February 28: "Don't Shoot the Pianist" / "Johnny Ringo"

(The Gunfighters episodes 2 & 3)

So there's some strong competition, but "Don't Shoot the Pianist" might be one of the funniest episodes of Doctor Who.  It's certainly up there.  Steven's getting really fed up singing the same song over and over again, and it takes the regular singer Kate showing up to let him stop -- only to have him play the piano while she sings.  "Don't mind me," Dodo fumes, having just been playing.  "Just have a good time with your new friends!"  Honestly, her sense of priorities seem consistently misplaced -- has she not noticed they were being forced to play at gunpoint?

The Doctor, while holding the Clantons at gunpoint, is happy
to see Wyatt Earp. ("Don't Shoot the Pianist") ©BBC
But really, the star of the show is William Hartnell.  Donald Cotton has decided to write a story where the Doctor isn't responsible for the main action but instead wanders about the place slightly bemused.  It means that in general Hartnell can play up the comedic side of things without having to worry too much about moving the plot along.  And as there's not too much plot moving happening in this episode (most of it is at a more-or-less standstill while the Clantons labor under the misapprehension that the Doctor is Doc Holliday), that leaves quite a bit of room for comedy.  From the Doctor explaining to the Clantons that he's not Doc Holliday, he just happened to be in his office when Seth Harper walked in and then Holliday insisted on lending him his gun, to his time spent in the jail cell under the protective custody of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, Hartnell is a master of underplaying just the right amount, so that even though he's incredibly funny it still seems in character.  Steven hands him a gun through the cell window, which he then fiddles with in front of Earp, pointing it at him at one point while gesturing (which John Alderson as Earp reacts to with just the right amount of faint alarm) before handing it over: "I have no intention of trying anything, only people keep giving me guns and I do wish they wouldn't."

Sure, there are some minor issues (and here I'm thinking primarily of the accents -- most of them aren't too bad, but Peter Purves' accent is a bit odd just because we're used to him sounding otherwise, while David Cole as Billy Clanton sounds like he went to a finishing school, despite attempting to speak in a dialect), but they by no means detract from the action.

"Johnny Ringo" is a little more serious, introducing as it does the title character and advancing the storyline.  After Steven is saved from a lynch mob, the Clantons learn that the Doctor isn't Doc Holliday after all, and so they plot to go after him by hiring Johnny Ringo to take care of him.  Ringo is shown to be a brutal man, gunning down Charlie the barman just because he talks too much.  The Clantons may be a bit inept, but Ringo is anything but.  Yet as Holliday left Tombstone and took Dodo with him, Steven decided to team up with Ringo to find them.  Meanwhile, Phineas Clanton is broken out of jail by his brothers, who gun down Warren Earp as they do so (again, not historically accurate -- Warren Earp wasn't in Tombstone at the time).  The stage has been set for the final episode.

There are still some fun moments: the "Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon" starts entertainingly narrating the action on screen, and there's one moment with the Doctor that is hilarious.  The Doctor explains to Wyatt Earp that Steven has gone off with a man named Johnny Ringo to look for Dodo.  "Ringo?" Earp responds in disbelief.  "Yes, yes," the Doctor replies.  "You've got a photograph of him here, look," he adds, helpfully passing Wyatt a wanted poster that Earp immediately throws aside.  But ultimately this episode is more about getting things ready for the climactic shootout than anything else.  Soon the stage is set for "The OK Corral"...