Doctor Who: The Gunfighters
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Tombstone, Arizona, 1881. The air is filled with the sounds of shooting, cussing, and toe-tapping tunes knocked out on the battered piano at the Last Chance Saloon. And then there is something less familiar: the wheezing, groaning sound of a Police Box materializing. The Doctor and his companions aren’t the only newcomers in town. The Clanton brothers have ridden in to settle a grudge with Doc Holliday, the notorious gambler, drinker, and dentist. In the Wild West, tempers are short, guns are swift, and a moment’s hesitation on the draw can mean death.
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I think "The Gunfighters" is a more legitimate attempt at the western genre than several other shows I've seen. The script is rife with western clichés, and lets the audience know its ok to enjoy them. I found the "Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon" a hilarious exclamation mark to a story that is so often over told that I am sure you could hear it discussed by natives deep in the African jungle that have never seen a white man
Holiday's dialog is often clever, with many funny exchanges. (Clanton: "I never figured you for a back-shooter, Holiday." Holiday: "I never figured you for any kind of shooter.") Holiday was a noted smart aleck and this story reflects that.
As I have mentioned in other reviews this was filmed in the 60's and for that time the sets are fantastic. If you watch most westerns filmed around this time they all take place on one set. Dr Who gets a new set every week and they had a very limited budget.
"The Gunfighters" includes a great documentary on William Hartnell's third season that's full of juicy behind-the-scenes gossip. Another featurette covers Doctor Who in its early days and there's an audio commentary track featuring several enthusiastic members of the production team.
Also, here's a fun fact: The REAL gunfight at OK corral actually took place down the street!
I am therefore happy to report that it's actually pretty decent! Not great, by any means. It's not even "Great for a First Doctor story" or "Great for a historical". But it is acceptable and it is enjoyable.
The plot concerns the Doctor, Steven and Dodo arriving in Tombstone, Arizona, in 1881 just a day or two before the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral. When they arrive the Doctor is complaining of a toothache. Naturally with access to dentists everywhere in space and time he decides to go with Doc Holliday in the Old West. The fact that appears as a viable option may be commentary on the state of British dentistry in the 1960s...
Almost as soon as the TARDIS trio set foot outside the stable where they've landed, they're accosted by Sheriff Wyatt Earp, who warns them about the place and offers them his protection. They then split up, with the Doctor looking for Doc Holliday while Steven and Dodo pretend to be vaudeville stars (yes, you read that right).
While this is going on, Ike Clanton and his gang are preparing for trouble, planning to corner and kill Doc Holliday as part of their sinister plan to do... I don't know what, really, but it's all quite exciting! Holliday gets wind of this and, after treating the Doctor, dresses him to look like Holliday himself. Before long the troubles build up, the Doctor gets arrested (for his own safety), Steven nearly gets shot, Dodo gets taken hostage and through it all there's singing. Endless singing.
I was somewhat surprised at how enjoyable this story is. It's nicely paced, well-acted (especially once you get past the attempted American accents in part one), and establishes the Doctor's very strong dislike of guns in no uncertain terms. The sets were also really good and the whole thing was nicely atmospheric, and a little more adult than the show usually was.
On the other hand, there's the historical accuracy, which is minimal. Even worse, though, there's... that song... "The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon". It's not horrible, but it is constant. Every three minutes or so you hear a line or two from it, and that's not an exaggeration. It's an ok song, but not so good that I want to hear it endlessly.
As usual with the old series DVDs, there's more extras here than you can shake a Colt .45 at (sorry, sorry...)! You get the expected commentary with actors Peter Purves (Steven), Shane Rimmer (Seth Harper), David Graham (Charlie), and Richard Beale (Bat Masterson), and production assistant Tristian de Vere Cole, all moderated by Toby Hadoke, best known for "Moths Ate my Doctor Who Scarf."
Additionally you get the First Doctor version of "Tomorrow's Times," a new series on the discs that shows contemporary media coverage of the program, with this version hosted by Mary Tamm (Romana I). You also get a photo gallery, PDF materials and an excellent documentary called "The End of the Line." It talks about the problems the series had during its third year, and includes interviews with Purves as well some of the other actors, including Maureen O'Brien (Vicki). And for people like me, who've always wondered, you get some insight into why Jackie Lane left the series (short version: she didn't look young enough on camera and was written out while her first serial was still airing).
The Gunfight at the OK Corral has made its way into Western mythology like almost nothing else, and that's a surprise considering just how short it was. The whole thing lasted only 30 seconds, but from that we've gotten this story, the third-season Star Trek episode "Spectre of the Gun," and numerous movies and books. It's really quite amazing the industry it spawned.
Ultimately I recommend this disc, but really only for the fans. If you've got someone you're trying to get interested in the series, there's probably better choices. But for what this is, it's pretty decent and far better than the detractors would have you believe.