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Recap / Doctor Who S3 E8 "The Gunfighters"

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The Gunfighters
Written by Donald Cotton
Directed by Rex Tucker
Production code: Z
Air dates: 30 April - 21 May 1966
Number of episodes: 4
Episode titles: "A Holiday for the Doctor", "Don't Shoot the Pianist", "Johnny Ringo", "The O.K. Corral"

"You can't walk into the middle of a Western town and say you've come from outer space! Good gracious me. You would be arrested on a vagrancy charge!"
The Doctor

The One With… singing.

This is the last story to give the episodes individual titles instead of labeling them as "Episode 1", "Episode 2", and so on.

Now the Doctor has broken
A tooth on a sweet.
The TARDIS arrives in
An old Western street.
And the dentist that's nearest
Is Doc Holliday,
Who looks just like Theta Sigma
When he's seen the right way.

Holliday and the Clantons
Are at loggerheads.
The Clantons they try to
Make Steven Taylor dead.
And they think that the Doctor
Is Holliday, too.
Meanwhile Johnny Ringo shows up
At the Last Chance Saloon.

Clantons shoot Wyatt's brother
It's Personal now.
A showdown ensues at
The OK Corral.
And the Clantons and Ringo
Are deaders quite soon.
Doctor, Steven, and Dodo
Leave the Last Chance Saloon.

'Tis the last story with
Episode titles, see?note 
Like "The Romans", "The Myth Makers",
'Tis a humor piece.
And that Who ain't our timeline
This story it proves.
In our world things went quite diff'rent
Near the Last Chance Saloon.


  • Accidental Misnaming: The Doctor repeatedly calls Wyatt Earp "Mr. Werp".
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Kate has a thing for outlaws.
  • All-Knowing Singing Narrator: Always recaps what has just happened and occasionally foreshadows between scene changes. Also really likes to end every verse in " the Last Chance Saloon."
  • Artistic Licence – Biology: The giant tooth 'sign' at Doc Holliday's dental salon doesn't bode well for his professional know-how: it's got four roots, and the most any normal human tooth can have is three.
  • Artistic Licence – History: The events in the story bear only a vague resemblance to actual history. Even the participants in the famous gunfight were largely different in real life. The novelization plays with this by framing the whole thing as a story being told years later by a dying Doc Holliday.
  • Ballad of X: The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon.
  • Big Bad: Pa Clanton is the head of the family and encourages his sons in their vendetta against Holliday and the Earps.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: Doc Holliday does this to Seth Harper.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Played with: As the Doctor and Steven climb the stairs, the barkeep looks directly at the camera and says, "Looks like Doc's next extraction's gonna be a bullet," supposedly to the pair.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Steven and Dodo adopt absolutely horrible note  American accents while trying to be cowboys in 1880s Tombstone. The natives of Tombstone just assume Steven and Dodo are insane. The Doctor sticks to his usual English accent and blends in a lot better.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Despite the two Earp brothers and the three Clantons only having a single six-shooter apiece, they manage to keep up a constant hail of gunfire while Doc Holliday and Jonny Ringo have their showdown.
  • Characterization Marches On: The Doctor claims that he doesn't touch alcohol, preferring milk instead. Later Doctors would throw this rule out the window.
  • Couldn't Find a Lighter: Johnny Ringo lights his cigar from a lantern in the saloon.
  • Cowboy Episode: A surprisingly rare genre in Doctor Who. The next one wouldn't be until the Eleventh Doctor visited "A Town Called Mercy" in 2012, although the Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones did have a New Series Adventures story set in 1880s Colorado.
  • Dead Serious: Ringo killing Charlie. Also an Establishing Character Moment.
  • Decon-Recon Switch: The idea of good, honest law men is deconstructed through Wyatt, his brother and his friend Doc. Wyatt will do knowingly illegal things like keeping in jail an innocent man to both protect him while lying to him and using him to save his friend; his brother is probably a deputy because of family relations, because he seems to have no experience; Doc is a bit of a hustler, and a spineless one who would frame someone of being him; on the other hand, they're all good guys and not just designated, as Wyatt will protect the spirit of the law and his town's citizens, his brother is brave, and Doc has some morals and is a good gunslinger.
  • Deconstruction: On the other hand, while the outlaws seem to be fun guys, they're both dangerous in groups and cowardly in small numbers. (And those are the Clantons). The idealist outlaw type is completely deconstructed by Johnny Ringo (though reconstructed by Doc), who has no honour, as a gunfighter or as a human being. Ringo is the only one who isn't shown to have any redeeming qualities.
  • Depraved Dentist: Doc Holliday. The Doctor of all people doesn't seem to see it.
  • Doesn't Like Guns: Everybody keeps trying to give the Doctor guns, which he really doesn't want.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The Clantons are appalled by the Doctor suggesting he'd gun down unarmed men, and later by Ringo that he'd shoot people in the back.
  • Genre Deconstruction: The whole Western genre is deconstructed and reconstructed, gone as far as to lampshade it at the end by mentioning Dodo's love and knowledge of western tropes.
  • Greek Chorus: The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon.
  • Gun Twirling: The Doctor does this. Steven attempts to copy him and drops the gun.
  • He Knows Too Much: Now it's curtains for Charlie...
  • Historical Domain Character: Every one of them. But after this, no further real people would appear on screen in Doctor Who until George Stephenson in "The Mark of the Rani".
  • Idiot Ball: The Doctor, in addition to being more of a Cloud Cuckoo Lander in general, forgets that frontier dentistry is Meat Grinder Surgery, refuses whiskey even to numb the pain of a tooth extraction, and refuses to believe that Doc Holiday is trying to use him as a decoy and is not actually his friend even though it's blatantly obvious.
  • I'm Mr. [Future Pop Culture Reference]: The Doctor introduces himself and his companions as touring actors. He calls himself Dr. Caligari.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink:
    Doctor: (sees the bottle Holliday's holding) I never touch alcohol.
    Doc Holliday: (takes a swig) Well, I do.
  • Impractically Fancy Outfit: Steven and Dodo get "western" outfits from the TARDIS wardrobe that are wildly over-elaborate and stagey, lampshaded by all the genuinely western characters.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Again, Doc Holliday. He has qualms with letting the Doctor die, and helps Dodo.
  • Karma Houdini: Pa Clanton escapes unscathed by virtue of not being at the O.K. Corral during the gunfight, although he does lose all his sons.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Ringo is much more threatening than the characters introduced in the first two episodes.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The ballad is used as a narrative device which the characters don't hear for the most part, but the Episode One cliffhanger has Steven and Dodo performing it.
    • Also:
      Masterson: Doctor who?
      Doctor: (not really listening) Yes, quite right.
    • Dodo and Steven mime piano playing, but Steven's line "Let's hope the piano knows it!" hints that it's a player piano.
  • Musical Exposition: "The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon" comments on the action throughout.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Where to start?
  • Out-of-Genre Experience: This is the show's only Musical Episode, though most of the singing is not done by the characters. (There has been a stage musical and an audio drama musical in the Expanded Universe, though.)
  • The Piano Player: There's a subplot about the saloon trying to find a new piano player because their old one was shot last week. Eventually the Doctor's companions are forced to play at gunpoint.
    Dodo: "Do you know the song?"
    Steven: "Let's hope the piano knows it!"
  • Quick Draw: Steven demonstrates his quick draw to the Doctor, only to drop his gun. When he picks it up again, it gets shot out of his hand by a real gunslinger, Wyatt Earp, who fortunately realises Steven was just showing off thanks to his less than impressive skills re this trope.
  • Railing Kill: The final shootout includes the obligatory instance of someone getting shot and flipping forward over a railing. (Though he has less distance to fall than usual — he's only halfway up a stairway instead of all the way up on a higher floor — probably because the show didn't have the budget for a proper stunt fall.)
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Oh so much from the Doctor, Steven and Dodo. Special points for the moment when Doc gives the Doctor a pistol and he repeatedly points it at Doc and Kate, as each in turn pushes his hand away from them and towards the other one.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: Steven tries some gunslinging at the start of the serial, only for it to go off when it flies out of his hand.
  • Self-Plagiarism: The story had the same writer as "The Myth Makers" and has the same plot and story structure - the TARDIS arrives in Earth's past with an injured member, the Doctor is mistaken for someone famous, wacky hijinks ensue before a violent climax. At one point, Cotton's novelizations of the two episodes were even published together in the same book.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: When Charley gets shot, the tone is obviously going to move from comedic to dramatic, as the final gunfight is fastly approaching anyway and it just needs a catalysis. This is actually introduced with the appearance of Johnny Ringo Shooting The Dog, but it fits/makes the context.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Kate is the only female guest character in this story.
  • Title Drop: The Doctor introduces himself to the Earps with a very long, muttered name, provoking the response "Doctor who?"
    The Doctor: "Precisely".
  • Too Dumb to Live: The Doctor takes the Idiot Ball and holds on to it hard in the serial. It starts when he decides that the Old West is the best place to find a dentist for his toothache, not realising that pain killers hadn't been invented yet. After being set up to be (at least) confused with Doc Holliday by Doc himself and almost being killed and lynched because of this, when questioned by the barkeeper about his relation with Doc, the Doctor says "He's my friend, he gave me a gun, he pulled out my tooth...". The barkeep correctly comments that at this rate, they'll be pulling bullets out of him.
  • Unwanted Assistance: Doc Holliday eventually tells Dodo to stop helping him.
  • The Wild West: Being a western, this is the obvious setting.