Geekbat Tunes

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Serial Title: The Gunfighters

Series: 3

Episodes: 4
A Holiday For The Doctor
Don’t Shoot The Pianist
Johnny Ringo
The O.K. Corral

Doctor: William Hartnell

Companions: Steven Taylor (Peter Purves), Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane)

The TARDIS arrives in Tombstone, Arizona, 1881- just outside of the OK Corral. So you know what’s coming next.

Dodo is enthralled, an enthusiast of the Wild West. Steven is absurd, dressing about as well for the period as Marty McFly in Back To The Future III. The Doctor is in pain. Bothered by a toothache, he goes to Doc Holliday, the local dentist- and through a series of misunderstandings, is mistaken by the Clantons (who have never seen the real Holliday) for the outlaw-turned-dentist that they intend to kill for the death of their brother. Doc Holliday and his fiancé, the saloon singer Kate, are aware of the misunderstanding, and more than happy to let the Doctor die in his place.

As sheriff Wyatt Earp tries to keep order- eventually arresting the Doctor for his own safety after the Doctor is forced by Kate to fake holding up the Clantons (aided by sharpshooting from the unseen Holliday, which is attributed to the Doctor) things come to a head in the Last Chance Saloon. Steven is forced to sing for the Clantons’ amusement, then nearly lynched- a Clanton is jailed in the attempt… and an Earp is killed in springing him.

Dodo goes to confront the real Holliday, and is kidnapped, taken out of town… meanwhile, gunslinger and cold-blooded murderer Johnny Ringo comes into town, also looking for Holliday, and falls in with the Clantons.He is a crack-shot that never misses (a skill clearly bequeathed to him by Solar Flares). As an old flame of Kate’s, he kidnaps her, along with Steven, taking the two to the Clanton ranch.

As the Doctor’s mistaken identity is confirmed, and Dodo forces Holliday to return her to Tombstone, a final confrontation is set a-brewing… Holliday, Earp, and his brother against the remaining Clantons and Ringo, in a showdown at the O.K. Corral. The Doctor acts as emissary, trying to prevent the coming bloodshed, but the Clantons are not to be dissuaded.

The gunfight does indeed occur at the O.K. Corral. The Clantons are killed- Dodo taken as a hostage by Ringo, but killed by Holliday’s concealed sleeve-gun- and the TARDIS crew departs the wild west for good.

The Gunfighters follows in the mold of The Romans and The Myth Makers as a comedic historical episode. While (to spoil my conclusions right up front) I find it more successful than the former and less so than the latter, this one is unique in that its humor is split right down the middle- half of it comes from intentional jokes… and the other from entirely unintentional humor.

The story- involving the Doctor being mistaken for Doc Holiday- is both whimsical and dead-serious; in the mold of the New Who episode ‘Midnight,’ at times this feels like the Doctor’s greatest threat- a bunch of ordinary men with guns and short tempers seem more menacing than the Daleks ever did, and more likely to bring the Doctor’s journeys through time and space to a permanent end than any monsters ever did.

The story is laughable at times- especially the accents, which are largely provided by British actors trying, and very badly failing, to affect a southern accent, over-top of their own especially-prominent and noticeable British accents.

There are also laughs of disbelief, along with agonized groans and expressions of aggravated frustration at the serial's soundtrack... there is no incidental music save for the occasional break-ins of the repetitive "Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon," a piano-accompanied western tune that half sets the mood for, half breaks-the-fourth-wall-and-narrates, events for the story. For example:

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.


So it's curtains for Charlie
That barman of fame
He met Johnny Ringo
And he knew Johnny's name.

He knew Johnny's name
And he spoke it out loud
Now Charlie the barman
Has gotten a shroud.

AND, most absurdly pedantic:

Johnny Ringo has found her
Johnny Ringo's found Kate
The gunslinger's got her
Now what is her fate?

Johnny Ringo has seen her
She's coming his way
Johnny Ringo and Katie
Were lovers, they say.

This is a very small sampling.

The first time, it's haunting. (Note From's haunting???) The third, repetitive. The fifth, obnoxious. The tenth, utterly unbelievable. From then on, it alternates between unbelievably annoying and utterly hilarious as it JUST KEEPS COMING BACK. It is literally the only music for 4 half-hour episodes. You cannot truly picture the effect of this unless you see and hear it for yourself. Trust me.

Still, there was a great deal of well-done intentional humor, as well- especially when the angry Clantons force Steven, posing as a musician, to sing the aforementioned ballad for them at gun point, despite his protestations ("Come on, fellas, I've sung it four times already!") finally singing through gritted teeth... I intend to make that my ring-tone. (Steven and Dodo sure are excellent professional piano players who don't make a single mistake... especially for amateurs!) Likewise, the Doctor's repeated referring to Wyatt Earp as "Mr. Werp"- and his accidental hold-up, as the real Doc Holiday, shooting behind the scenes, leaves the Doctor with no choice but to hold up the Clantons with a six-shooter... and having no idea what to do with them afterwards.

The bits with Dodo and Holliday felt like padding to extend the running time and needlessly separate the characters simply so they couldn't leave. In other words, like an average episode of Lost.

The mistaken identity bits, however, climaxing in the rather tense and exciting lynching of Steven, and Charlie the Barman's ironic frantic arrival to tell them they had the wrong Doc Holliday just moments after every thing's been resolved, are all very enjoyable, however. And the climactic showdown at the OK Corral is interesting, well-executed, and just well-sprinkled enough with the companions to keep it relevant while not stretching credulity at the extent of their involvement in the affair. The final ballad, panning over the bodies of the dead Clantons, was one of the few effective uses of it in the serial (Along with the first rendition over shots of cowboys riding into town), and an excellent moment in it's own right.

As for historical accuracy, I encourage you to look up accounts of the fight yourself, but... suffice it so say, it's not even CLOSE.

This was, having over-reviewed the rest of Series 3, probably the one strong serial for Dodo, who is not annoying and has some excellent moments in this one... this serial is really her serial. She has an interesting fascination with the old west, a great strong- and funny- moment in which she holds up Doc Holliday with his own gun, and her crucial interruption ups the stakes of the final showdown (as the audience is suddenly involved via a main character, instead of simply watching historical-figure guest stars duke it out)- overall, she comes across very strongly here. I actually LIKED her in this one.

Steven doesn't have a lot to do other than being bounced around helplessly from one predicament to the next, but he does get the funniest moment in the story- the aforementioned singing-at-gunpoint- and several other great humorous bits sprinkled throughout.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is very amusing in this one- going from mastery of the situation (inventing aliases and cover stories, including a "Doctor who?" "Yes, exactly." joke, off the top of his head- though why, oh why, does he insist on calling her Dodo, a nickname, instead of the less eyebrow-raising, more period-normal Dorothy?) to hapless dupe (encountering the Clantons in the saloon- his performance when forced to pretend to hold up the Clantons must be seen to be believed- it's priceless, Hartnell was in top form!) And while he ends up, like Steven, bounced from place to place throughout the story, he does so with a very endearing manner and a dry wit, leaving a very positive impression.

Likewise, we have some very interesting guest stars- aside from the aforementioned British Cowboy Clantons, we had a fun and somewhat layered Doc Holliday, as a scalawag, rapscallion, and, in Star Wars parlance, scoundrel, who was enjoyable to watch. We had Johnny Ringo, a mustache-twirlingly sinister gunman with a pleasant manner, and we had the voice of the Daleks putting in an excellent on-camera turn as the nervous barman, Charlie, who, along with Doc Holliday, had some of the best guest-character moments of the serial.

Overall, the story was... meandering, in retrospect, but didn't seem it while watching (a good sign... although the same could be said for my first viewing of Attack of the Clones- a BAD sign...), and it had some great moments and good laughs- sandwiched between an obnoxious-to-the-point-of-hilarity ballad and some horrific accents (NFS: Although I thought the horrific accents were one of the better parts of this serial...kind of entertaining :-D). One's thing's for sure, though... this was, contemporarily, the lowest Audience-Appreciation-rated serial yet to date in 32 years of programming- and it didn't deserve that. In fact, numbers for ratings and viewership from here through the end of the Hartnell era were extraordinarily low. Some of those serials might merit that- but this one most assuredly didn't.

Lastly, before we get to ratings, there are a few historical notations important to this serial that I'd be remiss not to mention. First off, this was the final serial of the entire series to have individual episode titles. From here on out, it's just "The Insidious Brain, Episode 1" and "Hygiene of the Daleks, Epsiode 4" (thus, this episode-listing feature will be discontinued from here on out.) It's a pity- overdramatic as they were (2009's 10th Doctor serial "Planet of the Dead" being named in stylistic homage to them), I enjoyed them. (NFS: I agree, it felt special having a different title to every episode, plus it made your mind wonder what was coming to merit such a title...I miss the individual titles :( I also was the kind of person who liked chapter titles for books but they rarely do that anymore either)

Second of all, "Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon" holds the distinction of being the last originally-composed song for Doctor Who for the next 40 years, until Murray Gold's "Song for Ten" ushered in David Tennant's 10th Doctor on Christmas Day, 2005. (A golden era of music that looks as if it may, sadly, have ended three years later with 2008's "The Stowaway" on Christmas Day- a grand and wonderful finale to be sure, but we want more songs, Murray Gold! Give Matt Smith some songs! NOW!!!)  (Note from Andrew of 2011: Your request will be granted, Andrew of 2010. Just be patient!)

Great moments:
The actual showdown doesn’t disappoint, and Steven’s Ballad-at-gunpoint is hilarious.

So... How the heck do I rate this? Praise it for where it made me laugh? Pan it for driving me insane with it's incessant, insipid song (which, I will remind you, was the ONLY INCIDENTAL MUSIC IN THE ENTIRE FOUR-PART SERIAL)?

In the end, The Gunfighters recieves 3 out of 5 Time Destructors, for 4-Time Destructor-level writing mired by some unfortunate- THAT FRICKIN' SONG!!!!- flaws.

And I'm still making Steven's whining my ringtone. (NFS: Note from the future....he did make it his ringtone...and it still is.)

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