The Gunfighters

Standard

Image

Recently released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Doctor WhoCelebrate Regenerate is a fan produced chronicle of every broadcast episode of Who.  Available as a free PDF download from http://celebrateregenerate.weebly.com/ this mighty tome features a page long article on every serial.  The authors of The Gunfighters article, Mike Greaves and Andrew Boland, succinctly summarize received fan wisdom on this Western adventure. Dreadful, terrible, boring, and badly made are some of the words and phrases used by Greaves and Boland to describe the average fan’s dismissal of this tale.  So convinced were they that the viewing experience would be tortuous and entirely unenjoyable that once viewed, they questioned whether  they’d watched the right serial.  Were there two 1960s Doctor Who Westerns, they wondered.   There was indeed only one and clearly there was something peculiar going on. Greaves and Boland had actually thoroughly enjoyed The Gunfighters.

Edited by Lewis Christian, Celebrate Regenerate is a fan produced chronicle of every Doctor Who episode

Edited by Lewis Christian, Celebrate Regenerate is a fan produced chronicle of every Doctor Who episode

Phil Sandifer in his book Tardis Eruditorum Volume 1: William Hartnell examines this received wisdom in depth and identifies three distinct stages of fan criticism.  The first he describes as 1980s fandom; the second as the Great Re-evaluation of the 1990s; and the third, the Reconstructionist era beginning in 2002. The first era occurred in a time when there was neither video releases of Doctor Who nor the internet.  Fan opinion was derived from memories of the programmes when originally broadcast and a limited number of books, the most notable of which was Peter Haining’s 1983 Doctor Who: A Celebration. This coffee table book was almost seen as the Bible of Who and its critical analysis of episodes taken as Gospel.   Haining’s review of The Gunfighters was scathingly negative and it is most probably from this source that received fan wisdom grew.

The Doctor and his companions visit Tombstone, Arizona

The Doctor and his companions visit Tombstone, Arizona

The Great Re-evaluation that followed the release of stories on VHS cassette was not so much a detailed reappraisal of stories, but rather discussions to produce a general consensus on the relative merits of each story.  It was not until all existing stories had been released on VHS, and Loose Cannon had completed their reconstructions, that what Sandifer describes as the democratization of fan criticism began.  The ordinary Who fan was now in a position to access the stories for themselves and with the re-launch of Who in 2005, new fans had little concern for what the Classic Series critics of old said. With the pervasiveness of the internet and instant access to television programming everyone had become a media critic.

Steven and Dodo enjoy dressing up as Cowboys and Cowgirls

Steven and Dodo enjoy dressing up as Cowboys and Cowgirls

It is from this new position of fan criticism that The Gunfighters has been reappraised.  That the story is unique cannot be denied.  It is the only Doctor Who story with a sung narration, in the form of The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon. Sung by Lynda Baron, the Ballad is heard at times of climatic tension throughout the serial.  The lyrics change to reflect the action and it’s also sung by Steven and Doc Holliday’s girlfriend, Kate, in the saloon.  It’s the latter renditions that are posted below for your viewing pleasure.

The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon

Written by Donald Cotton, the author of The Myth Makers, the serial has a similar comedy format to Cotton’s previous Who outing.  Again it mirrors the events in Troy when episode four descends into tragedy. The Gunfighters  is set in 1881 America and follows the film The Gunfight at the OK Corral  as one of its primary sources.  Doctor Who would not return to the American Wild West until the Eleventh Doctor’s 2012 adventure A Town Called Mercy. Having broken a tooth eating one of the Cyril’s lollies in The Celestial Toyroom, the Doctor uses his unexpected arrival in the American mid-west to procure the services of the local dentist, Doc Holliday. He is immediately mistaken for Holliday by the town’s residents and hunted down by the Clanton family. Throw into the mix the Earp brothers, Virgil and Warren, and add Johnny Ringo (who historically wasn’t involved in these Tombstone, Arizona events), and you have a ripping good yarn.

The Doctor has a tooth extracted by Doc Holliday

The Doctor has a tooth extracted by Doc Holliday

William Hartnell absolutely shines in The Gunfighters, undoubtedly because it was a comedy and the genre in which he most enjoyed to act. The Doctor is given some fabulous lines and rarely does he stumble on them.  Except, of course, when he refers to Steven as a “she”!  Peter Purves does a superb job, as always, and Jackie Lane, as Dodo, is at last afforded the opportunity to act.  Her scene with Doc Holliday when she threatens him with a gun is just fabulous.  The set work was superb even if the stair railings did wobble when Ike Clanton fell to his death. The Doctor Who production team must have recently found the services of an animal wrangler.  Less than two months earlier they’d had an elephant in the studio for The Ark and this time a horse.  I wonder what the cleaners thought at the end of the day’s filming!

The Doctor in Doc Holliday's dentist chair.  Beside the Doctor is Kate, Doc's girlfriend

The Doctor in Doc Holliday’s dentist chair. Beside the Doctor is Kate, Holliday’s girlfriend

There are a couple of interesting facts to note in this serial.  The original working title was The Gunslingers, and as anyone who has viewed the Series 7 episode, A Town Called Mercy, would be aware,  there’s a character by that very same name. The Gunfighters  also stared the Thunderbirds voice artists, David Graham (Brains) and Shane Rimmer (Alan Tracey). Graham played the unfortunate barman, Charlie, and Rimmer the character of Seth Harper.  Lynda Baron, the off camera singer of The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon appeared in the Series 6 story Closing Time as Val.

The working title of The Gunfighters was The Gunslingers.  That name was not forgotten and the character, The Gunslinger, appeared in 2012's A Town Called Mercy

The working title of The Gunfighters was The Gunslingers. That name was not forgotten and the character, The Gunslinger, appeared in 2012’s A Town Called Mercy

Guess which two Thunderbirds voice artists appeared in The Gunfighters

Guess which two Thunderbirds voice artists appeared in The Gunfighters

The Gunfighters was originally broadcast in the UK between 30 April and 21 May 1966

The Gunfighters was originally broadcast in the UK between 30 April and 21 May 1966

The Gunfighters DVD was released with the Fifth Doctor adventure The Awakening in the Earth Story Box Set

The Gunfighters DVD was released with the Fifth Doctor adventure The Awakening in the Earth Story Box Set

Vivien Fleming

©Vivien Fleming, 2013.

REFERENCES:

Lewis Christian (ed), Celebrate, Regeneratehttp://celebrateregenerate.weebly.com/, 2013.

Phil Sandifer, Tardis Eruditorum Volume 1: William Hartnell. Self published, 2011.

Advertisements

6 responses »

  1. This was the episode I had the hardest time with. I couldn’t get through it my first few times, and really struggled on it the third time. Part of it was the fake American accents, part of it was the pacing, and part of it is that I didn’t realize it was supposed to be a comedy. But your post gave me a new appreciation of it, so thanks!

  2. Thanks for your comment. The fake American accents are certainly a shocker although I’ve found that the more times I’ve watched it, the less irritating they become. A number of reviews I read certainly indicated that lots of people were unaware that it was a comedy so you’re not the only person who’s been under that misapprehension. I’m glad that I’ve assisted you in reappraising “The Gunfighters”.

    • Thanks for your comment, Philip. I had a look at your review and it’s brilliant. Actually, I think I read it not long after you posted it on Kasterborous. I was about to watch The Gunfighters for the first time but was pretty hesitant given all the negative comments I’d read about it. I’m almost certain it was your review, together with another positive one, that convinced me to give The Gunfighters a go. Little did I realize that 9 months later I’d start a complete marathon and wouldn’t be able to pick and choose what I wanted to watch 🙂 I have to admit that watching Who in chronological order is the best way of viewing the show. All the years of jumping between one Doctor and another never gave me the same depth of appreciation for show’s history and development.

      Thanks for following my blog. I hope you keep enjoying the reviews!

  3. Pingback: Day 46 of 50th Anniversary Countdown – 10 of the Best First Doctor Moments | The Doctor Who Mind Robber

  4. You may have figured from my scattergun comments on your blog that I’m watching the Hartnell’s this year that I haven’t seen before in no particular order.

    A friend of my Dad taped this for us in the nineties, off satellite TV, and with the singing I couldn’t watch it. Just couldn’t handle it at that age. I finally watched it, fearing the worst, and was AMAZED. I thought it was brilliant. I kind-of liked the idea there was a “musical” story filmed many years before Buffy did one – which was much celebrated – and I watched it hoping there’d be more and more music. I thought the story was really good, much better than the Ark or the Sensorites, and was really surprised. I thought the set, again, was great considering whatever budget they must have had. Especially when I found out that it was Lynda Baron doing the singing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s