Written by Donald Cotton
Directed by Rex Tucker
The TARDIS crew stop off in Tombstone, Arizona in search for a dentist who can pull The Doctor’s tooth. Unfortunately, The Clanton Brothers are in town and they are looking for revenge against a doctor of their own.
“You kill a guy out of sheer professional ethics, then you got three of his brothers chasin’ after you to labor the point!”
I have missed the Hartnell era quite a bit. Even if the stories didn’t work, the sheer variety of styles and genres keeps this era from becoming stale to me. The Gunfighters is a story that breaks with the typical Doctor Who style and delves into comedy, something the show hasn’t done since The Romans (unless, of course, you interpret The Space Museum as comedy). Honestly, I have found a particular joy in The Gunfighters because it stands in such contrast to many of the other stories this season. The Daleks’ Master Plan and The Massacre were very dark stories, and while I enjoyed both of them, the lightness of The Gunfighters is a welcome change. It is also a step up from The Celestial Toymaker, which was conceptually interesting, but seemed a bit lacking in execution.
However, The Gunfighters is thematically light. The basic plot deals with the lead-up to the shootout at the OK Corral. There is a bit of exposition to set things up, and if you want to see a good cinematic version of this event, check out Tombstone starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday respectively. The actual historical event is a bit convoluted with much hearsay. It involved escalating tensions between a group of outlaws known as The Cowboys and the attempts law-enforcement in Tombstone to curb the illegal activities of The Cowboys. Add to that such shady and colorful characters as Doc Holiday, and the details become a bit sketch. The Gunfight at the OK Corral was just one of many confrontations. It wasn’t one of the more deadly conflicts of the so-called “wild west”, but it became one of the most famous due to exaggerated reporting and film adaptations that came much later. Honestly, the whole incident is full of story potential, and it is exciting to see Doctor Who tackle it.
The comedy involves the mistaken identity trope. We have a group of outlaws out for revenge against Doc Holliday, and of course The Doctor arrives in town at the same time. The mistake is understandable, especially as Holiday discovers The Clantons do not know what he looks like. He takes advantage of this fact and arms The Doctor with his own guns, which conveniently have Holliday’s name on them. This honestly doesn’t seem out of character for the man.
I’ve avoided it thus far, but I have to mention The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon. It is probably the most noticeable part of the episode, as well as one of the most-loathed. Personally, I don’t see much wrong with the song, and I certainly understand why it was included. The gunfight at the OK Corral has become a part of American folk mythology, and thus it is not a leap to imagine it worthy of a ballad. This doesn’t bother me at all. However, the song is played in most transitional shots as we move from one scene to another. This does get a bit irritating, but the only other option, it seems, would be no music, which would slow the pace of the episode. As it stands, I think A Holiday for The Doctor has a great pace. If The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon is integral to the pacing, then I think the story benefits from it.
All in all, a great first episode.