The Myth Makers
|Dates||Apr. 30, 1966 -
May 21, 1966
With William Hartnell, Peter Purves, Jackie Lane.
Written by Donald Cotton. Script-edited by Gerry Davis.
Directed by Rex Tucker. Produced by Innes Lloyd.
|Synopsis:The Doctor and crew return to the Wild West to witness the gunfight at the OK Corral, (where the cowboys are mysteriously afflicted with British accents).|
A Review by Robert Smith? 2/3/97
This story is almost universally voted the worst of the worst -- and it's rather perplexing as to why. Yes, there's that awful song (which isn't so awful at first, but they keep playing it over and over and over and...aaargh!), but the rest of the story is wonderful Hartnell historical comedy. My best guess for the reasons so many dislike this story is (aside from the song) either no one realised it was meant to be a comedy (yes, those British accents are part of the genre parody!) or they've swallowed the Haining dogma (see Doctor Who: A Celebration) and haven't had a chance to see it (I know that's how I viewed the story for many years).
Hartnell actually shines in this story -- the scene where he's "locked" in the jail is utterly hilarious, the comedy from the role reversal of Steven and Dodo's singing and piano playing is amusing and much of the Doctor/Doc Holliday confusion is clever and/or quite amusing.
Perhaps you have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate the comedy, but I for one find it even more amusing that The Romans (which has started to gain something of a positive reputation since it's video release). I can only hope that they release The Gunfighters on video soon so that more can sample it's hidden delights.
A Review by Steve Hill 27/6/97
It's quite possibly the best comedic Doctor Who story ever made. Unfortunately, The Gunfighters also has perhaps the worst reputation of any story. This is apparently a reputation that is perpetuated by people who have never seen it!
For starters, there are a few bad things. First, everyone mentions the song. There is a sort of narrative ballad (sung by Lynda Baron) called "The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon" that rears its ugly head far too frequently during the story. As an experiment, it fails completely. As a tone-setter, it marginally works...this is not a serious drama, and the song lets the viewer know instantly.
A lot of people also condemn the bad fake Western US accents, but they're not all that bad, and they don't really impact the show considerably. There have been far worse accents in much higher-regarded stories.
So why is this story becoming one of my favorites? It is, as Tegan would say, a great hoot. William Hartnell is superb, playing it straight. I love his request for anaesthetic, his insistence on not carrying guns (and his indignation at people who keep giving them to him), his referring to Wyatt as "Mr Werp", and even his initial impulse to ignore his aching tooth by insisting that it no longer hurts. It really is a tour-de-force for Hartnell.
Peter Purves, in contrast to Hartnell, plays the show broadly and does it well. His romanticized image of the Old West gets an appropriate reaction from the real cowboys. Jackie Lane doesn't get much to do, but she also turns in a decent performance...it's obvious that all the principal actors are enjoying themselves a great deal, and the enjoyment reflects back from the viewer.
That awful song does give the story a curious quality to the story...upon viewing (especially without episode breaks) it really feels like a feature film. In fact, if one watches The Gunfighters more as a Hartnell feature film comedy than a Doctor Who story, the chance of being disappointed is greatly diminished. On the other hand, it's probably best to approach your first (or repeat) viewing of The Gunfighters with an open mind, with no preconceptions and no expectations, good or bad.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 7/11/00
The Gunfighters is one of those stories people either love or hate; I love it.
For a change, The Doctor isn`t directly involved through any fault of his own in the events that surround him, and it is literally a holiday for The Doctor. William Hartnell is wonderful here, his comic timing really at its best, complete with his insistence on calling Wyatt Earp Mr Werp. Steven and Dodo are merely functional, Steven argues about which song to sing (despite the fact that he can`t) and Dodo fares only marginally better but at least she has her moment; pulling a gun on Doc Holliday. One thing that comes across is that the cast genuinely seem to be enjoying themselves. Of the supporting players Kate and Doc Holliday fare best as they get the most screen time; the others because of the story and its setting revert to cliches.
The set is unremarkable, but not inaccurate. As a small Wild West town, complete with horses Tombstone succeeds. What I like most is the accompanying song, which not only drives the narrative, but serves as a welcome distraction. Without trying too hard to be something it isn`t The Gunfighters is diverting and frequently enjoyable.
A Slinging by Alan Thomas 15/8/02
Do you ever have one of those stories that you really, really try to like but just can't do it? Well, for me, The Gunfighters is a classic example. Annoyed? You're darn tootin I am!
Opening with a scene showing English actors putting on atrocious Western accents, we are introduced to the impressive sets. The reproduction of a western town on Doctor Who's very small budget was never going to be very easy, but this is very impressive.
The biggest problem with the story is the characterisation of The Doctor, Steven, and Dodo. So The Doctor is meant to be a very experienced time-traveller that has been to the planet Skaro, battled the greatest evils, got involved in history and has a very sharp mind and a vast intellect? No. According to this story, he's a completely na?e old buffoon that doesn't click on to the fact that Doc Holliday has set him up. So, Steven is meant to be from the future - a very experienced astronaut and a man that doesn't like to suffer fools? No. He's a professional piano player called Steven Regret, who likes playing cowboys and Indians and is very dumb. So, Dodo is meant to be a Twentieth Century "swinging sixties" sort of girl? No. She can also play the piano and sing at a professional standard, despite her trepidation to give the piano a bash. Get the picture?
Comedy in Doctor Who has worked to varying degrees of success. The Romans is more of a slapstick comedy, The Myth Makers is a very sophisticated and well-crafted comedy, and City Of Death is influenced by Season Seventeen, with all of the best elements of that season and Douglas Adams' very surreal ideas blending perfectly. But The Gunfighters isn't funny. The humour seems so strained and artificial. The framing song of "The Ballad Of The Last Chance Saloon" is very unusual. It distracts from the atmosphere. What comes across is a will to do something a little different - an idea that must surely be applauded at the end of Season Three, when ideas were running out - the mediocre offering of The Ark is a prime example. But The Gunfighters is just weighed down by shoddy performances (Kate is absolutely awful) and some very irritating characterisation (The Doctor in particular).
Indeed, The Gunfighters (like many stories around the end of Season Three/beginning of Season Four) did very badly so far as ratings were concerned. But some stories were undeserving of this (such as The Smugglers). This story deserves it. Although the inclusion of Shane Rimmer is actually quite welcome in a story of this nature (mainly because he actually is American), the weak plot and very puerile humour just doesn't make the thing blend.
If you like Westerns anyway, you just might rate this slightly higher than I do. I acknowledge that it does have some things in its favour - the sets are one thing, as is the diversity - but I'm afraid that's it. Hopefully, though, with the exposure that the story will soon get with it's imminent VHS release, you can judge for yourselves. 3/10
Not quite the tale of legend but still... by Tim Roll-Pickering 1/12/02
For years The Gunfighters has suffered from a hideous reputation as a ratings disaster (although other stories from the period did even worse) and fundamentally as one of the worst stories the series ever saw even before many fans got a chance to see it! The early Doctor Who Weekly/Monthlys have a lot to answer for for perpetuating this myth, whilst the story's inaccessibility to many fans has not helped. The video release was in the final set of Hartnell stories of all and although the story has been shown on satellite TV and on some overseas stations many fans have never had a chance to see the story until now/when the video gets released in their country (the reader can delete as appropriate).
Viewing The Gunfighters now it is possible to see some good ideas and production values. The sets do not look at all cheap and stand strong comparison with those in many Western movies and television series from the period, whilst Rex Tucker's direction is strong and gives the story a dynamism rarely seen in the early years of the series. Plotwise there's a lot to be said for the story as well since it attempts to make things unpredictable by sending up many of the characters, taking liberties with historical accuracy to the point that it becomes difficult to predict what the outcome will actually be.
However the story suffers from a degree of misconceived humour. Maybe it's because of the American accents used or the extreme absurdity of some of the lines, but a lot of the humour simply fails to come off the way that it did in previous humourous Hartnell stories such as The Romans and The Gunfighters. Equally it's difficult to make some of the material funny given the close presence of death throughout the story with several characters getting killed and the plot revolving around a blood feud. This is simply not the easiest of material to work with and there is no real sense of a "gallows humour" that can save other dark comedies such as The Myth Makers or Blackadder Goes Forth. As a result a lot of the humour simply fails to come off in anyway and this can leave the story feeling dull and bland at times.
The acting is quite mixed, with William Hartnell putting in his usual strong performance but failing to find a character to play off successfully. Anthony Jacobs (Doc Holliday) and Laurence Payne (Johnny Ringo) both give strong performances but the rest of the cast either give weak performances, suffer from difficult parts or both. The production values are strong, with the story never once looking cheap. And then there's "The Ballard of the Last Chance Saloon"...
The idea of a song retelling the plot and bridging scenes is novel for the series though it comes from other genres, but it doesn't really fit the Western genre. Having said that it does at times fill in the gaps in the episodes, making them seem faster paced than many. The song is typical of many elements in the story - a nice idea that doesn't really work in the setting. The story as a whole is risible but certainly not the all time disaster of legend. 4/10
The Fairly OK But A Bit Weird Corral by Andrew Wixon 23/1/03
When I watch a story or listen to a CD I normally bang the review off to inflict on the rest of you later that day, or certainly within 24 hours. But after watching The Gunfighters I was so utterly bemused that it's taken me three days to decide what to say about it. Well, no, that's a lie; I still don't know what to say about it.
At a pinch - The Gunfighters is pulling in at least three different directions. First off, Donald Cotton seems to be writing a wild west spoof, a gently whimsical comedy mocking the conventions of the genre - hence his comparing Steven's Hollywoodish outfit with the much more realistic costumes of the guest cast. Also the linking song, which is the main reason why this story is best partaken of one episode at a time. He even puts Billy Hartnell in a cowboy hat, for heaven's sake!
On the other hand, the director and certain cast members seem determined to play it straight - Lawrence Payne, principally, but also a few others. The direction is actually rather inventive and playful, the film sequences neatly integrated.
However, the whole undertaking is dragged back in the direction of comedy - unintentional, this time - by the realisation of the tale. Accents are... eccentric. The presence of David Graham and Shane Rimmer in many scenes together could lead certain viewers to expect the arrival of Thunderbird Two at any moment (and Rimmer's fake sideburns deserve a review of their own - hmm, there's an idea!).
The whole ends up as one of the strangest, more bizarre stories in the DW canon, but certainly not a turkey. Or to put it another way - it's not Unforgiven, but neither is it unforgivable.
The Doctor's Holliday! by Joe Ford 30/1/03
How on earth did this get such a low reputation? Based on its production values alone it stands head and shoulder above much of the surviving Hartnell material. There are so many great moments and little directional touches the piece takes on a unique style of its own.
I know a little something about Westerns you see, having studied them extensively in college. The bulk of them are tedious run-arounds, dull characters spouting macho rubbish, patronising women and playing with their guns. The Gunfighters sticks to many of the conventions of your regular Western, a shootout, a ballad, the dusty streets and saloon bars, the swanky gun play and macho posturing but it achieves something greater than many Westerns do, it takes the mickey out of the genre. I can only think of one film, Little Big Man that dared to mock the genre as much. Whilst The Gunfighters isn't half as rude as that film it shares a lot of it's charm. By taking possibly the most boring genre and poking fun at it Doctor Who manages to avoid falling into the many traps of a regular genre (dull central characters, played by mostly popular actors at the time who want to look good with their six shooters!) and create something fresh and ingenious, a mile different to anything done on Doctor Who so far and since. Hell when Katie gets up on the bar and starts singing it is almost a low budget Calamity Jane.
Low budget maybe but the sets are incredible, evoking a genuine feel of Westerns. Whilst watching with my friend Matt he observed that a casual viewer just turning on the telly and catching a glimpse of The Gunfighters could easily mistake it for an actual Western film and I completely agree. The bar looks seedy, the jailhouse solid and the set for Main Street is well worth all those long shots of characters riding their horses down it!
The direction compliments the script expertly; Rex Tucker must have watched a whole bunch of Westerns in his time because he gets it almost perfectly right. Lots of stylish high angles to give a feel of wide-open spaces, long lingers out of Doc Holliday's surgery to expose the superb backdrops and rapid, sudden shots for the gripping final shoot out. For the most part however he seems content to leave the camera on the characters and their antics, which is fine by me as the script, written by the vastly underrated Donald Cotton, is a peach.
At times it feels as though he is really picking holes in the Western conventions but there is a genuine affection for the genre. The ballad might crop up a little too often but it tells the story in a brilliantly original fashion and manages to distinguish the story even further. There's a whole bunch of macho speak, mostly dished out between the Clanton's ("How about some fancy shooting?") but the best stuff is saved for the Doctor, Doc Holliday and Katie. This last double act provide superb comic relief, the scenes of them 'convincing' the Doctor to have his tooth out are hysterical and much of their dialogue ("Katie, are you gonna be my lady bride?") is brilliant.
Hartnell is at his all time best playing his role up for laughs. It has been said that he always loved the funnier side to his character and his affection for this script shines through in a performance that never fails to have me crying my eyes out with laughter. I love how he is shoved around from pillar to post (everybody has a good shove, from Doc Holliday to the Clanton's to the Sherrif!) and shoe horned into situations he is totally unsuitable to react to. His scenes in the saloon as he hold the Clanton's at gunpoint are brilliant ("How do we proceed?") and almost as funny as his reactions to Steven and Dodo's get-up ("Oh my goodness, absolutely absurd!") and Doc Holliday and Katie's canoodling in the back room! His famed "People keep giving me guns and I do wish they wouldn't!" is the high point of the whole story. And ONLY the Doctor would turn down a 'drink' in a Western saloon surrounded by a dozen armed madmen and ask for a glass of milk instead! Genius.
Steven and Dodo provide good support although Dodo's BBC English is totally out of place in the production (the fact Dodo is a moany old cow who does nothing but faint, get kidnapped and scream in this story doesn't help). I'm a big Steven fan and find his character's versatility quite refreshing (think of his pained reactions in The Massacre and The Dalek Masterplan and then his goofy singing at the piano in this!). Peter Purves is a great actor and always up for anything (in the nicest possible way) and throws himself into the witty script with his usual gusto. I love it when he stops singing, turns round, sees a gun staring him in the face and starts singing again!!!
What marks this out is how much fun the cast and crew seem to be having making it. The atmosphere is dripping with good humour and joy. There are a number of cock ups, accent slips and trips which only add to the charm of the piece. The actors relish their witty dialogue ("Miss Dupont, can you play?") and the music is terrific (the piano sting at the end of episode one is wonderful!).
I love The Gunfighters through and through and will forever cherish Hartnell's playful performance in it. It is a joy to watch from start to finish.
It's your last chance... by Michael Hickerson 7/5/03
In reviewing The Gunfighters?, it would be very tempting for me to throw out such comments as "Well, the horses do have all the best lines" and "Isn't it ironic that Steven uses the psuedonym of Regret, becuase that is exactly what you'll feel after sitting through all four episodes of this one." Yes, it would be very, very tempting to do these things.
It would also be tempting to tell say that is pretty much one of those Who stories that sits at the back of the collection, rarely seeing the light of day unless I'm either a) bored, b) working my way through the Harntell years and come to it or c) trying to cure insomnia (for other great Hartnell years insomnia cures see The Web Planet or The Ark. Better than Sominex!)
It might also be tempting to point out that the ideal way to view The Gunfighters is in episode length segments. Viewing it any longer than that would ruin part of the fun and the episodic nature of the Hartnell years, plus the fact that if you have to hear that wretched song more than four times in a row, you will look around for blunt objects to hurl at the television set. Either that or make anyone else in the room with you who is a non-Who fan wonder why you're screaming at the television to please, for the love of all things holy to shut the heck up.
It would also be tempting for me to point out that The Gunfighters has a pretty bad reputation among the Who community and that it's a deserved one. This would then be followed up by sarcastic lines about the horses having all the best lines and the sagebrush looking embarased to part of this one.
Yes, it would be very tempting to use any of the things I've alluded to above as a way to discuss The Gunfighters. But, luckily, as a reviewer, I'm above these things. Instead, this time out, I decided to sit down and put aside all my preconcieved notions of The Gunfighters. I decided that maybe, just maybe I'd been unfair to it over the years. After all, I used to not really get what was so special about The Aztecs or The Daemons or Ghost Light. But with patience and repeated viewings, all of them grew on me -- to the point that several of the stories I mentioned made a jump up my list of what I consider to be classics of Doctor Who.
So maybe I just wasn't coming to The Gunfighters with the right frame of mind. Maybe I hadn't been fair. Maybe I just needed to give it a "last chance."
Unfortunately, it didn't help.
Sorry, but no matter how much I tried to really sit back and enjoy The Gunfighters, it just didn't work. The Gunfighters is, without a doubt, one of the low points of the Hartnell years -- and one of the low points of all Doctor Who. I've stated before there are some whole stories I'd gladly trade in for a smidge of some of the other lost Who adventures. The Gunfighters is one of those stories.
What it appears The Gunfighters is trying to do is be a parody of the Amercian western genre that was quite popular at the time it was made It certainly has a lot of the cliches. The story, such as it is, tries to pick apart and parody some of the best Westerns out there. Indeed, watching the story this time around, I was struck by how much it wanted to be a send-up of one of the classic Westerns, High Noon. One of the things that High Noon is most known for is that it used a song to underscore the events unfolding on screen. The difference between the two is that High Noon's song is not intrusive and actually enhances the internal struggle going on within our hero. In The Gunfighters the song serves as a way to just annoy the living tar out of me every four to five minutes. The bad part is that at one point Stephen and Dodo choose to sing this song, thus inflicting it upon us even more.
The song is dreadful. It does little to enhance the story and it serves as a major obstruction from being able to really enjoy it.
Then, you've got the situation itself -- the Doctor comes to the Old West to have a toothache cured. OK, so I guess I can see that the hook of the Doctor's toothache would work, but (and this is kind of huge!) the man can travel ANYWHERE in SPACE and TIME! Take a second and read that one again... let it sink it a bit. If I were the Doctor and found myself in the old West, where they didn't use little things like anathesia or the most sanitary implements I think I'd hope back in the TARDIS and go find some far flung future place (say the mid 1980s) where they could help my toothache without pulling out the tooth. And that didn't require a lot of pain and suffering on my part. But, no, the Doctor does not follow this course and instead has his tooth pulled (it's an amusing enough scene to see Hartnell in Doc Holiday's chair and reluctantly opening his mouth, but that's about all). Heck, if my choices are -- old West tooth pull or hoping to find the far-flung future of the Star Trek universe where they could painlessly beam the tooth out... well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out where I'd be.
But once we get past the toothache dilemma (early in episode one I might add), the story descends into the standard Hartnell years dilemma of the crew is separated from the TARDIS and must find a way to get back. There's a lot of chasing around in this one and some mistaken identity. Seeing the Doctor mistaken for Doc Holiday is a joke that wears thin very quickly and then the methods taken to ensure the Doctor and company hang around until the big gun fight (thus inflicting the song upon us even more... have I mentioned how much I dislike it enough?!?) begin to strain credulity by the end of episode two.
So, I admit, this time around I didn't find anything new or different to recommend about The Gunfighters. Instead, my original opinion of it stayed the same -- it's Who so I'm going to have it on tape and I will occasionally (as in once very ten or so years) sit down and watch the whole story. Otherwise, it's a rather poorly done story that is going to be collecting a lot of dust at the back of my collection.
It should feel right at home back there with the tumbleweeds.
It's just good fun! by David Massingham 20/2/04
When it comes to the First Doctor, I definitely lean towards the historical adventures. The Romans, The Aztecs, The Time Meddler... these are my top three Hartnell stories. I'm happy to say that having seen The Gunfighters, there is going to be some squabbling in the top three ranks.
A bizarre and underrated tale, The Gunfighters manages to entertain despite some definite handicaps. Firstly, there really isn't a lot of story to speak of, and it is surprising that this adventure was stretched out to four parts when it really is more suited to a three episode format. Despite the lack of narrative and the padding that is shown in its place, this story never bores. The Gunfighters survives by making the aforementioned padding something rather rare in Doctor Who circles -- entertaining and near transparent. Most of the third episode, Johnny Ringo, serves as a side step in the narrative, with much of it involving characters narrowly missing each other as they ride to and from Tombstone. But the viewer doesn't mind, because it is fun watching the Doctor mess with the local authorities whilst Ringo menaces Steven and Kate.
A strong guest cast further makes things enjoyable. Well, strong isn't the right word -- some of the acting is mediocre at best. Yet while the Clantons are played by actors of limited skill, we get Anthony Jacobs giving a wonderful performance as the cunning Doc Holliday, Laurence Payne entertaining immensely as Ringo, and strong supporting performances from John Alderson and Richard Beale as Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson respectively. I could mention the generally shoddy accents, but so many people do that I see no point on dwelling on them.
The production design is top-notch, with Tombstone itself looking great, and director Rex Tucker employing more creativity than most of season two's directors combined. Little touches help make the story more enjoyable, such as the shots over banister rails, through windows, and even directly into Billy Hartnell's mouth! Speaking of whom, we get one of Mr Hartnell's very best performances here. He is clearly having a great time, portraying the Doctor's indignation to the hilt, giving us such great moments as his showdown with the Clantons in part two, his trip to the dentist, and his reaction to Ringo spitting -- "Disgusting habit!!!".
Jackie Lane and Peter Purves are also great, particularly the former, who gets to hold Doc Holliday at gunpoint, "have a bash" at the piano, and generally act like a bit of a brat without actually annoying me -- no mean feat, might I add! Purves is strong as well, although I do find his performance a bit too obvious and simplistic at times... a perfect example being his growling at the Clantons as he is forced to sing that song about the Saloon...
The song in question seems to have garnered a bad rap in most fandom circles, and it isn't hard to see why. It is played ad naseum, and it is catchy and a tad irritating... but I can't bring myself to hate it. As a narrative device, it is fresh enough to Who to work, and although we do get two or six more reprises than are warranted, I find it works more often than not. The same cannot be said for all elements in this story -- the final, culminative battle at the OK Corral is rather substandard, with the ridiculous notion that the Clantons can't shoot two men walking down a street falling particularly flat. That said, Johnny Ringo gets a good death, and the final shot of the fight, the legs of the victors, is very effective.
The Gunfighters isn't perfect, but the crux of the matter for me is that it's damn entertaining. Overlook its flaws, and give this one another shot. It isn't the abomination that reputation suggests.
8 out of 10
A pleasant surprise by Grant Devine 3/3/05
From my readings of Doctor Who, it seemed to be widely accepted that The Gunfighters was the worst Doctor Who story of the Hartnell era and probably of all time. It is repeatedly (and erroneously) referred to as having the lowest ratings ever, and critical reviews have been very harsh. I assumed that it was so bad that the BBC didn't even bother releasing it on video. When I saw it for sale I couldn't resist and I thought it would be good to add to my collection as the 'worst ever'.
Thus, my pre-viewing opinion of what I was about to endure could not have been any lower. I was expecting to agonisingly force myself to endure minute by minute of boring trash, probably having to give up half-way through after weeks of torture. What a surprise was I in store for. It was one of the most enjoyable Doctor Who stories I have seen. I couldn't tear myself away and ended up watching it straight through (ending in a late night). At the end of each episode I couldn't believe that the 20-odd minutes had passed so quickly, such was my interest. Obviously my enjoyment was partly fuelled by such lowly expectations, but this was really fun.
William Hartnell as the Doctor was hilarious. His reluctance to get involved in events (or carry a gun) and obliviousness to danger was gorgeous, and acted to perfection. The character of Doc Holliday was full of life with a brilliant performance by Anthony Jacobs. The other guest roles (with the exception of the severely over-acted Billy Clanton) were also full of merit. Peter Purves as Steven was great, and I especially liked his choice of surname - Steven Regret has a great ring to it. The usually awful Dodo character was even raised to mediocre for this story. The ballad was not nearly as bad as I was expecting and I found myself quite enjoying it.
The only part I really didn't enjoy was the use of the Warren Earp character which I thought was unnecessary and dampened the jovial nature of the story.
Overall I give it an 8 out of 10 and recommend a viewing.
"...at the Last Chance Saloon" by Terrence Keenan 7/4/06
Y'know, if I ever get a chance to meet Peter Haining in person, the first thing I will do is put a size 12 boot up his bum. After all, he was the person who started the whole "The Gunfighters is the worst Who story ever" bushwa. And after watching The Gunfighters, it's clear to me that Haining never saw the episode before he passed judgement. Which is a big no-no in my eyes; you can't review it, unless you do it.
But, it's nice to see that a good chunk of fandom and the pros have come to bat for The Gunfighters.
So, what we have here is a fun, comic, sending up of the old west, done on a 1960's BBC budget. Filled with a herd of strong performances, even with the occasional dodgy accent. Obviously, Donald Cotton follows the "print the legend" view of the American West, as the story of the gunfight at the OK Corral follows from movies rather than the real events. But he also does a wonderful sweet sending up of every Western Movie cliche. And thrust into this, is a grumpy, slightly naieve Doctor, who is in need of a dentist, and Dodo and Steven, who want to play Cowboys and Indians with people who aren't playing a game.
The Gunfighters had me hooked the moment Peter Purves and Jackie Lane walk out looking like a British Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans. By the time the Doctor is meeting Doc Holliday in his surgery, I was ready to hunt down Peter Haining and give him a kicking.
Overall the performances are strong, even if, as I said, the accents are a bit dodgy. Big Billy Hartnell is brilliant, and he gets all the best lines. Peter Purves and Jackie Lane each hold their own. Laurence Payne plays Johnny Ringo rather straight and give him menace for shot time he's in the story. Anthony Jacobs steals nearly every scene he's in as Doc Holliday. I love the song, which acts as commentary as well as a narrator. Rex Tucker does an amazing job on the directing end of things, even though this is a bit claustrophobic and studio-bound for a western.
The Gunfighters is brilliant. Watch it now, and have a few shots on me at the Last Chance Saloon.
A Review by Yeaton Clifton 9/9/12
I thought about never buying The Gunfighters. Fan opinion is against the Doctor's version of "shootout at the OK Corral" and the story was notorious for having the lowest viewer appreciation numbers in the history of Doctor Who. I did buy the thing and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. Contrary to many opinions, the acting was very good and the pace is also good. The only thing really wrong with The Gunfighters is the music. I am writing this review to other people who wondering if The Gunfighters is worth buying, and the answer depends on how strange a story you are willing to experience. That's correct: The Gunfighters isn't a bad story; it's just a really weird story, even by Doctor Who standards.
The main characters are Doc Holliday, Sheriff Masterson and Marshall Wyatt Earp, and the story is about how they respond to the Clantons and Johnny Ringo. The answer is far from what we expect from brave heroes in western movies or on the television show "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp". As such, it is in the tradition of revisionist Westerns: movies like "High Noon", which questioned the mythology of Wild West. Since it was telling a story about people who were essential fictional, author Donald Cotton made a conscious decision not follow the historical events with any accuracy.
The story is very strange, because a revisionist Western seems very out of place in a science-fantasy series about space and time travel. The inherent realism in the premise is not congruent with the strong doses of anachronism and historical inaccuracy. If it were not strange enough that a revisionist Western is placed in a fantasy TV show, then it is stranger still that the story is also a comedy. Not "F Troop"-style slapstick, but comedy based on characters, and the reality of time travellers in the Wild West. The obvious British dialects, of Western characters, seems to be a joke also; in retrospect, we can assume that it is an effect of the TARDIS translator. The style of humor is sophisticated for a children's show, comes across as very clever and is presented with remarkable nerve.
In the Lambert era, there was a historical comedy (The Romans) and a pseudo-historical comedy (The Time Meddler), but both of those stories had tried to make viewers feel comfortable by supplying moderate amounts of historical accuracy. The Myth Makers was an earlier effort to create a historical comedy based on myths rather than what the better-educated viewers might feel is slightly close to history.
The movies about Wyatt Earp are as much mythology as poetry is about Troy, and again Donald Cotton decided to bring the TARDIS crew into mythology about the past, although why this choice was made is unclear. Perhaps in season three the TARDIS was going sideways in time a great deal and these mythological worlds were somewhere at the outskirts of the Toymaker's domain. If the TARDIS can travel to the Land of Fiction in season 6, it could certainly travel to lands of mythology in season 3. The choice to go to such strange worlds is hard to understand when it is said that John Wiles (outgoing producer) and Innes Lloyd (incoming producer) wanted to move the Doctor away from the comic excess that permeated season 2. This Western represents some of the wildest and most excessive comedy the show has ever seen. Of the sixteen serials in the Innes Lloyd era, this is only one of two that is intact (The War Machines having been reconstructed with difficulty). The Gunfighters is nothing like the typical monster-of-the-week stories that are associated with the Lloyd era, but it is still a good example of that era. It has more depth of character and plot than The War Machines, making it the best Lloyd-era story that have available on video.
The biggest flaw is the music, which is an imitation of a Western ballad, written by Tristan Carry, which contains a lot of exposition. The exposition is redundant to what the viewer has already seen. The author imagines someone familiar with the events wrote the song years later, just as many real ballads recount history. Yet the text of ballad is supposed to be available in the saloon for Steven to sing. This is song is intended as a joke, but is tedium.
I enjoyed the story as it is and just accepted that it is a weird tale, so I forgave the music. The story is a comedy and the many anachronisms are probably deliberate efforts at humor. Many of the jokes are very deft, such as Dodo threatening to shoot Doc Holliday, but then qualifying the statement that she would aim for his leg. She further apologized when Doc pointed out the gun was aimed at his head. The originality of the show gets it past cliches and brings in really creative humor.
Non-fans have told me that they feel very uncomfortable about the premise of space-time ship that looks like a police box. They say it's weird, and I usually point out that in this case weird means it has a really original idea. Doctor Who explores much more original ideas than most TV shows, and fans of Who are open-minded people willing to explore. The Gunfighters probably pushed the envelope further than even many fans will tolerate, but that is a matter of taste, and it doesn't make the story a bad story.
7.5/10. Not a classic and not for everyone. It certainly is not the highpoint of season three (The Dalek Master Plan). It is something that you watch when you want to watch something really different and really funny.
Pastiche, Parody Or Worse? by Matthew Kresal 1/6/14
The Gunfighters is a story I've had for a long time (since New Years Eve 2007 as a matter of fact) but it's only been recently that I've finally gotten around to watching it. It's a story that just hasn't interested me very much despite my interest in the Hartnell historical stories that's grown over the past few years. Having finally seen it, I can't say I'm very much impressed with it.
It's a really odd story, isn't it?
The problem I have with The Gunfighters is the same problem that I do with The Unicorn And The Wasp from more recent times. By that I mean that I found that episode couldn't quite make up its mind as to whether or not it was a Agatha Christie pastiche or a parody. The Gunfighters has the same problem with how it deals with the Western genre. The performances in particular more often than not aim for the parody element, especially with Anthony Jacobs' Doc Holiday (Jacobs being the father of McGann TV Movie writer Matthew Jacobs).
The gunfight at the O.K. Corral is one of the more famous events from the Wild West and it's perhaps no surprise that when Doctor Who got around to doing a Western, it would pick that as its basis. This isn't a problem in and of itself as it effectively disregards the actual events outright. One wonders why Donald Cotton didn't just set the story in a fictional town with fictional characters.
I'm afraid I must invoke the cliched criticism of the story about THAT song called the Ballad Of The Last Chance Salon. I can see what it was trying to be used for: it's part parody of songs from such Western films as High Noon as well as attempting to use it as a kind of Greek chorus for the story. The problem ultimately is that it's overused (several times in the first episodes alone) to the point of being rendered ineffective.
Yet there are also moments where the story is clearly not trying to be a parody or the like. Take, for example, the opening scene where the TARDIS first arrives in Tombstone where Steven and Dodo, initially excited about arriving in the Wild West, quickly discover that the romanticized image they have in their minds is nowhere near the truth. Take also the attempted lynching of Steven that acts as the cliffhanger to the second episode of the story and the opening minutes of the third episode as well, which is also presented in a more serious manner.
Then there's the gunfight itself. In both its staging and its stark presentation, it's very much out of step with the four episodes worth of story that has preceded it. Even the performances, especially that of Anthony Jacobs' Doc Holiday, are toned down and quite serious. It's the story's most shining moment and I can't help but wish that the rest of the story had been as good as the gunfight was.
Ultimately, it's hard to find The Gunfighters disappointing as a story. It's a story that can't quite decide how it deals with the genre or the events that it presents across four episodes. While it has its moments, the story ultimately doesn't succeed as either a parody or pastiche. Perhaps it's no surprise then that Doctor Who wouldn't do another Western episode for the better part of half a century...
A Holiday for the Doctor by Hugh Sturgess 10/1/16
We all know that The Gunfighters used to be the scapegoat of the Hartnell years, with a reputation below that of penis ulcers thanks to a brutal assessment by Jeremy Bentham in Doctor Who - A Celebration. After it came out on VHS and other fans were able to actually watch it before making their judgements, it enjoyed a renaissance in fan opinion. I don't agree with the original Benthamite tirade, but I think it's time for a correction to the overcorrection. This is a decent story, all things told, but it is the symptom of a malaise in the historical adventures. Bentham claimed that the story's disastrous reception convinced Innes Lloyd that the historicals were boring and no one liked them; I think there's more than a little truth in this. This story displays an in-built problem with historical adventures, the reason why they would soon be retired permanently.
It's a myth of course that this story got the lowest viewing figures for Doctor Who ever, but its audience still compares unfavourably with modern Doctor Who's low points, despite having the advantage of only one competitor channel. Furthermore, it received a 30% audience appreciation score, the worst ever. This strongly implies - how shall I put this? - that it is not without error. What didn't people like? Was it just the accents? Earp, Masterston, Holliday, Kate and even Charlie aren't all that bad, but listen to the Clanton brothers and Johnny Ringo. Those aren't bad American accents, they just aren't American. The Clantons at least occasionally fall into American-ish inflections, but are incapable of maintaining it for a full sentence. Ringo never even accidentally approximates anything remotely North American. He sounds half like an upper-class twit (flattening his 'a's into 'e's like Prince Charles) and half South African. If you didn't know he was meant to be playing an American, would you ever be able to guess that's the accent he was going for? Have these people ever heard an American speak?
30% audience appreciation. Tony Abbott levels of popularity (RIP). You don't get that kind of score by being mediocre. You get that by being hated. Audience feedback comments, reproduced by David Howe and Stephen Walker in The Television Companion (a vital resource for choice quotes from reviewers past), seem to suggest that, beyond the usual diatribes about the quality of the script (virtually every story in this era is derided as stupid, implausible, impossible, etc, suggesting that a decent slab of the audience simply didn't like Doctor Who specifically, science fiction generally and television itself potentially), viewers by this stage had come to see Doctor Who as a science-fiction show and the historicals now seemed out of place. The Audience Research Project says that "viewers on the whole seemed pretty disgusted with a story that was not in the science-fiction genre they associate with Doctor Who". (Though, wonderfully, one irate viewer dinged the fourth episode for "all that shooting for such ridiculously trifling misdemeanours". One suspects that that viewer failed to notice the murder of Warren Earp, and did not consider the murder of one's brother to be a mere "misdemeanour".)
This objection seems a strange one. Season Three alternates between historicals and space adventures pretty regularly, and historicals were a prominent part of the Doctor Who repertoire in 1965. But perhaps viewers were reacting to the increasingly untenable juxtaposition of the conventions of the historical and the conventions of the rest of the show.
What is the Doctor's role in a historical story? Basically, nothing. He can't materially affect the outcome, because Earth history is inviolate. The Aztecs, Marco Polo, The Reign of Terror, The Crusades... the Doctor's role in all these stories is almost entirely irrelevant. When the story is a Lucarotti historical (an ultra-serious ordeal that portrays history as a dangerous, threatening place), the Doctor's sole motivation is to get back to the TARDIS and leave. When the Doctor was an untrustworthy old ratbag who cared only for his own skin, you could put him in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica or imperial China and it would be in character for him to care only about escaping. The Spooner historical (a comedic romp in which the characters take part in and subvert the cliches of a chosen historical genre, as The Gunfighters does with Westerns, for instance) was an innovation, because it gave the Doctor something to do once he had become the omnicompetent hero we know him to be. There are only so many times that the TARDIS can be conveniently placed beyond his reach, or his companions separated, in the midst of a plot that is meant to be engaging but in which he has no desire to interfere. That's just not the Doctor.
In The Daleks' Master Plan, the Doctor immediately declared, upon finding the Daleks, that he had to stop them regardless of the cost. In the next story, the Doctor finds out that tens of thousands of innocent people are about to be butchered and... scarpers. Doesn't even think about helping them. He consciously leaves Anne behind, quite possibly to die. In The Ark, the Doctor helps the future humans cure the common cold, while in The Gunfighters he just mucks about for four episodes. Why the difference? Because The Massacre and The Gunfighters are historicals, and the Doctor can't do anything significant in historicals. When the Doctor wasn't a hero, that was acceptable; he didn't oppose injustice, he just wanted to leave. But after he decided to help the Sensorites because it was the right thing to do, the gap between how he acted in the future or on other planets and how he acted in Earth history only grew. That gap swallowed the historical.
We know why he can't stop the Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day. Because the "not one line" view of Earth history is a convention of Doctor Who. The authors doubtless feel that a series that rewrites known history would soon become unworkable. We'd soon have a "present day" with no Cold War, no Hitler, no religious wars, spaceships in the Renaissance... How far back could you go? Humans and reptile-people living in harmony? But that's a production reason, an artistic reason. There's no sane narrative reason for the Doctor to be an enthusiastic righter of wrongs in one story and a lackadaisical tourist or an anguished bystander in another. It's actually jarring coming from The Daleks' Master Plan or The Ark, in which he not merely interferes but does so instinctively, eagerly, as if he recognises his role is the hero's, to The Gunfighters, in which he has no desire to confront the Clantons or help Wyatt Earp but simply wants to keep Steven and Dodo in one place and leave. Saying that he does sweet FA in this story is not a criticism of the story itself, since it's an unavoidable feature of historicals as they were devised.
And the series was clearly aware of this. Season One is exactly half historical (counting the admittedly non-historical An Unearthly Child as part of 100,000 BC). That proportion suddenly drops to barely 20% in Season Two, rallies to 26% for Season Three, falls to 18% in Season Four and then vanishes entirely. For the historicals, the only way was down. And their central problem is that the Doctor becomes a hero who likes to get involved, yet in the historicals he is obliged to become a retiring figure who just wants to get out of the way. That isn't a flaw in any single historical story, but it's a tension between their genre and the rest of the series that is increasingly untenable. By the time the Doctor becomes a gallivanting hero who, to quote the next story, opposes "any menace to common humanity", the basic structure of the historical is alien to the series' ethos.
All this means that The Gunfighters is a creature out of time, evolved to roam the fields of a different Doctor Who ecosystem that was dying as soon as it was born. Even by the time of The Reign of Terror, it was getting strange that the man who saved the Sensorites and defeated the Daleks spent the story playing practical jokes on yokels. By now, the Doctor must be purposefully reduced to fit into these small stories. In The Massacre, he is absent for virtually the entire story. In The Gunfighters, he is depicted as a somewhat clueless curmudgeon who bumbles about the place getting into trouble. His comic misunderstandings with Seth Harper (Harper invites who he thinks is Doc Holliday to a shootout with the Clantons, and the Doctor delightedly accepts what he thinks is an invitation for a drink) are hilarious, as is the standoff with the Clantons in the Last Chance Saloon. Hartnell, who apparently suggested that they do a cowboys-and-Indians story, is clearly relishing the chance to do comedy again, and it's hard to imagine that he was so ill that he would be forced out of the program in a few months.
Except for the accents, which are if anything worse than people say, most of the standard problems with the story don't really hold water. The Tombstone set, far from being a failure, is a triumph. Yes, the backdrop is obvious, but it's obvious in plenty of other stories not derided for their sets. The buildings are sumptuous in their detail, and getting the horses into the set adds to the sense of scale. I also fail to see the problem with the Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon. It's always criticised, and yet rarely with any explanation. A reviewer quoted in The Television Companion gripes that the Ballad, by breaking the fourth wall to comment on the action on screen, makes it impossible to view The Gunfighters realistically - that is, as if someone pointed a camera at Tombstone 1881 and broadcast what they saw. Since one would obviously not see a Doctor Who story made by the BBC if one did so, and the episodes make their fictionality clear in many other ways - the fact that the "American" characters are clearly not American, the story gets its history incredibly wrong and the scenery is transparently just a set and not really a town - this is a silly objection to make. Others complain that it's annoying, either in its repetition or in any quantity, which is fair enough. I disagree, though, and actually love its use as it slowly evolves from something that sets the mood of a Western to a running commentary on the plot.
That kind of objection - that a song makes the story impossible to take seriously - is replicated in John Peel's review of the story, which slams the story's comedy and laments that the series did not heed the "lessons" of The Myth Makers and The Romans. Apparently, Peel considers both earlier stories to be failures. This, I think, says a lot about why this story was considered the televisual equivalent of ebola by first-generation fans. Members of any subculture are intensely sensitive to criticism and mockery. Doctor Who fans are forever sensitive to things that make the series look silly and childish, because it reflects badly on us. Oh, you're fans of that show with the Liquorice All-Sorts monster, that rubbish for kids? Jan Vincent-Rudzki criticised City of Death on first broadcast for its humour, writing as though that humour ruled it out of serious contention automatically. By structuring itself as a comedy, and thus not taking itself very seriously, The Gunfighters made it hard for a certain kind of fan to see it as anything other than humiliatingly silly.
What's notable is that The Gunfighters isn't as funny as it is made out to be. Like The Myth Makers, which started whimsically but ended with the Greeks surging into Troy to massacre the entire population, The Gunfighters starts with some genuinely very funny farce, and I laughed out loud at the round of gunfire followed by Holliday returning with a plate of food and drink from an "old friend" who has lost his appetite. But then it becomes very far from funny. There is nothing funny about the threatened lynching of Steven or the murder of Charlie the barman. The final shootout is a striking piece of television, all the better for being done on film. Realism goes out the window here: the Clantons open fire on the Earps, who walk implacably and unharmed through the hail of gunfire. The "comedy" of the first few episodes is gone entirely by the time Holliday coldly shoots an unarmed and wounded Johnny Ringo.
That last point, which is in defiance of the historical record (Ringo was not present at the OK Corral), could either be read as the "true" series of events which is somehow misremembered by our history books, or a clear sign that the Doctor's presence in Tombstone did change established history. After all, it is Steven's ride with Ringo that helps him find and abduct Kate, leading Ringo to decide to take part in the gunfight.
Dodo is a problem, because with the Doctor deciding to take a holiday for a month, the companions are the ones who take an active role in the plot. Simply put, the production team had so little concern for Dodo as a character that watching her is like watching a stranger. Her character can be described entirely by her enthusiasm and moralism, which makes for an eerie parallel with Mel, another companion without a real introduction or departure. Who is she? Where does she come from? What are her uniquely "Dodo-ish" qualities? She is a generic companion par excellence. The character who didn't seem interested in the TARDIS in The Massacre becomes a bubbling pile of enthusiasm and curiosity in The Ark. She goes from being a character who might be a high-school drop-out to the school prefect. The story of her accent, which started off Northern in The Massacre and then was dropped next episode by snobs at the BBC determined to keep working-class people off TV, encapsulates her: the series had so little interest in her that they thought no one would notice if her voice changed without explanation. Mel is seen as a harbinger of the show's death, and we should see Dodo the same way: the series doing something just because "that's what Doctor Who does", at a point when its ratings were cratering and its lead actor was being fired.
The Gunfighters is not the atrocity it was portrayed as by Jeremy Bentham. It's not even the mild failure presented by Howe and Walker. But its rehabilitation as a comedic masterpiece is an overcorrection. Season Three, certainly after The Daleks' Master Plan, was not a critical highpoint for Doctor Who. There is a pervasive sense of tiredness, a feeling of the series slowly winding down with unexciting scripts and bland, generic characters. We know that the series was approaching a near-literal rebirth the following year, but watching Season Three shows just how dire the situation was. The Gunfighters is far from terrible, but it isn't that good either.