Reven-Who & Customs

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Chris Morley will tell you how it will be. There's one for you, nineteen for me.


With the deadline for online tax returns looming, has there ever been a better time to take a look at the facet of The Sun Makers which is hidden in plain sight?



Robert Holmes's story was written at the height of a dispute with what was then the Inland Revenue, & so is peppered with digs at the tax system. Indeed, as Jonathan Morris wrote for Doctor Who Magazine, it appears to be his attempt at mirroring George Harrison - the opening salvo of Revolver being a sonic gripe regarding his own struggles with the taxman at the height of his fame as a Beatle.



"Watching it, Who fans must have felt like Beatles fans placing the needle on Revolver, expecting more mop-toppy love songs and instead getting George Harrison whinging sardonically about paying too much tax. The Sun Makers is Doctor Who’s Taxman. It still follows the formula of reworking something as science-fiction, but this time the starting point isn’t an old novel on writer Robert Holmes’ bookshelf; it’s a brown envelope from the Inland Revenue on his doormat."
The very name of the planet Usurius is a reference to the original "usurious", which when put alongside interest rates means high or unfair! As A Short History of Banking explains,
"In the old days there was no paper money. The accepted token of exchange was precious metal minted into coins by the Church and the Crown. Because there was only a limited amount of gold and silver available, the economic life of the nation had a certain regularity.

An even greater restriction existed throughout Christendom. This was a prohibition against usury, or charging interest. The Church held it to be a grave sin and the code was upheld by the civil powers. There were harsh penalties for those who broke the law.

The regulation of usury was to prevent the separation of money from reality. Money is not a good, it is a measure. It is fraud to pretend otherwise, and constitutes theft. Usury is making money from lending money; it is making money from nothing. This is exactly what is happening today on a colossal scale."

And its arguably the Collector's greatest crime, helped along by Gatherer Hade, Cordo the victim of an unfair literal death tax, ie being taxed on a death, as opposed to the inheritance tax on a deceased person's estate Holmes was probably thinking of at the time of writing.
WOMAN: Citizen Cordo, District Four?
CORDO: Yes?
WOMAN: Congratulations, Citizen. Your father ceased at one ten.
CORDO: All was well?
WOMAN: A fine death. Body weight was eighty four kilos at termination.
CORDO: I'm gratified.
WOMAN: Gatherer Hade is waiting for the death taxes.
CORDO: Yes, I have them here.
Like Holmes himself, he's mortified at the bill!
HADE: Compassion is a noble thing, Citizen. Also costly. A hundred and seventeen talmars.
CORDO: One hundred and seven? No, it can't be.
HADE: See the account.
CORDO: But there's a mistake. Eighty, they said. Eighty for the golden death.
HADE: The Collector recently raised death taxes seventeen percent.
CORDO: I didn't know, your Honour.
HADE: It was bulletined.
CORDO: But I didn't see it.
HADE: It is every citizen's duty to know the tax rates.


The Collector's guards, the Inner Retinue, appear to be a sardonic play on the Revenue itself.
COLLECTOR: It is against Company policy to give supportive aid to the civil administration. We run a purely fiscal operation.
HADE: Your Pinnacle, a five percent increase in protection tax would repay the Company, its name be praised.
COLLECTOR: Good thinking, Hade. You tempt me.
HADE: There is also the consideration that any sustained unrest amongst the work units could damage profitability.
COLLECTOR: Productivity-wise, I agree. An ongoing insurrectionary situation would not be acceptable to my management. This fiscal period we're aiming for a seven percent increase in the gross planetary product.
HADE: An achievable target, your Colossus, only if there is no dissention. With increased manpower I could locate and destroy these anti-Company agents before any harm is done.
COLLECTOR: Half a division of my Inner Retinue. That's all I can spare.
HADE: I am gratified.
It would appear the parent organisation was in part established to help pay for war, in this case the second Anglo-Dutch conflict of 1665. It survived until 2005, coincidentally the year Doctor Who returned to our screens, when it merged with Customs & Excise to become HMRC - Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs. Praise the Company indeed, said no taxpayer ever!

As Mark Braxton would write for the Radio Times,
"If anger can be said to have a good side, it is this: occasionally it is muzzled, shaped and channelled into a work of art. Robert Holmes was clearly angry when he wrote The Sun Makers. A sour experience with the British taxation system spurred him to savage its bureaucracy, arbitrariness and dismissiveness.

That he does so with such delicacy, even beauty, says much for his control and his imperious way with words.

Everything about the production is playful, witty, ingenious. The story is easily one of the most successful in the canon - not necessarily with the public, but in terms of the writer's objectives."
Our own Tony Fyler hits the nail on the head in saying,
"It’s a sledgehammer satire on what happens when, to quote the Doctor, there are ‘too many economists in the government’ – it should be noted that for all the inferences that the sun makers are a private enterprise, the Usurian Collector had bushy eyebrows that have been notably compared to those of the Labour then-Chancellor, Dennis Healey, and certainly it is by no means a privilege of the left, or the poor, to complain about high taxation, so while being at the time a distinctly political rant in four episodes, The Sun Makers is broad enough to be enjoyed at any time, by any viewer."
Unless of course they receive a dreaded envelope....

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