Review of Doctor Who ‘The Gunfighters’ (Series 3)

Neela Debnath

Doctor final final 300x206 Review of Doctor Who The Gunfighters (Series 3)In the run up to the 50th anniversary of ‘Doctor Who’ in November 2013, Neela Debnath, with the help of BBC DVD, will be writing a review focusing on one story from each of the previous 31 series of the show. Each review will offer readers a snapshot from every series of ‘Doctor Who’ and celebrate the longest-running science fiction television programme in the world.

‘The Gunfighters’ was a four-part story towards the end of series 3 of ‘Doctor Who’. It was a witty and satirical re-telling of the historic gunfight at the O.K. Corral and involved a case of mistaken identity.

The serial saw the TARDIS land in Tombstone, Arizona with the Doctor suffering from a toothache and going in search of a local dentist. While at the dentist, he is mistaken for the infamous gunfighter and gambler Doc Holliday (Anthony Jacobs) and thus the confusion begins.

In the context of the overall series, the Doctor has a new pair of companions in the form of Steven Taylor (Peter Purves) and Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane). Steven met the Doctor during the serial ‘The Chase’ and he has been travelling with him ever since. ‘The Chase’ also saw the departure of Ian Chesterton (Willie Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), who used a Dalek time travelling machine to return to modern day earth. They managed to make it back and were only a couple of years out from when they left.

For a while the Doctor, Steven and Vicki (Maureen O’Brien) travel together but eventually, just like Susan (Carole Ann Ford), Vicki falls in love. She left at the end of ‘The Myth Makers’ to be with a warrior named Troilus and under the guise of Cressida she stays on earth. Steven and the Doctor eventually met Dodo at the end of ‘The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve’ and so the Doctor and his new companions venture across the universe on a few adventures before their trip to the Wild West.

Writer Donald Cotton has brilliantly lampooned and exaggerated every notion that the audience may have of the Wild West, from the gun-toting cowboys to the raucous fights in saloons. The whole story is played for laughs, even the ‘Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon’, the little ditty that is sung as a form of musical narration throughout the story, gets more and more ridiculous. By the end, viewers will know the whole song.

Part of the comedy comes from Dodo and Steven’s excitement at the novelty of being in the Wild West. There is also Steven’s gaudy cowboy outfit that has an inordinate number of tassels on it and is embroidered with flowery patterns. His costume makes him look completely out of place when compared to the plainer clothes that the Doctor is dressed in. On top of this, Steven’s attempts to be a gunslinger are highly comical given his ineptitude with firearms.

This serial is a reminder of the Doctor’s loathing of guns and violence. He even remarks that nothing can induce him to raise a gun in anger and it is described as ‘a wretched weapon’. The Doctor’s aversion creates a strong anti-gun message that is still present in the series today. However, the effectiveness of this message in ‘The Gunfighters’ is debatable due to the climactic shoot-off. Nevertheless, it is interesting that the Doctor keeps pointing out his dislike of guns.

While younger members of the audience may enjoy it simply as an adventure involving cowboys, older members can appreciate the satirical vein that runs through this story. One of the Doctor’s last lines at the end of the serial confirms that this has all been a send up. He says to Dodo: ‘Oh my dear Dodo, my dear Dodo. You know, you’re fast becoming a prey to every cliché-ridden convention in the American West’.

On a final note, ‘The Gunfighters’ will make viewers forget that this story is part of a science fiction television programme because there is no science or technology involved. It is a simple tale set in the Wild West about a mix-up and could be told without any mention of the Doctor or of time travel. The beauty of ‘Doctor Who’ is that the TARDIS is a great plot device that allows writers to take the characters anywhere. It is essentially a way to create blank canvas on which anything can be painted, be it fantasy, science fiction or period drama.

For more information about the classic series of ‘Doctor Who’

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DVD & image credit: BBC

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