Archive for the 'First Doctor' Category

26
May
10

William Hartnell: Reflections and Rankings

William Hartnell lasted for 29 stories, just over 3 seasons. At this point, I have no one to compare him to, so I guess I’ll go ahead and say he’s my favorite Doctor. For now.

I almost liked Hartnell’s Doctor more at the beginning of the show than at the end. His grumpiness and mysterious nature was interesting and had potential for some good character exploration. But, as often happens with television shows, they start to determine the direction of the show and characters change. This was even more evident with Susan, originally strange and precocious and eventually just whiny and annoying. The Doctor fared better, though, as is evident by the fact that the show continued.

Hartnell showed some pretty decent range, handling his grumpiness, his sensitive side, his adventurous nature and his intelligence with ease. He easily moved between story structures, fitting into all of them. His comic timing was almost always spot on.

The Hartnell era did suffer, though, from some incidents of poor story telling. Even worse was the slow pace of a lot of the stories. This is likely just a side effect of television in the 1960s, but Hartnell’s age made it a bit worse. While in my reviews I try to give the show credit where credit is due, the truth is many of the stories are incredibly dated. While the sci-fi conventions may have been new and/or unique at the time, a lot of them have become rather tired (such as computers taking over the world). I ignored that fact for the sake of my reviews, but many other reviews I have read complain about the cliched nature of many of the Hartnell stories. While I don’t believe that is fair (many weren’t cliched at the time), it does affect our opinions of them. And that characteristic of being dated is not helped by William Hartnell being so old. It can sometimes make a lot of the stories seem older than they are.

Additionally, there is a decided lack of action in many of the stories. While that doesn’t bother me too much, it made some of the longer stories, especially in Seasons 1 and 2, drag. The missing and reconstructed episodes didn’t help much.

Overall, I enjoyed William Hartnell’s Doctor. Obviously, or I wouldn’t still be watching. I enjoyed his clever wit and thought he gave the character a nice depth. Depth, of course, is something lacking in many of the companions. Here are my rankings of the companions from the Hartnell Era:

Female
1. Vicki – Cute, endearing, adventurous, and a good relationship with Hartnell’s Doctor.
2. Barbara – A bit uneven, but strong when she needed to be and not afraid to keep the boys in line.
3. Susan – Intriguing, but her character was unable to deliver. Not sure if it was Carol Anne Ford’s or the writers’ fault.
4. Polly – Hot, strong, and smart. Would be higher than Susan if she played more of a role.
5. Dodo – Could have been higher on the list, but was really a background player.
6. Katarina – Dumb as rocks and only around for a couple episodes. Great death, though.

Male
1. Ben – I like his attitude. Very no-nonsense-let-me-at-em. I like the cut of his jib, you might say.
2. Ian – While I didn’t buy Sir Ian the warrior, he kept the Doctor in line and approached problems thoughtfully.
3. Steven – Started so strong, but faded fast. Had no real role of his own. Again, not sure if it was the actor or the writers.

Overall Top 5
1. Vicki
2. Ben
3. Ian
4. Barbara
5. Susan

Now, for some story rankings. I’ll do 5 favorite and 5 least favorite. That should not be confused with “Best” and “Worst” which might not be the same.

Favorite
1. The Time Meddler – Great comic interaction between the Doctor and the Monk, a glimpse into the Doctor’s world, a strong performance from both Vicki and Steven.
2. The Daleks’ Master Plan – This would be number 1 if it weren’t for the Chase and Egypt episodes. Chen was a great villain, the Time Destructor conclusion was intense.
3. The Myth Makers – Very clever and funny, generally a treat. It also features a good (if unexpected) departure for Vicki.
4. The Daleks – Take away the cave jumping, and this story is a great introduction to a great race of villains. I wonder whatever happened to the lame Thals…
5. The Sensorites – This story gets a bad rap, but I liked it.

Least Favorite
1. The Chase – The Daleks were bumbling disasters, the comedy was unfunny, the plot was unimaginative.
2. The Edge of Destruction – Why was this story even made? Nothing happened and this was the point at which Susan’s character began to devolve. And the explanation of the melting clock and the stabbing made no sense.
3. The Crusade – Boring!
4. The Reign of Terror – Boring!
5. The Smugglers – Boring!

I’ve already watched most of The Power of the Daleks, Troughton’s first story. I can’t decide whether I’m enjoying it or not, which probably isn’t a good sign. At any rate, I’m looking forward to the next era of Doctor Who!

18
May
10

Story 029: The Tenth Planet

The Tenth Planet, William Hartnell’s final story as the Doctor, is so much better than season 4′s first story, The Smugglers, that I can only shake my head at how The Smugglers made it into this season. I enjoyed the story and the concept, although I felt the approach and destruction of Mondras happened a little too quickly. And it is truly a shame that the final episode, including the Doctor’s regeneration, is missing. There is a quick clip of Hartnell at the TARDIS controls, but the final scene itself is gone. The reconstruction of the episode, however, is the best I’ve seen so far.

The travelers arrive on Earth at a space command center at the South Pole in the distant future of December, 1986. A space mission is coming to an end, but it runs into some serious issues. A new planet, that looks identical to Earth, only upside down, zooms into Earth’s orbit and destroys the ship. The Doctor tells those in charge at the base that he knows what’s going to happen. They, of course, do not listen to him. Led by an incredibly irrational General Cutler, those at the base seem to be a group of angry, reactionary hotheads. With the exception of Dr. Barclay (and, of course, the filler characters that just blindly follow orders). I kind of wanted them all to be killed off by the Mondas inhabitants (the Cybermen). They were all so obnoxious. One thing I did notice, however, was that the world seemed to be full of international cooperation. There were British and American people at the base, they communicated on the phone with a chubby man whose accent I couldn’t place, and received calls from Geneva. Everyone banded together. What I liked about this, is that they didn’t point it out. Often, shows or movies will point out how well everyone is getting along and there hasn’t been a war in years and blah blah….this was just presented as natural. International cooperation has always been an optimistic image, and the writers of this story built it in as if it were not particularly remarkable. Nice touch.

Reanimated by Technology

The Cybermen are a great race of villains. For a couple of reasons. First, they’re truly creepy with their blank faces and the way they talk by just opening their mouth like a speaker. And their robot voices rule. But creepiest of all is the fact that they are something like human. The Cybermen are a depiction of our future. As humans strive for longer and longer life spans and begin replacing our natural parts with technological devices we lose our humanity. And this has happened to the Cybermen. They say that their brain are just like that of a human, but they can no longer feel emotion or empathy. They are truly posthuman Frankensteins. Elaine Graham would describe them as existing at the gates of humanity. Mondas used to be Earth, but left the solar system. While that isn’t really explained, it is implied that the Cybermen truly used to be human. Which makes their lack of humanity even more terrifying. They are us. I know that the Cybermen have at least two more stories in the future, I hope they don’t change too much, because I think they’re a great set of villains.

I must admit, though, that attacking a remote South Pole base twice is not the best strategic move. Maybe it had something to do with the bomb? Unfortunately, as terrifying as the Cybermen are, they really don’t do very much. They show up, do some talking, and are relatively easy to defeat. The plot generally doesn’t have much to it. The quality of the story lies much more in the concept of the Cybermen and regeneration than it does in excellence of script.

The supporting cast is unremarkable. As I mentioned, Cutler is a hothead reactionist. We don’t really get much out of Barclay. He’s apparently a good guy, but there is no depth. And everyone else is bland, following orders. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is standard for the show. And that’s fine. But, it is not really even worth mentioning. In fact, I think that from now on I shall only mention the supporting cast if it is good….It seems that most other reviews I read of the stories point out the flatness of the guest cast. Does it really matter? They’re only around for one story arc. If a good story is being told, I only need my main characters to have depth.

In this story, we don’t get a lot of depth from the Doctor, mostly because he spends much of the second half of it unconscious. But it seemed that Hartnell was essentially phoning in his final appearance. And Polly I’m not sure has a lot of depth. She does stand up to the Cybermen, which something Dodo never would have done. But, when the general asks her why she wants to stay with Barclay she replies “I can make him coffee or something.” Good job, writers. No wonder there are no women at the South Pole base in 1986.

Ben, however, continues to impress me. He’s still a take-charge dive right into the battle kind of companion. He has a no nonsense air about him. And he is the hero of the story. With Polly and the Doctor taken hostage by the Cybermen, Ben is left to work on the bomb Cutler had intended to blow up Mondas. He recognizes that the Cybermen are afraid of the radiation and comes up with a plan to expose and kill them. The plan is successful and enough time is bought so that Mondas, which had been sucking the energy from Earth, was destroyed by sucking up too much energy. This all happened too quickly for my taste. Obviously, they are under time constraints for the show, but it seemed like everything went down in a couple of hours. They could have given the impression that a few days had passed at least. But instead I am to believe a planet from who knows where flew at ludicrous speed into Earth’s orbit, sends some scouts, sucks the energy, sends some warships, takes two people hostage, then sucks too much energy that it melts all in the span of a few hours? That’s just not plausible for me. At least indicate that a week or two pass or something.

Now, the Doctor’s regeneration. It is not exactly explained what happened. In the third episode, without warning, the Doctor simply falls over, as if from exhaustion. He lies motionless for the entire episode, I figured that was all there was to it, Hartnell would wake up as Troughton. But, no, he awoke for the final episode not particularly concerned, only to fall asleep again while being held hostage. At that point he knew there was a problem and needed to get back to the TARDIS. Once there, he fiddles with the controls while the lights flash and things go crazy all around him. He says that his body seems to have worn thin. I thought that was a brilliant description, it had been worn out and he needed a new one. Did he need to be in the TARDIS for a successful regeneration? What if he hadn’t been able to get back? What controls was he messing with? Were they helping him to regenerate?

He collapses at the controls. In the reconstruction, a closeup of Hartnell’s face fades into a closeup of Troughton’s face and that’s the end. It was all very intense, kind of in the same way as the rush to the TARDIS in the wake of the Time Destructor was intense in the Daleks’ Master Plan. Did that perhaps hasten the necessity of the regeneration? Did it have a greater impact on the Doctor than we (or he) knew?

Generally I was fascinated by the regeneration and I hope we get some more explanation in the next story.

The Tenth Planet was very good and I hope is a sign of what Season 4 will be now that Smugglers is behind us and we have a new, younger Doctor. The next story, entirely missing, is a Dalek story. Nothing like throwing the newbie right into the fire. Does the Doctor still have all of his memories? How many times has this happened to him? Had it happened to Susan before? So many questions that are probably never answered…..

William Hartnell: Funny, Grumpy, Mysterious

11
May
10

Story 028: The Smugglers

The Smugglers was so boring. I kept falling asleep and didn’t even want to finish it. The plot structure seemed to be something out of season 1 or 2, although the violence of season 3 was still evident. And it featured a hunt for some booty.

The Wikipedia tells me that the story was filmed with Season 3, but intended to hold over until Season 4. It was a historical story, probably supposed to contrast with the futuristic, yet present-tense war machines. It is William Hartnell’s next-to-last story, and his last complete story. He played it well and Ben and Polly weren’t too bad. I guess there was nothing wrong with the story…it just wasn’t interesting.

Never Trust a Pirate!

The travelers arrive on the beach of Cornwall. Ben and Polly are skeptical that they have traveled through time, as one might expect. Ben is worried (and whining) about making it back to his Navy ship for deployment. They wander the cliffs and come to a church. The churchwarden (I’m guessing that’s some sort of caretaker?) gets some medical attention from the Doctor and tells him a cryptic secret: Ringwood, Smallbeer, and Gurney. The travelers leave and soe pirates, led by Pike and his crony Cherub, show up demanding to know the location of the booty (booty is a much more piratey word than treasure….). When the warden doesn’t tell them, they kill him and go in search of the travelers.

This is where the season 1 and 2 structure comes in….Ben and Polly are arrested and held in one place while the Doctor is captured by Pike and held in another. It made me think of The Daleks or the story where Barbara and Susan were in jail (I forget the exact story). I’m sure that this motif continues to appear regularly, but there was no particularly interesting twist to this. It just seemed a bland step backward from Season 3.

Pike begins working with the greedy Squire to try to find out the location of the Booty. Cherub refers to the Doctor as Sawbones a lot, Pike betrays the squire, wounding him, and also betrays Cherub, killing him. It just goes to show that you can’t trust a pirate. And I won’t get into the incredibly racist portrayal of Jamaica, a black pirate. I’ll just let the image say it all:

Dis Booty sho am good, massah!

Some army types show up, there’s a great sword battle that I couldn’t see because all episodes of this story are missing. They find the Booty, but the army types kill Pike. I’m not sure what happens to the Booty because the travelers sneak off to the TARDIS and make a break for it.

Ben and Polly, in their first official story as companions, weren’t too shabby. Ben showed some guts, which I expected since that’s how he was set up in his previous story. And, besides, we can’t exactly portray a member of the Royal Navy as a wimp, can we? I feel like I got a decent feel for their characters. Polly is strong, but definitely a background-lurker. Ben likes to take charge and is quick to fight. I could see almost an Ian and Barbara relationship with the doctor developing…but since the Doctor will soon no longer be the same Doctor, I’m guessing that we won’t really see it develop that way.

In short, this story wasn’t terrible. I just didn’t like it. Maybe I just don’t like pirates. Or maybe I don’t find hidden Booty a very good plot device. I don’t know. The Wikipedia informs me that this was the least watched story for twenty years, averaging around 4.6 million viewers. And I think that it is still the second-least watched story of all time. Worse than The Gunfighters! So it can’t just be me. And as a Season Premier? It should have top ratings. Lame. I’m looking forward the the Doctor’s switch over in the next story, though. It’s GOT to pick up for that, right?

Booty count: 8

27
Apr
10

Season 03: Reflections

Season 3 was the most consistent in terms of quality so far. The subject matter, on the other hand, varied widely giving us a taste of aliens and humans, past, present, and future, and a companion carousel that didn’t exactly lend itself to depth of character.

Generally, the stories were good, but unremarkable. In fact, as I look back over the list, it’s difficult to decide which ones I think are worth mentioning, beyond The Daleks’ Master Plan. All of them are better than much of Season 2, but there really aren’t any standouts, good or bad. Part of this may have to do with the large number of missing episodes. It’s difficult to get a good feel for a story when it can’t be watched in its entirety. I mean, sure you can have an idea of the quality of the plot, but the scenery and the photography and the acting are difficult to gauge.

The companions, on the other hand are easy to gauge: generally crappy. Vicki, who stuck around for only two stories in season 3, was the stand out. She is probably my favorite companion so far. However, Steven suffered from a steady decline of characterization and Dodo never really had any characterization to decline. Neither of them developed much of a personality, although Steven shined on his own in The Massacre and Dodo had some bright spots here and there. So they could act, they just weren’t really given the chance to. We never got to know Dodo at all and her departure was, quite simply, awfully done. I have a feeling they just didn’t know what to do with her. She was supposed to be so young that had to keep her kind of naive (to a fault, some might say). But this also ruined Steven’s character because they apparently felt they had to lower his maturity level as well (see the Celestial Toymaker). The introduction of Polly and Ben at the end of the season seems promising. Ben seems to have a backbone and at least Polly’s good-looking.

By the end of the season, William Hartnell was clearly beginning to tire. The season was ridiculously long (44 episodes, running from September 1965 to July 1966). And the role he was playing was starting to tire as well. He was increasingly out of place amongst the youthful companions, and it’s not surprising that he only lasts a couple of stories with the hip Londoners Polly and Ben. The grandfather role he played with Susan and Vicki disappeared almost immediately. Dodo’s lack of development may have been in part due to this change in the Doctor. Overall, I have enjoyed Hartnell. Of course, I have no other Doctors to compare him to, but his wry wit and strong general acting have been worth continuing this journey. We’ll see how his forthcoming departure goes.

The upcoming fourth season includes 9 stories, 2 of which are Dalek stories. It may be sacrilege to say this, but that might be overdoing the Daleks a bit. Remember what happened when they put both the Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Chase in the same season? There are no completely in-tact stories from Season 4, and unfortunately the Doctor Switch-Over is one of the missing.

Favorite Story: The Daleks’ Master Plan

Least Favorite Story: The Celestial Toymaker

Best Villain: The Daleks (or maybe Chen from the same story….)

Worst Villain: Wotan was groundbreaking, but not exactly engaging.

26
Apr
10

Story 027: The War Machines

Model of Wotan

The War Machines was definitely written to be a season finale. There were some groundbreaking plot points, the involvement of a main character in a plot, a (somewhat unexpected) departure, and the introduction of two new characters. So, there’s quite a bit going on.

The plot is pretty familiar to us now: a computer is put in charge of decision making and promptly decides that humans are not really necessary, beginning to systematically destroy them. We start with the arrival of the TARDIS in London sometime in the mid- to late-60s. The Doctor and Dodo land near the Post Office Tower. I had to look the tower up to learn about it. Fittingly for the story (and probably on purpose by the producers/writers), the tower was intended to be (and still is) a major telecommunications hub. They make surprisingly little mention of Steven, given Dodo’s rather emotional sendoff at the end of The Savages.

Now here is the primary weakness of this story: The Doctor and Dodo show up at the tower and are immediately given access not only to the room storing the world’s most advanced computer, Wotan, but also continuous, unquestioned access to its creators and operators. Apparently, off screen, the Doctor convinced them that he was a computer genius. Apparently in 1960s London the general hobbyist was given access to top-secret technology. It’s a good thing the Russians didn’t know that! But, given the Doctor’s access, the rest of the story was fine as far as plotting.

War Machine Attack!

Some of that plot must have been pretty original for its day. Starting with the basic idea that Wotan could communicate and control all of the other major computers in the world. This story aired in the summer of 1966. The ideas for ARPANET, the beginning of the Internet, began in 1962. However, work on the network did not begin until 1968 and I think that it was well after that the public were aware. So, either writer Ian Stuart Black was very clever or had some inside information. The Wikipedia tells me it was the idea of a technical advisor. Nice work. More on this later.

Wotan, days before taking control of the world’s computers, begins turning the people into zombies. Like in the Dalek Invasion of Earth, these are old-school zombies of the laboring type, not the later brain-eating type which I’m not sure had been popularized quite yet. This is the second time we’ve seen humans enslaved via mental manipulation. It’s not really a plot device that survive multiple uses, and I think two is about all it can handle.

Dodo with Polly and Ben

Anyway, Dodo is one of those enslaved and is instructed to bring the Doctor into the fold. Now, here’s something interesting: Wotan (who knew what TARDIS meant) referred to the Doctor as Doctor Who. This is the first time that he has been referred to as such. Until now there has been no semblance of a name. Now I know that he is never really given a proper name, but is that because he doesn’t have one? Where could Wotan have gotten the name? Perhaps he watches the show?

Of course, the Doctor cannot be zombified. Instead, he works with Polly and Ben, two friends Dodo met at a nightclub, to solve the mystery of what’s going on. Polly is zombified, but Ben (a sailor) is able find out that Wotan’s slaves are building a war machine that will keep the humans under control while Wotan takes over.

The Doctor is able to reprogram one of these War Machines and have it destroy Wotan instead. The world is saved! Dodo, meanwhile, sent to the country to recover, has decided she wants to stay in London. The Doctor is informed by Polly and Ben. The only goodbye Dodo gets is a “She sends her love.”

The Doctor is rightfully incredulous, mumbling something about taking her through time and space and that’s all the respect he gets. Seriously. There is no goodbye to Dodo whatsoever. She really got the shaft by the show’s producers here. The last we see of her, Dodo has been hypnotized. She does not even appear in the final episode (or maybe two) of the story. Instead, she’s just gone. Such poor treatment. I wonder how Jackie Lane felt about being written off the show in such a way….

The Doctor Confronts a War Machine

While I was shocked at the way Dodo was unceremoniously removed, I had a feeling she was leaving as soon as I saw they were in London. And the attention given to Polly and Ben indicated that they were going to be sticking around. They unwittingly follow the Doctor into the TARDIS just before it leaves. They seem alright. I like Ben…but then again, I liked Steven at first, too.

Now, for more groundbreaking. I’m sure this was one of the first shows to deal with computers in this way. I know that some of themes had come up prior in the Twilight Zone. In one episode, The Old Man in the Cave, a computer is left to make all major decisions for a group of humans after nuclear war. And in another episode (I forget the title), computers are put to work and eventually put the humans out of work. However, the controlling of other computers and the world generally was knew. The War Machines themselves were predecessors of the Terminator series. And the round flashing light was very similar to HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). There is little doubt that Stanley Kubrick, who moved to England in 1962 undoubtedly saw this story of Doctor Who. Additionally, the story had a very cinematic feel with moving cameras and obstructed shots. This has since become the goal of science fiction television shows such as Fringe. They all want to look more like movies and less like television.

The apparent impact of this story is impressive. On its own, the story is pretty good, although not the best I’ve seen so far. Season 3 is over and I’ve got some reflections to share in the next couple of days. Also, the First Doctor’s time is soon coming to an end. I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes.

So long, Dodo. You got the shaft.

17
Apr
10

Story 026: The Savages

I think Steven’s final story was his best. The Savages overall wasn’t too bad. It had more bright spots than bad ones and was mildly enjoyable. A bit of early misdirection on the nature of the savages and the bad guys made for some decent drama.

Spied on by Savages

The travelers arrive and the doctor is convinced he knows where they are, although Steven and Dodo have their doubts. In a nod to the show’s earlier days, the Doctor goes out on his own with a device to gather readings. He discovers that they are exactly where he thought they were, far in the future on a world that is apparently familiar to him, although he’s never been there. Meanwhile, Steven and Dodo hang out at the TARDIS where they are attacked by the presumed savages and their spears. The Doctor goes to the city where he is told that the people of the planet have been waiting for him “for lightyears,” which is nonsense of course, since a light year measures distance, not time. But at any rate, they are excited to finally meet the Doctor (the traveler from “beyond time”) and his companions (ahow were rescued and brought to the city by some soldiers).

Steven is overly impressed by how wonderful everything is in the city and we learn that there is some mysterious technology that makes the inhabitants super awesome. Skeptical Dodo sneaks off and witnesses their secret: They extract the life force from the savages! I’ve seen stuff like this before, although I wouldn’t be particularly surprised if this were one of the first times the idea that “life force” or emotion or something else could be drained in liquid form from a person in order to help another. A concept that would eventually lead to Soylent Green, even if the sources are dead in that movie.

The Doctor and Jano

The Doctor’s life force is transferred to the city’s leader Jano. And Jano comes out of the process questioning his own civilization’s actions. In order to demonstrate to us that he had started thinking like the Doctor, he did a William Hartnell impression that left a little to be desired. I guess it made it clear what was going on, but nobody can “hhmmm” and “quite right” like the Doctor.

As I mentioned, this was probably Steven’s best story. He actually grew a backbone as he led the Savage raid on the life force laboratory. He was written in this story as strong so that viewers would buy him as being able to lead the now-unified planet once the Doctor had gone. However, anyone that thought back to almost any other Steven story would know that he’s generally a wimp that hangs out in the background. In this story, though, he stands pretty strong and manages to do it without Ian’s self-righteousness. If his character had been given this kind of chance earlier in his tenure on the show, I would have liked him a lot more.

For (I think) the first time, we had a good goodbye scene. There was a touching moment between Dodo and Steven, and the Doctor’s strong vote of confidence for Steven was nice. Almost like the Doctor himself has matured a bit, being able to recognize when it’s time to let someone go.

Missing Steven Already

This story is entirely lost. The audio in the reconstruction I watched was not very good at all and most of the images were blurry and tough to make out. However, this one was done by a company with a butterfly logo (I forget the name) rather than Loose Canon and they included much more description of what was happening and subtitles. The audio was bad, but it has been just as bad on some of the Loose Canons reconstructions. The subtitles were helpful since the extant material was pretty bad.

So, not a great story, but not too bad. And easily Steven’s best story. Too bad it had to be his last. My assessment of Steven is that he was rather forgettable and disappointing. I thought he was very good when he started in The Time Meddler, but except for a little flash in The Massacre, he just couldn’t hold his own against the other primary characters (even Dodo). I’ll be interested to see his replacement in the season 3 finale…

Bye, Steven. You kind of sucked.

21
Mar
10

Story 025: The Gunfighters

The Doctor meets The Law

I did not know until after watching The Gunfighters that this story is supposedly one of the worst of all time. Apparently, it had a rather small viewing audience and some reviewer from back in the day called it a terrible story. The evaluation stuck. Had I known this before watching, I probably would have watched it differently. As it went, though, I don’t think the story was too bad. It’s not particularly good, but it’s entertaining and does not deserve the awful reputation it has been given.

The travelers arrive in 1881 Tombstone, Arizona, home of the most famous gunfight of all time. The Doctor has a toothache and walks into the shop of dentist Doc Holliday. Holliday actually was a dentist, although I don’t know if he ever had an office in Tombstone. Many Doc/Doctor gags ensue and are occasionally funny. More funny is the Doctor himself. Hartnell, throughout the story, plays a very subtle comedian, repeatedly referring to Wyatt Earp as Mr. Werp and introducing himself as Dr. Caligari (“Doctor who?” “Ah, yes, quite right.”).¬† Steven and Dodo manage to find some ridiculous early-Hollywood-style Western costumes in the TARDIS closet and take on the role of traveling musicians.

Dodo Oakley

It turns out that Holliday is being hunted by the Clanton brothers for killing another brother. He is good friends with Earp and Bat Masterson, the law in town. Of course, Wyatt Earp was not sheriff of Tombstone and Bat Masterson was not around when the gunfight at the OK Corral took place. I found it interesting that they chose to place Bat Masterson into the story at all, I wonder if maybe he was a famous cowboy in 1960s England, perhaps the television show Bat Masterson from the early sixties was popular there….

The Clantons take Steven and Dodo hostage after they confuse the Doctor for Doc. Holliday is a slimy bastard, giving the Doctor his gun. Why the Doctor didn’t realize he was being set up, I’m not sure, but he refers to Holliday as his friend throughout the story. Steven is eventually taken hostage by the Clantons and their hired gun, Johnny Ringo (who also played no role in the actual gunfight). In the meantime, Dodo leaves town with Holliday and his girlfriend Kate. She also seems to be quite taken with Holliday, acting as his friend much like the Doctor. I think this relationship was set up because Holliday, despite being slimy, was a pleasant man and was a good comic foil.

Steven Mix

In the end, Steven makes it back, Holliday returns with Dodo (whoforces him at gunpoint and seems quite proud  of herself. She gives a little jig and waves her hand when they arrive back in Tombstone. It was actually somewhat endearing.

In a jail break, the Clantons shoot Werp’s younger brother Warren. Werp and his newly-arrived other brother Virgil (who actually was the marshal in Tombstone) want revenge, challenging the Clantons to a showdown at the OK Corral at dawn. It ends with the Clantons dead, and the travelers are able to slip away and escape in the TARDIS.

Doc the Dentist

I’ve already the mentioned the humor as a high point of this story. Adding to the humor was the atrocious fake American accents. It was difficult to decide if this was a real attempt at making a Western or complete parody of the genre. I’m leaning toward parody because if that’s the case, it was played brilliantly. Werp and Masterson played it straight while Holliday did not. And the Clantons were pretty typical Western villains. Despite the horrible accents, the Clantons and Werp/Masterson actually put on performances that I would classify as pretty typical of 50s/60s American TV westerns like Gunsmoke or The Rifleman. Slightly more absurd and over-the-top than the later Westerns, as would be expected. So, the mix of comedy and accurate copy made for a well-constructed parody.

Now, for the low point. In fact, it was so low that I almost wanted to stop watching. I’m glad I had headphones so someone else on the train didn’t smash my computer. I’m sure anyone familiar with story already knows what’s coming: The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon. It was funny when Steven sang it with Dodo playing a ragtime piano. All that was missing from the scene was for the Clantons to shoot the floor and tell Steven to dance. But, the slow, dying noises of the lady that sang it about 40 times per episode were enough to drive me insane. It was enough to drop the story from enjoyable to merely entertaining. It could definitely be a reason for the story’s historically low ratings. But it’s not bad enough to make The Gunfighters the worst story ever (The Chase and Edge of Destruction are both worse, and I’m not even through the Hartnell years). Just the song was incredibly painful.

The Werps

Lastly, the focus on the Doctor’s distaste for violence continued a theme that has been going on for a few stories. In this one, he is practically afraid of handling a gun and is distinctly against the gunfight, even though he had been deputized by Werp. Yet, the humans cannot help bu be violent. They can’t stop themselves from killing one another, as even this lighthearted story ends with dead bodies. Violence has definitely been a theme throughout Season 3 and I’m starting to wonder how the Doctor’s attitude toward violence continues as we move through different Doctors starting not too long from now.




About These Adventures

This blog exists to document my trip through over 30 seasons of the British science fiction television show Dr. Who. Prior to beginning, I had never seen a single episode of Dr. Who and will be learning the show's mythology and experiencing it all for the first time. I began sometime in July of 2009. Hopefully it doesn't take me over 30 years to reach the end.

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