inland Revenue and got the "I'm sorry, you'll want our other department" brush off. The D-grade's discovery that the death tax has risen is also reminiscent of all those times when the everyday man finds that the rules set by officialdom have changed, and that ignorance of the law is no excuse.'

The BBC's Audience Research Report on the story's second episode suggests that it was greatly enjoyed by most contemporary viewers: 'In general, they warmly welcomed the more realistic, less "fantastic" nature of the theme (widely interpreted as an "expose of super monopoly capitalism"), felt the story was well developed, intriguing and exciting, and liked the "more recognisable characters", considering them a nice change from monsters. In short, it was in their opinion, entertaining and even compelling viewing, which was "well up to the usual high standard of Doctor Who adventures".

However, a substantial minority of the sample were less enthusiastic. They were in most instances unimpressed by this "departure from the outer galaxies and weird creatures", often feeling that a "new view of the future" was needed in order to retain the initial originality of this long-running series. Whilst they did criticise the story as "too far-fetched to be anything other than childish" and frequently condemned the characters as utterly stereotyped ("straight out of a third-rate Mikado"), most apparently thought it a fairly average "sci-fi" story (in which "goodies fight the baddies, as always") and rated it as such.'

The Report continued in a generally positive vein - indeed, this was to be perhaps the most positive of any produced on the fourth Doctor's episodes - and noted that the production values were highly acclaimed: 'The large majority thought the acting and the production "as good as ever" and rated both highly. Whilst several viewers liked what they saw as the "tongue in cheek" approach of the cast, most detected no change from the normal and thought the acting "of the usual high standard". Louise Jameson (Leela) was singled out for special praise for her performance in this episode, many feeling that she was more assured now than she had been previously... There was particular praise for the imaginative and ingenious sets and costumes, which were in many viewers' opinions a welcome change from the disused quarries and dull army surroundings which have "featured so often of late", and some especially liked the introduction of K9.'

K9 drew a particularly enthusiastic response from children in the BBC's sample (who as usual had little but praise for the episode in general) and it does indeed fit in quite well in this story - despite its obvious technical limitations. It is however impossible to imagine K9 having worked in the context of one of the gothic horror stories produced by Philip Hinchcliffe, and its adoption as a regular in this season gives a good indication of the lighter, more fantastical quality that the series took on under Graham Williams.

'Several critics of Doctor Who have observed that the series' realism, or at least grittiness, declined during the late seventies,' noted David Owen, also in In-Vision Issue 27. 'While this can be attributed in part to intervention by powers above the production office calling for the show's shock content to be toned down, a considerable shift in [its] production style over and above this can be observed.

'Compare The Sun Makers with Robert Holmes' four-parter of the previous season - The Deadly Assassin. Both stories parody aspects of contemporary human society. Yet by comparison the latter seems to hammer its point home with all the subtlety of a bolt from K9's nose. The content has little to do with this - it is the production style alone which makes this adventure more fitting for the label "family viewing" than its dozen or so predecessors. Which perhaps just goes to prove the old maxim that it's not what you say, it's the way that you say it.'

Pixley summed things up well: 'The Sun Makers was a breath of fresh air. With its wacky dialogue and dose of Holmesian characters the story was a complete change from the dark intensities of Fetch Priory and Fang Rock, and even the fantastic voyage to the Bi-Al Foundation. Now it stands up as a clear indication of what was to come.'

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This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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