Monday, January 30, 2017

Recap: Doctor Who "The Gunfighters" Episode 1: A Holiday for the Doctor

Who doesn't love mixing Westerns with science fiction? The juxtaposition of the new and the old, the complex and the simple...

Okay, so it takes a bit more work than just tossing different elements together.
I mean, really, is it any wonder Firefly got the fan following it did?

So it's no wonder that Doctor Who has tried twice to make a Western episode catch on with audiences. Tried and failed both times, unfortunately. "A Town Called Mercy," though it certainly has its fans, seems to have left people thinking it should have had a bit more oomph to it, and "The Gunslingers" has often been called the worst serial of... ever.

Yeah, I'm diving right into the thick of Classic Doctor Who to start things off.
The serial begins with a shot of the Old West Town of Tombstone, Arizona. Or rather, a fairly good, if small, soundstage recreation.

Music: "So fill up your glasses, and join in the song. The law's right behind you, and it won't take long. So come, you coyotes, and howl at the moon. 'Til there's blood upon the sawdust in the Last Chance Saloon."

Ah, yes. "The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon." Because it wouldn't be a Western without a ballad, right? There's a reason that singing cowboys were a thing in the movies.

And I'm not just referring to Paint Your Wagon.
But after doing some research into others' reactions to this story, I've discovered that people get hung up on this song, since new verses accompany a great many of the serial's scene transitions. And the general consensus seems to be that the song is annoying, repetitive, and unnecessary.

Personally, I think the problem mostly stems from the modern format. This four-episode story is only 96 minutes long when you watch all four parts together, which means that the vast majority of people basically sit down and watch the DVD like... well, a DVD. Meaning that they will hear this ballad over and over and over and over and over and over. And yeah, it's definitely going to get grating. But back in 1966, audiences would only hear a few verses per episode, with an entire week between episodes, as opposed to modern binge-watching.

So I refuse to judge "The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon," simply because today's standards, expectations, and viewing methods all conspire against it. And since I didn't watch one episode of this per week to simulate being a viewer in the 60s, I really can't judge it fairly.

Anyway, some cowboys ride up to a sign reading "OK Corral," and one of them, Billy (David Cole), decides to put a few bullet holes in it.

Amusingly, the holes he puts in the sign were already there in the establishing shot, but that's neither here nor there.
One of his brothers chastises him over this. Shooting the sign, not screwing up continuity.

Ike: "Save your bullets for Holliday, boy."
Billy: "Oi ain't scaih'd o' Hollidai!"
Phineas: "Hear that, Oike? Brothah Billy ain't scared!"
Ike: "Nobody says yew was scared, boy. Ouh brothah Reuben, nah he wasn' scaih'd of 'm. But that didn't stop Holliday fillin' him full of holes."

I hate to go off on another tangent so quickly, but these accents are absolutely terrible. Say what you will about Benedict Cumberbatch's wandering American accent in Doctor Strange, but at least it wasn't... this.

Americans and Brits often have a hard time with the same nuances of each others' accents. Americans putting on bad British accents tend to lean toward either a Cockney/Liverpudlian mumble or this weird attempt at sounding posh. On the other hand, Brits doing bad American accents usually provide over-enunciated Midwestern accents with vowel sounds that seem to originate either from down South, from New York/Boston, or even from Minnesota.

But the accents in this story simply defy explanation. I could spend paragraphs detailing what the heck is wrong with a single character's accent, before doing the exact same thing with another. No two accents are terrible in the same way. Heck, one of the Doctor's companions, Steven, will do a fake accent to blend in... and it actually sounds better than most of the accents that are supposedly real.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. These cowpokes are the Clanton brothers. And already, it's time to go on a bit of a third tangent real quick. And maybe after this tangent, I'll actually start recapping more than the first minute of this episode.

Film buffs may find this opening oddly familiar, while Wild West buffs will probably find it oddly inaccurate. Apparently, this retelling was cobbled-together in the writer's mind from a 1957 movie he half-remembered called The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, appropriately enough, which explains the divergences from history. The '57 film begins by showing a man named Ed Bailey looking for Doc Holliday in order to avenge his brother. Here, it's been reworked into a scene about the murder of Reuben Clanton... who never actually existed in real life. Or maybe he was erased from history by a crack in time caused by an exploding TARDIS. Who knows?

Anyway, the Brothers Clanton head over to the Saloon to find a man named "Seth Harper" so they can all plan revenge, as per their father's wishes.

Music: "On your way, then, you cowboys, the time will be soon. When there's blood upon the sawdust in the Last Chance Saloon."

As they head over, the TARDIS materializes behind the livery door (to avoid having to do a special effect) and the Doctor walks out into the livery in a bit of pain, followed by his two traveling companions, Steven Taylor (an astronaut from the future) and Dodo Chaplet (an air-headed teenager from the 1960s).

Steven: "What's the matter, Doctor?"
Doctor: "Oh, the most ghastly toothache. It's paralyzing pain."

Remember I said that I was watching this to avoid thinking about the wisdom teeth I just had removed?
Screw that noise, apparently.
Steven: "It serves you right for eating that sweet."

Honestly, the Doctor got off easy. In the last story, "The Celestial Toymaker," after having defeated Batman's omnipotent butler in a game of logic...

Yes, that's really Alfred from the Burton/Schumacher films.
...the Doctor hurt his tooth on a piece of candy, which provided the cliffhanger to the last episode.

Steven: "Aren't there any painkillers on the TARDIS?"

The answer is no. This kind of makes me smile, since a later episode will establish that aspirin is fatal to Time Lords. I love inadvertent continuity.

The Doctor, being a stubborn old man in his youngest incarnation, is convinced that the tooth needs to come out. As such, he'll need a dentist. And for some reason, he's perfectly willing to find a dentist in the Old West in the 1800s, as opposed to seeing what else they can find in another time period. Then again, the Doctor can't steer the TARDIS through time very well. Who knows if they'll wind up anywhere with dentistry of any sort? Ain't many dentists on Skaro, you know? And after seeing a dentist on Mondas, you'd wake up with handles coming out of your ears.

Since all he wants is a quick yank and nothing in the way of replacing the tooth, I can't help but wonder if he's planning on letting his first regeneration take care of that. Sure, the writers hadn't come up with the idea of regeneration yet, but it's interesting to wonder.

Can you imagine having your fillings pop out as your teeth change?
The companions take a look around to see where exactly they are, and outside the stable they spot the sign for the OK Corral. He and Dodo immediately fangasm over being in the American Wild West, but the Doctor isn't thrilled with his chances of finding a competent dental professional. But even if he has changed his mind, Steven and Dodo are too excited about getting to play dress-up to leave now. Which makes sense. everybody wants to play cowboy. It's just a fact of life. Riding horses, playing cards in the saloon, talking funny... that just sounds like fun.

Even the info text on the DVD is getting in on it.
Music: "It's your last chance of cussin' at a gunfighter's doom, it's your last chance of nothin' at the Last Chance Saloon."

The singer heralds the arrival of the Clanton boys at the saloon, and they meet up with Seth "Snake-Eyes" Harper (Shane Rimmer) and order some drinks from Charlie the Barman (David Graham).

While the camera makes an appearance in the mirror.
Seth Harper: "I don't like being called "Snake-Eyes." Last fella called me that got hisself an extra hole in the head."

The alliance is a bit tense, but the gunfighters all have it out for a certain "Doc Holliday," and are willing to put aside their differences to shoot him dead, as overheard by a rather nervous Charlie.

Back at the livery, Steven emerges from the TARDIS dressed up like Marty McFly at the beginning of Back to the Future Part III, whereas Dodo has nearly perfected her cosplay of Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl.

Dodo: "Well, how do we look?"
Doctor: "Oh, good gracious. Absolutely absurd! Why you've got to dress yourself up like Tom Mix, I can't imagine."

Yeah, well, the kids'll actually understand my references, Doctor.

Doctor: "Why can't you wear inconspicuous clothes, like I do?"

Remember you said that in five bodies' time, Doctor.
The Doctor takes less offense to Dodo's outfit, mostly singling out the hat. But Dodo says that she picked it out for the Doctor to wear in town.

Doctor: "Oh, well, that's very thoughtful of you, thank you."

"I wear a stetson now. Stetsons are cool, hm?"
Steven quietly teases the Doctor's fish-out-of-water tendencies in this rough-and-tumble era, and pretends to have been doing something else when the Doctor asks what he's mumbling about.

Steven: "Ah wuz jest a-practicing mah quick-draw!"

Instead of practicing that accent, I see. But actually, this IS a better accent than at least 80% of the other characters. Even though he sounds like he's doing a terrible Elvis impression. His quick-draw's not too good, either, and the Doctor tells him to be more careful with his antique pistol.

Steven: "Nah, see here, stranger. I reckon you don't know who I is. Dead-Eye Steve, the fastest, meanest gun in the West."

Now, any random passerby might not understand that Steven is acting, and assume that this guy who's busy twirling a gun at an old man while claiming to be the "fastest, meanest gun in the West" might be a young punk up to no good. And as it turns out, that's exactly what happens when a local lawman walks in to shoot the gun right out of Steven's hand.

Doctor: "And who might you be, sir, hm?"
Lawman: "You wanna find out, try movin' fast. Now get over."

Since the man has a gun and knows how to use it, Team TARDIS complies. The man is Wyatt Earp, Marshal of Tombstone (John Alderson), currently in the history books for being part of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Dodo, having read those history books, is overjoyed to meet him.

Wyatt Earp: "Well, the Lord sure do move in mysterious ways, ma'am."

"But if'n he mysteriously moves too fast for my likin', he'll have me to answer to."
But star-struck as they are, Earp still demands that they should head on down to the Sheriff's office to identify themselves and explain why they came to Tombstone in the first place.

"If'n you came here to make trouble, don't be surprised if your neck ends up in a noose."
"Well, I think I can manage to avoid that."
Steven tries to explain that he's not actually a gunslinger, which Earp knew already, thanks to that terrible gunplay of his. Earp's taking them down to the office to actually ensure these three don't get into any misunderstandings with the Clantons.

Music: "'Til there's blood upon the sawdust in the Last Chance Saloon."

...Thanks for that...?

Back at the saloon, Seth and the Clantons continue to talk revenge out in the open. Even though they've never actually seen Doc Holliday, the man they're gunning for.

Seth Harper: "I've seen pictures. I've had 'im described to me. Dapper little fellow with a black buck's back coat, gambler's fancy vest."

And the Clantons aren't about to waste time by looking for him. Doc Holliday is a notorious drinker and gambler. If they wait long enough, he'll run into them at the saloon. And since there's no such historical event as "The Gunfight at the Last Chance Saloon," you've probably figured out that there's going to be a monkey wrench thrown in the works. And if you've been paying attention, you may have already predicted it.

But for now, it's time for Kate (Sheena Marshe) to step outside for a bit. She's the singer/entertainer at the saloon, but the only customers are entertaining themselves. And all the singing is being done by the soundtrack, so she's got nothing to do but run out and do an errand real quick.

Music: "With rings on their fingers, and bells on their toes, the girls come to Tombstone in their high silk hose. They'll dance on the tables or sing you a tune for whatever's in your wallet at the Last Chance Saloon."

A quick bit of trivia as she walks across town, Kate here (full name "Kate Fisher") represents a real-life woman known as Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings, better known as "Big Nose Kate." She was a baker, dancer, boarding house owner, and a prostitute. But mostly, she's known as the on-again-off-again girlfriend/common law wife of one Doc Holliday. And wouldn't you know it, that's exactly who the surprisingly small-nosed Kate here is going to see.

Doc Holliday (Anthony Jacobs) is busy setting up his own dentistry practice right here in Tombstone, as the plot would have it. Kate confronts him as he supervises his shop's setup. See, Doc has promised to walk the straight and narrow path from now on, working as a dentist. And yet there's four guys waiting in the saloon to gun him down. Both Kate and Doc are sick of his past as a gunslinger, and neither one is too happy to know that some troublemakers want to make trouble. Holliday doesn't react to the name "Seth Harper," but "Clanton" rings a bell.

Doc Holliday: "You kill a guy out o' sheer professional ethics, and then you've got three of his brothers chasin' after you to labor the point. That makes me real angry!"

Yeah, we never really get any more reason why he killed Reuben Clanton other than "professional ethics."

"I told him to floss after meals. An' he wouldn't."
Kate tells him to stuff his anger in a sack and get the heck out of Dodge Tombstone, but Holliday is through running.

Doc Holliday: "The day I can't walk down Main Street o' any city in the West on account it ain't safe, then I'll be dead."

Uh, yeah. That's kind of the problem.

Interrupting this little quarrel between lovebirds is local lawman Bat Masterson (Richard Beale), who reminds Holliday to keep his act together. Holliday agrees and says that he was aiming to do just that. Even so...

Bat Masterson: "Stay out of saloons, Holliday, and stay away from the poker table."

The meeting, surprisingly, ends very well as Doc Holliday amicably walks off with his ladyfriend, making ol' Bat a mite 'spicious. But there's no time to worry about that, because Wyatt Earp just showed up with the three strange Brits he found earlier.

Doctor: "Allow me, sir, to introduce Miss Dodo Dupont, wizard of the ivory keys, and, uh, Steven Regret, tenor. And lastly, sir, your humble servant, Doctor... Caligari."
Bat Masterson: "Doctor who?"
Doctor: "Yes, quite right."

Heh. Season Three, and they were already throwing in some title drops. You didn't invent it, Moffat.

"I never said I did."
Yeah, yeah. You think you're so cute.

"I know I'm so cute."
Doctor: "I've just been satisfying the sheriff here that we are a humble troupe of traveling players."

"And I do believe he bought my story."
Doctor: "Unfortunately, sir, at the moment, in between engagements."

Bat recommends that they should leave Tombstone, but the Doctor says that he came along to find a dentist. Bat points the Doctor toward Holliday's shop, so the Doctor heads off in that direction, bidding Mr. Masterson and Mr. "Werp" farewell.

Music: "On your way, then, you lawmen, the time will be soon. When there's blood upon the sawdust in the Last Chance Saloon."

I do find it interesting that the music keeps harping on and on about the "blood upon the sawdust in the Last Chance Saloon," considering that the only deaths that occur in there are largely inconsequential. But I'll get to that.

The Doctor and his companions head toward the dentistry... um... shop? What do you call one of these? An office? A practice? A tooth-room? Doc Holliday referred to it as a "dental saloon" earlier, but the script for that scene reads "dental surgery." I'll go with "office." Anyway, all the while, Steven can't help but complain about being given the identity of a singer named "Steven Regret."

Doctor: "I had to find some sort of suitable cover. After all, you can't walk into the middle of a Western town and say you've come from outer space. Good gracious me, we'd all be arrested on a vagrancy charge."

Absolutely right, Doctor. You can't go to an Old West town and say you have a futuristic name like "Steven Taylor."

Dodo, on the other hand, can't wait to get a chance to play the piano. But the Doctor tells her that they'll be back in the TARDIS by lunchtime tomorrow before taking note of the sign above Holliday's office.

Doctor: "You know, I don't think that that is a very subtle form of advertising, do you?"

Human molars usually have three roots. This man must be a terrible dentist.
No wonder the Doctor suddenly decides his tooth feels better. But his companions convince him to head inside while they go to book a couple rooms in the hotel. But before they go, Dodo has a funny thought.

Dodo: "I was just thinking... I hope he's not expecting an injection!"

The Doctor heads inside and pokes around for a bit before heading into the back, interrupting Doc Holliday and Kate during a bit of canoodling. Doc and Kate celebrate the arrival of their very first customer, though the Doctor is quite hesitant to get this procedure done.

Doctor: "Well, as a matter of fact, my dear sir...."
Doc Holliday: "Yeah, and as a matter of fact, it don't do to delay dental treatment."

Got that right. My dentist told me that I should probably get my wisdom teeth out last July. I waited until January, meaning that I had to endure a couple of fillings first. Thanks for nothing, wisdom teeth.

Kate heads off into the back room, since she can't stand the sight of blood, and Holliday whips out the pliers and tries to dive right in. Until the Doctor stops him.

Doctor: "Haven't you any anesthetic?"
Doc Holliday: "What?"
Doctor: "Well, ehhh, something to sort of dull the pain, man."

Holliday offers to whack him on the head or give him a bit of booze, but the Doctor declines both.

Doctor: "Oh, my dear man, I never touch alcohol."
Doc Holliday: "Well, I do."

Yeah, I think I'd have had some objections if the guy taking my teeth out had helped himself to my drugs.
Although I'm not sure how he would have been able to operate while under IV sedation.
But the Doctor's already in the chair and he might as well get it over with before Holliday takes another swig. And so, the pliers inch toward the Doctor's mouth as the story shifts back to the saloon.

Music: "It's your last chance of boozing, where there's no one to mind. It's your last chance of losing, and the first place you'll find."

Yeah, the Doctor seems to mind quite a bit that Holliday is boozing in his office.

The Clanton boys are still playing their little game of poker as Charlie the Barman apologizes for the lack of entertainment for them, what with Kate being out. So Billy decides to start shooting the bottles on the back wall as a way of livening things up for poor ol' Charlie.

"I should really start keeping my mouth shut.
I'd hate to meet an ironic death at the hands of my own inability to be quiet."
Luckily, the others tell him to knock it off, right before Steven and Dodo come in.

Phineas: "Well, lookie here! If it isn't Calamity Jane and Sam Bass."

"Dodo, I think that man just called me a fish."
They head to the bar and get three rooms, signing their names and "occupations" in the guestbook as they do so. Though I have to wonder... did Steven just write "Doctor" twice for his name and occupation when he signed the Doctor in?

If he had been there to perform surgery, would he say "Doctor, doctor, doctor"?
Charlie is a bit excited when he sees that Dodo is a pianist, though.

Charlie: "I got no pianist, on account he was shot last week, and I do have a singer, but she's always out someplace."

Well, since the historical version of Kate was a prostitute, I have an idea of where she might be going. To the bank. Prostitutes made top dollar in these mining towns full of lonely men.

Steven declines the job offer and takes Dodo aside to tell her that the Doctor would never forgive him if something happened to her. And "the Doctor" is what perks up all the ears at the Clantons' table. So when Dodo heads back to leave the Doctor's room key at the bar for him, the Clantons decide to take a look at the guestbook, finding "Dodo Dupont" and "Steven Regret." And they notice something strange about Steven's getup. I mean, apart from the pastel colors and the inordinate amount of fringe.

Billy: "Now, any of you boys ever see a singer carry six-guns afore?"

Since Ted Nugent won't be born for more than a few decades, they haven't. So as far as the Clantons are concerned, ol' Doc Holliday probably heard about the Clantons' plot and hired this "Steven" to shoot them in the back while Doc walks in the front door. So Ike sends Phineas to head upstairs and bring Steven down where they can see him. Then he sends Harper out to try and flush out Doc Holliday.

But the good Doctor has just finished removing a tooth from... uh... the other good Doctor, and is taking a second to marvel at his own handiwork.

Doc Holliday: "You know, I think I'll give that to Kate for a souvenir!"

Lucky lady. When I was delirious in the car after getting my wisdom teeth out, I kept asking my girlfriend to drive back and ask if I could keep my teeth. She was more concerned with details like getting my medicine. Go figure.

Holliday tells the Doctor that to celebrate the grand opening of his practice, this removal was on the house, which... well, the Doctor's not exactly happy, but he'll take it.

Doctor: "Good thing I didn't have to have my tonsils out."

Yep, I still have mine, too. And I'm a-keepin' 'em.

Music: "When there's blood upon the sawdust in the Last Chance Saloon."

...Okay, these aren't even full stanzas. That was a sentence fragment.

Harper heads in to find the Doctor, correctly and incorrectly identifying him as "Doc," which the Doctor doesn't refute, since it is technically his chosen alias.

Harper: "Holliday!"
Doctor: "'Holiday'? Yes, I suppose so. Yes, you could call it that. Hm."

We have a title.

In the back, Doc Holliday overhears Harper's message that "the boys" are waiting for him at the Last Chance Saloon to "buy him a drink."

Doctor: "Oh, well, that's very sociable of them, but unfortunately, I don't touch alcohol."
Seth Harper: "That's not what I heard, Doc, but we'll play it your way."

Harper kindly gives "Doc" five minutes to show up at the saloon before he leaves, and Doc Holliday hatches himself a little plan. He walks out from the back and tells the Doctor that he's a little underdressed to go drinking.

Doc Holliday: "You ain't wearin' a gun."

Welcome to America!

Doctor: "Well, I should hope not, I certainly disapprove of violence."

Says the man who was perfectly willing to smash in a caveman's skull in the first serial. Of course, that was before character development kicked in.

Holliday hands his own gun and belt over to the Doctor, puts his hat back on, and ushers him out the door.

Doc Holliday: "It sure seems a pity he bothered to have that tooth out...."

"In hindsight, I should have charged him."
Back at the saloon, Harper comes back to tell the boys that "Holliday" is on his way. So they decide to politely demand a song from Dodo and Steven, ensuring that neither of them can point a gun at the Clantons when "Doc Holliday" arrives. When the two "performers" start waffling, the guns come out to make their eloquent arguments.

Ike: "You'll sing here, now, and fast."
Steven: "Well, why?"
Ike: "On account of we're all music lovers."

"And when you're done, we'll begin our weekly discussion.
This week, the topic is lasting baroque influences on the music of the last fifty years."
Music: "When there's blood upon the sawdust in the Last Chance Saloon."

Okay, how many times is that part going to be repeated? I'll admit, the song is getting a little gratuitous. I mean, we just cut away from the saloon to William Hartnell looking offstage for his cue and then back to the saloon, where nearly no time has passed.

The Clantons take away Steven's guns and tell them to get going.

Ike: "Shut up and sing, friend."

But with their lives at stake, they quickly choose a song from the various sheets of music.

Dodo: "Here's one."
Steven: "Let's hope the piano knows it."
Dodo: "The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon."

Never heard that one before....

So the boys get in position to shoot Doc Holliday as the song begins and the Doctor walks to the saloon. Meaning that the singing voice that ends the episode is Peter Purves's. Unfortunately for Purves, who holds his singing voice in such low regard that he considered this to be his most embarrassing moment in Doctor Who. Even though he's really not that bad.

You might wonder why a song that will be primarily sung by women during this serial is now being sung by a man. Well, as it turns out, the original plan was for Dodo to sing the song. But much like Margot Kidder's own musical number, the plan had to be changed when it was discovered the actress couldn't sing.

I imagine Peter Purves was persuaded to sing in similar fashion.
Coming up in Episode 2! It wouldn't be a Western without somebody ending up in the jailhouse.

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