Doctor Who 118 – The OK Corral (The Gunfighters 4)

Written by Donald Cotton
Directed by Rex Tucker

The Clanton Boys have killed Warren Earp.  This isn’t likely to sit well with Wyatt and Virgil.

The Team

 Holliday: Ringo was here.
Wyatt: And?
Holliday: He ain’t no more.

As promised, The Gunfighters ends with bloodshed at The OK Corral.  And while there are a few moments of humor in this episode, much of the time is devoted to building up the showdown.  Everything has gotten personal for Wyatt and his newly-arrived brother Virgil.  Having found Warren, shot by the Clantons, the Earps have had what Hot Fuzz refers to as a “sh*t got real” moment.  No more fun and games.  Wyatt turns in his badge and goes outside the law, which is how these things happen.  The Earps issue an invitation to The Clantons to meet at The OK Corral and settle matters once and for all.

Sheriff Bat Masterson isn’t happy about this.  His wish is to take The Clantons in to custody and give them a trial, which is The Doctor’s wish as well.  Unfortunately, there is no reasoning with Wyatt, especially after Doc Holliday joins The Earps to bring about “justice”.  And this is the question for the episode.  In spite of what “The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon” says, Wyatt has gone outside the law and is engaging in vigilantism.  The Doctor and Masterson are indignant about this, but neither can dissuade them.  But this isn’t justice, it is vengeance, much like the vengeance that began this whole incident in part one when The Clantons were pursuing Holliday.  It continues to escalate until there is no one left standing, which is what happened both in the episode and in real life.  In many ways, it is very sad and very dark.  I almost feel that the continual narration by “The Ballad” felt out of place in this final episode.  The music was still upbeat even as tension escalated.

To me, the standout performances in this story are Anthony Jacobs as Doc Holliday and Laurence Payne as Johnny Ringo.  Both characters are good gunmen, but they exist on opposite ends of the personality spectrum.  Holliday is laid-back and caustic.  Ringo is deadly serious and malicious.  Jacobs and Payne bring life to these performances and you always feel at ease when Holliday is on screen while you feel tension when Ringo appears.  The showdown between the two, despite being historically inaccurate, is well played.

The Gunfighters has been unfairly maligned by Doctor Who fandom.  I’d go so far as to say it is one of the best historicals, if not one of the best Hartnell stories.  All three of the leads are played very well, even Dodo.  Hartnell is every inch The Doctor in this story, and Steven conveys humor and seriousness when necessary.  It is great to see this particular TARDIS crew gelling.  The direction is tight and well-paced and the sets look very good.  Many of the performances by the guest cast are also good, and even if the accents do slip every so often, the performances don’t.  But not only is The Gunfighters a good Doctor Who story, it is also a good example of the western genre.  The formula used in The Gunfighters is present in many of the great Western films, from Tombstone to Silverado, from Unforgiven to Fistful of Dollars.  This story deserves a re-evaluation from fandom.

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