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025 – The Gunfighters
Doctor Who serial
The Gunfighters.jpg
The Doctor meets Wyatt Earp
Cast
Guest stars
Production
Writer Donald Cotton
Director Rex Tucker
Script editor Gerry Davis
Producer Innes Lloyd
Executive producer(s) None
Production code Z
Series Season 3
Length 4 episodes, 25 minutes each
Originally broadcast April 30–May 21, 1966
Chronology
← Preceded by Followed by →
The Celestial Toymaker The Savages
IMDb profile

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

Contents

Plot

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Synopsis

In 19th Century America 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

For dating of this episode, see the Chronology.

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.

Although Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne were present, there is conflicting evidence as to whether they participated, and both survived. The Clantons' father had died several months earlier (and most likely did not wear a bowler hat). There was no one by the name of Reuben Clanton, and neither Johnny Ringo nor Phineas Clanton were in town at the time.

Warren Earp did live in Tombstone with his brothers, but he missed the gunfight, as did another brother, James. Warren was shot and killed in a bar fight almost twenty years after the Tombstone events.

Likewise there is no basis in fact for anything about the depiction of the Last Chance Saloon. Neither its name, its offered entertainment, its set decoration, nor its apparent volume of business are appropriate to Tombstone saloons in 1881 [1].

Production

Serial details by episode
Episode Broadcast date Run time Viewership
(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
[2][3][4]
  • The working title for this story was The Gunslingers.
  • This was the last serial of the series to have individual episode titles (until the 2005 revival). From The Savages on, each serial had an overall title divided into numbered parts or episodes.
  • According to About Time by Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles, this was the first Western made for British television.

Casting

  • Dalek voice actor David Graham played Charlie the barman.
  • 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.

Music

The Gunfighters is notable for being the only serial to contain musical narration, in the form of the "Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon". It was sung by Lynda Baron, who does not appear onscreen (although Dodo appears to hear the ballad at the end of the serial). Baron would later appear, however, in the Fifth Doctor serial Enlightenment, in the role of Captain Wrack. (See also Celebrity appearances in Doctor Who.) 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

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, which 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 Series 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 serial, which broadcast in a similar April-May slot 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.

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
Preceded by The Two Doctors
Followed by The Time Monster

Commercial releases

This serial was released on VHS in November 2002. Later, in 2007, it was released on CD, with linking narration and a bonus interview from Peter Purves.

In print

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.

See also

References

  1. ^ http://www.wildwestinfo.com/index1_files/page0003.htm Monahan, Sherry. Tombstone's Treasure: Silver Mines & Saloons. University of New Mexico Press. 2007.
  2. ^ Shaun Lyon et al. (2007-03-31). "{{subst:PAGENAME}}". Outpost Gallifrey. http://gallifreyone.com/episode.php?id=z. Retrieved 2008-08-30.  
  3. ^ "{{subst:PAGENAME}}". Doctor Who Reference Guide. http://www.drwhoguide.com/who_z.htm. Retrieved 2008-08-30.  
  4. ^ Sullivan, Shannon (2005-04-29). "{{subst:PAGENAME}}". A Brief History of Time Travel. http://www.shannonsullivan.com/drwho/serials/z.html. Retrieved 2008-08-30.  

External links

Reviews

Target novelisation


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