Rex Tucker’s direction continues to impress. The O.K. Corral begins with a lovely tableau, shot through the bannisters of the Last Chance Saloon, as the Doctor, Bat and Wyatt remove their hats over Charlie’s shrouded corpse. It’s a composition that’s echoed in the subsequent death of Warren: shot through the bars of the jailhouse, complete with expressionistic shadows. Even the climactic gunfight is impressively shot on film, with the deaths, Billy’s in particular, given horrible weight.
In keeping with Johnny Ringo, the humour is very restricted this week – mainly it’s the Doctor’s delayed reaction to accidentally leaning on Charlie’s body, and his outrage at constantly being referred to as “Pop”. Hartnell has been impressive throughout this serial, but here he’s magnificent, walking the line between comic indignation at being deputised by Wyatt Earp – ‘Nothing will ever induce me to raise a gun in anger’ – and concern as he and Dodo sit, back in the bar, sipping glasses of milk and pondering how to extract Steven from the Clantons’ grasp.
Best of all is his word-perfect face-off with Pa Clanton. He’s no longer a figure of fun – he’s authoritative, and fearless and thoroughly compelling. Maybe this was Hartnell’s attempt to reassure Doctor Who‘s new producer Innes Lloyd that he was still leading man material. If so, it seems to me convincing proof that, on a good day, he’s as fantastic as ever.
Perhaps less compelling, but certainly fun, is Dodo. While Steven is largely sidelined in this episode, Jackie Lane gets a couple of great moments – firstly returning Holliday to Tombstone at gunpoint, much to her own delight, and then later rushing out to warn the Doc that Ringo – ‘never figured for a back-shooter’ – is about to attack from behind. Her impetuousness saves Holliday, and is the end of Ringo, who expires with the classic ‘Next time…’
As a whole, The Gunfighters‘ flaws are predominantly the result of some bad accents and bad acting from the Clanton brothers, and the fact that the Doctor and Steven are passive characters throughout, the unwilling participants in other people’s plans. Only Dodo gets to play a key role in her best showing to date. Despite that, this is the best material Hartnell has had since The Daleks’ Master Plan, and he rises to the occasion magnificently. It’s hard to argue this is a masterpiece, but taken episode by episode it’s the most enjoyable Doctor Who has been since Verity Lambert left.
Next episode: Dr. Who and the Savages