Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

3.08 The Gunfighters

First Doctor with Steven and Dodo
Follows on from Season One, Season Two, Galaxy Four, Mission to the Unknown, The Myth Makers, The Daleks' Master Plan, The Massacre, The Ark and The Celestial Toymaker


MASTERSON: Doctor who?
DOCTOR: Yes, quite right.


The Gunfighters still exists and can be watched in full, all four episodes. Hallelujah and glory be.

This is a very slight story, really, with a paper thin plot and uneven characterisation – definitely one of the weaker spots in an experimental, transitional season fraught with off-screen difficulties…and yet. It's far livelier and a lot more fun to watch than the serial preceding it, The Celestial Toymaker, and is highly entertaining if you accept it for what it is, which is farce, and very knowingly so. Doctor Who does the Wild West, deliberately employing every cliché in the book for comedic purposes – this is a pure historical of the mockabilly variety, and while the writing may be a bit clunky and the faux-American accents painfully bad, the regulars little more than guests in someone else's story and woefully lacking in meaningful characterisation or development, it is nonetheless a character story. It's just a shame it isn't a character story about the regulars!

The plot, in a nutshell, is this: when the TARDIS lands in the American West, the Doctor, Steven and Dodo find themselves caught up in the gun-toting affairs of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp in the days leading up to the infamous shoot-out at the O.K. Corral.

This was the very last Doctor Who serial ever to have individual episode titles; hereafter, each episode will simply be numbered as part of the overarching story.

Writer – Donald Cotton
Director – Rex Tucker
Script editor – Gerry Davis
Producer – Innes Lloyd
Aired – 30 April – 21 May 1966


Random thoughts while watching:

Episode one: 'A Holiday for the Doctor'

Previously on Doctor Who: the cliffhanger of the year award went to The Celestial Toymaker, which ended with the Doctor cracking a tooth on a toffee. Hold that thought as The Gunfighters, which is the closest Doctor Who has ever come to a musical episode, opens in Tombstone, Arizona with a view toward the O.K. Corral and a musical little ditty, subsequent verses and varying arrangements of which will haunt us throughout the next four episodes. 'The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon' is a jaunty little earwig of a song and plays often enough to drive you mad, but if you pay attention to the lyrics they are always relevant, providing wraparound narrative for the story.

Next we meet the Clanton brothers: Ike, Phineas and Billy. They have the worst fake American accents you will ever hear – half the time they don't even seem to be trying – but between them they set the scene for us: their family has a grudge against Doc Holliday after he shot dead another brother, and their father has hired a gunslinger named Seth Harper to take revenge for them. They meet him at the Last Chance Saloon, where bar singer Kate Fisher gets wind of their plans and hurries to warn Holliday, who is her fiancé. None of the cowboys have ever actually met Doc Holliday; they know him only by description – this will be significant.

This story would be so much improved if only the guest actors had been able to make their dialogue, clichéd as it is, sound more natural – most of their accents are almost painful to listen to. Also, even after watching the story a few times, I still can't tell which cowboy is which.

Anyway, the scene is set as the TARDIS lands in a nearby livery yard, the Doctor still in pain from his broken tooth. Steven mithers around telling him it's his own fault for eating sweets and Dodo offers to get him a painkiller, but the Doctor decides that he needs a dentist to remove the tooth entirely, if only they can find one, wherever they are. It's a weak premise on which to base the rest of the story and doesn't play out terribly naturally, but there we have it. Rather more entertaining is Steven and Dodo's delight when they realise they are in the Wild West. Now, Dodo is wired by nature to enjoy herself wherever she goes, so we'd expect her to be excited, but Steven is usually more cautious and hasn't previously seemed all that familiar or comfortable with the past. He's certainly heard of the Wild West, though, exults that he always wanted to be a cowboy, and rushes back into the TARDIS with Dodo to find period-appropriate clothes to change into. While he may not be a history buff like Barbara in general, he has consistently enjoyed playing dress-up during his time with the Doctor, so this is not out of character for him.

The locals, who are supposed to be real cowboys, are truly awful, but when Steven and Dodo emerge from the TARDIS in their faux-cowboy finery, it is wonderful because they look like a pair of kids going to a fancy dress party, and it's all kinds of fun to see Steven actually enjoying himself for once, he's more usually so serious and anxious. Dodo is having a positive influence on him, perhaps, her sunny nature encouraging him to lighten up a little – and also, we might conjecture, there's been enough distance now that the losses of earlier in the season are no longer so raw, allowing him to relax a little. He almost trips over the spur on his heel and then drops his fake gun while trying to twirl it, but is having too much fun to be embarrassed. In The Daleks' Master Plan we saw him having a go at a Northern English accent while undercover, now he has great fun playing at being a cowboy with a lousy fake American accent – he and Dodo both do a better job throughout with their lousy fake American accents than the supposed locals! The Doctor is still being grumpy, though, because of his tooth, and grumbles that dressing up is just asking for trouble and they should try wearing inconspicuous clothing like him, which…the Doctor is many things, but inconspicuous is rarely one of them!


So it's all fun and games until Steven gets his fake gun shot out of his hand by a very suspicious local marshal who introduces himself as Wyatt Earp, sending Dodo into raptures of fangirl hero worship, much to his sarcastic bemusement. Earp takes them all on over to the sheriff's office to identify themselves – for their own safety, he reckons, since the Clantons are in town.

The Doctor hastens to present himself and his companions to Sheriff Masterson as travelling players, complete with hastily improvised pseudonyms instead of their real names, for whatever reason. Dodo becomes 'Miss Dodo Dupont, wizard of the ivory keys', Steven's face is a picture when he is introduced as 'Steven Regret, tenor' – Steven's reactions in the background of any scene are always brilliant, and one of the reasons the destruction of so many of his episodes is such a loss – while the Doctor presents himself as 'Doctor Caligari'. He also takes the opportunity to ask if there is a dentist in town – and wouldn't you know it, but it just so happens that Doc Holliday himself has just this day set up in town as a dentist, turning over a new leaf and going straight at the bequest of fiancée Kate.

Doc Holliday, incidentally, is played here by actor Anthony Jacobs, whose son Matthew visited him on set and went on, thirty years later, to write the screenplay for the 1996 Doctor Who television movie. Barman Charlie, meanwhile, is played by actor David Graham, who provided monster voices on numerous Doctor Who serials through the 1960s and was about to become the voice of Gordon Tracey (and Brains, Parker and Kyrano) in Thunderbirds.

While Steven grumbles mightily about his stupid fake name and Dodo cheerfully volunteers to 'have a bash' at the piano if need be – that's their two personalities in a nutshell right there – the Doctor makes plans: they will stay in Tombstone overnight while he gets his tooth seen to, and be back in the TARDIS in time for lunch tomorrow. Best laid plans, and all that. He falters almost at once when it comes to actually entering Holliday's dental shop, and I can't honestly say that I blame him, but his companions urge him on and then head over to the inn to book rooms for the night. So much trouble could be avoided if they'd simply agreed to return to the TARDIS as soon as the Doctor's extraction was complete, instead of staying locally.

Steven and Dodo both have a good chuckle at the thought of what dental treatment might involve in the American Wild West of 1881 – no sympathy at all! I can't help feeling that the Doctor would have been better off getting back in the TARDIS and trying elsewhere for a dentist, but knowing his luck they'd have landed in a warzone next, or in the middle of a bunch of Daleks or back in the Stone Age, or something, so I can see why he'd want to get it seen to at once, somewhere at least relatively peaceful and civilised, while he has the chance…except that 1881 is still so horribly primitive, as dental treatment goes!


Doc Holliday and Kate are delighted by the Doctor's arrival, for more reasons than one – not only is he their first customer, but he may be the answer to their other problem, which…the Doctor is way off his game in this story, for the second serial in a row. He seems uncertain and anxious and bumbling, often two steps behind everyone else, and it isn't like him at all. It makes for a lot of humour in the story, with the Doctor misunderstanding the machinations of others as overtures of friendship, but it isn't like the Doctor – and we could argue that he's doing it on purpose, but that's not how it comes across. So, the Doctor has his tooth pulled without any anaesthetic by a man with no dental qualifications whatsoever, while Kate and Holliday decides to make use of his resemblance to Holliday to throw the Clantons off the scent, and so set about setting him up.

There are some really good jokes in this story – there always are in the comedy historicals, which usually employ some wonderfully witty writing. The jokes often come at the expense of consistent characterisation, and the standard of dialogue in general in this story doesn't match the quality of the jokes, but it is very funny and the comic timing on display is fantastic at times. The Doctor calls Wyatt Earp 'Mr Werp' all the way through this story, all four episodes, calling back to the way he so often got Ian's name wrong, and it is funny every time. This is two pure comedy stories in a row, which is unusual; after the more heavyweight drama of The Daleks' Master Plan and The Massacre, the new producers evidently felt they needed to lighten the tone considerably.

Even in a comedic story like this, the contrast couldn't be starker between Steven and Dodo in their shiny faux cowboy costumes, clumsily booking themselves in at the inn and doing a lousy job of acting natural, and the sharp-shooting real cowboys surrounding them. As in The Myth Makers or The Romans, the danger in this story is generally underplayed, but the set-up is such that if it were presented straight, there would be real tension and drama. Steven, at least, is aware of the potential for trouble from the ruffians in the room, but Dodo, as usual, is oblivious and has to be hauled upstairs to the safety of her room when she would rather stay in the bar and socialise. Steven hisses at her that the Doctor would never forgive him if anything happened to her – it's the second time in as many serials he's said that, and while he dresses it up as the Doctor's concern, it seems clear that he wouldn't forgive himself if anything happened to Dodo; he hasn't forgotten Katarina, Sara Kingdom or Anne Chaplet, couldn't bear to lose someone else he considers under his protection, and that doesn't have to be said out loud to be relevant here to anyone paying attention – if this were the modern show, all it would need is a 'previously on' clip at the beginning to make the connection overt.

The Doctor states his dislike of violence and firearms repeatedly in this serial – leading to some great visual comedy as he is given guns to carry several times over and never knows quite what to do with them.


Waiting for the Doctor – who they believe is Doc Holliday – to show up, the Clantons force Steven and Dodo to return to the bar and entertain them while they wait, since they are supposed to be a singer and piano player, after all. It turns out Dodo actually can play the piano, which is fortunate, and, as the Doctor makes his way down Main Street toward the ambush that awaits him, Steven reluctantly and nervously sings us into the first episode cliffhanger with the ubiquitous 'Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon'.

Episode two: 'Don't Shoot the Pianist'

As episode two opens, Steven's impotent exasperation at being made to sing the same song over and over is a thing of beauty to behold, before Kate's return to the bar, full of brassy indignation at finding a new singer doing her job, finally brings him to a very relieved halt. Kate is a real force of nature – even the Clantons aren't about to argue with her.

Steven is quick to send Dodo back upstairs to the relative safety of her room, warning her to lock the door, only for her to protest that she was enjoying herself, exactly as if she hadn't noticed they were being held captive at gunpoint by dangerous men – and then when Steven is forced to stay in the bar to play piano for Kate, again at gunpoint and at threat of his life, Dodo gets into a huff and flounces off shouting at him to 'have a good time with your new friends', as if all she sees is a slight to herself, rather than the clear and present danger that Steven is trying to protect her from. It is much the same unrealistic reaction and implausible characterisation that weakened both the story and the character so badly in The Celestial Toymaker. I'm not sure why she is written this way – well, other than for 'comedic' purposes, clearly – but it is the biggest problem with Dodo as a character: that she is such an innocent, to the point of moronity. She's just so oblivious. There is no guile or artifice in her whatsoever, and therefore she never suspects them in others and is completely incapable of reading a room. She has odd flashes of perception, but otherwise takes everything at face value, with no ability to see any deeper or read between the lines at all, and her apparent inability to recognise danger and react accordingly undermines any tension there might have been in the story. It makes her a terribly frustrating character, difficult to believe in as a person, although her sunny nature is otherwise delightful.


Maybe she had a psychotic break when she entered the TARDIS that first time, brought on by culture shock, and she thinks all this is a dream and genuinely doesn't realise that everything she's seen and experienced has been real. Well, it would explain a lot about her!

Steven is made to provide accompaniment for Kate to sing – and wouldn't you know it, but it turns out Steven can play the piano as well. Well, actress Sheena Marsh might have to mime her singing – unlike Peter Purves, who has a decent singing voice – but Kate certainly manages to distract the Clanton posse. The Doctor chooses this moment to wander into the bar, totally unsuspecting of the hostile intentions of most of its occupants, full of praise for Steven's piano playing and applauding that he had no idea – I love Steven's wry little 'neither had I' in response. Amazing what you can achieve with a gun to your head. Very much the doddery old gent, the Doctor is all smiles and affability, feeling better now the broken tooth has been removed and only too happy make friends with everyone – he's almost as oblivious as Dodo at times in this story, and for much the same reason: comedy. I do enjoy how genial he is these days, though, and how much he has come to enjoy human company since meeting Ian and Barbara.

For the record, the Doctor states here that he never touches alcohol, and would prefer a glass of milk. Although his Eleventh self would completely agree, the Third would beg to differ on that score, being rather fond of wine; the taste buds differ with each regeneration. Seeing him request milk here, I wonder what he ordered back in The Massacre, when he landed in Paris with Steven and called into a local inn for a drink!

The Doctor and the Clantons have an entire conversation completely at cross-purposes – he doesn't know they think he is Doc Holliday who murdered their brother and so offers genuine condolences, while they don't know that he isn't Doc Holliday and so grow more and more irate at his apparent callousness. At last the Doctor begins to see the misunderstanding and tries to explain, but there's no talking his way out of this one, especially not when he is carrying Holliday's own gun. He tries appealing to Steven, but Steven is way past the point of even trying to argue with these people – one of my favourite things about this story is how 110% done Steven is throughout. Kate, meanwhile, has a vested interest in making the Clantons believe that this really is Doc Holliday, as she wants to protect the real thing – that ruthless streak, that willingness to place an innocent stranger in danger for the sake of her lover, is an interesting twist to the character and I like it. Kate is probably the most interesting character in this story, because we get to see so many sides to her.

The Doctor pulls the gun out and starts waving it around, trying to explain himself – and one of the cowboys promptly gets his own gun shot out of his hand. It was Holliday, from the top of the stairs, having snuck in a window, but everyone in the bar assumes it was the Doctor and his shocked reaction is priceless. Kate promptly takes advantage of the confusion to disarm the nearest cowboy and hold the rest at gunpoint, and I find myself wanting to keep her, or perhaps swap her for Dodo. She's sharp, resourceful, quick-thinking, loyal, outspoken, down-to-earth, pro-active and fierce, full of fire and vim; this woman takes no nonsense from anyone. Even the Doctor defers to her greater experience in these matters, asking how they should proceed.


Poor Steven is having his boyish illusions about being a cowboy well and truly shattered, managing to fire his gun into the ceiling completely by accident – he's not usually this clumsy, again the character is being pulled around by the demands of comedy, but I can buy that he'd be awkward and out of place in this setting, uncomfortable enough to stumble. Earp and Masterson walk into the middle of all this, realise what's going on, and decide to arrest the Doctor – for his own protection, Earp playing along with Holliday and Kate's ruse for all he's worth because he also wants to protect Holliday, but not willing to risk the Doctor's life for his friend's sake. Unfortunately, they leave the confused and dismayed Steven alone in the bar with the Clantons, who've got their guns back.

Meanwhile upstairs, Dodo wandered out of her room in time to witness Holliday's bit of sharp-shooting, so he is now rather boredly hiding out in her room, holding her at gunpoint to stop her raising the alarm. I would complain again about her continued nonchalance in the face of danger, but I actually like it here because this time, instead of being completely oblivious, she is at least cognizant of what's going on and is choosing to react to it with indignation rather than fear. She isn't, however, up to speed on what's been going on downstairs, and is shocked when Holliday and Kate fill her in, wanting to rush to the Doctor's aid, but Holliday isn't about to let her go when she could blow his cover, so she's stuck for the time being, sulking while Holliday and Kate amuse themselves with a game of cards. At length, Holliday decides to slink back to his shop for a drink, since he can't go down to the bar. He finds Earp waiting for him at the shop with an ultimatum – he's to be out of town by daybreak, at which time Earp will tell the Clantons the truth about the mistaken identity.

While the Doctor sits things out in a jail cell, Steven attempts to reason with the cowboys, and it has to be said: the fake American accent he's using as part of his cover is miles better than their supposedly real ones! Steven's a straightforward sort of chap who likes to focus on one problem at time, and the problem he's mainly focused on just now is how to get the Doctor out of jail. The Clantons suggest that Steven slip a gun to him through the window so he can bluff his way out, and then bring him back to their 'welcoming committee' at the bar, and I'm really glad the visuals still exist or all we'd have is Steven sounding as cheerfully oblivious as Dodo as he agrees to the plan, and not the accompanying facial acting which makes it clear that he knows full well it is a trap but is playing along in the absence of anything better to do. You can clearly see Steven's anxiety, his brain ticking over trying to figure out what to do – it's really nicely played by Peter Purves, all in the eyes and the micro-expressions, a timely reminder of just how much has been lost with the missing episodes.


Upstairs, Kate is taking advantage of having another woman around – she's got Dodo doing her hair for her, while they chat about Kate's marriage plans with Doc and all the other outlaws she's known in her time. The contrast between the worldly-wise Kate and the naïve Dodo couldn't be starker. It's nice to see two women having a conversation – it's been a while – but it doesn't exactly make for a Bechdel pass since every word is about Doc Holliday, who returns to tell Kate to pack up: they're leaving town.

In his jail cell, the Doctor is passing the time studying wanted posters when Steven appears at the window to hand him the gun, frantic with plans for bluffing his way out so they can retrieve Dodo and get back to the TARDIS before the Clantons come gunning for them. The Doctor can't get a word in edgeways before Steven disappears again. He amuses himself by twirling the gun a little, and then hands it straight to 'Mr Werp' for safekeeping, rather than use it to get himself out, well aware that he is in protective custody only and is quite safe where he is; although he admits to being terribly worried about his friends, he's content to sit tight rather than do anything about that concern. He's not at his most pro-active in this story, mostly just sitting around allowing other people to take action around him, and it isn't the first time this season the Doctor has taken a major backseat. In real world terms, this was due to a combination of Hartnell's health and his increasingly fractious relationship with the production team, but in-universe, knowing that the Doctor is fast heading for his first regeneration, and coming in the wake of his brush with the Time Destroyer in The Daleks' Master Plan, it is easy enough to rationalise that he is growing frail with age.

At the bar, meanwhile, one of the Clantons is busy rabble-rousing, stirring up the locals into a real blood frenzy, while the others capture Steven trying to sneak back to the TARDIS and decide that he'll make a useful hostage.

Upstairs, the real Holliday and Kate are just about ready to leave, promising to return the disgruntled Dodo to her friends before they go, when they spot the rabble down below heading for the jailhouse – Dodo is horrified to see Steven with them, a prisoner, while Holliday is perturbed to see that they've stolen his operating chair! He rushes down to the bar, shooting one of the cowboys on his way through – Seth Harper, I believe, not exactly living up to his reputation. Seeing that the whole town is out to lynch him, he decides discretion is going to have to be the better part of valour. He also decides that he and Kate are going to have to take Dodo with them, promising her that her friends will be safe with Wyatt Earp. Dodo is not reassured.

Hilariously, the Doctor calmly lets himself out of his jail cell to get a closer look at the rabble. He isn't too concerned about the baying crowd calling for his blood, but is shocked to see that they have Steven, threatening to hang him in 'Doc Holliday's' place. Earp and Masterson exchange worried looks, while the Doctor conceals himself behind the door, fretting.


Episode three: 'Johnny Ringo'

As episode three opens, Steven shouts for the Doctor to stay where he is, certain that the Clantons are bluffing – or maybe feigning certainty, to protect the Doctor, who can tell...but they've got the noose all ready and he quails, where the Doctor can't see it. The Doctor wants to give himself up, but Earp and Masterson insist he leave it to them – and that, right there, is the biggest problem with the Doctor's characterisation in this story. It's too passive, which simply isn't him. It's good that the guest characters are allowed to be active, but since most of them aren't developed enough for us to really care about them, it's our regulars we are interested in – we need to see them being pro-active, working to save the day and each other. Instead, the Doctor is made to stay in hiding while Masterson keeps the lynch mob talking and Earp sneaks up behind them: he cold-cocks one over the back of the head, successfully getting the draw on the others in the process, and in no time at all the mob has been defused. The unconscious Clanton (Phineas) is arrested, the others told to give up and make themselves scarce, and Charlie the barman chooses that moment to run out of the bar yelling that the old man in prison isn't Doc Holliday at all. So that's that: the jig is up.

Over some comedy heavy drinking, Pa Clanton (appearing here for the first time in the story) and his remaining sons make plans to call in the services of another hired gun, Johnny Ringo, and agree to put out word that they want to hire him. They leave the bar just as the Doctor and Steven arrive, which…I'm going to assume Pa Clanton was already on his way and arrived just as the circus at the sheriff's station ended, because otherwise the timeline makes no sense at all. The Doctor and Steven are making plans to collect Dodo and get out of town but barman Charlie puts a spanner in the works by informing them of Dodo's departure with Holliday and Kate – so much for that plan. Steven is alarmed and wants to go after her at once, but the Doctor still thinks Holliday is a good friend who gave him a gun and a free tooth extraction so is content to leave it till morning, rather to Steven's weary bemusement!

Holliday, Kate and Dodo haven't gone far – only to the next town, in fact, where they take rooms in a hotel…rooms which look suspiciously like the ones they just vacated! They've barely even tried to make the set look different. Holliday and Kate are bickering constantly, and Dodo just seems really tired of it all already, for which I honestly can't blame her. She reminds them at every opportunity that she has to get back to her friends, and I enjoy her resigned exasperation, but a lot of the nuance of what's going on seems to be going right over her head, as usual. She would be such a different character if some of her more idiotic lines were delivered with a dash of sarcasm and irony, rather than wide-eyed credulity. Ah well.

Johnny Ringo blows into Tombstone with business of his own to settle with Holliday, which brings his interests nicely into line with the Clantons, although he doesn't know it yet, since they aren't there to meet him. He announces himself by shooting dead poor Charlie the barman, who has served his purpose, I guess. Well, if nothing else, the story is certainly selling the lawlessness of the Wild West, and what a tough job it was for officials to try to stamp some sort of order onto an unruly society.

Morning dawns and Dodo is up bright and early, anxious to get back to Tombstone, only for Holliday to prevaricate, in no rush at all to go anywhere. There follows probably Dodo's best scene ever, in which she picks up Doc Holliday's gun and orders him to take her back immediately, and he starts off by laughing in her face but quickly sobers up in the face of her gentle, earnest resolve. It is wonderful because on the one hand he's never really in any danger and he knows it, Dodo isn't exactly a trained markswoman (and he has another gun concealed about his person anyway in case of emergency), but on the other hand she's got the safety off and her aim is steady if unpredictable – she announces her intention of aiming for his arm, not wanting to kill him, but is actually pointing the gun squarely at his head. She is a total innocent, the sweetest most guileless soul in the universe, but she means this absolutely, she isn't going to let him break his promise, and he is completely tickled by her, so he concedes defeat. I love it – this is the perfect use of Dodo's sunny, ingenuous characterisation, winning hearts and minds.


Back in Tombstone, the Doctor and Steven wander downstairs to the bar to find barman Charlie dead, Johnny Ringo there to lay the blame at Holliday's feet. You'd think they'd have heard the shot from their rooms upstairs. Hearing that they are also looking for Holliday – and amused by their stated intention of reasoning with him for Dodo's return – Ringo suggests that Steven ride with him on his search for Holliday, reckoning he knows just where to look. He heads straight for the next town over, absolutely spot-on in his assessment, except that Holliday, of course, has already left again to take Dodo back to Tombstone – you'd think they'd have crossed on the road.

Holliday has left Kate behind this time, however – and she has a history with Ringo. Confronted, she prevaricates, telling Ringo that Holliday has left her for another woman and headed for New Mexico, and I love it because it weaves the TARDIS travellers into the narrative so seamlessly – Ringo effortlessly believes that Dodo is 'Regret's girl' who has left him for another man, giving Steven a solid motive for chasing after her (would he ever believe a platonic alliance of travellers could be reason enough?) and giving Kate a credible story to cover Holliday's true whereabouts and intentions. 'Tis a tangled web they weave! Ringo decides to take Kate back to Tombstone with him, though, and I like her fury at the suggestion, her spirited attempt at defending her right to independence of thought and movement…but she's a lone woman operating in a man's world, and a brutal one at that. She can spit fire all she wants, but she has nothing with which to defend herself, and in her interaction with Ringo we can see why she considers Holliday the best of a bad bunch. Like I said, there's a real character story at the heart of this serial, largely light-hearted and played for comedy but with a much darker tone lurking behind the humour – it has that in common with The Romans. I just wish the core cast were more prominently featured and explored.

Over at the sheriff's office, Phineas Clanton is locked up in the cell while Wyatt Earp has begun calling in his brothers as reinforcements against the trouble he knows is coming, youngest brother Warren the first to arrive. The Doctor wanders in to report the death of Charlie the barman and also gives an update on the current situation with Holliday, explaining that Steven has gone after him with Ringo, who he points out in a wanted poster, seeming quite unconcerned even when Earp and Masterson react with alarm. Earp and Masterson head over to the saloon to investigate the murder, leaving young Warren alone with Phineas Clanton…in no time at all, Ike and Billy Clanton have bust into the sheriff's station to rescue their brother before Masterson and Earp get back, and the inexperienced Warren gets himself shot in the crossfire. Harsh! And so the scene is set for a dramatic showdown.

Episode four: 'The O.K. Corral'

Family feuds and vengeance, eye for an eye and all that – it's been food for dramatic storytelling for as long as storytelling has existed, because it's so real and so familiar, something every society can understand, and it's that basic concept that lies at the heart of this story.

The final episode opens with Wyatt Earp at the bar of the Last Chance Saloon, deputising a frustrated Doctor to assist in the coming fight against the Clantons, steamrolling over all his protestations of pacifism, and introducing him to freshly arrived brother Virgil as 'Pop' – the Doctor's dignified indignation at this moniker is marvellous. The Clanton brothers, meanwhile, arrive back at the family homestead to find Ringo already there, accompanied by Steven and Kate, who've both been brought under protest because he doesn't want either one raising any kind of alarm. The brothers are jubilant over their shooting of Warren Earp, but their father is not best pleased at this open declaration of war.

And declaration of war it certainly was – young Warren lives just long enough to name the Clantons as his killers, and brothers Wyatt and Virgil are beyond all reason. Bat Masterson certainly can't hold them back from their feud, however much he talks about due process of law. At the Clantons, Steven is seething with frustration while Kate, cynical and wordly-wise, counsels caution. Virgil Earp arrives with a message: showdown at the O.K. Corral, sun-up. He also offers to take Steven back to town with him, but the Clantons are having none of it, because he knows they've got Ringo with them and they want to keep that particular ace up their sleeve. As soon as Virgil has gone, Ringo starts plotting with the Clantons to draw the Earps out so he can shoot them in the back. Classy.


Back in Tombstone, the Doctor tries and fails to talk the Earps (or Werps!) out of their bloodfeud. He might as well talk to a brick. The mood – and fighting force – is bolstered somewhat when Doc Holliday shows up, only too happy to admit that he was 'brung at gunpoint by a woman' – he's still highly tickled by Dodo, who has a very sweet reunion with the Doctor. The Doctor continues to protest that they must uphold the law without resorting to firearms – but surely he must know that the shootout at the O.K. Corral is a matter of history (if not quite this version!), and once upon a time he was adamant that history could not be re-written.

I rather enjoy seeing Dodo telling the Doctor he should go to bed and get some rest, like a little mother hen – a reversal of their usual roles. I also like that they get to have a quiet little private conversation over glasses of milk (ha) in the middle of all the upheaval, the quiet before the storm. The Doctor is very worried about Steven, and Dodo tries to reassure him – such a nice little bonding scene, this story really needed more of this! And this is a much more measured approach to Dodo as a character, she feels like a real person here. Everyone seems more like themselves in this final episode, in fact – the whole tone is more serious, and it improves the characterisation no end.


Bat Masterson sends the Doctor and his shiny new deputy badge over to the Clanton place to try to talk some sense into the outlaws. He arrives just as Steven is doing the exact same thing – with Pa Clanton, at least, because the others have already left, which means that this scene is entirely pointless, beyond revealing to Pa that the Earps already know about Ringo. And gosh-darn it, Kate is deliciously unrepentant as she admits to having lied about Doc Holliday's whereabouts, leaving Pa Clanton dismayed to realise the odds are against his boys, rather than in their favour as he'd anticipated.

I thought the shoot-out was meant to be at sun-up? It's already broad daylight when the Clantons and Ringo arrive to get themselves set up, never mind when the Earps and Holliday head out to meet them.

So, the shoot-out begins. Dodo, who for some reason has come out to watch rather than remain safely indoors, spots Ringo sneaking up on Holliday and shouts a warning – but gets herself snatched and taken hostage for her trouble. And here's where the time she's spent with Holliday pays off, because he's grown fond of her, fond enough to not want her to come to harm, so he throws down his weapon – but she, for her part, knows about his other gun, knows he only needs the chance to reach for it. So she waits for the right moment and then strikes, knocking Ringo's gun arm aside and giving Holliday the opening he needed to shoot dead his opponent. This hasn't been a great serial for Dodo overall, but she does have her moments, and this has been a decent episode for her.


Ringo and all three Clanton brothers end up dead by the time the shooting stops. Now there's a nice grim end to the story! Once it's all over, Holliday and Kate, reunited, come to see the travellers off before heading out of town themselves. Then the Doctor, bemoaning the senseless waste of life, hustles his companions away.

The story ends with the TARDIS arriving at a new destination – after travelling long enough for everyone to have changed into fresh outfits. The Doctor announces that they have landed in the far future, in an age of peace and prosperity, and heads outside to explore – without waiting to see the figure of a savage-looking man appear over a crest on the scanner-screen. Roll credits!


Quotable Quotes

STEVEN: Where are we? It must be in the past sometime.
DOCTOR: Yes, you're very observant, dear boy, but where?
STEVEN: How would I know?
DODO: I know.
STEVEN: Where?
DOCTOR: Well, use your eyes, dear boy. Good heavens.

DOCTOR: You're asking for trouble. Why can't you wear inconspicuous clothes like I do?

WYATT: Marshall of Tombstone's my right and Wyatt Earp's my name.
DODO: Wyatt Earp!
WYATT: Oh, something wrong, ma'am?
DODO: Oh no, it's just that, well, I always wanted to meet you and here we are face to face.
WYATT: Well, the Lord sure do move in mysterious ways, ma'am.

HOLLIDAY: You kill a guy out of sheer professional ethics, and then you've got three of his brothers chasin' after you to leave at once. That makes me real angry!
KATE: You're through with being angry, Doc. All you're gonna do is get outta town.

DOCTOR: Allow me, sir, to introduce Miss Dodo Dupont, wizard of the ivory keys, and, er, Steven Regret, tenor. And lastly sir, your humble servant Doctor Caligari.
MASTERSON: Doctor Who?
DOCTOR: Yes, quite right.

STEVEN: Steven Regret? What kind of a name's that for a singer anyway?
DOCTOR: Oh, my dear young man, can't you sing a little?
STEVEN: Well yes, a little, but why say it at all?
DOCTOR: Well, I had to find some sort of suitable cover. After all, you can't walk into the middle of a Western town and say that you've come from outer space. Good gracious me, we'd all be arrested on a vagrancy charge.
STEVEN: And what about our little wizard of the keys? Miss Dupont, can you play?
DODO: I'll have a bash.
DOCTOR: There will be no necessity to have a bash, because tomorrow morning we're going to leave Tombstone and we should be back in the TARDIS in time for lunch.

DOCTOR: Haven't you any anaesthetic?
DOCTOR: Well, er, something to sort of dull the pain, man.
HOLLIDAY: Well I could give you a rap on the cranium with this six- shooter.
DOCTOR: Good gracious, certainly not!
HOLLIDAY: You're welcome to a slug o' rattlesnake oil!
DOCTOR: Oh, my dear man, I never touch alcohol.
HOLLIDAY: Well, I do.

STEVEN: It's no good, Dodo. The Doctor would never forgive me if anything happened to you.

DOCTOR: Yes, I suppose you've brought a message from my friends.
HARPER: Well, a kind of a message, Doc. The boys are waitin' for you at the saloon. They'd sure like to buy you a drink.
DOCTOR: Oh, well, that's very sociable of them, but unfortunately I don't touch alcohol.

HOLLIDAY: You ain't wearin' a gun.
DOCTOR: Well, I should hope not. I certainly disapprove of violence.

DODO: Hey, couldn't we rehearse on our own first?
IKE: How about that. They wanna be alone. You'll sing here, now and fast.
STEVEN: Well, why?
IKE: On account of we're all music lovers.

IKE: What's the trouble?
STEVEN: Nothin', we're just choosin' a song.
DODO: Here's one.
STEVEN: Let's hope the piano knows it.

HARPER: Well, if it ain't the great Doc!
DOCTOR: Oh, you flatter me, young man. Yes, reasonably accomplished I would say, but not great.

DOCTOR: Well, I'm afraid I don't touch alcohol, but a little glass of milk and I should be only too delighted.

BILLY: Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. The bottle-puncher lawman and the good-for-nothing drunken gambler.

DODO: You're really going to marry him?
KATE: Surely am. Though over how many dead bodies I don't rightly know.

WYATT: I wouldn't try it if I were you.
DOCTOR: I have no intention of trying anything, only people keep giving me guns and I do wish they wouldn't.

DOCTOR: He's no right to take chances with Steven's life!

WYATT: Boy, you maybe don't realise just how close that was. Well, for what we did not receive, may the good Lord make us truly thankful.

DOCTOR: Was it necessary for Mister Werp to hit him so hard?
STEVEN: Now then, Doctor, it wasn't your neck in the noose just now. I for one am very grateful to Mister Werp…Earp.
WYATT: Oh, my pleasure, boy.

DODO: Nice to find someone who keeps their word.
KATE: It's all he ever kept in his life, honey. Lost everythin' else he ever had.

HOLLIDAY: What're you attempting to do with that there offensive weapon?
DODO: Shoot you if I have to.
HOLLIDAY: Now how'd you reckon to get back to Tombstone without me?
DODO: I shall try not to kill you. I shall aim for your arm.
HOLLIDAY: That's real thoughtful. Just at the moment you're aiming right between my eyes.
DODO: Oh, I'm sorry. Is that better?
HOLLIDAY: It's an improvement.
DODO: Right, now take me back to Tombstone.
HOLLIDAY: Well, seems like I ain't got no alternative.
DODO: No, Doctor Holliday, I don't believe you have.
HOLLIDAY: Then I promise on my oath as a gentleman of Georgia that I will take you back to Tombstone by nightfall.
DODO: Oh, thank goodness for that.

HOLLIDAY: Now Kate, for the first time in my life I have just been taken, beaten to the draw.
DODO: Oh, I honestly didn't want to have to shoot you.
HOLLIDAY: And I didn't want to have to shoot you neither.

WYATT: Oh you're gonna be here alright, Doctor, because I'm deputising ya right now.
DOCTOR: Well, this is utterly absurd. Nothing will ever induce me to raise a gun in anger.

WYATT: Doc! I thought I told you to get outta town.
HOLLIDAY: Well now, Wyatt, so you did, but the fact is I was brung here at gunpoint by a woman.
VIRGIL: You expectin' us to believe that?
HOLLIDAY: The lady is here, the one and only Miss Dodo Dupont.

STEVEN: Doctor!
DOCTOR: No, not Doctor at the moment, dear boy. I am Deputy-Sheriff of Tombstone.

PA: Kate, you said Holliday was in New Mexico.
KATE: I blush with shame, Mister Clanton, indeed I do. That was a dad blasted lie.

HOLLIDAY: Why these here get-togethers have to be held at sun-up I never will know. It ain't civilised.

DODO: I'm sorry, Doc. I was only trying to help.
HOLLIDAY: You try to help me any more, you'll be the death of me.

The Verdict

Written as a parody of the westerns that were fairly ubiquitous at the time, The Gunfighters is a lot of fun. It's lightweight, insubstantial fluff, to be sure, but entertaining to watch anyway. The sets are great and the direction is excellent, full of creative shots and angles. The main weakness of the story is its…well, weakness. There is some lovely visual comedy and some hilarious jokes, but much of the remaining dialogue is flat and pedestrian, too clichéd to sound natural, especially coming from guest actors unable to master an American accent, while much of the characterisation is dictated by comedic necessity rather than offering any meaningful insight into the characters. It's fun, but there's not a lot to get your teeth into.

So I have the same problem here that I always have with any comedic episode of any show that isn't an actual comedy: do I just jump on the fun train and enjoy the humour for its own sake, or do I attempt to analyse it anyway for whatever little it can tell us about the characters and their ongoing story? After all, comedic or not, the story still exists within the same universe as the more serious dramatic episodes, so anything that happens here is still part of the ongoing story and part of the established characterisation – which is a problem when that characterisation is undermined and twisted for the sake of a joke. It is Dodo, once again, who really suffers from the demands of comedy here; although the characterisation of the Doctor and Steven is also weak, both are already well-established, so any distortion of their character for comedic effect may be sifted out through our greater understanding of them, but Dodo is still very new, two out of her three adventures now have been pure comedy, and unfortunately her personality simply isn't well enough established to withstand it – and yet she does have a few really good scenes here. So, overall and taken as a whole, this one is a bit of a mixed bag!