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28 October 2014

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The Gunfighters

Production Code: Z

First Transmitted

A Holiday for the Doctor - 30/04/1966 17:50

Don't Shoot the Pianist - 07/05/1966 17:50

Johnny Ringo - 14/05/1966 17:55

The O K Corral - 21/05/1966 17:50


The TARDIS arrives in the town of Tombstone in the Wild West and the Doctor, having hurt a tooth on one of Cyril's sweets, decides he must visit a dentist. The local dentist is Doc Holliday, currently engaged in a feud with the Clanton family. Lawmen Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson are meanwhile doing their best to keep the peace.

The Doctor, Steven and Dodo narrowly survive a lynch mob, the attentions of Holliday and Earp and various other dangers; they finally return to the TARDIS after witnessing the famous gunfight at the OK Corral, in which the young Clanton brothers and their gunman ally Johnny Ringo are all killed by Holliday, Earp and Earp's brother Virgil.

Episode Endings

Having been set up by Doc Holliday, the Doctor makes his way back to the Last Chance Saloon, wherein the Clanton Brothers are making Steven and Dodo sing and play the piano while they wait to kill Holliday upon his arrival.

The Clantons decide to lynch Steven in order to try to get the Doctor (whom they still believe to be Doc Holliday) to face them. They give Earp an ultimatum: either the Doctor comes out of the jail house or Steven will be hanged.

The other Clantons come to rescue their brother Phineas from jail. Warren Earp, one of Wyatt's brothers, is shot, and all the Clantons escape.

In the TARDIS control room, the Doctor announces to Steven and Dodo that he believes he knows exactly where they are: in the future, at a time of peace and prosperity. As the travellers leave the ship, the scanner shows the image of a savage-looking man approaching.


Westerns, particularly High Noon and Gunfight at the O K Corral.

Kate's performance is very Mae West.

Carry On Cowboy.

Oscar Wilde's Impressions of America.

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : "You can't walk into the middle of a Western town and say you've come from outer space! Good gracious me. You would be arrested on a vagrancy charge!"

The Doctor : [In the dentist's chair] "I never touch alcohol."

Holliday : [Taking a swig] "Well, I do."

Steven : [On being forced to find a tune to play] "Let's hope the piano knows it."

Double Entendre

"Never figured you for a backshooter, Ringo."


The Doctor can get toothache and tonsillitis, and keeps a gun collection in the TARDIS. He never touches alcohol, preferring milk. He knows who the Clantons and Johnny Ringo are, but still tries to stop the historic gunfight at the O K Corral [deciding it's not so important as to avoid meddling]. He is named Deputy Sheriff of Tombstone. The given aliases for the party are Miss Dodo Dupont, Steven Regret, and Dr Caligari [from the owner of the magical cabinet].

Dodo can play piano a little better than Steven can sing. Steven always wanted to be a cowboy.


Tombstone, [a few days leading up to 26 October 1881].


Thunderbirds voice artistes David 'Brains' Graham and Shane 'Scott Tracy' Rimmer appear as Charlie the barman and Seth Harper respectively. Graham had also provided Dalek voices for a number of earlier Doctor Who stories.

The caption at the end of the final episode reads 'Next Episode: Dr. Who and the Savages'. The Gunfighters was the last story to have individual episode titles.

Patrick Troughton was one of the actors considered for the role of Johnny Ringo.


The Gunfighters was the lowest-rated Doctor Who story ever. (There were a number of stories with lower ratings, including The Savages, The War Machines and The Smugglers.)

Sheena Marshe, who played Kate Fisher, was director Rex Tucker's daughter. (She was unrelated to him; his daughter Jane Tucker, later to find fame as one third of the Rod, Jane and Freddy group of children's entertainers, did however appear as a walk-on in the story.)


Episodes one and two have the world's quietest gunshots, and in episode four's climactic gunfight Earp and Masterson apparently walk through a withering barrage of fire unscathed.

In the ballad, 'earning your gunfighter's wings' is anachronistic, the phrase being coined in WWI.

The Clanton gang have amazing accents, Billy obviously having been to finishing school, and Johnny Ringo to the RSC.

Fashion Victim

Steven's OTT cowboy outfit.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - William Hartnell

Dodo - Jackie Lane

Steven Taylor - Peter Purves

Bat Masterson - Richard Beale

Billy Clanton - David Cole

Charlie - David Graham

Doc Holliday - Anthony Jacobs

Ike Clanton - William Hurndall

Johnny Ringo - Laurence Payne

Kate - Sheena Marshe

Pa Clanton - Reed de Rouen

Phineas Clanton - Maurice Good

Seth Harper - Shane Rimmer

Virgil Earp - Victor Carin

Warren Earp - Martyn Huntley

Wyatt Earp - John Alderson


Director - Rex Tucker

Assistant Floor Manager - Tom O'Sullivan

Ballad Music - Tristram Cary lyrics by Donald Cotton and Rex Tucker, played by Tom McCall (In Don't Shoot the Pianist only, Winifred Taylor rather than Tom McCall played the piano accompaniment for the studio scenes in which the Ballad was played in the Last Chance Saloon.), sung by Lynda Baron.

Costumes - Daphne Dare

Designer - Barry Newbery

Film Cameraman - Ken Westbury

Film Editor - Les Newman

Make-Up - Sonia Markham

Producer - Innes Lloyd

Production Assistant - Tristan de Vere Cole

Production Assistant - Angela Gordon

Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson

Story Editor - Gerry Davis

Studio Lighting - George Summers

Studio Sound - Colin Dixon

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Writer - Donald Cotton

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'All these people are giving me guns, I do wish they wouldn't ' With Hartnell, Purves and Anthony Jacobs in amazing form, and such a great script, this is a comic masterpiece, winning one over with its sheer charm.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

The Gunfighters is a curious mixture; some aspects of it work quite well, but others leave a great deal to be desired.

The basic concept of the story - that of the Doctor and his friends arriving in Tombstone in time for the famous gunfight at the OK Corral - must have looked good on paper, but sadly the realisation falls flat. One of the main reasons for this is the obvious difficulty of trying to realise a Western on Doctor Who's relatively small budget and without the benefit of any location work - although it must be said that designer Barry Newbery's faithful recreation of a Western town by way of studio sets is simply superb, and the use of live horses also adds to the illusion. Another problem is the rather jokey tone of Donald Cotton's scripts - the story is, in essence, a comedy. As John Peel, writing in Fantasy Empire Issue 4 in 1982, put it, 'Despite the sorry lessons of The Romans and The Myth Makers that comedy as such wouldn't work in Doctor Who, this was yet another [story in that vein]. Full of embarrassing lines... intended to spoof the popular Western craze of the day, it simply turned into a sorry mess. Thunderbirds voices Shane Rimmer and David Graham turned up in person, adding a little extra humour, but even they couldn't save such a story.' Ian Levine, commenting in A Voyage Through 25 Years of Doctor Who dated December 1988, went even further: 'This story, in short, should never have been made, and will forever remain a true embarrassment to Doctor Who.'

A particular irritation is the dreadful 'Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon'. Sung off-camera by Lynda Baron, this comments on and summarises the plot at the start and end of each episode and at critical points in between. As if that wasn't enough, Steven also gets to sing it during the course of the action, as does bar girl Kate. It seems that there is no escape from it. Ian K McLachlan, writing in Matrix Issue 8 dated May 1981, expressed the feelings of many: 'I thought that the [ballad] was a bad thing. It gave the whole [story] the air of unreality which I have always hated in Doctor Who. I like it to appear "possible" - something like a ballad singer wailing in the background spoils the illusion!'

Some of the incidental characters are nicely written and acted - Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp being probably the best - but there are also some weak links - Kate is rather dreadful, as is Billy. The whole thing starts to get somewhat confused when Earp's brothers begin arriving, along with Pa Clanton and the sub-Clint Eastwood Johnny Ringo, whose only good deed is to get Charlie the bar tender 'early retirement'. The Doctor and his friends unfortunately seem totally out of place on this occasion. The portrayal of the Doctor, in particular, makes him appear far too naive and trusting. It seems to take him forever to realise that Doc Holliday has set him up, and his invention of impromptu cover names for himself (Doctor Caligari), Dodo (Dodo Dupont, pianist) and Steven (Steven Regret, tenor) just adds to their problems. Straining credibility to breaking point, both Steven and Dodo are seen to be able to play the piano to a professional standard - convenient for the plot, maybe, but completely out of character.

Further plot problems occur later on. In one sequence, for example, Kate manages to arrive at the saloon well before the Doctor, despite having left some minutes after him and without him seeing her on the way. To cap it all, in the much vaunted gunfight, the Clantons all turn out to be dreadful shots, repeatedly missing the Earps even though they are simply walking down the middle of the street.

Contemporary reaction to the story was certainly very negative, as is apparent from the BBC's Audience Research Report on the final episode: 'The OK Corral story in general and this final episode in particular came under [a] critical barrage from the viewers in the sample. A majority evidently neither liked the idea of "Doctor Who and his team" being placed in a Wild West setting nor did they consider the story good as Westerns go. Doctor Who, it was said, fits much better into the "space-age sort of story". "The series", one viewer went so far as to say, "has deteriorated from pure science-fiction into third-rate story telling". Perhaps if the OK Corral story had not seemed to them so much of a tenth rate Western, some of the reporting viewers might have been better pleased. As it was, it all "fell absolutely flat", many obviously thought, being ridiculous in its story and in the way Doctor Who was involved, and corny in its script. The final episode was apparently widely considered even more idiotic than the preceding ones, with a good deal of gratuitous violence thrown in ("All that shooting for such ridiculously trifling misdemeanours."): "The story was hackneyed, ridiculous and dull"; "A weak and puerile plot"; "The script, even for a children's programme, was absolute rubbish"; "Appeared crude even beside the worst that reaches us from America". A small minority of the sample did seem to quite like the OK Corral story, because they like Westerns anyway and thought this one fairly exciting in the "old style Western" manner, and because it made a change from the "monsters" of previous Doctor Who stories. However, the reporting viewers on the whole seemed pretty disgusted with a story that was not in the science-fiction genre they associate with Doctor Who, and which was not in itself, in their opinion, convincing or exciting.'

In more recent years a number of reviewers have attempted to salvage The Gunfighters' reputation. Simon Black, for example, made the following points in Spectrox Issue 7 in 1988: 'The plot is theoretically historical, though if you read the actual details you'll find this story none too accurate, but who cares?... For a Hartnell story it doesn't lose pace or the viewer's attention too often over ninety minutes, and raises many a deliberate laugh along the way.'

This rather half-hearted defence is less than convincing, and at the end of the day the story must be adjudged one of the least effective of the Hartnell era.

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This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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