Shows - Review
Doctor Who (1963-1989)
Episode: A Holiday for the Doctor
Review by: Michael Hickerson
In reviewing The Gunfighters?, it would be very tempting for me to throw out such comments as "Well, the horses do have all the best lines" and "Isn't it ironic that Steven uses the psuedonym of Regret, becuase that is exactly what you'll feel after sitting through all four episodes of this one." Yes, it would be very, very tempting to do these things.
It would also be tempting to tell say that is pretty much one of those Who stories that sits at the back of the collection, rarely seeing the light of day unless I'm either a) bored, b) working my way through the Harntell years and come to it or c) trying to cure insomnia (for other great Hartnell years insomnia cures see The Web Planet or The Ark. Better than Sominex!)
It might also be tempting to point out that the ideal way to view The Gunfighters is in episode length segments. Viewing it any longer than that would ruin part of the fun and the episodic nature of the Hartnell years, plus the fact that if you have to hear that wretched song more than four times in a row, you will look around for blunt objects to hurl at the television set. Either that or make anyone else in the room with you who is a non-Who fan wonder why you're screaming at the television to please, for the love of all things holy to shut the heck up.
It would also be tempting for me to point out that The Gunfighters has a pretty bad reputation among the Who community and that it's a deserved one. This would then be followed up by sarcastic lines about the horses having all the best lines and the sagebrush looking embarased to part of this one.
Yes, it would be very tempting to use any of the things I've alluded to above as a way to discuss The Gunfighters. But, luckily, as a reviewer, I'm above these things. Instead, this time out, I decided to sit down and put aside all my preconcieved notions of The Gunfighters. I decided that maybe, just maybe I'd been unfair to it over the years. After all, I used to not really get what was so special about The Aztecs or The Daemons or Ghost Light. But with patience and repeated viewings, all of them grew on me -- to the point that several of the stories I mentioned made a jump up my list of what I consider to be classics of Doctor Who.
So maybe I just wasn't coming to The Gunfighters with the right frame of mind. Maybe I hadn't been fair. Maybe I just needed to give it a "last chance."
Unfortunately, it didn't help.
Sorry, but no matter how much I tried to really sit back and enjoy The Gunfighters, it just didn't work. The Gunfighters is, without a doubt, one of the low points of the Hartnell years -- and one of the low points of all Doctor Who. I've stated before there are some whole stories I'd gladly trade in for a smidge of some of the other lost Who adventures. The Gunfighters is one of those stories.
What it appears The Gunfighters is trying to do is be a parody of the Amercian western genre that was quite popular at the time it was made It certainly has a lot of the cliches. The story, such as it is, tries to pick apart and parody some of the best Westerns out there. Indeed, watching the story this time around, I was struck by how much it wanted to be a send-up of one of the classic Westerns, High Noon. One of the things that High Noon is most known for is that it used a song to underscore the events unfolding on screen. The difference between the two is that High Noon's song is not intrusive and actually enhances the internal struggle going on within our hero. In The Gunfighters the song serves as a way to just annoy the living tar out of me every four to five minutes. The bad part is that at one point Stephen and Dodo choose to sing this song, thus inflicting it upon us even more.
The song is dreadful. It does little to enhance the story and it serves as a major obstruction from being able to really enjoy it.
Then, you've got the situation itself -- the Doctor comes to the Old West to have a toothache cured. OK, so I guess I can see that the hook of the Doctor's toothache would work, but (and this is kind of huge!) the man can travel ANYWHERE in SPACE and TIME! Take a second and read that one again... let it sink it a bit. If I were the Doctor and found myself in the old West, where they didn't use little things like anathesia or the most sanitary implements I think I'd hope back in the TARDIS and go find some far flung future place (say the mid 1980s) where they could help my toothache without pulling out the tooth. And that didn't require a lot of pain and suffering on my part. But, no, the Doctor does not follow this course and instead has his tooth pulled (it's an amusing enough scene to see Hartnell in Doc Holiday's chair and reluctantly opening his mouth, but that's about all). Heck, if my choices are -- old West tooth pull or hoping to find the far-flung future of the Star Trek universe where they could painlessly beam the tooth out... well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out where I'd be.
But once we get past the toothache dilemma (early in episode one I might add), the story descends into the standard Hartnell years dilemma of the crew is separated from the TARDIS and must find a way to get back. There's a lot of chasing around in this one and some mistaken identity. Seeing the Doctor mistaken for Doc Holiday is a joke that wears thin very quickly and then the methods taken to ensure the Doctor and company hang around until the big gun fight (thus inflicting the song upon us even more... have I mentioned how much I dislike it enough?!?) begin to strain credulity by the end of episode two.
So, I admit, this time around I didn't find anything new or different to recommend about The Gunfighters. Instead, my original opinion of it stayed the same -- it's Who so I'm going to have it on tape and I will occasionally (as in once very ten or so years) sit down and watch the whole story. Otherwise, it's a rather poorly done story that is going to be collecting a lot of dust at the back of my collection.
It should feel right at home back there with the tumbleweeds.
Last Updated: 10/25/2006
Other Reviews by Michael Hickerson
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