Sunday, June 7, 2009

Z1 - A Holiday For The Doctor

The reaction that The Gunfighters received when it originally aired in 1966 was that of disappointment, anger, and almost disgust. The main consensus amongst the viewers (and the makers of Doctor Who) is that a small budget British science fiction show should never have attempted to make an American western within the tiny confines of a BBC studio. In fact, the low ratings and record low audience appreciation figures led to the end of the historical stories, the very type of story that had once been a mainstay during the first three years of Doctor Who.

Fortunately, history has been kinder to The Gunfighters as the years of worn on. It possibly the (intentionally) funniest Doctor Who story ever made. Forget the lack of budget to portray Tombstone, Arizona, in a BBC studio. Forget the dodgy American accents. Forget the wild inaccuracies in regards to the actual established events. I have seldom had more fun watching a Doctor Who episode.

The opening episode contains some truly hilarious lines, a great little plot resolving around the mistaken identity of Doc Holliday, and some of the best performances out of the show's regulars ever seen. Peter Purves is an absolute delight as "Steven Regret", the singer of the fictitious musical troupe that the trio use as their cover whilst in Tombstone. His reaction to his being made to sing at gunpoint towards the end of the episode is priceless. Jackie Lane is actually quite good, too, if only overshadowed as she doesn't get any of the good lines.

But it is William Hartnell who excels the most in this episode. His unfamiliarity with the culture of the American West, his amusing reaction to Kate strapping a gunbelt on him, the fact that he is basically playing the blissfully unaware straight man to all the events that are going on around him - all these things show off Hartnell's adept skill at comedy. His initial scene in the dentist chair with Doc Holliday is a total hoot.

Sod the historians. This is such wonderful fun!


Anonymous said...

Totally agree, the dentist's chair scene is magnificently played. Did notice that Mr Hartnell never stood up straight in this episode, I think this is the first time his illness has started to show.

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