Follow TV Tropes


Recap / Doctor Who S15 E4 "The Sun Makers"

Go To
Don't you just hate it when you sneeze in the middle of having a picture taken?

Cordo: Praise the company!
Mandrel: Stuff the company!

The One With… the offhand bit of Logan's Run.

Written by Robert Holmes. This four-episode serial first aired from November 26 to December 17, 1977.

Doctor Who goes all political with this thinly-disguised allegory on the evils of income tax. The TARDIS arrives on the planet Pluto, which in the future has six suns' worth of eternal daylight, a breathable atmosphere and a thriving industrial base. "The Company" controls the entire planet and exploits the workers mercilessly, paying peanuts and taxing everything. As soon as the Doctor and Leela step out of the TARDIS, they find a worker about to commit suicide — he'd arranged for his ailing dad to have a nice assisted suicide, then got told the price had gone up by a good 30% and he'd have to work 23 hours a day (he's already working 21). They distract him with a jelly ba—er, licorice allsort, and introduce him to the concepts of freedom and darkness.

The Doctor and Leela are soon captured by La Résistance, led by Mandrel, and learn that the workforce are being kept calm by a gas piped into the atmosphere. While The Company has a human representative in Gatherer Hade, it is in fact run by alien Usurians, noted for keeping planets in economic servitude. The Doctor is captured, sent on a errand, captured again, almost branded in the face, and eventually convinces La Résistance to stop twiddling their thumbs and start actually resisting the government.

The Doctor succeeds in switching off the paranoia gas and the workers rise up against The Company and ruthlessly kill the hated Gatherer Hade, while the Doctor does some computer jiggery-pokery to bankrupt it. The Usurian "Collector" (a very thinly-veiled Denis Healey parody) is powerless to stop The Company going bust and reverts to his natural form — a harmless fungus.


  • An Aesop: As well as the Author Tract on taxation, the story also has a clear anti-colonialism message.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: The Doctor rescues Leela from the steamer by crawling through the steam vent.
  • Alice Allusion: When Mandrel says that the Doctor had better have a good story, the Doctor begins, "Once upon a time, there were three sisters..."
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: The people once Gatherer Hade is thrown to his death.
  • Artistic Licence – Economics: Since the Company effectively is the entire economy, it's hard to see quite what they're getting out of the situation other than running a dystopia For the Evulz. It would make more sense if they were exporting raw materials or products to other cultures, but there isn't any sign of exports on screen.
    • It's implied the alien overseers have driven humanity from one planet to the next, mining out all resources.
    • The Collector does mention his race maintains "other" operations where entire races/planets have been equally enslaved as humanity, and that there is likely a lot of shared resources between the operations.
  • Author Tract: Writer Robert Holmes based this story on some of the troubles he was having with England's revenue office (due to having been simultaneously paid by the BBC as a salaried worker in his role as script editor, and as a freelancer for the scripts he was credited writer on). Some of the floors are numbered based on tax forms.
  • Badass Boast: Leela gets several, but most memorably when the Others threaten to kill her.
    Leela: Before I die I'll see this rathole ankle deep in blood. That is a promised thing.
  • Bald of Evil: The Collector
  • Big Bad: The Collector is the Company's representative on Pluto.
  • Bland-Name Product: One of the props in the story was designed to look like an oversized Barclaycard. When someone expressed concern that Barclays might complain, the prop was redesigned to look somewhat less like a Barclaycard.
  • Book Ends: The Doctor playing chess against K9.
  • Boring, but Practical: While Hade walks around convinced in his theory that the Doctor is a spy, the Collector finds out the truth by asking Leela for his name and species and then checking the Company's record to get to the truth.
  • Broken Aesop: The story is supposed to be a right-wing allegory about how taxation is bad, written by an openly Conservative writer. However, ignoring a few throwaway flippant comments made by the Doctor, the story is really about the evil of taxation that targets the poorest in society, and societies that strip away social safety nets so the untaxed rich can rake in massive profits. The reason for this situation is privatisation, where every utility (including sunlight) is run by corporate interests and the government is viewed only as an extension of the Mega-Corp. At the very least, it comes across as left-wing in an Occupy kind of way. If you choose to read into the fact that the Doctor wins by inspiring a populist revolt to execute their leaders while quoting Karl Marx, it becomes actively Communist. Not what you'd expect from something written by a Margaret Thatcher supporter in 1977.
  • Broken-System Dogmatist: The snooty, foppish, boot-licking, and completely disconnected character of Gatherer Hade to a tee. When the Doctor and Leela, along with disillusioned citizens, form a rebellion, the mysterious Collector running the whole operation sets a reward of 5000 talmars for their capture, which Gatherer Hade praises as an excellent strategy, only for the Collector to metaphorically backstab Hade by taking the reward money out of his income! He exclaims in protest at this, but doesn't outright reject the system either; to keep his pocketbook safe, he goes off to try capturing the Doctor instead. Hade, being an accessory to the oppression, later gets Laser-Guided Karma, when trying to stop the rebelling workers from loitering in the sun, who then throw him off of one of the kilometre-high buildings of the city.
    Hade: Fortunately, as the Gatherer, I have certain powers. I will encourage your supervisor to allow you increased output.
    Cordo: But, your Honour, I already work a double shift now! I have only my three hours sleep time away from the Foundry.
    Cordo: It will kill me!
    Hade: Take your Q capsule.
    Cordo: But your Honour, the high medical tax on Q capsules!
    Cordo: [exasperated and downtrodden] Praise the Company.
  • Business of Generic Importance: When the Doctor asks a group of rebels what the Company is for, who runs it, and who profits from it, no one can give a straight answer, as the populace has been suppressed and enslaved so much that they never considered to ask those questions before.
  • Camera Spoofing: The Doctor does this; looping the film so it looks like he is wandering back and forth along a corridor.
  • Career-Revealing Trait: Subverted - Doctor is continuously mistaken for an Ajack (in other words, a miner). Apparently, the Company's PCM gas doesn't work down in the mines, so Ajacks often come across as flamboyant and pompous by worker standards, making the Fourth Doctor fit the bill perfectly. The Doctor doesn't bother correcting anyone, and even uses this misidentification to his advantage when dealing with Gatherer Hade.
  • Censorship by Spelling: The Doctor tries to get Leela out of the TARDIS without taking K9 with them by inviting her for a "W-A-L-K". Given a comedic twist when Leela doesn't understand and K9 has to explain it to her.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: The purpose of the "correction centre."
  • Conveyor Belt o' Doom: For conveying Leela into the Sauna of Death.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Gatherer Hade and the Collector. From what we hear of them, all of the upper levels of The Company as well.
  • Curiosity Is a Crapshoot: Bisham was sent to the Correction Centre because of it. Specifically, he got curious about the mind-control chemicals he found labelled "For Official Use Only".
  • Description Cut: A compassionate man tells the Doctor that he doesn't think Leela was badly wounded. Cut to Leela in a straitjacket bellowing threats and trying to kick her guard's knees the other way.
  • Double Take: The Doctor's reaction to having a gun poking his neck from the guard he hypnotized into falling asleep.
    "Oh, it's you again. (neck-straining take) What'd I say?"
  • Disney Villain Death: Gatherer Hade is ultimately thrown over a railing to his death.
  • The Dragon: Hade to the Collector.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The Collector plans to commit genocide by pumping poison gas through the sprinkler system.
  • Driven to Suicide: Cordo, thanks to the inhuman debt placed on him. The Doctor and Leela's intervention is the unintentional first nail in the coffin of The Company's rule.
  • Earth That Was: The Company rescued humanity from a dying Earth, moving them first to Mars and thence to Pluto.
    • The Doctor does note that Earth's probably habitable again once the story ends, however.
  • Easily Swayed Population: Invoked, Lampshaded, and Subverted: If Cordo is any indication, the human population probably thinks that their oppressed way of life is normal (compared to a free population's), and that they are genuinely unable to meet the work/payment demand of the Company (when it's actually a case of the Company Moving the Goalposts); their fear, anxiety, depression, and inability to fight back is actually being caused by a suppressive chemical agent being pumped into the atmosphere.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: The serial was filmed in the real-life deep air raid shelters of London.
  • Emotion Bomb: The Company uses a anxiety inducing agent to control the human workforce - under the pretext of it being an air purifier (company officals take special pills that make them immune). The Doctor puts a stop to it, and the workforce becomes really alive (and angry) as a result.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Hade gets one, at how greedy and disconnected he is, when he mocks at how destitute Cordo's late father was, at the beginning of the serial.
    Hade: [The calculation of your father's death payments is] all here, you see, and said we put your father's personal contribution of seven talmars. [pauses, and smiles mockingly] Only seven talmars, Citizen? Must have been a poor man.
  • Evil Cripple: The Collector would appear to be one, since he's confined to a wheelchair-like device throughout the story. It's actually a device that emits radiation to keep him in his human form.
  • Evil Debt Collector: Gatherer Hade. Leela notes that everyone runs from the tax-man.
  • Expy:
    • The Collector appears to have been based on Davros's design.
    • Actor Richard Leech saw his character, Gatherer Hade, as a version of Pooh-Bah from The Mikado. Hade's remark that giving the Doctor a thousand talmars "added a touch of verisimilitude" echoes Pooh-Bah's famous line describing an element he has added to a cover story as "merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative."
  • Failed Future Forecast: The story is set in the far future on Pluto, which is referred to explicitly as a planet (other Doctor Who stories refer to it as such, too).
  • Fate Worse than Death: The Correction Centre, where people who have been medically sensitized to pain are tortured to death over several months.
    • Leela tells the Doctor to kill her when she starts to experience fear (due to the Emotion Bomb gas influencing them).
  • Fun with Acronyms: The initialism PCM may be a play on Per Calendar Month.
  • Had the Silly Thing in Reverse: When Leela hijacks the troop transporter, this happens.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Marn makes one when she realises La Résistance is going to win.
  • Hypnotic Eyes: The Doctor. It works a little too well.
  • I Fight for the Strongest Side!: Marn's Heel–Face Turn at the end of the serial.
  • Interrupted Suicide: "Somehow, I have the impression you're thinking of killing yourself."
  • Intimidating Revenue Service: How the Company squeezes every last bit out of their workers. Lampshaded when both Leela and The Doctor flee the rooftop when told "Gatherer Hade" is coming despite not knowing who that is.
    • "Perhaps everyone runs from the taxman!"
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Gatherer Hade will speak with self-satisfied authority on whatever is the topic at hand, but is often wrong (an early example is when he's proudly showing off his desk and mispronounces the name of the expensive wood it's made of), to say nothing of the times when he's outright making it up to avoid admitting ignorance. Until the Doctor and Leela show up, he gets away with it because he's surrounded by people who don't know any better and would be too afraid to contradict him even if they did.
  • Light Is Not Good: Pluto is bathed in eternal daylight by the company.
  • Loan Shark: Tax arrears are dealt with like this.
  • Loves the Sound of Screaming: the Collector anticipating Leela's painful execution.
    The Collector: This is the moment when I get a real sense of job satisfaction!
  • Meaningful Name: The Usurians are usurers. Hade ruling Pluto.
  • Mega-Corp: The Company makes planets like Mars and Pluto habitable for humans - and then runs the population into the ground through taxation. When the Doctor compares them to an invading army, their leader cheerfully admits they've done that, too, but found economic imperialism more efficient.
  • Mistaken for Spies: When the Doctor is released, the rebels think it's because he's spying for the Company. Especially given the 1000 talmars he's been paid; the Company never gives anything away.
  • Mister Big
  • Mobile-Suit Human: Except the mobile part, really. The Collector is actually confined to his wheelchair because it projects a humanoid appearance around his Starfish Alien body.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Hade(s).
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: At one point the Doctor is captured by the Company, but Hade has him released because he thinks the Doctor's part of a bigger plan and wants to use him to lure out the rest of the conspirators, giving the Doctor the chance to put together a clearer plan to rescue Leela after she's captured and stage a true revolution.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Collector's bushy eyebrows evoke Denis Healey, who was the current Chancellor of the Exchequer.
  • Noodle Incident: The PA announces that the Gatherer has offered 5,000 telmars for the Doctor's capture. A couple of workers marvel at this, until the Doctor (who's been standing behind them) scoffs, "Peanuts! The Droge of the Gabriellides once offered an entire star system for my head!"
  • Nose Tapping: Hade taps his nose when explaining his plan.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: After Leela attempts for several minutes to pull the Doctor's attention away from a riveting chess game:
    Leela: Doctor, can I speak now?
    The Doctor: What? All right, if you must. What is it?
    Leela: Well, the column has stopped moving.
    The Doctor: So?
    Leela: It is not important?
    The Doctor: WHAT?! We might have gone right through the time spiral, why didn't you tell me?
    Leela: I tried to, but you wouldn't let me.
    The Doctor: You didn't!
    Leela: I did!
    • Happens again when Leela tries to warn the Doctor of Cordo's suicide attempt.
  • Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap: Gatherer Hade boasts a desk of real wood - most people only learn about trees in school - and members of the resistance are extremely impressed by Leela's skins.
  • Plant Aliens: The Usurians turn out to be a species of poisonous fungus.
  • Pluto Is Expendable: Subverted. It's the last planet left to be mined out.
    • The Doctor notes that by story's end Earth may be re-habitable.
  • Price on Their Head: The Gatherer puts a 5,000 talmar bounty on the Doctor's head. The Doctor boasts that The Droge of the Gabriellides offered an entire star system for his head.
  • Public Execution: Leela is sentenced to die in a public steaming—i.e., she will be killed by superheated steam from the heating system being piped into a coffin-like box. The Controller is disappointed at the turnout. Dialogue indicates that public executions of this kind are a semi-regular occurrence on Pluto.
  • Pun: The Doctor spoofs Karl Marx when he tells the workers they have nothing to lose but their claims.
  • Punny Name: "Usurians" = usury
  • The Quisling: Hade.
  • La Résistance
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Initially subverted - the 'resistance' are depicted as brutal, self-interested and venal criminals out for themselves rather than any higher purpose until the Doctor effectively takes over.
  • Room 101: The correction centre.
  • Rule of Funny: The Doctor is trying to open a safe by listening to the tumblers and he begins talking in a boisterous and silly stage whisper to Leela, who asks him why he's whispering.
    I always whisper when I'm cracking safes.
  • Running Gag: Gatherer Hade calls the Collector a variety of increasingly over-the-top honorifics, which then wraps around to insults when Hade gets frustrated with the Collector no longer considering him a faithful lackey, and the entire Company scheme falling apart.
  • Sauna of Death: Leela is captured and sentenced to death by "steaming."
  • Saying Too Much: The Doctor scoffs "Oh wake up!" The guard he's hypnotised into falling asleep does so, putting a gun to his head. Then the Collector says he plans to release Deadly Gas that will kill every human in the compound. "I do not breathe air." The Doctor points out that the man currently holding a gun to his head does.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Leela's attempted execution contains visual references to Metropolis (the pod she's confined in, and the control panels). The opening shots of Cordo are a copy of the opening shots of Winston Smith in the famous 1950s BBC version of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
    • In this story, Leela and the Doctor are identified as "terrorists." In real life, Leela's character was partially based on Palestinian revolutionary Leila Khaled.
    • When one of the rebels rhetorically asks the Doctor, "What have we got to lose?" he replies, "Only your claims!" This is a playful paraphrase of the famous slogan derived from the last lines of The Communist Manifesto.
    • On the DVD commentary, director Pennant Roberts says that the positions in the chess match between the Doctor and K9 were based on the endgame of a match between Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov. However, Kasparov never played Fischer. It is probable that the set-up was based on another match, perhaps the 1972 World Chess Championship between Fischer and Boris Spassky. It is ironic if the match in this story was indeed based on a Fischer endgame, since Fischer left the United States after a dispute over back taxes.
  • Smart People Play Chess: The Doctor plays chess with K-9. He's losing.
  • Sore Loser: The Doctor can't believe K-9 can play chess better than he can. When he is about to lose, he flies the TARDIS so clumsily that all pieces are thrown about, forcing them to start over. Assuming K-9 hasn't saved the game in his memory, of course.invoked
  • Spell My Name with a "The": The Collector and The Company.
  • Starfish Aliens: The Collector's true form.
  • Stealth Insult: Gatherer Hade has an ostentatious manner of addressing The Collector (your Immensity, your Hugeness, your Supernal Eminence, etc), but as their relationship breaks down under the strain of events the honorifics become somewhat insulting, as in: "I fear the situation is worsening, your Grossness!"
  • Stealth Pun: Hade and the Collector are bureaucrats who run Pluto. Pluto-crats. (Plutocracy = rule by the rich, making Pluto a plutocracy.)
  • Supernatural Fear Inducer: One of these was used by the evil tax-gathering government to control the human populace. The Doctor inverts the technology to make people angry instead.
  • Take That!:
    • The entire script is one towards the Inland Revenue office (although changed around from a public government entity to a private corporate one).
    • The Collector was made to look like Denis Healey, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer.
  • The Easy Way or the Hard Way: "I've heard that one too."
  • To the Pain: The rebels threaten the Doctor before branding him. He calls their bluff, though.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The Collector, upon realizing the revolution has finally caught up with him, is reduced to a babbling wreck as he slowly (and literally) goes down the drain.
    • It didn't help him that The Doctor plugged in a new tax into the computer system that consumed all of The Collector's profits.
  • Visual Pun: when Leela is captured the Collector orders her status to be set as "pending". When we next see her she's hung on a wall.
  • Weakness Is Just a State of Mind: Played with; the workers of the Company are conditioned to think this, when it's not actually a lack of skill or a lack of initiative, but a physical impossibility, to meet the taxes and demands, because The Collector and Hade are metaphorically choking every last drop of livelihood and money from the populace. If someone is somehow able to make ends meet, the taxes and demands increase.
  • Writer on Board: The script was inspired by Holmes' own tax problems (as he was both a writer and a script editor on Doctor Who, he had to pay double the amount of tax on a single income). As a result, the Doctor makes all kinds of sizzling one-liners about the evils of taxation and the villain is an evil taxman.


Video Example(s):


K9 Plays Chess

The Doctor and K9 are engaged in a pleasant game of chess.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / SmartPeoplePlayChess

Media sources: