I have seen The Gunfighters a number of times before, and the first thing that comes to mind when I rewatch it, is that it feels really good to have a complete story with no parts missing. Something that will become more rare when I get into the Troughton era.
Anyway, the next thing that strikes me is that the first Doctor says that he doesn’t have any suitable pain killers or treatment in his Tardis, yet is able to give Ram a new leg in Class and cure a brain tumor in The Almost People. I suppose the Doctor added to his medical supplies over the years.
So the Doctor, seeking dental care decides to explore a town in the Wild West instead of just taking off and seeking it in the distant future. But alas this leads to one of the most contrived mistaken identity situations in the history of history.
Doc Holliday is a murdering scoundrel who is being hunted down by gangs. I just did some research and had no idea that Doc Holliday was a real life gambler, gunfighter and dentist. That does add a little bit of depth to the story.
Back to the story, one of the gang members, Seth goes and finds our Doctor still recovering in the dentists saloon and the following conversation takes place –
Doctor: “What? Yes yes, what is it?”
Doctor: “Holiday? Yes I suppose so. Yes you could call it that.”
I know that lots of people dislike the Last Chance Saloon jingles that sometimes play in between scenes, but I don’t mind them so much. It genuinely makes the historical story more memorable. I do have the guilty pleasure of loving the scene where Dodo and Steven perform a more upbeat version of the song on the piano in the saloon. I especially love the comic acting that Peter Purves does while singing when he jumps at the gun. It’s only a small detail but I always smile.
Come to think of it, it’s a great coincidence that Dodo and Steven can both do a passable american accent, and can sightread and play piano flawlessly. If she couldn’t then the Doctor’s lie might have got them both killed immediately.
So Holliday and his partner Kate send the Doctor off into the saloon with Holliday’s gun and holster in order for him to be shot on his behalf. The Doctor without protesting ends up going face to face with the gang members.
Holliday is able to manipulate the situation fairly well – apart from the fact that his ‘hideout’ is directly above where the gang is. It’s hardly the most secure place – I would have thought he would be on the run so that if they realise that the Doctor isn’t Holliday, they wouldn’t just have to nip upstairs to get him. He is then stupid enough to go back to his dental practice in order to get a bottle of whisky. Unsurprisingly Wyatt Earp finds him immediately. The gang then fool Steven into getting the Doctor brought out of jail – where he is being kept to be safe. Although the whole situation seems a little contrived, I do find it quite dramatic. One of my favourite moments in the story is when Steven smuggles the Doctor a gun in jail and let’s Earp know about it. It leads to the Doctor trying to flick the gun around his finger like in the movies. The whole thing is played out adorably, just like a little boy playing with a toy gun in his bedroom. It leads to this wonderful exchange –
Doctor: “Mr Earp, I say. Can you do that?”
Earp: “No. And I wouldn’t try it if I were you.”
Doctor: “I have no intention of trying anything. Only people keep giving me guns and I do wish they wouldn’t.”
That line perfectly sums up how the Doctor is feeling thus far in the story. He is just sort of rushed along with Holliday’s plot and doesn’t really get much of a chance to catch up. It’s so sweet how the Doctor happily gives his gun over to Earp – it shows that even when he is this young, the Doctor really hates guns.
Although the sets of the street are clearly a painted backdrop, I can absolutely believe that this whole story could take place in the land of Red Dead Redemption. I found myself getting drawn in by the shootout at the end of the story. It really was very well done for the time. I also really enjoyed Holliday risking his life to save Dodo near the end of the story. Somehow as it came to a close, you found yourself really liking Holliday – a stark contrast to the start of the story.
I think overall I still think that The Gunfighters is one of the more memorable historical stories, especially in Hartnell’s last year. For that reason I award it with seven Doctors with tooth ache out of ten.
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.
Seven Doctors with tooth ache out of ten.