Doctor Who episode 117: Johnny Ringo (14/5/1966)

One of the problems with The Myth Makers is the clumsy way it pivoted from three episodes of comedy to the massacre of Troy. Donald Cotton seems to have taken a lesson from it, as this episode sees a more gradual fade from character comedy into grim horror.

The episode begins with a fairly tense scene of Steven being rescued from a lynch mob – as the Doctor is physically restrained from intervening by Bat Masterson. Hartnell is manhandled a fair bit in this episode as later on Johnny Ringo will push him roughly aside. I could probably blether on about how this is a metaphor for his removal from the show, but it is notable how the Doctor can only protest impotently (and gives one of his greatest harumphs) while Steven and Dodo are the ones who actually do anything – Steven, joining forces with Johnny Ringo to find Doc Holliday and Dodo, while Dodo, in the episode’s funniest scene, threatens to shoot Holliday unless he returns her to Tombstone.

Dodo apologetically threatening murder aside, the episode gets increasingly dark. Wyatt Earp, a solid secondary character in the previous episodes, comes into his own, and John Alderson gives a very compelling, authoritative performance. Pa Clanton has also arrived in town: hard drinking and no-nonsense, and less comically inept than his sons. Most impressively, Laurence Payne’s Johnny Ringo has genuine presence. He’s not funny, he’s dangerous. Even the indomitable Kate is scared of him. In his first scene he guns down the garrulous barman Charlie – and that is clearly a metaphor for the way Cotton is killing off the comedy.

The episode is, again, notably well designed and directed. Rex Tucker uses the stairs in the Last Chance Saloon and outside the Wagon Hotel to shoot characters from upstairs looking down. He also frames a scene from Dodo’s room in the hotel, across the hall, and into Doc Holliday’s room. These choices give the episode a striking sense of scale, height and depth, and combined with the detailed sets works to make Tombstone and the surrounding areas feel real and lived in.

While the previous two episodes respectively concluded with the Doctor and Steven apparently in mortal peril from the Clantons, this one ends with the brothers finally following through on their murderous threats, freeing Phineas from the cells and killing young Warren Earp in the process. This is a really effective exercise in raising the stakes ahead of the inevitable climax.

Next episode: The O.K. Corral



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