A Holiday for the Doctor
The Gunfighters begins with a song.
Sue: This is an interesting way to start an episode. We’ve never seen anything like this before.
Nicol: This isn’t Doctor Who. What is this?
Sue’s daughter watched this episode with us – the first time we’ve allowed another human being to sit in on the experiment since the Simon Harries debacle. Putting classic Doctor Who on the telly is usually Nicol’s cue to slam the lid on her laptop before heading off to her room, but this time she stayed until the end, which should tell you everything you need to know about this story.
The TARDIS has arrived in Tombstone in the year 1881 and the Doctor is looking for a dentist. It turns out that last week’s cliffhanger was actually a bad case of toothache.
Sue: Why would he look for a dentist here? Couldn’t he find a more advanced civilisation to take his tooth out?
Me: He can’t steer the TARDIS, remember? It could be months before he makes it to another town with a dentist. How many dentists do you think there were on Kembel or Desperus? And besides, if the Doctor turned up outside Harley Street in 2011, he’d still think it was primitive.
By the time our heroes stroll into town under the protection of Wyatt Earp, Sue is completely smitten with this story.
Sue: The sets are incredible, the costumes are fantastic and the direction is really impressive. I’m sold on this one already. If they keep this up, I’ll be more than happy.
The highlight of the episode is the Doctor’s encounter with Doc Holliday, who removes the time traveller’s tooth before setting him up for a fall. The comic timing is exemplary and Hartnell and Anthony Jacobs are obviously having a blast.
Sue: That’s probably the funniest scene in the series so far. Hartnell is on fire this week. He looks the part, too. His costume actually fits the period for a change.
Me: Stetsons are cool.
Look, I’m sorry, it’s obligatory.
Nicol: So is Amy Pond pregnant or not?
Me: Not now, Nic, we’re watching this.
Steven and Dodo, who seem to be treating history as an interactive theme park ride, find themselves in danger when they’re surrounded by the evil Clanton Brothers. It’s funny for all the wrong reasons.
Sue: Surely it’s supposed to be amusing when Steven puts on a bad cowboy accent, but how can that joke work when his fake accent is better than the real cowboys? Only one of them is doing it properly, and he’s showing everyone up.
Me: That’s Shane Rimmer. He’s been in everything from Thunderbirds to James Bond. He’s a living legend.
Sue suggests the episode would have been a lot better if everyone had performed it with an English accent (even Shane). I suggest the TARDIS’ telepathic circuits are probably playing up, but she doesn’t buy it.
And then, after his dancing antics last week, Peter Purves proves once again that he is a man of many talents as he belts out yet another version of ‘The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon’. He’s pretty good, too.
Sue: Well, we’ve never seen – or heard – anything quite like that before.
Me: That’s the thing about Doctor Who – you’re never know what you’re going to get.
Sue: I like it.
Nicol: It was all right, I suppose.
Bentham must be quaking in his boots.
Don’t Shoot the Pianist
The first thing Sue notices about this episode is Sheena Marsh can’t sing.
Sue: Peter Purves is singing live, but she’s miming it. Badly. So why cast her? Couldn’t they get someone who could do a bad American accent and sing?
Me: A lot of fans can’t stand this song.
Sue: Why? It’s part of the story, and it’s not as if it’s the same arrangement every time. It’s an interesting framing device. It wouldn’t work in every story, but it’s fine here.
Me: Don’t you think Mavic Chen would have benefited from his own theme song? Actually, I think part of the problem is that fans tend to watch all four episodes in one go. When you watch them individually, like we are now, the song doesn’t grate on you quite so much. And if you waited a whole week between episodes, I doubt it would be an issue at all. Anyway, you’ll never guess who’s singing it.
Sue: Petula Clarke?
Me: No, I’m serious, you’ll never guess. It’s Lynda Baron.
Sue: Is that name supposed to mean something to me?
Me: She played Nurse Gladys in Open All Hours.
Sue: How bizarre.
Me: She’s actually going to be in a Matt Smith episode of Doctor Who very soon.
Sue: She’s not going to sing, is she?
As we discuss this possibility, Shane Rimmer is killed by Doc Holliday, which is perverse when you stop to think about it.
Sue: Damn it, they’ve shot the only person with a genuine American accent!
Me: He’s Canadian.
Sue: Close enough.
We decide to play a game called ‘Who’s the Worst Clanton?’ It’s a close-run thing but we eventually settle on Ike, deciding that William Hurndell is the worst actor to appear in Doctor Who so far. At one point, he changes his accent four times in the same scene. We desperately hope that somebody – anybody – will shoot him in the face, but he won’t go away.
Sue: How did this go down with the public when it went out?
Me: The viewing figures weren’t that great. About eight to seven million compared to eight and nine for The Celestial Toymaker.
Sue: What a shame. But surely the fault has to lie with the last story. Who would tune in again after watching that bollocks?
Me: Well, you didn’t.
When Dodo isn’t seen for ages, Sue jumps to a logical conclusion.
Sue: Is Dodo on holiday?
Me: She’s with Holliday but she isn’t on Holliday. Although I bet Holliday wishes she was on Holliday. Boom! Boom!
We both adore the scene where Dodo pulls a gun on Doc, out-drawing him in the process. In fact, we’re impressed by Jackie Lane’s performance in this story. She actually comes across as a real person, and you could easily imagine Karen Gillan taking a similar role if the series ever decided to return to the Wild West (which Sue and I both decide would be a great idea, just as long as they don’t shoehorn any aliens into it – the campaign for real historicals starts here).
Sue: Doc Holliday should join the TARDIS crew. He’d be a brilliant addition to the cast. I could watch this guy all day.
Me: Here’s an interesting Doctor Who fact for you: the son of the actor who plays Doc Holliday will write the Paul McGann TV movie in 30 years’ time.
Sue: Thanks. I’ll try to drop that into casual conversation next time I’m out.
When Johnny Ringo rides into town, Sue is on tenterhooks, and the tension is palpable as he strides up to the barman who looks uncannily like a demented Kevin Eldon. Will Johnny Ringo have an American accent? Go on, have a guess.
Sue: Did he ride in via London?
It’s a shame, because Laurence Payne is a superb actor. When he doesn’t open his mouth, that is.
Sue: He still sounds like Clint Eastwood compared to the Clantons. They sound like Tim Westwood.
The OK Corral
Me: This is the last time we’ll see individual episode titles until 2005.
Sue: That’s a shame, but at least I won’t have to ask you what the story’s called any more.
Me: I won’t be able to hide any titular plot twists from you any more either, which is an even bigger shame. Unless you do that thing we used to do when we watched Battlestar Galactica, and you close your eyes during the title sequence.
As the plot heads towards its inevitable conclusion, Sue is perplexed by the Doctor’s actions.
Sue: Why is the Doctor trying to meddle with established history? I thought he wasn’t supposed to do that?
She’s right. The Gunfight at the OK Corral is a famous Wild West gunfight (as the song keeps reminding us) and yet the Doctor tries to stop it dead in its tracks. It flies in the face of The Aztecs, The Reign of Terror and The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve. And as a result, it feels very odd indeed.
Me: If the Clantons aren’t killed, they might breed. That would be disastrous for the web of time, not to mention the women in Tombstone.
Thankfully, the Doctor fails to intervene (if anything he unintentionally helps history run its course by tipping everybody off), and Sue’s thrilled with the subsequent gunfight which takes place entirely on film.
Sue: It looks great. It’s just a shame the picture is over-exposed. Billy’s face looks like it’s melting off.
Me: We can only hope. Sadly, this is a digital copy of the VHS tape that was released about 10 years ago. This story is released on DVD in a few weeks.
Sue: We could watch it again!
Me: I beg your pardon?
Sue: I wouldn’t mind watching this one again.
As the TARDIS crew prepare to leave, Sue has nothing but praise for William Hartnell. We’ve come a long way, baby.
Sue: Hartnell was great in this one. But you can see how they are trying to minimise his role. He spends most of the story either locked up or completely useless. We didn’t see him anywhere near the gunfight. It’s a shame because he’s great when he’s given room to shine.
The episode even has the audacity to conclude with a knowing wink to its audience when the Doctor chides Dodo for succumbing to every cliché under the Wild West sun. It’s years ahead of its time.
Sue: I enjoyed that. I’ll give the script 10/10, the direction 9/10 and the acting 6/10. I’ll average that out to a very respectable:
Me: A chap on a forum says he saw Jeremy Bentham at the Fitzroy Tavern last week, and he still stands by his claim that The Gunfighters is the worst Doctor Who ever made.
Sue: What a numpty.