The Gunfighters was the eighth story of Season 3 of Doctor Who. It wasDoctor Who‘s first attempt at a western, and, indeed, the first story in any medium principally set in the United States — though the First Doctor had briefly visited New York City in The Chase.
The story gave director Rex Tucker his first on-screen credit, despite his heavy involvement in the formative weeks of Doctor Who‘s pre-production in 1963, before Verity Lambert was hired. It was also the first televised story to have a song written especially for it. The next story to have an original song wouldn’t come until The King’s Demons almost twenty years later. Conversely, its final episode, “The O. K. Corral”, was the last individually-titled episode, discounting charity events, until Rose. Both conditions — titled episodes and original songs — would become more commonplace in the BBC Wales era.
The Gunfighters was notable for its casting, both proposed and actual. The role of Johnny Ringo was offered to veteran actor Patrick Troughton, but he was too busy. Had he accepted, Doctor Who history might have turned out quite differently. Anthony Jacobs, who played Doc Holliday, was the father of Matthew Jacobs, and he brought Matthew onto the set. The younger Jacobs would later write the 1996 television movie, somewhat muddying the common fan argument that the Paul McGann movie was the “American” version of Doctor Who.
Despite its many notable factors, the serial was one of the worst-received in the series’ history. Its poor ratings and low audience appreciation figures strengthened Innes Lloyd’s argument that historical stories should be axed. Indeed, it was the final historical to prominently use famous historical figures until The Mark of the Rani in 1985.
Episode 1: A Holliday for the Doctor
Three strangers, Ike, Phineas, and Billy Clanton, arrive in Tombstone with one thing on their mind: revenge for their brother’s murder at the hands of Doc Holliday. Little do they know they are not the only strangers in town.
The Doctor and his companions materialize in a nearby lot. The Doctor emerges from the TARDIS with toothache. Steven and Dodo are overjoyed to discover they are in the “wild west” but the Doctor is unsure if this is the place to fix his teeth. Steven and Dodo go back into the TARDIS to change.
Meanwhile, the Clantons meet Seth Harper in the Last Chance Saloon. They talk about their vendetta against Doc Holliday and are overheard by the barman, Charlie, and the singer of the saloon, Kate Fisher.
When Steven and Dodo emerge they are dressed as fancy dress cowboys. Steven tries his best impression of a cowboy boasting about being “the fastest gun in the west”. This is overheard by the local marshal, Wyatt Earp, who takes his shtick as serious and takes him into custody to protect him against Doc Holliday, who will not take kindly to such boasting.
Kate Fisher, who is Holliday’s lover, goes to warn Doc, who has just set up as a dentist. Doc refuses to leave despite Kate’s insistence. They are visited by the town’s sheriff,Bat Masterson, who warns Doc against causing any trouble. As Masterson leaves Doc’s surgery he encounters Earp with the Doctor and his companions. By this time the Doctor has worked up a story: he is Doctor Caligari, a travelling player, with his piano player, Dodo DuPont, and singer, Steven Regret. The Doctor inquires if there is a nearby dentist for his toothache. He is directed to Holliday. When the Doctor sees the primitive conditions he tries to back out but Dodo convinces him. They agree to meet at the saloon. The Doctor enters and interrupts Holliday and Kate mid-clinch. He tries to use this as an excuse to leave but is sat down by Holliday, pleased to have his first customer. The Doctor asks for some sort of an aesthetic. He is offered alcohol or “a rap on the cranium.” He rejects both.
In the Last Chance Saloon the cowboys are getting restless and begin to shoot bottles from behind the bar. This is interrupted by Steven and Dodo who come in to reserve some rooms. They sign themselves in as a singer and a piano player — something that interests Charlie on account of his last piano player being shot. As Stephen and Dodo go up to their rooms the Clantons and Seth overhear them mentioning “the Doctor” who they take to be Holliday and assume Steven is working in cahoots with Holliday. Seth is charged to go and seek out Holliday whilst Billy is told to convince Steven and Dodo to come and join them in the saloon.
Back at the dentist’s the Doctor has had his tooth pulled and, whilst Holliday is in the back room, meets Seth. Seth joins the conversation with “Doc” to which the Doctor responds, “I am, yes.” Seth then asks “Holliday?” The Doctor misunderstands and says, “Well yes I suppose I am.” Thinking he has found his man Seth orders the Doctor to be in the saloon in 5 minutes. This has all been overheard by Holliday who seizes on this as a way of getting out of his situation. He equips the Doctor with his gun that has his name on it and sends the Doctor on his way.
Seth returns to the bar, and the Clantons force Steven and Dodo to perform a song. Dodo plays the piano while Steven sings “The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon”. The Clantons and Seth ready themselves to shoot Holliday as he comes through the door. Outside, the Doctor approaches the Last Chance Saloon.
Episode 2: Don’t Shoot the Pianist
Back at the dentist surgery Doc Holliday gloats that he is setting the Doctor up for a fall. He wonders why Kate isn’t answering him and discovers that she has left heading towards the Last Chance Saloon.
Steven and Dodo are still singing and playing the piano when Kate returns and orders Dodo off her piano. She distracts the cowboys by singing to them while Steven plays. Dodo leaves to her room in a mood because of the attention Kate is giving Steven. The Doctor enters and, through a number of misunderstandings, is believed to be Holliday. The Doctor realizes their mistake, seemingly remembering the name of the Clantons, and tries to explain. Holliday enters the saloon through a back door and stands on the stair case, listening to the proceedings. The Doctor fails to convince them. Whilst the Doctor brandishes his gun Holliday fires in such a way to knock Harper’s gun from his hand. Kate takes control and orders the four men up against the piano whilst the Doctor holds his gun still. Hearing the shot, Dodo comes down to investigate but meets Holliday, who escorts her back to her room. Wyatt Earp and Masterson enter and try to find out what has happened. They arrest the Doctor and lead him from the saloon, allowing the cowboys to continue thinking the Doctor is Holliday. With the Doctor gone the cowboys turn on Steven.
Kate joins Dodo and Holliday in her room where they plan on waiting until the trouble has died down, despite Dodo’s distress at the arrest of the Doctor.
The Doctor has been locked in jail, with Earp suggesting that it is safer with his status as a wanted man. Masterson agrees with the ploy; having the Doctor in prison means that the Clantons and Harper will think Holliday is locked up. Earp goes out to find the real Holliday.
In the saloon, Steven tries to convince the others of the Doctor’s innocence, saying that if he had the Doctor here he could prove it. The cowboys take this to mean that he is proposing a prison break and agree to back him up.
Upstairs, Doc is thirsty and Kate reminds him he left a bottle in his dentistry. He says that he’ll sneak back.
On arriving at the dentistry Earp is there and orders him to leave town before the morning. Earp will tell the Clantons the truth tomorrow morning. He explains that Pa Clanton and his sons are rustlers and that he is biding his time before he and his boys run them out of his town.
In the saloon, the Clantons and Harper tell Steven to pass a gun through the gaol-house window to the Doctor with which he can force his way out. They’ll wait outside to “welcome him back to society”. Steven agrees. Phineas follows him, just in case he makes a run for it with “Holliday”.
Dodo asks Kate if she really intends to marry Holliday, an outlaw. Kate replies that she has met many outlaws and that Holliday is the best of the lot, “a real gentleman”. Holliday arrives and tells Kate that they have to leave. Earp is gunning for him and he doesn’t want to kill a friend.
Steven gives the Doctor the gun through a window, telling him that the Clantons still think he’s Holliday. Once he has gone, the Doctor hands the gun to Earp, asking him to meet Steven outside in his stead and to tell him he wants to remain in goal as it’s the safest place for him.
In the saloon, the Clantons incite the locals to violence, telling them to break “Holliday” out of jail and hang him from the nearest tree. Phineas brings Steven in, who he found running away from the saloon, and they tie him up, saying that if the Doctor refuses to leave town, they will hang Steven instead.
Kate has got her stuff together ready for departure when they see the mob pass with Steven from an upstairs window. Doc makes his way downstairs and Kate calls after him. Hearing the name “Doc”, Harper, who has been left behind, inquires if he is Holliday. He says yes and draws his gun faster than Harper, shooting his opponent. Doc tells Kate to ready three horses, planning to take Dodo with them when they leave. Dodo is unsure, but finally complies and they leave the saloon.
Earp and Masterson let the Doctor out of jail to see the mob gathers outside. The Clantons announce that they want “Holliday” within two minutes, or Steven will be hanged.
Episode 3: Johnny Ringo
The Doctor tries to leave but Earp and Masterson hold him back. Earp says he has a plan and disappears around the back. Billy Clanton fronts up to Masterson as the sheriff pulls a shotgun. Just as they’re attaching the noose, Earp attacks, knocking Phineas out. He frees Steven. Realizing they’re caught in the crossfire of Earp and Masterson, the mob disperses. The bartender, Charlie, arrives and tells the Clantons that Harper is dead, shot by Holliday in the saloon. The Clantons confront Earp, who admits he knew the Doctor wasn’t Holliday. Earp threatens them until they leave. Charlie, Earp, Masterson and Steven carry the unconscious Phineas into the jail. The Doctor says goodbye to Earp and Masterson and says he and Steven intend to leave in the morning.
In the saloon, Pa Clanton tells his sons that he wants to hire Johnny Ringo to help them fight Earp. His sons protest but he does not think they are capable. They leave. Steven and the Doctor return to the saloon and Charlie tells them that Dodo left with Holliday. The Doctor claims that Holliday is his friend, recalling how he removed his tooth. They then retire to their rooms intent on seeking Holliday out in the morning.
Doc, Kate and Dodo find a place to sleep but Kate wants to continue as they are still near Tombstone. Doc says he doesn’t want to be too far away as when the Clantons and the Earps meet he wants to be nearby to help his friend. Dodo is pleased with this as she states that she needs to return to the Doctor as soon as she can too. As Doc leaves to get food, they hear gunfire and he returns. He ran into an old friend who has now “lost his appetite”.
Meanwhile, Ringo enters the saloon and talks to Charlie. The barman tells him that the Clantons want help dealing with Earp but Ringo already has a target, Doc Holliday. Charlie tells him that they’re also after Doc but Ringo wants to kill him on his own. Charlie promises that he wont tell anyone. Ringo agrees and shoots him dead.
In the morning, Dodo asks Doc if he is going to return her to the Doctor today. He says no. Angered, Dodo takes his gun and threatens him. Doc agrees to take her home and asks Kate to stay. Realizing Doc had a gun and was about to shoot her, Dodo faints.
Steven and the Doctor come down into the bar in the morning and find the dead Charlie with Johnny Ringo sitting calmly at the table. The Doctor asks Ringo to wait in the bar for Earp to investigate but Ringo claims that only Holliday would shoot an unarmed barman. Steven tells Ringo they also seek Holliday. Ringo suspects they want him dead too and the Doctor denies any intention to kill him. Ringo invites Steven to ride with him after Doc and he agree.
At the jail Wyatt’s youngest brother Warren has come with bad news: his other two brothers are too busy to come and help Wyatt. Wyatt says that this is no good and says that Warren is too young to fight. The Doctor visits the jail and tells Earp that Steven has gone after Holliday with Ringo. He points out that photos of Ringo are all over the jail on wanted posters. Wyatt is concerned that Ringo May side with the Clantons and goes out to search for him with Masterston. He leaves Warren in charge.
Ringo and Steven split up and search for Holliday at the saloon where he stayed. Ringo finds Kate, a former girlfriend of his. She lies, telling him Holliday was headed for New Mexico with Dodo, with whom he has run off. Ringo tells Kate that he’s taking her back to Tombstone as revenge for him spurning her. She refuses but he threatens her at gunpoint.
In the jail, Phineas taunts the young Warren Earp. Ike and Billy Clanton enter and threaten him into opening the cell. Warren tries to grab his gun. Billy shoots him. They free Phineas and leave.
Episode 4: The O.K. Corral
In the saloon, Masterson, Earp and the Doctor cover Charlie’s body. Masterson works out that Ringo killed him, but Earp reckons that the Doctor may have had a hand in it. Rather than being accusatory for this act he recollects how useful and powerful was when the Doctor disarmed the Clantons the first time he met him. Earp deputizes the Doctor, giving him a badge and a gun. Again the Doctor shows distaste at being given a firearm.Virgil Earp enters unexpectedly and offers his support in the fight against the Clantons. Masterson and the Earps leave. The Doctor remains in the saloon.
The Clantons return to Pa and find Ringo there with Kate and Steven. They boastfully tell Pa about killing Warren, and he tells them that it really is war now.
However, Warren is alive…barely. His brothers tend to him in the jail. He tells them it was a Clanton who shot him, then he dies. Wyatt is furious and tells Virgil to inform the Clantons that they’ll meet at dawn, at the O.K. Corral. Masterson tries to convince him that this isn’t the way of the lawman. Earp renounces the law.
Steven plans to escape to warn the inhabitants of Tombstone about the Clantons, but Kate warns him against the futility of this. The Clantons hear Virgil approach, and Ringo recognizes him as the marshal of Dodge City. Virgil gives them his message and asks Steven whose side he is on. Steven tells him he supports the Earps, but cannot leave as Pa threatens him. Ringo, who hid upstairs during the talk, returns and lays out a plan to use the Clantons as bait and ambush the Earps from behind while the Clantons go in from the front.
Back at the jail, the Doctor tries to reason with Earp, but his protestations fall on deaf ears. Virgil returns and tells Earp that Kate and Ringo’s horse were there. He also informs the Doctor that Steven is there. The Earps figure Ringo is siding with the Clantons. The Doctor tells them they cannot take on both the Clantons and Ringo, but as he does so, Doc enters and announces that they won’t have to. When asked by Wyatt why he has returned he says a girl forced him to at gunpoint. A celebratory Dodo walks into the jail and embraces the Doctor. Virgil refuses to fight alongside Holliday due to the fact he is an outlaw, but when Doc is told that Kate is with them, he insists. With Doc back, the Doctor hands over his gun and badge, happy to be rid of them. Doc suggests that if Ringo is involved there will be a tactic. He plans to hang back to observe anything Ringo may be trying to pull.
Later that night Dodo and the Doctor are in the saloon when Masterson enters and asks the Doctor to talk the Clantons out of the fight. He is persuaded that it is the only way of avoiding bloodshed and to allow justice to take its course. The Doctor is given his badge back by Masterson and sets off.
Despite the Doctor’s best effort he arrives at the Clanton ranch after the departure of Ringo and the Clantons. Steven tells the Doctor of Ringo’s plan to circle around, and the Doctor tells Pa that they predicted Ringo would side with the Clantons and that Holliday has joined the Earps. Pa is furious to discover that he has been lied to by Kate.
The Clantons and Ringo arrive at the OK Corral whilst the Earps leave to face them. Masterson tries to persuade Earp one last time.
The Earps and Clantons meet and the latter open fire, hoping that they can stop the Earps. Once in range, the Earps also fire. Away from the main fight Ringo comes across Holliday approaching the fight and is about to shoot Doc when Dodo runs over and alerts him. Ringo takes Dodo hostage while Doc takes cover. He forces Holliday to drop his weapon. Doc throws his weapon down. As Ringo goes to retrieve it Dodo pushes him down. Doc pulls another gun and shoots him. Holliday tells the dying Ringo he though he would do better. “I will, next time,” Ringo says, then dies. Holliday regroups with Wyatt, telling him Ringo’s dead. Billy makes a move to kill Doc, but he misses and Doc kills him instead. Virgil hits Phineas, who dies shortly after. Ike, the only man left to oppose the Earps and Doc, tries to run. Doc corners him and Ike fires his gun, only to find that it’s empty. Doc and the Earps kill Ike.
Some time later, the Doctor and Doc are walking together with Dodo, Steven and Kate. He questions Holliday’s reason for leaving. Kate and Doc unveil a wanted poster Masterson has released with Doc’s face upon it. Holliday also mentions that Wyatt is no longer a lawman, having been involved in the fighting. He gives the poster to the Doctor and then leaves with Kate. The Doctor and Steven go back to the TARDIS — much to the disappointment of Dodo.
The TARDIS is now in a different setting Inside, the Doctor tells his companions that he knows exactly what their new destination is: the far future in an age of prosperity. As they leave the TARDIS, the scanner shows a savage figure appearing on the crest of a hill.