Having drained the Doctor of his vitality, Jano is now plotting the same fate for Dodo and Steven. Which begs the question – was this what Jano planned all along (if so, it’s not clear from Episodes 1 and 2), or is this his response to their failure to appreciate the Elders’ benevolence? Did he track the TARDIS to his spider’s web, or is he trying to make the best of a bad situation?
Having set up exactly what is happening, how and why last time, this episode goes ahead and shows it happening, and at great length. The scenes of scientist Senta extracting life energy first from Nanina and later the Doctor take up about a quarter of the running time. The telesnaps make the laboratory set seem impressive – with bubbling vats, and a glass extraction chamber – and it’s likely Christopher Barry maximised the vampiric horror of these scenes.
The change to umbrella titles rather than individual episode names goes hand-in-hand with a different emphasis: no longer is this just the latest instalment of an adventure in space and time, it announces itself as the first part of a new serial. It’s possibly just coincidence that this feels different from, say, The Steel Sky – but the Doctor already knowing where he is, and the presence of a welcoming committee, mean that the element of exploration and world-building that have previously been the hallmarks of Hartnell ‘space’ stories aren’t really evident here.
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.
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.
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.
The establishing shots do their job in clarifying the TARDIS’s latest destination: a familiar Wild West main street; cowboys wander through as the jaunty, jangling keys of saloon music play. This is Tombstone, and there is the O.K. Corral. The cowboys turn out to be the Clanton brothers, here to wreak bloody vengeance on Doc Holliday for the death of their brother Reuben.