Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 121: A Holiday for the Doctor (The Gunfighters, Episode One)
“To the pain that is a toothache,
the Doctor's not immune,
Now there'll be blood upon the sawdust,
at the Last Chance Saloon”
Ah, The Gunfighters. The worst Doctor Who story of all time. That's the common thinking, isn't it? The story was pretty much declared as the worst in the mid-70s (based on low viewing figures, I believe) and that label has kind of stuck over the years. As with much of Season Three, I've never seen it, so I'll be making my mind up as I go along over the next few days.
It has to be said, if we're basing things on this first episode alone, we're far from scraping rock bottom. We're firmly back in comedy territory now, and it works. It's hard to believe that this is the same show that only a handful of episodes back gave us something dark like The Massacre - we've swung wildly in another direction here.
There's humour to be found almost from the off, with Steven and Dodo thrilled by where they've landed. It's nice to see that, actually, as it's become rare of late. Often, the format this year has been 'Where are we Doctor? Oh really? Let's get on with the adventure, then!'. The reaction here puts me in mind of Barbara's happiness at meeting Marco Polo, or finding herself in an Aztec temple - it helps to make the companions seem real.
Dodo's pretty quick to go an raid the TARDIS wardrobe again (though Steven's gone for something pretty outlandish today, too), and it seems more-and-more as though that's her gimmick. She models the outfits available to the discerning time/space traveller. It seems an odd thing to say, but I like that they actively have to go and change once they realise where they are - it, again, makes it feel like they're exploring rather than just being dumped down somewhere and heading off to take part in the story.
In the End of the Line documentary on this DVD, Peter Purves comments that he “hated [The Gunfighters] so much” when they were making it (though he's changed his mind since then). It seems strange, because he's on fine form here. Steven tries so hard to fit in as a rough, tough cowboy, but he's constantly undermined when he trips over his spurs, or the step to the Saloon. Purves is given a chance to be really quite funny here, and that's nice to see.
The same can be said for Jackie Lane - this might be the best we've seen from her so far. I think it's fair to say that Dodo is even more useless than you remember while playing the Toymaker's games in The Celestial Toymaker, so it's nice to see her given more of a chance to shine here. The song that Steven and Dodo perform at the end of the episode (one of the things people often complain about in relation to the story) is fantastically fun, and the pair are working really well together.
Hartnell's being given plenty of comedy here, too, and it's fun to watch him during his encounter at the dentist. It's not been all that long since I spent a few days dealing with a dreadful toothache, so I can quite easily sympathise with the Doctor's pain. My notes for the episode are filled with little bits from that dentist scene that I could quote at you, but let's just say that I really enjoyed it.
One quote I can't let pass without mention though is his comment to Steven and Dodo in regards to their cover stories: “You can't walk in to a Western town and say you're from Outer Space!” - Love it.
Next Episode: Don't Shoot the Pianist