The GunfightersBookmark and Share

Saturday, 15 September 2012 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

>‎"What a man will do for what he truly believes in"

With A Town Called Mercy featuring the Doctor on a romp in the Wild West, it's time to settle down his other major dabbling in the genre with The Gunfighters. Fan Mythology has long held this story to propped up in the Boot Hill of Doctor Who, the worst the show could get and the nadir of ratings. Fortunately, a lot of this mistaken mystique has now been corralled into the past where it should be!

That's not to say some of the criticism isn't jusified. Considering the show's original remit to educate, the depiction of the Clantons, Earps, and the legendary gun fight would seem unlikely to grace history lessons of the day. But, of course, never let a few facts get in the way of a good story ...

And to be honest it is an entertaining romp. Historical inaccuracies aside, the plot unfolds at a leisurely but not lethargic pace, and the gradual change in ambience from a 'comedy' into something really dark can still catch you by surprise. Laurence Payne in particular is exceptional as Johnny Ringo, portraying convincing psychopath that you really wouldn't want to encounter in real life, much like Hannibal! And those final scenes of the actual fight are played totally straight with the portrayal of the gritty reality of "playing with guns".

Mind you, some of the accents were to be desired - what is it with this genre that when you go to the "wild west" you have to put on such an approximation - after all, "The Masque of Mandragora" didn't go all Italian on us! Perhaps they shouldn't have bothered and just played it straight through in 'normal' unaccented English, it wouldn't have affected the story. Shane Rimmer can perhaps be forgiven, however, for not trying to sound too much like Scott Tracey! (He's fresh in my mind having seen him pop up in The Spy Who Loved Me just before writing this review!).

Talking about Thunderbirds we also have David Graham here playing the fated barman, Charlie. Considering he doesn't actually have much to do in the story he does come across as one of the more competent characters, and of course gets to perform a death scene in a way that Ken Dodd should take lessons from!

This is one of those adventures where the plot ambles along quite happily in spite of the TARDIS travellers being there; like "The Romans" and other historical-based tales, their actions hover more around the edges of the main 'real conspiracies' that are revealed over the course of the story, rather than being integral to the plot. Dodo and Steven are unaware that they are both to leave the show in a matter of weeks (grin), and instead display their naivety over the potential dangers they put themselves in with their wild-west antics. Dodo's innocence around Doc Holliday is a wonder to behold, and Steven's ability to continually team up with the wrong crowd is a far cry from the astronaut from the year before. Still, we did get to see the Regret and Dupont double act entering "Tombstone's Got Talent"! Meanwhile, "Doc" ambles between sitting in a dentist's, sitting in jail, and sitting in a bar, and general making Mr. Wearp's life a misery - and what a joy it is, too!

The story is also one of those rarities where the underlying soundtrack is a unique experience. Had Lynda Baron been spotted in Cardiff earlier this year rather than last year I'd have been mighty suspicious about what we'd get in A Town Called Mercy, but it would seem that we're probably safe with Gold's usual fare tonight ... of course she's prevalent throughout The Gunfighters, and could almost be classed a narrator with the way the plot is reflected in the lyrics of The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon. For some reason I used to find it quite grating a couple of decades ago, but nowadays it slots in seamlessly with the story. But please don't do it again, no matter what Barrowman pleads!

Random musings:

"I never touch alcohol" ... well maybe not in this incarnation but a couple down the line and he's swigging his wine like a goodun! Actually, we don't see the Doctor drink that often in the series, with only the Fourth coming to mind as another distinct tea-non-totaller!

If the Doctor is a practitioner of never inflicting violence unless under threat, why does he have a collection of favourite guns?

Doctor Caligari ... Doctor Who? Ho hum, we are of course into the Innes Lloyd era of the show, where Who was treated more as a title than a question (thank you Dorium for reminding us of that!) - this one is more subtle than WOTAN's proclamation in The War Machines and Doctor von Wer in The Highlanders.

One has to wonder why - even though at this point he has little control over the TARDIS - he didn't just get back in and travel somewhere else rather than risk his health in a known bacteria-rife environment!

Interesting factoid on the production notes, there was plenty of real food and drink on hand for the cast to eat during the story - lamb chops and beans, such luxury!

This was the last story to feature individual episode titles up to Aliens of London/World War Three, which in some ways is a shame as it meant a clear end to the concept of a continuously evolving adventure. Sadly, however, this story a candidate for fandom to argue endlessly over what it should really be called :)

Having threatened Susan with a jolly good smacked bottom, he actually does the business with Dodo - albeit light-heartedly with the poster Holliday just gave him (grin).

And finally, so what exactly happened to the Doctor's tooth after Halliday extracted it? I wonder if it has disappeared into obscurity only to return next year as a major plot point for the 50th Anniversary as Time-Lord DNA is recovered in an unexpected place...

Conclusion

In conclusion this story is not half bad at all, and certainly didn't warrant all the 'hatred' it accrued over the years. Historically accurate it ain't, but then the multitude of films out of Hollywood don't exactly tell the true story, either.