Doctor Who episode 116: Don’t Shoot the Pianist (7/5/1966)

Kate is magnificent: at the start of the episode, she sweeps in to save the day, waving a gun at the Clantons and putting the thugs in their place, before telling Dodo to vamoose, ordering Steven to play piano, and changing the mood entirely with her own, saucy rendition of The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon. She dominates the episode in a way most female characters don’t get to during this era of the show.

Later on, Kate has a couple of lovely scenes with Dodo, which is fascinating because for the first time someone is interacting with her as if she’s a woman rather than an annoying child. ‘Ain’t it wonderful, honey, what a man’ll do for what he truly believes in?’ she says cynically, as Doc Holliday leaves to get a bottle of whiskey. Later, the two of them chat about Kate’s relationship with Holliday. In no way does it pass the Bechdel Test, but it’s a lovely, very real moment in amongst all the comedy, and gives this episode a warmth and humanity that’s not always been evident recently.

Equally lovely is Cotton’s treatment of the Doctor. It’s true he is more of a naïf than usual – wandering innocently into traps other characters have laid for him, and struggling to extract himself without help, but Hartnell’s mix of bafflement, offended dignity and morality are wonderful.

His false modesty after Harper sarcastically introduces him as the great Doc (‘Reasonably accomplished I would say, but not great!’) and his extemporising when the Clanton’s mention the late Reuben – ‘Sometimes after a bereavement it’s very difficult to find exactly the right kind of words’ – are excellent. But best of all is his reaction to being handed a gun, delightedly discovering he can twirl it round his finger, before handing it over to Earp:

People keep giving me guns and I do wish they wouldn’t.

The script continues to be brilliantly nimble, even if some of it is lost in the laboured accents of the Clantons, and especially the very bad performance of William Hurndell as Ike. But there is a hard edge to it, with Doc Holliday in particular being both witty, but murderously dangerous. That’s particularly evident in the episode’s climax, when he coolly guns down Seth Harper before slapping Dodo on the backside and fleeing town, leaving the Doctor and Steven to their fate at the hands of the Clantons’ lynch mob.

Next Episode: Johnny Ringo

One comment

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who episode 115: A Holiday for the Doctor (30/4/1966) | Next Episode...

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