The Gunfighters

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This article is about the Doctor Who serial. For the 1947 film, see The Gunfighter (film). For other uses, see The Gunfighters (disambiguation).
025 – The Gunfighters
Doctor Who serial
Gunfighters.jpg
The Doctor, Steven and Dodo meet Wyatt Earp
Cast
Others
Production
Writer Donald Cotton
Director Rex Tucker
Script editor Gerry Davis
Producer Innes Lloyd
Executive producer(s) None
Incidental music composer Tristram Cary
Production code Z
Series Season 3
Length 4 episodes, 25 minutes each
Date started 30 April 1966
Date ended 21 May 1966
Chronology
← Preceded by Followed by →
The Celestial Toymaker The Savages

The Gunfighters is the eighth serial of the third season in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, set in 19th Century America on the days leading up to the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. This serial was first broadcast in four weekly parts, from 30 April to 21 May 1966, on BBC1.

Plot[edit]

In the frontier town of Tombstone, Arizona, the troublesome Clanton brothers, Ike, Phineas and Billy, are in town in search of Doc Holliday to settle an old score over the death of another brother called Reuben. They meet up with their hired hand Seth Harper at the Last Chance Saloon. He knows what Holliday looks like and describes his coat and demeanour. This is overheard by bar singer Kate, who lets her paramour Holliday know he is in danger.

The TARDIS has arrived in a nearby stable, with the Doctor in agony from toothache. He and his companions Steven Taylor and Dodo Chaplet, dressed as cowboys, soon encounter local marshal Wyatt Earp, who offers them his protection and warns them to keep their counsel. The Doctor finds the dentist – Holliday himself - while Dodo and Steven book rooms at the local hotel. There they are mocked by the Clantons, who suspect the Doctor they refer to is Holliday himself. Seth Harper is sent to the dentist’s surgery and invites the Doctor, tooth removed, to the hotel in five minutes to meet his friends. Holliday is initially happy to let him be shot in his place, allowing the real Doc to disappear, but Kate intervenes to ensure the Doctor survives. This buys some time until Holliday relents and hides in an upstairs chamber of the hotel, firing his gun at appropriate moments to con the Clantons into thinking the Doctor is indeed Holliday the sharpshooter. Soon afterward Wyatt Earp and Sheriff Bat Masterson arrive and break up the fracas, taking the Doctor into custody for his own protection. Steven now becomes embroiled in a plot to smuggle the Doctor a gun to help free him from the jailhouse, but the Doctor refuses to be armed. Steven is shortly afterward confronted by a rabble wound up by the Clantons, who are intent on lynching him as an associate of the disreputable Holliday. Once more it is Earp and Masterson who defuse the situation, and also take Phin Clanton into custody to ensure the co-operation of his brothers. The Doctor and Steven are freed and told to leave town as soon as possible.

Dodo has meanwhile fallen in with Kate and Doc, who both plan to leave town and take her with them. When Seth Harper stumbles across their escape plans, Holliday kills him, and the trio then depart. Harper's role as aide to the Clantons is soon replaced by a new arrival, Johnny Ringo, who shoots local barman Charlie by way of an introduction to the town of Tombstone. The Doctor and Steven return to the Last Chance Saloon in search of Dodo and encounter the dangerous Ringo.

Wyatt Earp’s brothers Warren and Virgil have meanwhile arrived at Tombstone to help him enforce the law. The Doctor soon tells them that Ringo is in town. Events take a harsh turn when the other Clanton brothers visit the jail to free Phin, killing Warren Earp in the process.

Meanwhile Steven heads out of town to look for Dodo with Ringo in tow in search of Holliday. Steven and Kate end up being taken by Ringo to the Clanton ranch where the Clantons recamp and tell their father, Pa Clanton, that they have killed an Earp. Wyatt Earp swears vengeance and starts to build a posse of lawmen to deal with the Clantons once and for all. Doc Holliday returns to Tombstone with Dodo, and offers his services to his old friend Earp too. Attempts by the Doctor to defuse the situation amount to little: there will be a gunfight at the O.K. Corral. On the one side are the three Clanton brothers and Johnny Ringo; on the other, the two Earps and Doc Holliday. At the end of the gunfight Ringo and the three Clantons are shot dead. Shortly thereafter, the Doctor, Steven and Dodo slip away in the TARDIS.

They arrive on a strange planet, and decide to go out and have a look. As they leave, a strange man is seen approaching the TARDIS on the scanner.

Continuity[edit]

Apart from the time travellers, this serial intentionally takes dramatic liberties with historical events and many inaccuracies are present. For example, the participants in the gunfight are nearly entirely wrong; in the fight, Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp, Virgil Earp, and Doc Holliday faced down Frank McLaury, Tom McLaury, and Billy Clanton. The McLaury brothers and Billy Clanton died. Warren Earp lived in Tombstone with his brothers, but he was not a marshal. James ran a saloon. Warren was shot and killed in a bar fight in 1900, almost twenty years after the Tombstone events. Furthermore, neither Johnny Ringo nor Bat Masterson were present in Tombstone at the time of the gunfight while Pa Clanton had died two months before it.

Production[edit]

The working title for this story was The Gunslingers.[1] This was the last serial of the classic series to have individual episode titles. From The Savages on, each serial had an overall title divided into numbered parts or episodes. The caption at the end of "The OK Corral" reads "Next Episode: Dr. Who and the Savages".[2]

According to About Time by Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles, this was the first Western made for British television.

Cast notes[edit]

Dalek voice actor David Graham played Charlie the barman. He later played Kerensky in City of Death. Doc Holliday was played by Anthony Jacobs, whose son Matthew visited the set during production of the serial. Thirty years later, Matthew Jacobs wrote the script for the 1996 Doctor Who television movie.

Laurence Payne later played Morix in The Leisure Hive and Dastari in The Two Doctors. Lynda Baron would later appear in the serial Enlightenment, in the role of Captain Wrack, and as Val in the 2011 episode "Closing Time".

Richard Beale, who played Bat Masterson, had previously provided the voice of a disembodied Refusian in The Ark.

Music[edit]

This story is notable for being the first Doctor Who episodes to contain musical narration, in the form of the "Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon". It was sung by Lynda Baron and written by Tristram Cary. The ballad itself is included as an extra on the CD soundtrack release.The notion of commissioning original songs for Doctor Who would resume when the series was revived in 2005, beginning with "Song for Ten" in "The Christmas Invasion".

Broadcast and reception[edit]

Serial details by episode
Episode Broadcast date Run time Viewers
(in millions)
Archive
"A Holiday for the Doctor" 30 April 1966 (1966-04-30) 23:48 6.5 16mm t/r
"Don't Shoot the Pianist" 7 May 1966 (1966-05-07) 23:47 6.6 16mm t/r
"Johnny Ringo" 14 May 1966 (1966-05-14) 23:52 6.2 16mm t/r
"The OK Corral" 21 May 1966 (1966-05-21) 23:53 5.7 16mm t/r
[3][4][5]

A common myth is that this story has the lowest ratings of any Doctor Who story. This myth likely stems from a misunderstanding of the difference between audience share and Audience Appreciation scores. The former indicates the size of the viewing audience and the latter is based on a survey gauging the viewers' opinions of the programme. In fact, the audience size for the serial ranged from 6.5 million viewers for the first episode to 5.7 million for the last. However, the Audience Appreciation scores for the last three episodes equalled or went below the lowest scores for Doctor Who, with the very last episode, "The O.K. Corral", having a score of 30%, the lowest ever to date.

That said, the story did post ratings that were disappointing by a number of different measures. The Gunfighters represented a significant decrease over the previous serial, The Celestial Toymaker, which had ranged from 7.8 to 9.4 million viewers. Each episode of The Gunfighters was also significantly lower than for the first 18 weeks of Season 3, wherein the lowest-rated week—at 7.9 million viewers—belonged to the episode "The Feast of Steven" from The Daleks' Master Plan. Each episode of the serial was also beaten by the serials, which were respectively broadcast in similar April–May slots in 1965 (The Space Museum) and in 1964 (The Keys of Marinus).

While not the lowest-rated Doctor Who story of all time, or even the lowest-rated Hartnell story, The Gunfighters did open a sustained period of significantly lower ratings for the program that would last almost the entirety of the remainder of the First Doctor's era. Beginning with "The O.K. Corral" — the very same episode that received the lowest Audience Appreciation figures of any Doctor Who episode — no Hartnell episode would top 6 million viewers until Episode 2 of his final story, The Tenth Planet.

Reviewing the serial in 2009, Mark Braxton of Radio Times gave The Gunfighters a mixed review, explaining that could divide opinion. While he praised the set design, he criticised "The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon", Steven and Dodo's costumes, and the "American" accents. Overall, he felt that the narrative could use something else, like a science fiction element or a philosophical discussion from the Doctor.[6] DVD Talk's John Sinnott gave the serial two and a half out of five stars, describing it as "decent" with "a lot going for it" that was marred by Purves' overracting, the accents, and especially "The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon".[7] More positively, IGN reviewer Arnold T Blumburg rated the serial 7 out of 10, praising Hartnell and the production values, as well as the high energy and enthusiasm. While he also derided the ballad, he wrote that "the accents really aren't all that bad".[8] Neela Debnath of The Independent stated that younger viewers would enjoy it as an adventure, while older audiences would appreciate the satire.[9]

Commercial releases[edit]

In print[edit]

Doctor Who book
Book cover
The Gunfighters
Series Target novelisations
Release number 101
Writer Donald Cotton
Publisher Target Books
Cover artist Andrew Skilleter
ISBN 0-426-20195-7
Release date 9 January 1986

A novelisation of this serial, written by Donald Cotton, was published by Target Books in July 1985. It is narrated in first person by Doc Holliday (a framing scene introduces him on his deathbed) and makes a major change in the character of Johnny Ringo by depicting him as a student of the classics. An unabridged reading of the novelisation, read by Shane Rimmer, was released in February 2013.

Home media[edit]

This serial was released on VHS in November 2002. In 2007, it was released on CD, with linking narration, the entire "Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon", and a bonus interview from Peter Purves.[10] It was released on DVD in a box set named Earth Story along with The Awakening on 20 June 2011.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Howe, David J.; Stammers, Mark; Walker, Stephen James (1994). Doctor Who The Handbook - The First Doctor. London: Doctor Who Books. p. 126. ISBN 0 426 20430 1. 
  2. ^ Howe, David J.; Walker, Stephen James (1998). "The Gunfighters: Things to watch out for...". Doctor Who: The Television Companion. London: BBC Worldwide. p. 89. ISBN 0 563 40588 0. Retrieved 7 March 2011. 
  3. ^ Shaun Lyon et al. (2007-03-31). "The Gunfighters". Outpost Gallifrey. Archived from the original on 2008-03-31. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  4. ^ "The Gunfighters". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  5. ^ Sullivan, Shannon (2005-04-29). "The Gunfighters". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  6. ^ Braxton, Mark (21 March 2009). "Doctor Who: The Gunfighters". Radio Times. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  7. ^ Sinnott, John (21 June 2011). "Doctor Who: The Gunfighters — Episode 25". DVD Talk. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  8. ^ Blumburg, Arnold T (12 July 2011). "Doctor Who–The Gunfighters DVD Review". IGN. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  9. ^ Debnath, Neela (21 March 2012). "Review of Doctor Who 'The Gunfighters' (Series 3)". The Independent. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  10. ^ "Doctor Who: The Gunfighters (TV soundtrack)". Big Finish Productions. Retrieved 23 November 2012. 

External links[edit]

Reviews[edit]

Target novelisation[edit]