Friday, 16 September 2011

Death and Taxes

Recent Doctor Who dvd `The Sunmakers` reviewed by John Newman
`The Sunmakers` has limited appeal- anyone under working age will find it dull, anyone who’s been paying taxes for a while will find the ideas here far from the ` sniping at the taxman` tale it has a reputation for.  The story is so pleased with itself that it dismisses the rather more interesting idea of making Suns in favour of what is another rebellion against a corrupt regime.

"I'm not taking credit for this story!"

Robert Holmes did pen some of the old series’ best scripts and here his linguistic dexterity is on full display, especially from the loquacious Gatherer Hade, but the overall impression is of effort wasted. A combination of budgetary shortfalls and questionable acting fail to service the biting satire Holmes imagines he’s delivering. Had he concentrated as much on the plot as on the character flourishes and had director Pennant Roberts pumped some urgency into matters, this could have been a highlight of the season.
It begins promisingly enough with a little man called Cordo (a spirited Roy McCready) being over charged for death duties; a fee he cannot afford. Richard Leach’s Gatherer Hade is heartless and the actor copes well with a role in which he is togged out in clothes making him look like an exotic humbug.  By the end of episode 1, we are already in rebels vs. government territory and Holmes makes both as unsympathetic as possible so we’re not really on anybody’s side. The cliff-hanger sees the Doctor being gassed after attempting to use a very large credit card, at which point we have dawdled beyond satire into silliness. After these 25 minutes, perhaps the Doctor would be wishing he didn’t wake up!
Subsequent episodes perk up courtesy of Louise Jameson giving it some welly as full use is made of Leela’s aggression and guile. There is also- in the Collector- a villain who looks and talks like someone is doing a Doctor Who spoof but gets away with it. The script is strongest here, the Collector’s economic subversion making a pleasant change from a protagonist invading for the sake of it. Plus we have vintage Tom Baker; his scenes while in a straight jacket or his confrontation with the Collector being highlights of an energetic performance.
There is a sadistic undercurrent to the story. As Leela and the rebels trade insults the talk is of “filleting” people; later the savage herself is half way to getting publicly steamed with the Collector selling tickets and turning up himself because he likes to hear the screams. You could just about chalk this up as acceptable as we don’t really see much but what does go too far is a scene in part 4 where the rebels celebrate their win by chucking Hade to his death as if this is a Good Thing. The Doctor seems OK with the general tone of slaughte too and the result is something perhaps straying out of its teatime remit leaving a sour taste.

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