One thing that you have to give to the early Doctor Who
were willing to try new things. Case in
point: The Gunfighters
from the show's third season. This old
west adventure was the first Who story set entirely in
also decided to have a song narrate the show.
This tune, the Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon acts as a sort
Chorus. It was an interesting idea that
was mildly entertaining at first, but the song quickly wore out its
became grating by the time the serial was finished.
That song probably has a lot to do with this
story's infamy among Doctor Who
fans. Often cited as one of the worst
stories ever, it's actually a decent, if minor adventure that works
despite some hard to ignore flaws.
The Doctor and the crew of the TARDIS (Steven Taylor (Peter
Purves) and Dodo Chaplet (Jackie
Lane)) find themselves in Tombstone, Arizona,
circa 1881. When they realized just
where and when they are, Steven and Dodo run into the TARDIS and
change into western garb, excited to check out the local scenery. The Doctor, however, has a very bad toothache
and runs off to see the local dentist while his companions book a room
night at the local saloon/inn. At the
saloon Steven and Dodo meet the Clayton brothers, Ike, Phineas and
are looking for the gunslinger Doc Holiday.
They blame him for the death of their other brother, Reuben, and
kill him. Meanwhile The Doctor has found
a physician, none other than Doc Holliday himself who has just been
the Clayton's are gunning for him.
After pulling the diseased tooth, Holliday notes a very
vague resemblance between himself and his patient.
Not charging him for the service, Holliday
even gives The Doctor his six-shooter when he hears that the old man is
to the saloon. As Holliday predicted,
once the Clayton's hear Steven refer to his friend as "The Doctor" they
that the time-traveler is the gunslinger and no amount of talking will
them otherwise. That looks like a sticky
situation but just add in sheriff Wyatt Earp, his two brothers Warren
Virgil, along with Bat Masterson and the desperado Johnny Ringo and the
travelers find themselves about to be caught in the middle of one of
famous gunfights of the old west.
Seeing this story for the first time makes me realize that
it has been unfairly maligned in the past.
This adventure has a lot going for it, especially since they're
western. There's a lot of action, the
sets look decent (much better than a lot of the other adventures from
time), and the humor works well. It's
actually one of the more violent episodes from this era too, which
isn't a bad
thing. The gunfight at the OK Coral that
ends the story is exciting (even if it has nothing to do with the real
and there's even a bartender who gets shot in cold blood just for
name! That's what the target audience
wants when they think of a western.
It has been said that William Hartnell really wanted to do a
western and if that is the case, it shows here.
He's at the top of his form in this serial.
He rarely blows a line (something that
happens all too frequently in this part of the show's run) and he
seems to be having a lot of fun. He gets
into his role as time traveler (and later as deputy) and plays it very
If the show has so many good points, why does it have such a
poor reputation? Well, there are a few
flaws, all of them hard to ignore. While
William Hartnell does a splendid job, Peter Purves, dress up in a
of a western outfit, overacts to a large extent. It's
not as bad as in The Chase, but he really needs to
tone it down some. For American audiences
accents that everyone employs are absolutely wretched.
Haven't these people ever heard an American
talk? If so, they don't have the ability
to duplicate it. There are a couple of
plot holes too (why does The Doctor take a gun every time someone hands
The main reason that I think this story has gone down as one
of the worst however is one single stylistic choice:
the use of a song running through the
serial. I'll give them credit for trying
something new, but stringing in The
Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon though each and every episode,
verses as the story progressed, just didn't work at all.
At first the song was nice, establishing the
setting with a few lines:
On your way then you cowboys
The time will be soon
When there's blood on the sawdust
In "The Last Chance" Saloon.
But they used it again, and again, and again. It
was supposed to be some sort of Greek
Chorus, but it only retold the events that we've already seen:
Johnny Ringo has found her
Johnny Ringo's found Kate
The gunslinger's got her
Now what is her fate?
Yeah, we know. It's
arguable the worst when Steven and Dodo sing the song (several times!)
saloon. You just can't get away from
If you can manage to ignore, or just tune out, the long
repetitive song, this is actually a solid, if minor, Doctor Who adventure.
This four part adventure comes on a single DVD.
This show comes with the original mono soundtrack that fits the show
fine. The dynamic range is nothing to write home about, but the
generally crisp and clear and there is no background noise, tape hiss,
distortion or dropouts. There are optional subtitles in English.
The full frame B&W image is impressive. The Restoration Team
excellent job, really making the most of what they had to work
image is nicely balanced and the definition and level of detail is very
The contrast has been adjusted too to create a very pleasing
The blacks are deep and inky and the whites are solid without blooming. This is an excellent looking picture.
This disc has some great extras included, as is the standard for Doctor
releases. There is a commentary track for all episodes featuring
Peter Purves, Shane Rimmer, David Graham and Richard Beale, production
assistant Tristan de Vere Cole and moderator Toby Hadoke. These Who commentary tracks are just about
always enjoyable to listen to, and this one is no exception. Peter Purves has great recall of the taping
of the show and is forthcoming with a lot of fun stories.
especially liked when the contributors got around to discussing the
horrific Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon. It's pretty entertaining.
Other featurettes include The End of the Line: Doctor
Who (43 min) a very
informative look at the behind-the-scenes changes that took place
third season and beyond, changes that could have derailed the show. The documentary focuses on the various
producers who manned the show after Verity Lambert departed and their
takes on the Doctor as well as some of the problems that occurred
transitions (mainly when one producer bought a story for the successor). This is a great look at the nuts-and-bolts of
the early stories and a must-see for any die-hard Who fan.
That documentary would be enough for most
shows, but they've always gone the extra mile on these classic Doctor
releases. There's also a Tomorrow's
Times: The First Doctor (14 minutes)
where excerpts from reviews of Hartnel's Doctor Who stories are read
originally published at the time of the show's original airing. I found it fascinating to hear what they said
about the first story as well as the critic's thoughts on the
In addition there is a pop-up
informational text option which is very informative as
does give some dry statistics, like how many people viewed each
there are also some interesting notes such as script changes that were
background information on the supporting characters. The extras
rounded off with, a couple of photo galleries, and the listings from
Times in .pdf format.
This installment of Doctor Who has been unfairly maligned as one of the
in the series. It's not that bad by a
long shot. There's a solid story, some
good action (it actually gets fairly violent at the end) and some
situations. On top of that William
Hartnell does a great job in this one and the Restoration Team has
worked their magic too. If you've been
avoiding this because of the serial's reputation, do yourself a favor
it out. Recommended.