‘Doctor Who’: ‘The Gunfighters’ (‘EarthStory’) DVD review

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The Doctor (William Hartnell) and his companions Steven Taylor (Peter Purves) and Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane) turn up in Tombstone, Arizona, 1881, just in time for the legendary gunfight at the OK Corral. The Doctor is mistaken for Doc Holliday and then deputised by Wyatt Earp (whom he calls ‘Werp’ throughout) while Steven sings a song at gunpoint, Dodo is taken prisoner (several times) and a lot of English actors do their very best to sound American – with decidedly mixed results.

For a supposedly funny story, there are some dark moments (plenty of violent deaths, including a massive body-count at the conclusion of the climactic shoot-out which the camera lingers on for ages) although this is countered by all the poor accents (ironically, the worst offender is Canadian David Graham as Charlie the bartender), the Doctor’s comically prolonged attack of toothache and the song, ‘The Ballad Of The Last Chance Saloon’, which appears throughout. It starts off as charming, quickly becomes tiresome and by the end is enough to make you want to lock singer Lynda Baron in the jailhouse and throw away the key.

Originally broadcast in 1966, ‘The Gunfighters’ is – to quote the Doctor – ‘accomplished, but not great’. The BBC scenery department’s depiction of the Wild West is surprisingly good (although better in the sequences on film than the ones on video) and Hartnell, despite being in the irascible, difficult-to-work-with swansong of his tenure as the Doctor, is excellent throughout. Not exactly a triumph, but an enjoyable story nonetheless.

Extras: The commentary is essentially a forum for grumpy old men complaining about how complicated modern day Doctor Who is and misremembering their fondly forgotten youth, with one claiming that William Hartnell’s Doctor had magic powers. ‘Only in real life,’ guffaws Peter Purves in response. The DVD’s principal documentary, ‘The End Of The Line’, is a genuinely fascinating look at the end of the first era of the programme that includes Maureen O’Brien trying and failing to be politically correct – ‘The dwarves and the midgets, they don’t like “midget”… the little people’ – and Purves again stealing the show – ‘I was playing a woman’s part, basically’ – while ‘Tomorrow’s Times’ sees Mary Tamm bringing as much glamour as she can to a feature about contemporary press coverage of the Hartnell years that is so dry it ought to carry a dehydration warning.

Released on DVD on Monday 20th June 2011 by 2entertain.

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