Tuesday, 26 September 2017
Inspirations - The Gunfighters
The Gunfighters is the last story to have individual episode titles. It was written by Donald Cotton. His last story - The Myth Makers - had a great deal of humour, before things darkened in the final act. He pulls the same trick here, as the Doctor and his companions have arrived in Tombstone, Arizona, on the eve of the infamous gunfight at the town's OK Corral - in October, 1881.
The director, Rex Tucker, has form with Doctor Who. He was originally set up to be the first producer, but did not have much interest in the programme and was pleased to move on once Verity Lambert was brought on board. He was slated to direct some other stories, but this never materialised. As such, this is his only contribution to the show, beyond some of the initial planning meetings.
This story is the last of the truly historical adventures, in that it features real people and real events - though the events surrounding the gunfight have been mythologised over the last 130 years. There will be two more "Historicals" in the '60's - but these will be more genre pieces.
The Western was a staple of American cinema and TV. Britain had a couple of millennia more history to play with, plus lots of castles in which to film - so we tended to concentrate on knights-in-armour or costume drama set in Victorian or Georgian times. A wholly British-made western hadn't really been tried before - except for a spoof from the Carry On... team (Carry On Cowboy - 1965). 1958 had seen the release of The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw, an Anglo-American production starring Kenneth More. Interiors were filmed at Pinewood, but the exteriors were filmed in Spain - the first time that country doubled for the States. Spaghetti Westerns were still a few years away.
The British did like Western series, bought in from US TV. The Kenneth More film had been prompted by someone realising that there were some 20 hours of Westerns being shown every week on British television.
The Gunfighters is recorded entirely at the BBC's Riverside Studios, with some additional filming at Ealing.
The story begins with the resolution to the cliffhanger at the conclusion of The Celestial Toymaker. The Doctor had eaten one of Cyril's sweets then collapsed in agony. It looked like he had been poisoned, but it's just toothache. Arriving in Tombstone, the Doctor must track down a dentist. Steven and Dodo demonstrate a love for the period, and dig out stylised costumes - the sort of thing they would wear in a 1940's Hollywood musical set in the Wild West. Steven is more Nelson Eddy than Billy the Kid.
Wyatt Earp, the town's Marshal, turns up. The Doctor gives them all aliases - he is Doctor Caligari, Steven is given the surname Regret, and Dodo that of DuPont. The Doctor is showing a knowledge of German Expressionism, taking his name from the title character of the 1920 silent movie The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.
They are travelling players - Steven being a singer and Dodo his accompanist on the piano.
There's a new dentist in town - notorious gunman and gambler Doc Holliday. He was known as 'Doc' due to his dentistry, but his given names were John Henry.
This sets things up for a case of mistaken identity. The Clanton brothers are hanging out at the local bar - the Last Chance Saloon - waiting to get revenge on Holliday for his killing of one of their siblings. With them is Seth "Snake-eyes" Harper. He is an entirely fictional character. His nickname derives from gambling - snake-eyes being the term for rolling double one with a pair of dice.
Holliday takes out the Doctor's tooth. The Clantons hear Steven and Dodo mention getting a room for the Doctor, and then Harper meets the Doctor when he's alone in the dentist shop. Earp and Holliday are aware of this confusion, but choose not to say anything - prepared to take advantage of the situation for their own ends. With Holliday is his girlfriend Kate. She's based on Holliday's real partner - Maria Katalin Horony, a Hungarian prostitute better known as Big Nose Kate.
The Doctor ends up in jail in protective custody. Hartnell is really energised by having some comedy to play. The Doctor calls Wyatt 'Mr Werp' throughout, and there's the lovely scene where Steven has smuggled a gun to him in his cell and he is practising swinging it on his finger in front of Mr Werp - asking if he can do this. He then states: "People keep giving me guns, and I do wish they wouldn't!".
Later, another gunman named Johnny Ringo shows up in town. He is also gunning for Holliday, and was Kate's lover before she ran off with the 'Doc'.
John Peters Ringo did exist, and he lived for a time in Tombstone, but he took no part in the Gunfight at the OK Corral, dying a year after it. It's believed that he committed suicide.
The actual gunfight, at 3pm on Wednesday 26th October 1881, wasn't anywhere near the OK Corral. It took place on Allen Street a few doors down from the rear of the corral. The buildings we see on screen come straight from Hollywood movies. The houses in Tombstone were brick terraces, of a design you can still see in the East End of London today. Designer Barry Newbery went to Tombstone to see for himself, and decided the TV / movie versions suited the story better than the real thing. His sets were how viewers expected it all to look.
Present at the real event were, on one side, Wyatt Earp and his brothers Morgan and Virgil plus Holliday, who had been made a temporary Deputy Marshal. It should be stated that Wyatt was only the Deputy Marshal of Tombstone - Virgil was full Marshal. Opposing them were Ike and Billy Clanton, Billy Claiborne, and the McLaury brothers, Tom and Frank. Along with Ringo, the "bad guys" were all members of a loose outlaw affiliation known as the Cochise County Cowboys.
As you will see, some of these characters don't appear in The Gunfighters at all, and it has Morgan killed before the gunfight takes place. Like the real Johnny Ringo, he died in 1882 - shot by Ringo. The third Clanton we see - Phineas - didn't take part in the Gunfight. Bat Masterson wasn't in Tombstone in October 1881. He had been there earlier in the year but was called back to Dodge City months before the Gunfight.
The combatants stood only a few feet from each other. About 30 shots were fired in 30 seconds, at the end of which Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers were dead. Ike survived, having run away, and he and Phineas later tried to have the lawmen indicted for murder - unsuccessfully.
Ike died in 1887 - shot dead after some cattle-rustling. Phineas died in 1906, from pneumonia. The same illness killed Virgil Earp in 1905. Holliday died in 1887 - from TB. Kate lived until 1940.
Wyatt Earp died aged 80 in 1929. He had a varied career after Tombstone, involving himself in mining and prospecting, property development, horse racing and he even refereed boxing matches. (Masterson also had a keen interest in boxing, having become a sports journalist in later life). Wyatt was a bounty hunter for a time, working with the Los Angeles Police Department. He also acted as consultant on some early silent movies - Westerns of course.
Whilst music plays an important part in all Doctor Who stories, The Gunfighters has the 'Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon' playing throughout. Tucker was inspired by the songs that accompanied some of the classic Hollywood Westerns - especially My Darling Clementine (1946) - which is about the Gunfight. The best known film version of the event is 1957's Gunfight at the OK Corral. Star Trek's DeForest Kelley plays Morgan Earp in that one. He would revisit Tombstone in the Star Trek episode "Spectre of the Gun".
Tucker had intended that his daughter Jane should sing the Ballad, but it proved to be in the wrong key for her, so Linda Baron sang it instead. Jane got to be an extra in the scene where Steven is going to be lynched. Jane would later find fame as one third of Rod, Jane and Freddy, from ITV's Rainbow.
One last thing - the name of the Corral has nothing to do with OK as in 'okay'. It's full name was the Old Kindersley Corral. The town of Tombstone maintains the myth that the gunfight took place in the Corral itself, and you can pay to see a reenactment, three times daily.
Next time, we are in an era of great peace and prosperity, but the posh folks are leeching off the poor ones. The Doctor changes his mind before initiating some regime change, and it's farewell to Steven as he gets a whole planet to run...