Monday, 15 October 2012

Story 25 - The Gunfighters

In which the Doctor has desperate need of a dentist. The sweet which he had eaten has given him a dreadful toothache. The TARDIS materialises in a stable yard in the small Arizona town of Tombstone. It is late October, 1881. To fit in, Steven and Dodo don appropriate costumes, the Doctor a stetson. They encounter Marshal Wyatt Earp, who wants to know who they are. They pretend to be travelling entertainers - Dr. Caligari, Dodo Dupont and Steven Regret. Steven and Dodo are sent to the hotel to secure rooms whilst the Doctor is directed to the town's new dentist - Doc Holliday. In the hotel's "Last Chance Saloon" are the Clanton brothers and their associate "Snake-Eyes" Harper. They assume the new arrivals are Holliday's friends when they hear Steven call the Doctor "Doc".

The Clantons are in the midst of a bitter feud with Holliday, who killed one of their number in a gunfight. The Doctor has his tooth pulled and heads for the hotel - unaware that he is walking into trouble. Earp's arrival prevents a fight. He has the Doctor put under protective custody in the town jail. The Clantons abduct Steven and threaten to lynch him if "Holliday" isn't handed over. A gunfighter named Johnny Ringo arrives in town. A wanted man, he is also gunning for Holliday, who has stolen his girlfriend, Kate. Holliday and Kate decide to get out of town for a while -  and take Dodo with them. Ringo kills Harper, as well as hapless bartender Charlie. The Clantons gun down Earp's brother Warren.

Events are starting to spin out of control - leading everyone inexorably towards a decisive showdown. Ringo joins forces with the Clantons, whilst Earp's other brother, Virgil, joins him and Holliday against them. Virgil is Marshal of Dodge City. The Doctor is deputised, and tries to make peace - but to no avail. On the 26th October, by the town's OK Corral, the two groups meet and the famous gunfight ensues. Ringo and the Clantons are killed. Without the protection of a badge, Holliday finds he now has a price on his head. The Doctor and his companions depart.

This four part yarn was written by Donald Cotton, and broadcast between 30th April and 21st May, 1966. The director is Rex Tucker - who was almost Doctor Who's first producer. The regular cast disliked him as he favoured the actors he had cast over those he had 'inherited'.
The story is significant for a number of reasons:

  • The high level of humour (it's by Donald Cotton after all).
  • The music - the song "Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon".
  • Low (but not the lowest) ratings - prompting producer Innes Lloyd to decide to phase out the historical stories.
  • It's the last story to have individual episode titles.
All four episodes still exist in the archives. The story splits fan opinion - so this is either a very good thing, or a very bad one.

The regulars are all very well served in this. Each gets a significant amount of screen time and plot share. As with the earlier humorous stories, Hartnell is having a ball. The tooth-pulling scene and his stint in jail are a particular joy. He's exasperated that people keep giving him guns. Despite his earlier declared dislike of firearms, bizarrely he claims that a gun collection in the ship is one of his favourites.
Dodo has one particularly good scene  where she reluctantly - very obviously so - holds Holliday at gunpoint to force him to take her back to Tombstone - all played for fun. She also performs piano duties.
Steven gets to sing (the aforementioned Ballad - several times) before getting almost strung up and then forced to accompany the rather psychopathic Ringo.
Ringo is played entirely straight by Laurence Payne, who will return to the programme in The Two Doctors as Dastari. He kills the loveable barman Charlie (Dalek voice man David Graham) just because he might talk. Ringo's opponent, Doc Holliday, is played with a huge amount of dark humour by Anthony Jacobs. He's just wonderful in every scene.

The "Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon" is sung (by Lynda Baron) throughout. It mirrors events on screen. It can be extremely annoying, and my own personal choice would have been to dispense with it except perhaps to "top and tail" each episode. Baron will, of course, go on to appear in the programme as Captain Wrack in Enlightenment, and Val in Closing Time.
The story is entirely studio bound and Barry Newbery's sets are extremely effective. Tucker shoots them with a real sense of scale - meaning the climactic gunfight isn't too claustrophobic.
Episode endings are:

  1. A Holiday for the Doctor - The Doctor strolls towards the saloon - unaware that Harper and the Clantons have a nasty welcome planned for him.
  2. Don't Shoot The Pianist - If Earp doesn't hand over the Doctor, Steven will swing - and I'm not talking about his singing.
  3. Johnny Ringo - Phineas Clanton is broken out of jail by his brothers, and young Warren Earp is gunned down as they escape.
  4. The OK Corral - The TARDIS has materialised in what the Doctor proclaims to be a time of great peace and prosperity. On the scanner, they fail to notice an armed man in furs watching them.
I mentioned earlier that this story divides opinion. Personally, the ballad excepted, I absolutely love it. A lot of humour and great performances from the regulars and the key guest actors. All together now: "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. 'Til there's blood upon the sawdust at the Last Chance Saloon..." Repeat - ad nauseum.

This is actually quite accurate - the real protagonists were only about 6 feet apart.
Things you might like to know:

  • Anthony Jacobs' son Matthew was the writer of 1996's Doctor Who - The Movie.
  • The story is far from historically accurate. The actual gunfight lasted only about 30 seconds. There was no Phineas Clanton involved - or any Johnny Ringo. Billy and Ike Clanton were joined by the McLaury brothers. Only Billy and the McLaurys were killed. There was a third Earp - Morgan. Everyone, apart from Wyatt, was wounded. The fight took place at 3pm some distance from the OK Corral on Fremont Street. Ike took the victors to court, but they were exonerated. 
  • The Doctor has been called "Doc" many times. Usually it's just an annoyance for him - but this is the only time it is nearly fatal
  • Someone called Patrick Troughton was considered for the role of Johnny Ringo. Whatever happened to him?
  • Want to perform the whole ballad? I know you're dying to. Here's a link to some sad soul, probably now ensconced in some high security psychiatric institution, who has transcribed the entire story - song and all. You don't think I remembered those lyrics myself did you? 

1 comment:

  1. The link only works if you put capital D and W in it...