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3x08. The Gunfighters
Writer: Donald Cotton
Director: Rex Tucker
Script Editor: Gerry Davis
Producer: Innes Lloyd

Synopsis: When the TARDIS materializes in Tombstone in the days of the Old West, the Doctor and his companions get caught in the middle of a violent conflict between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday on one side, and the Clantons and Johnny Ringo on the other.

Review: "The Gunfighters" is a serial that seems to have evoked some pretty strong reactions. It ranks near the bottom of the heap in at least two fan surveys and was singled out by Peter Haining in Doctor Who: A Celebration as a particularly poor installment, but most of the other reviews I've found online are written by those seeking to rehabilitate its reputation. For my own part, having sat down to watch it expecting it to be awful, I was relatively pleased to find it merely uninspiring.

"The Gunfighters" is another attempt at a comedic historical, and its makers have clearly learned the lessons of "The Romans": rather than incongruously portraying the leads as farcical characters themselves, the script by Donald Cotton is full of fish-out-of-water humor. The Doctor's aversion to weapons and alcohol, for example, becomes something of a running joke, giving us what might be the serial's best moment when he complains bitterly that everyone keeps trying to give him a gun. The Doctor and his fellow time travelers have faced their share of both benevolent and hostile aliens, but they've never encountered this sort of violent but strangely honorable culture before, and it's amusing to watch them navigate all the absurdities of the Old West.

The guest characters are really all just variations on a theme: Johnny Ringo is quietly ruthless (even the Clantons are taken aback when he suggests shooting somebody in the back), Doc Holliday is trying but failing to stay out of trouble this time, and Wyatt Earp is the tough sheriff who ends up going outside the law when his brother is killed. All of them are consistently over the top with their macho antics, and they're mildly amusing as cartoon parodies, but the material lacks any real direction other than the buildup to the famous Shoot-Out at the OK Corral (which, incidentally, is rather poorly staged, though it's probably no worse than most of the other action scenes in these early serials). This is not to say that "The Gunfighters" isn't funny or entertaining -- it is frequently both -- but by the end, you may feel like you've been told the same joke a few too many times.

Still, this serial is a step up when it comes to comedy on Doctor Who, and it's probably unfair to suggest, as Haining seems to, that "The Gunfighters" was largely responsible for the demise of the historical. True, it's the last of its kind, but the new creative team of Gerry Davis and Innes Lloyd were anxious to move away from that genre and towards a more exclusively sci-fi formula. The historicals could have gone out on a better note, and this certainly isn't a high-water mark for the series or for the Hartnell era, but I'll take it over the awkward farce of "The Romans" or the outright inanity of "The Chase" any day.

Rating: **1/2 (out of four)

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