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Doctor Who story number 24

With a title like this, you just know what's going to happen, don't you?

The standard Doctor Who historical story happens again, with a focus on popular perception of events and having a farcical runaround. Like The Myth Makers it builds up from fun and silliness to a lot of the characters getting killed, and given that it's by the same writer it's not surprising. This story takes some big liberties with the events, like having Johnny Ringo at the O.K. Corral, and as one person puts it: The characterisation of the historical characters also owes more to Hollywood than to history."

The story itself is rooted in the movies High Noon and Gunfight At The O.K. Corral, with Carry On Cowboy probably inspiring the comedy western aspect. Kate is apparently played in the style of Mae West. Oscar Wilde's Impressions of America is listed as a possible source, but it's probably a loose connection.

The scripts that were turned in were not exactly the greatest, so it was decided to mix it up a little. Donald Cotton had written a saloon ballad for the first episode and so the director, Rex Tucker, added verses and they used it as not only as part of events in the saloon but as narration to the other scenes. The music, by Tristram Cary, was used instead of normal incidental music, which changes the whole way the story feels. Sheena Marshe, playing Doc Holliday's girlfriend, was to sing the song but the opinion was that she was too young. Lynda Baron was the singer, and reportedly had trouble with the melody.

There was an attempt to get American actors to play major roles - American in the broad sense is accurate here, they wanted Donald Sutherland to play Wyatt Earp. The other option was to get British actors capable of doing a decent accent into the production, for example Johnny Ringo was to be played by someone called Patrick Troughton.... Unfortunately both of them were unavailable, and so it was generic British actors - Apologies to people from the US all round....

One interesting fact that hasn't been touched on is that it had been decided not to set historical stories any more recently than 1600, yet they made this one anyway, making The Gunfighters the historical story set closest to contemporary times for many years. This story was also poorly received by the audience: it's not the lowest rated story, but it's certainly one people didn't like. Apparently the people who did like it liked the cheesy TV Western genre anyway, so that's no guide. The comedy aspects of the script certainly feel out of place when you know real events, but the real problem is this: The events surrounding The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral already have plenty of characters, adding three more just makes it too clumsy. The failure of this story would be a factor in the eventual dropping of the historical format.

The whole story was filmed on studio sets, but they did bring in some real horses and it all looks great for a low budget show. There's a slew of historical inaccuracies, they seem to have made up some characters, Doc Holliday looks a little older than he really was (30) but from memory I think they got one thing right - the shootout takes place in the alley like it's supposed to. The Doctor makes an interesting comment at the end that offsets the mistakes, and we have to conclude that the events in this story don't have such an impact on the general public of the Doctor Who universe in later years as in the real world - the Doctor is keen to stop the gunfight and save lives, but that wouldn't inspire movies. It might be a bad story by comparison with real facts but it's still worth watching for the comedy aspects - I wonder what it would have been like if the director had been able to watch some spaghetti westerns?

The story is available as part of The First Doctor Box Set

For a more accurate idea of what was going on read Wyatt Earp for a detailed breakdown of what led to the gunfight, then go and read The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral to find out how the shootout probably went.

Donald Cotton, Rex Tucker (parts of the ballad)

This story has episodes 4 with individual titles:

  • A Holiday For The Doctor
  • Don't Shoot The Pianist
  • Johnny Ringo
  • The O.K. Corral

Plot Overview
At the end of The Celestial Toymaker the Doctor hurt one of his teeth on a boiled sweet, and so he needs a dentist to get the tooth pulled. The TARDIS materializes in a stable and Steven and Dodo are really pleased to be in the wild west and promptly go and dress for the occasion (think Doc Brown's idea of old west clothing from Back to the Future III). The Doctor compares them unfavourably to Tom Mix - for once the Doctor is the only one dressed appropriately. Wyatt Earp turns up just as Steven decides to call himself "Dead-Eye Steve" and waves around a revolver from the Doctor's collection, and so Earp herds them off. Well, at least they turned up in a town with a dentist - Tombstone, Arizona.

Over in the Last Chance Saloon Billy and Phineas Clanton meet with Seth Harper and discuss finding Doc Holliday to kill him for murdering their brother. They don't know what he looks like, but Harper can offer a vague description, along the lines of: dapper, white hair, wears a long black coat and fancy vest. But why bother looking for him, he'll turn up there sooner or later for something to drink.... The singer, Kate, heads off and meets up with Holliday and tells him there's people after him, and he is outraged that they want to gun him down (See: Double Standard). Oh and Bat Masterson is the sheriff of Tombstone. What the hell? He was not! I want my money back! Masterson then runs into Earp and the time travellers, and the Doctor makes up some new names and occupations: Dodo Dupont, pianist, Steven Regret, tenor, and himself.... Doctor Caligari (sheer scripting brilliance). They get directions to Holliday, and the Doctor is keen to get out of town - so is Steven, otherwise he might have to sing.

The Doctor doesn't want to go to the dentist, but Dodo and Seven pack him off, Dodo well aware that there's no such thing as anesthetic here. The Doctor finds Holliday and Kate fooling around out the back, and gets forced into the chair by the pair. Holliday offers alcohol or unconsciousness, but the Doctor wants neither and so he has to endure the pain.... Steven and Dodo wind up in the saloon, where the barman is trying to keep the Clantons and Harper under control. After booking three rooms and going up stairs the Clantons and Harper check the guestbook and decide that this "Doctor" must be Doc Holliday. Phineas is sent upstairs to bring them back down while Harper heads to Holliday's surgery, where he finds the Doctor, who completely messes up the encounter and gets invited to the saloon. Holliday and Kate overhear and decide to send the Doctor along, with Holliday's guns. Back at the saloon Seven is forced to sing at gunpoint, the most horrific moment in television history is at hand!

Steven has to sing the Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon, badly, and the Clantons actually expect him to keep going, ugh. Kate heads back to the saloon for some reason, and gets there before the Doctor (well, he is old). Kate then shoves Dodo off the piano, makes Steven play instead and sings, and while the Clantons don't notice the Doctor coming in they notice when he applauds. When Harper introduces the Clantons the Doctor finally clicks as to what's going on, but Holliday has sneaked in the back and is.... upstairs? The Doctor can't get out of his fix, as the guns he was given have Holliday's name on them, but when he draws one to try and explain what's going on Harper's gun is shot from his hand by Holliday. Kate has a gun as well, and Steven disarms the men. Then Earp and Masterson turn up - and Earp, realising what's happened, goes along with the premise that the Doctor is Holliday and arrests him, the idea being that the Clantons will do nothing to the rest of the town while thinking Holliday is locked up.

Doc Holliday is now holding Dodo prisoner in her room along with Kate, while Steven has said he wants to break out the Doctor - naturally the Clantons are happy with this plan. Holliday heads back to his surgery for whiskey, where Earp tells him to clear off for now, as he wants to take down the Clantons, who are cattle rustlers (actually true), but he has to wait until his brothers get there. Meanwhile the dumbest plan ever has been hatched - slip a gun to the Doctor through the window so he can force his way out. How did Steven get sucked into this? He hasn't, he just wants to get the Doctor out, he is aware they are lying - the Doctor is enjoying his time in the cell though, so when he gets the gun he calls Earp over, gives him the gun and tells him the plan! Ike Clanton has come up with another idea, he's rabble rousing and calling for "Holliday" to be strung up, and if they can't hang him they'll hang Steven instead to force the Doctor to come to them. Holliday decides to leave the saloon and runs into Harper on the stairs and guns him down, then insists it's time to get the hell out of Dodge. I mean Tombstone. Dodo will come along for her own safety.

Earp gets Masterson to keep Billy Clanton busy, sneaks around and knocks out Phineas Clanton, and the two lawmen disperse the crowd. Charlie the barman runs up and tells everyone that the real Doc Holliday just killed Seth Harper, and the Clantons aren't too happy. Earp locks up the unconscious Phineas and the other three Clantons go back to the saloon and Pa Clanton tells them to find Johnny Ringo. They leave and the Doctor and Steven turn up looking for Dodo, and are told by Charlie that Holliday and Kate took her away. Those three turn out to be in the next town over, Holliday doesn't want to get too far away in case he has to hurry back to help Earp out with the Clantons.

Johnny Ringo turns up in Tombstone and is wanting to kill Holliday anyway, and shoots Charlie when he thinks Charlie is going to tell the law he's there. Over in Generic Town B (it's never named) Dodo pulls Doc's gun on him and he thinks this is amusing - until he realises she is prepared to gun him down unless he helps her to get back to Tombstone. He agrees and she gives him the gun, and he is still prepared to go through with it. In Tombstone the Doctor and Steven come downstairs in the morning to find a dead barman and Johnny Ringo saying it must have been Holliday who killed Charlie. The Doctor knows who Johnny Ringo is from his wanted poster, but tries to enlist his help in finding Holliday - he just wants to get Dodo and get out. Steven goes with Ringo to find Holliday, while the Doctor goes to see the local constabulary. Earp is not pleased to learn Johnny Ringo is in town, and he, Masterson and the Doctor go off to clear up the corpse in the saloon, leaving Warren Earp to guard Phineas Clanton - of course he gets shot when the other Clantons come to break out their kin.

In the saloon the Doctor gets deputized, and given yet another gun, based on the fact that he's no friend of the Clanton's and he's a fancy gunslinger - even Earp's been sucked in by Holliday's trick. Virgil Earp turns up, and the Earps and Masterson leave the Doctor with the body. Meanwhile Steven and Ringo have found Kate, and Ringo and Kate have a history - she's the reason he wants Holliday dead. They end up back at the Clanton's house, waiting for them to return. When the brothers come in and tell their father they killed Earps brother he hits the roof - now they're going to have to square off against Wyatt.

Bat Masterson says he'll arrest he Clantons, but Wyatt wants to deal with it in lead and sends his brother to the Clanton's house to tell them to meet at dawn. Steven isn't allowed to leave however, and Johnny Ringo has a plan - he's going to get the Clanton's to pin the Earps down and sneak up and shoot them in the back - sensible I guess.... Back at the sheriff's office the Doctor is kicking up a fuss over the impending gunfight but they think it's because he doesn't want to take part. Virgil returns, and then Doc Holliday turns up, Virgil doesn't want him involved but when he hears the Clantons have Kate he decides to show up anyway. Later that night Masterson deputizes the Doctor again and sends him to the Clantons to try and talk them out of facing the Earps, but they've already left.

So, the sun comes up on October 26, 1881 and the Earp brothers walk down to the O.K. Corral, and get pinned down by gunfire. Doc Holliday is walking along the covered walks in front of the shops, and Johnny Ringo is sneaking up on him, but Dodo tries to push him out of the way before he can shoot Holliday. Naturally Ringo just uses her as a human shield, and orders Doc to throw away his gun - which he does, but shoots Ringo with a derringer when he goes for Holliday's weapon. Holliday then joins the Earps, Billy Clanton tries to shoot him but he gets taken down, and Phineas Clanton tries to charge them and gets shot. Ike runs up an outside staircase and gets gunned down, doing the classic staircase tumble. Not exactly a true account.

Later in the day Holliday and Kate walk with the time travellers to the stable. Holliday has to leave town, as Masterson has issued a warrant for Holliday's arrest - he passes the wanted poster to the Doctor as a souvenir and he and Kate leave. Dodo is feeling all romantic and saying she will miss the old west, and the Doctor curtly says she's just soaked up "every cliché-ridden convention in the American West" (we noticed) and shoos her into the TARDIS, which dematerialises.

Main Cast

  • William Hurndell - Ike Clanton
  • Maurice Good - Phineas Clanton
  • David Cole - Billy Clanton
  • Sheena Marshe - Kate
  • Shane Rimmer - Seth Harper
  • David Graham - Charlie
  • John Alderson - Wyatt Earp
  • Anthony Jacobs - Doc Holliday
  • Richard Beale - Bat Masterson (Not present in real life)
  • Reed de Rouen - Pa Clanton (Made up)
  • Laurence Payne - Johnny Ringo
  • Martyn Huntley - Warren Earp (Made up - there was a Morgan Earp)
  • Victor Carin - Virgil Earp
  • Notes

    • David Grahan, playing Charlie, is responsible for Dalek voices in Doctor Who - and Brains in Thunderbirds. Shane Rimmer (Seth Harper) is also Scott Tracey. F.A.B!
    • This is the last story to have individual episode titles
    • Though funny, the Doctor's line of "All these people are giving me guns, I do wish they wouldn't" begs the question "Why does he have a collection of firearms?"
    • Seth Harper gets mad when referred to by his nickname of "Snake Eyes" - kind of like Buford Tannen
    • This story contains the earliest instance of the "Doctor Who?" joke I know of.

    "You can't walk into the middle of a Western town and say you've come from outer space! Good gracious me. You would be arrested on a vagrancy charge!" - The Doctor

    The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon

    Written by Donald Cotton and Rex Tucker
    Sung by Lynda Barron
    Music Composed by Tristram Carey
    Piano by Tom McCall

    The names indicate a change of writer for a section of the song. Remember, Donald Cotton wrote the song to be part of the action and Tucker added bits later to narrate the story, so if it doesn't make sense you know why - the last block of Tucker-written lyrics is most definitely meant for the narration of events, the earlier verses would have just added flavour over a scene.

    So fill up your glasses
    And join in the song
    The Law's right behind you
    And it won't take long.
    So come, you coyotes,
    And howl at the moon
    Till there's blood upon the sawdust
    In "The Last Chance" Saloon.

    On your way then you cowboys
    The time will be soon
    When there's blood on the sawdust
    In "The Last Chance" Saloon.

    It's your last chance of cussing
    At a gunfighter's doom
    It's your last chance of nothing
    At "The Last Chance" Saloon.

    With rings on their fingers
    And bells on their toes
    The girls come to Tombstone
    In their high-silk hose.
    They'll dance on the tables
    Or sing you a tune
    For what's in your wallet
    At "The Last Chance" Saloon.

    On your way then you cowboys
    The time will be soon
    When there's blood on the sawdust
    In "The Last Chance" Saloon.

    It's your last chance of boozing
    Where there's no-one to mind
    It's your last chance of losing
    And the first place you find.

    It's your last chance for givin'
    It's your last chance of rye.
    It's "The Last Chance" for Livin'
    And the last place to die.

    There's gamblers from Denver
    There's guns from the South
    And many a cowboy
    With a dry, dry mouth.
    There's a ragtime piano
    And a small back room
    For to sleep off your troubles
    In "The Last Chance" Saloon.

    Four Days ride from the Station
    And you're leaving at noon
    Then your one consolation
    Is "The Last Chance" Saloon.

    You've a good chance of swinging
    It's your last chance to hide
    And your last chance of singing
    Till your last long ride.

    It's your last chance of cussing
    At your hard-earned doom
    It's your last chance of nothing
    At "The Last Chance" Saloon.

    So pick him up gentle
    And carry him slow
    He's gone kind of mental
    under Earp's heavy blow.

    It's your last chance of earning
    Your gunfighter's fee
    The pay is in dollars
    But the bullets are free.

    So it's curtains for Charlie
    That barman of fame
    He met Johnny Ringo
    And he knew Johnny's name.

    He knew Johnny's name
    And he spoke it out loud
    Now Charlie the barman
    Has gotten a shroud.

    Johnny Ringo has found her
    Johnny Ringo's found Kate
    The gunslinger's got her
    Now what is her fate?

    Johnny Ringo has seen her
    She's coming his way
    Johnny Ringo and Katie
    Were lovers, they say.

    It's curtains for Warren
    They gunned the kid down
    And them bad cruel outlaws
    Are heading for town
    So the Earps and the Clantons
    Are aimin' to meet
    At the OK Corral near
    Calamity Street.

    It's the OK Corral, boys
    Of gun-fightin' fame
    Where the Earps and the Clantons
    They played out their game.

    They played out their game and
    We nevermore shall
    Hear a story the like of
    The OK Corral.

    So the cards they are drawn and
    The chips they are down
    Them outlaws and lawmen
    Are headin' for town.

    So them bad cruel outlaws
    Are meeting up soon
    And they've had their last drink in
    "The Last Chance" Saloon.

    So it's curtains for Ike and
    For Billy and Phin.
    Them bad cruel out laws
    Has paid for their sin.

    They paid for their sin and
    They lost on the draw.
    For the Earps they was faster
    And they was the law.

    So beware all you cowboys
    Who's a-yearning' to sin
    If the Earps is the lawmen
    You ain't gonna win.

    I was asked about the sources for this, and I was going to finish all the episodes and put a list of sources in a metanode along with links to every story, but here you go:

    • Doctor Who: The Sixties by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker (pictures, information not elsewhere)
    • Doctor Who Programme Guide (1994) by Jean-Marc Lofficier (cast)
    • The DisContinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping (general mistakes, roots of story)
    • A Brief History of Time (Travel) - http://www.physics.mun.ca/~sps/drwho.html (filming/scripting background)
    • Episode Guide on the BBC page - http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/doctorwho/ (audience impressions)
    • Doctor Who Reference Guide - http://www.drwhoguide.com/who.htm (proper order of events)
    • "The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon" from www.temporal-orbit.co.uk/high/lcs.htm (if you're lucky you might be able to hear it)
    • Everything2 Writeups: Wyatt Earp and The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (to make sure I knew what happened and what was made up)

    One of the great things about Doctor Who is that with all of the back stories to watch through, and all the present stories to continue watching, there is a good chance that any given Doctor Who fan has watched the stories in their own, unique order. For example, I am perhaps the only Doctor Who fan to watch The Rings of Akhaten and The Gunfighters next to each other. I am also probably in a small minority who watched The Gunfighters after A Town Called Mercy, the revival Doctor Who episode that has The Doctor visiting the old west, as he did in "The Gunfighters". So many of my impressions were formed backwards.

    The Rings of Akhatan was a gorgeous special effects spectacular, with many different alien races and computer generated space imagery that would have been amazing to anyone in the 1960s. And it was full of science fiction, and the Doctor behaving heroically. And for all of that, it fell (in my opinion) flat, or at least overreached its grip.

    On the other hand, we have "The Gunfighters", which uses no science fiction elements (beyond The TARDIS delivering our crew to the Old West in the first place), and with a few wobbly sets. In this episode, The Doctor does very little that could be considered heroic, bumbling from one plot twist to another, managing to lose a tooth, and prudely refusing guns and alcohol thrust into his hands. His companions are similarly useless, and they manage to do nothing to help anyone. In addition, the plot is stitched together from history and romance, and is padded by many comings and goings to pad it out into four episodes. It is also a weird mixture of comic and tragic, with people dying (not always convincingly) mixed in with slapstick.

    The one thing the two episodes have in common is singing. And a lot of it. "The Gunfighters" has a comic ballad sung to narrate the events, an innovation at the time and (as far as I know) one that has not been repeated.

    "The Gunfighters" was also not a particularly popular episode, and is considered to be one of the episodes that drove a nail into the idea of solely historical episodes.

    And yet, from my perspective, after watching the somewhat hypertrophied "Rings of Akhatan", the seemingly silly, charming "The Gunfighters" was a refreshing change. The Doctor, to me, is more convincing when he is in the middle of things that he doesn't quite understand, when he is muddling between double crossing teams he doesn't understand, then when he is heroically settings things right. And although some of the slapstick and black comedy might not be too everyone's taste, and perhaps this wasn't it at its finest instance, it still worked for me. With Doctor Who, there is little to nothing that I've heard all fans agree on, and this is why: that this quickly stitched together story from 1966 should appeal to me more than a well produced and richly done episode from 2013 is something that I can't really defend, or really even explain. It is just part of the endless charm of Doctor Who.

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