Doctor Who
The Gunfighters

Starring: William Hartnell
BBC Audio
RRP: 13.99
ISBN: 978 1 4056 7691 5
Available 05 February 2007

It's 1881, and in the Wild West settlement of Tombstone, Arizona, there are three strangers in town: "Doctor Caligari", "Steven Regret" and "Miss Dodo Dupont". They've arrived in a 20th-century blue police box, and they're about to wander into a whole heap o' trouble... The Doctor is in need of a dentist, but the sort of anaesthetic Doc Holliday uses comes out of a liquor bottle. He's in the middle of a feud with the Clanton family, while Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson are trying to keep the peace. There's a gunfight at the OK Corral brewing and, if the Doctor and his friends aren't careful, they're gonna get caught in the crossfire...

With the release of this double CD, there's only The War Machines left to go before we have a continuous chronological run of BBC audio releases stretching from Galaxy 4 to The Wheel in Space. I wish The War Machines was being published first, because there a few short sections of that story that weren't issued on VHS because of cuts in the prints held by the BBC's film and videotape library.

Still, The Gunfighters isn't bad either - contrary to received fan wisdom, which for decades held that this was one of the weakest Doctor Who stories ever. Peter Purves, who plays Steven and who provides the narration to this soundtrack, also hated the serial when he was making it, as he admits in an interview towards the end of the second disc. However, having reacquainted himself with the story, he has revised his opinion of what is, in fact, an enjoyable and innovative tale.

Writer Donald Cotton gives us the highest comedy quotient since The Romans and his own The Myth Makers. As in those earlier serials, William Hartnell evidently relishes the opportunity to perform in some lighter scenes. We are of course denied visual delights such as the Doctor's glee at being able to spin a couple of pistols in his hands and Steven tripping over his own spurs, but we can still hear the Doctor repeatedly getting Wyatt Earp's (John Alderson) name wrong and Steven's phoney American accent. The latter is probably an in-joke regarding the actor's first role in the series, as Morton Dill in The Chase.

Dodgy accents among the rest of the cast are less forgivable, though it's worth listening out for the voices of Gerry Anderson stalwarts David Graham and Shane Rimmer.

As with The Myth Makers, the comedy gives way to tragic and bloody conflict during the final episode. Cotton takes enormous liberties with the historical events: in the real gunfight at the OK Corral, Wyatt, Morgan and Virgil Earp with Doc Holliday faced down Frank and Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton. Although Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne (who also appear in Star Trek's Wild West episode, Spectre of the Gun) were present, there is conflicting evidence as to whether or not they actually participated, and both men survived. The Clantons' father had died several months previously. There was no one by the name of Reuben Clanton, and neither Johnny Ringo nor Phineas Clanton was in town at the time. Warren Earp did live in Tombstone with his brothers, but he missed the battle and was shot dead in a bar fight nearly 20 years later.

The serial is also unique for its use of a song, "The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon", verses of which punctuate and illustrate the unfolding narrative - though it does get a little tedious towards the end of the adventure. The original recordings of all the sections of this song, performed by Lynda Baron, are included at the close of the second CD, the first time that these recordings have been published.

Four episodes of well-paced comedy-drama, The Gunfighters goes with a bang.

Richard McGinlay

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