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