CRRRaSh! 392 Doctor Who: The Sun Makers

By Roy Mathur, on 2021-07-04, at 01:01:31--01:58:28 BST, for Captain Roy's Rocket Radio Show, Listen

The State of the Rewatch

I want to thank everybody who has been sending me feedback. We now have enough for a listener mail section at the end of this week's pod.

You probably started listening recently as a result of my direct tweet to you about a DW story I was covering in the pod, but I'll only tweet that once. Though I may have broken that rule already, that is the norm as I don't want to spam other Whovians who have no intention of listening to my pod. If you want to continue listening, you'll have to subscribe to the pod. Following me on Twitter, while nice, is an inferior option as I usually tweet out the episode hours after the episode actually goes live via my RSS feed.

As usual, I'll tweet this pod out, the one you're listening to right now, to a new group of listeners this week who last mentioned the DW story I'm covering.

I mispronounced "gestalt" many times in pod 390 (Image of the Fendahl). Sorry about that.

The director of Image of the Fendahl was George Spenton-Foster, of whom I knew little, so I looked him up. He also directed Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation (1978), Blake's 7 (1978): Weapon, Pressure Point, Voice from the Past, Gambit, and left Brookside in 1982 four days before its first broadcast because of crude language in the script.

The Sun Makers is one of those I remember rewatching a few years ago on the Horror Channel's selective re-airing of classic Doctor Who stories.

Happy Independence Day

Hello Americans. Congratulations again for having thrown off the yoke of empire.

Notes

Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker
Companion(s): Leela: Louise Jameson, K9: John Leeson
Director: Pennant Roberts (John Pennant Roberts 1940--2010 directed BBC programmes including Doomwatch, Survivors, Blake's 7, and Doctor Who, and cast Louise Jameson as Leela, after previously interviewing her for Survivors).
Writer: Robert Holmes
Producer: Graham Williams
Location: BBC Television Centre Studios TC3 and TC6, Shepherd's Bush July--September 1977.
Broadcast: Story 095/serial 4 of season 15, 4 x 25 minute episodes, 26 November--17 December 1977, following Image of the Fendahl covered in pod 390.

On this Day

So many times, it's really a stretch to find anything of interest. Not Today!

On this day of Saturday 26 November 1977 at 17:10, Andrew Gardner was presenting the ITN news on ITV's Southern Television, 55 minutes before Doctor Who on BBC1, when the video became distorted and the audio was interrupted by a voice calling itself Vrillon, claiming to be a representative of the Ashtar Galactic Command, spoke for about six minutes. The speech mentioned the Age of Aquarius and encouraged the human race to seek world peace, else court disaster.

If you're a connoisseur of conspiracy theory, you will immediately recognise Vril from the 1871 science fiction novel The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton that unintentionally sprouted several subsequent conspiracy theories.

You can read more about it in this Independent article and watch several low quality copies of the recording on YouTube; usually badly adulterated by poor editing, watermarks, extra content, and other nonsense that unfortunately vandalises the original content.

Whatever the source of the hack, surely this qualifies as one of the earliest TV signal hijacks, predating the Max Headroom broadcast by several years.

What Happens

In the far future, the Earth is uninhabitable, so humanity has colonised Mars and a Pluto terraformed by artificial suns. Cordo is forced to pay an unexpectedly huge bill, that financed his father's passing, by the tax Gatherer who works for the company that runs Pluto through the evil Collector.

In the TARDIS the Doctor is losing a game of chess to K9.

With no means to pay, Cordo attempts to throw himself from the roof of the city, but is saved from suicide by the Doctor and Leela whose TARDIS landed nearby.

The Doctor finds out about the greatly exploitative model of capitalism gone mad and follows Cordo down to the lightless depths of the Undercity wherein they meet criminals and outcasts. Their leader Mandrel forces the Doctor to defraud an ATM with a fake device or they will kill Leela.

Left behind in the TARDIS, K9 exits and tries to find the Doctor, but his movements are tracked.

An alarm is tripped, the Doctor is trapped, rendered unconcious by knock-out gas in the machine, and comes to in the Correction Centre. He is later released by Gatherer Hade with a concealed tracker.

Meanwhile, Leela, Cordo and K9 attempt to rescue attack the Doctor, but is shot in the head.

The Doctor returns to the outcastes and learns of Leela's fate. He manages to convince them to fight back and take control of PCM producing plant, where a chemical that induces fear is pumped into the air supply preventing the workers from revolting.

The Collector orders Leela's execution by steaming, but at the last moment she is saved from an awful death by the Doctor.

As the PCM levels die down, Mandrel's revolutionaries spread propaganda and the revolution spreads. Gatherer Hade is outraged that workers are heading for the roof, a privilege of the elite, and confronts them. The triumphant mob pitch him from the roof.

The Doctor and Leela infiltrate the Collector's Palace and discover that the Collector is an alien disguised as a human. Cordo and the rebels attack and the Collector loses his human form.

The Doctor suggests that the revolutionaries should return to Earth , which is again habitable.

As they leave, the Doctor deliberately jolts the TARDIS to throw K9 off his game.

What I Thought

This is all about death and taxes. It's a cliche, but true.

The company world is something we see in the Alien franchise, written about by in Alan Dean Foster's tie-in novelisation, and who's expanded universe of the Company reaches out to include his other novelisations of films like Pale Rider.

I actually lived and worked as the museum curator of an ex-mining company town in the Canadian Badlands, so I'm in a position to know that company towns with company shops, etc. are an incredibly crooked and exploitative practice. It isn't difficult to see why revolutionary communist backed unions like the Mine Workers' Union of Canada and it's counterparts in the USA existed.

This story is very relevant today with capitalist entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos setting their sights on Mars. The Collector even looks like Bezos! Iamgine a Mars run by for-profit corporations. Do we want to be literally paying through the nose for air. Total Recall!

We are also told of the terraforming of cold Pluto by artificial suns, but are not further elucidated. I wish we were though. Frankly Doctor Who could really do with a massive injection of hjard science fiction. I hope that a future showrunner is listening to this. (They are not, but one can hope).

The Gatherer's henchwoman is Marn played by Jonina Scott. She reminds me strongly of an ex-student of mine. I remember her coming to class an emerald the size of a bird's egg hanging from a thick gold chain. She was quite a character. I can't remember her name, but wouldn't it be something if... no, surely not?

One of the nasty Undercity cutthroats is played but Michael Keating, who would go on to play the equally criminal, but cowardly Vila Restal in Blake's 7. It's weird to see him playing a tough guy.

On the subject of Blake's 7, the drugged air supply reminds me of the episode Traitor in which subjects are dosed with pylene-50 to keep them docile and compliant.

Gatherer Hade insults the apparently oblivious Collector by disguising slurs as grovelling compliments to comedic effect. He addresses the Collector as "your monstrosity", "your corpulence", "your grossness", etc.

The Collector is played as a hammy villain by distinguished actor Henry Woolf, a collaborator of playwright Harold Pinter. His face is familiar from the screen, but I can't remember what I last saw him in. Interestingly, he moved to Canada and stayed there. I moved there and came back.

Baker does his usual ad libs for no creative reasons that I can fathom, other than grabbing the attention of the camera. We see this when he pretends to lose the cash withdrawal device. I bet he would say that he was demonstrating the Doctor's eccentric absent-mindedness. Sure Tom, sure.

The Doctor does his hypnotism trick, with it's usual comedic consequences, when he inadvertently sends Leela off to nodland.

The sonic screwdriver returns and when the Doctor sonics open the Collector's vault.

The Doctor is better at leading a revolution than Leela. While we see Leela winning hearts, we see the Doctor winning hearts and minds.

Is it me, or is Leela becoming kinder and nicer, while still more than willing to gut everyone she meets? She threatens to fillet and split opponents in this episode, and is absolutely delighted with the gun-toting violence until she is shot in the head. She is fantastic.

Leela is also starting to practice her manipulative skills on poor K9, who constantly seeks praise, though she is also very found of the robot.

Trivia

A Radio Time article states this is Loiuse Jameson's favourite episode.

Listener Comments

Regarding Image of the Fendahl:

Greg Cox @gregrcox:

One of my favourite Tom Baker stories & the final story of my personal golden age which started with Evil of the Daleks. I love the Hammer Horror feel to it. It's got some great lines in it & wonderful acting. Love it

He also agrees with me about how Dennis Wheatley-like this story was.

CharlesWynfordLodge @2hrTV:

It's a very Nigel Kneale type of a story. Most notably Quatermass and the Pit.

Salty Space Grrrl @SaltyGrrrl:

Another classic! Massive computer banks, secret lab, haunted woods, alien body snatcher AND witches!

I give a gold star to episodes that terrified me as a kid. I still remember those medusa eyes Glowing star

Most memorable line: Doctor addressing skull: "Would you like a jelly baby?"

Salty Space Grrrl @SaltyGrrrl:

So many memorable lines!

And this:

Don't kill him Leila

Why not?

It would upset the dog.

@SaltyGrrrl also agreed wth me about how K9 is more lethal and just as willing to kill than Leela with his nose blaster.

Pablo @MetalicoPablo via email:

Hi Roy!

Pablo here, first time commenting 😁. Congratulations for your podcast, specially since no much people delves into The Classic Era of Doctor Who. I really like your style and dedication.

Regarding the episode, I really like the crazy ways of this Doctor, at least during his first seasons, specially at the end of the episode, when complimenting "Leela's new dress" 😂😂 I also appreciated the Panspermia Theory behind the main plot connecting the ancient skull with the development of the human civilization. Exploring some of the Time Lords mythology was also a good point for me. However, character development was not at its highest and sometimes I didn't feel the plot was entirely coherent, specially all that cult and the Deus Ex-Machina point of Fendhalman being "Man of the Fendahl". 4 parts seemed to much for me.

Good luck with the car selection and best regards.

Pablo

Regarding Fugitive of the Judoon, Pablo @MetalicoPablo:

Ohh good episode! I never get tired of watching it! Very confusing, though, for all the Ruth's Doctor thing

Thanks for all those interesting and lovely comments! Please keep them coming, otherwise I feel like those poor guys running Korrupt FM in People Just Do Nothing.

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