Mar. 17th, 2019

purplecat: The  First Doctor (Who:One)
I first saw The Gunfighters at a WhoSoc meeting in the early 90s. Back then it was still renowned as the Doctor Who story with the lowest ratings (though Wikipedia tells me this is a myth, though it is apparently the Doctor Who story with the lowest audience appreciation score). Since then its been through a bit of a re-assessment where people seemed to like it, and then gone back to being, if not widely derided, at least generally considered a bit sub-standard.

I rather liked it back then, and was somewhat anxious that I would like it less this time around.

To be honest, I mostly like the song - which itself seems to have been re-evaluated and then re-evaluated again. The song, The Last Chance Saloon appears both within the story, various characters sing it in the saloon, and at various moments in the soundtrack acting as a chorus to the action. I think it is a great conceit, though in the first episode - where the Song mostly reprises the refrain "There'll be blood upon the sawdust in the Last Chance Saloon" - it edges towards becoming tedious. However later episodes change up the words a bit and I found I wasn't getting tired of it at all.

The Gunfighters is a Donald Cotton script which means, more or less, that it's a comedy with an alarmingly high body count. It isn't as out-and-out funny as bits of the The Myth Makers, and that may be part of its problem. It's comedy is at the level of "makes you smile from time to time". The cast seem to be having fun, but that's not quite translating itself to the screen. There's some nice stuff with Steven and Dodo acting as if they are in a theme park Wild West rather than the real place - which admittedly makes them both seem pretty stupid but I don't think that's a problem just with this episode, they are both very child-like in the preceding story as well. The sympathetic characters: broadly speaking Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Kate and (to a lesser extent) Doc Holliday all have slightly divergent but understandable motivations - and again, there are nice bits where Earp demonstrates that he's the person who is the expert in managing the situation and the Doctor had better do as he's told.

That said, it's also quite confusing: neither Tame Layman, nor I, know much about the Wild West, and the story assumes a familiarity with the characters and background to the O.K.Corral that we didn't really have. We'd more or less sorted out who everyone was by the end (I think) but there were moments in the middle where we were quite confused... and of course, its a Donald Cotton story so its relationship to historical accuracy is probably tenuous at best.

The novelisation chooses to place the Doctor himself in the action at the O.K. Corral - having him press-ganged by the Earps into walking up the street with them (and makes a point of how dangerous his rather erratic control of the shotgun they've given him is). It came as a surprise, therefore, that he is actually completely absent from the denouement; as is Steven, while Dodo appears randomly from nowhere to get in Doc Holliday's way. One of the problems Doctor Who often has in depicting history is figuring out how to actually involve the Tardis crew in the action. It looks like Cotton just gave up trying when he got to the final episode.

All that said, The Gunfighters is an interesting beast. The attempt at a comedy historical, with the deliberate framing of the song, and the attempt to nevertheless ground out some of the humour in the tragedy of the deaths of people's loved ones may not quite work but, insofar as its a failure, it's an interesting and well-intentioned one. Given I went into it with some trepidation and a fear that the memory had cheated, I was pleasantly surprised.

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