Doctor Who #119: The OK Corral

"Ah my dear Dodo, my dear Dodo! You know you're fast becoming a prey to every cliche-ridden convention in the American West."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 4 of The Gunfighters. First aired May 21 1966.

IN THIS ONE... The fight at the O.K. Corral.

REVIEW: The last episode with its own title until the new series begins, The OK Corral promises to get the Doctor more involved by deputizing him as a lawman, but unfortunately, history (or Hollywoodian history) will have its way. Since they can't really influence events, the TARDISeers are sidelined (one scene where the Doctor is pushed out of frame by a lawman turns out to be symbolic) as the western stars monopolize the stage. And perhaps the Doctor and his friends are so alien to the western genre that it can't go any other way. The Doctor holding a gun just never sits right, imagine him firing it. Of the three members of the TARDIS crew, only Steven might have seemed at ease with a weapon, but he gets short-changed throughout the story, more likely to clumsily drop his gun than to shoot it.

So a western with western stars it is. Wyatt Earp goes rogue after his brother's death, his face a mixture of resolve, anger and shame. Doc Holliday is, as ever, a sociopath, thoroughly enjoying himself and even allowing Dodo to hold him at gunpoint just to see the look on the lawmen's faces. Doc and the Earps are properly cool as avengers in black, walking slowly through a hail of gunfire, and doing their killing cold-bloodedly. I won't pretend the shoot-out is the best fight ever filmed - and it IS on film - but for Doctor Who, it's positively spectacular. There's a lot of missing and not a lot of reloading, but the deaths are violent and director Rex Tucker sure knows how to film feet (and not just so you see the dead bodies better). There's even a stunt in there as Ike Clanton falls dead from the top of a staircase after an unfortunate misfire. And while there's still a hint of the black comedy from the previous episodes, this is a lot like Cotton's Myth Makers - it ends on a savage, violent ending dictated by history. It did begin with a shroud being put over Charle the barman, so maybe we should have expected it.

The characters we're meant to be following don't get up to much. Steven's road trip with Johnny Ringo has no real purpose. The Doctor doesn't seem to know much about this era, perfectly willing to try and stop the massacre, something we know is futile. Which leaves Dodo to run into the action for no real reason and getting herself taken hostage by Ringo. It might have worked had it been staged properly. At least she gets to elbow the baddy in such a way as to get him killed by Doc Holliday's tiny back-up gun. It's no wonder then that the Doctor would leave Tombstone with a bad taste in his mouth, throwing away a souvenir just given him by Holliday. That the others wanted to stay a bit longer is less easy to explain. Haven't they learned their lesson?

VERSIONS: The Target novelization is wildly different from the aired episodes. There's a framing sequence that sets up Doc Holliday telling his story on his deathbed to a reporter. There's also a sequence in which the Doctor learns to use a shotgun and kills two bystanders accidentally(!). Kate Fisher is renamed Kate Elder. There's also more coarse language and sex than in any other Target book, including a scene in which the Doctor surprises Holliday in bed with his receptionist.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Though the Doctor is unfortunately on the margins, the episode has some furious action and good performances from the guest stars.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - I found myself humming the Ballad in the shower this morning, and I'm unsure whether that's a good or a bad thing regarding this story. Though it loses sight of the main characters eventually, it's still a fun black comedy, definitely undeserving of its bad reputation.


Kaiser The Great said...

I'm slowly moving through Classic Who now, trying to be a "real fan." The history of this series is obviously off, and the songs were annoying, but honestly this was the first serial where I loved Hartnell's Doctor. Until this one, I was resigned to be ambivalent about him, having found some of the serials interesting but never really connecting with his character. But with the Gunfighters, they found what makes him work, or maybe I did. All I know is subsequent episodes, I'm finding him much more Doctor-like and am enjoying his portrayal very much. Too bad they replaced him shortly after this one. Better late than never. "I have no intention of trying anything, only people keep giving me guns and do I wish they wouldn't."


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