March 1: "The OK Corral" / The Savages Episode 1

(The Gunfighters episode 4 & The Savages episode 1)

So much like Donald Cotton's last script, The Gunfighters concludes with a darker, more violent episode than the previous three had been.  But unlike The Myth Makers, "The OK Corral" ends with the people we're rooting for still alive at the end, while the villains of the piece receive their comeuppance.24

Virgil Earp, Wyatt Earp, and Doc Holliday shoot Phineas Clanton.
("The OK Corral") ©BBC
The nature of the episode is such that it's not nearly as humorous as the last three, and thus it's much more concerned with wrapping up the story.  But that's ok; we needed some more substance to this story, and "The OK Corral" delivers, moving all the pieces to the final, surprisingly somber gunfight at the OK Corral.  Other than a slightly out-of-place bit with Dodo ("I was only trying to help!" she says indignantly, after Doc Holliday has to rescue her from Johhny Ringo.  "You try to help me any more, you'll be the death of me!" Holliday replies), the gunfight is deadly straight.  This is serious (and well-directed) business.

There's a bit of a tag at the end, as Holliday wishes the time travellers well, but The Gunfighters is essentially over.  Now, this story has a reputation as being one of the worst Doctor Who stories -- probably as a result of Peter Haining's book  A Celebration, which had to select a story as its whipping boy while it extolled the praises of all the rest.  This is grossly unfair.  All right, maybe you don't like the song (although it must be said, it's a very catchy melody that you'll be whistling for days after), but the sheer comic talent on display here should more than make up for it.  This is a gem -- maybe not a perfectly polished gem, but still one heartily worth enjoying, with the added bonus that this happens to be a story that we can actually see in full.  A story to be treasured.

But it's time to move on, as we say farewell to individually-titled episodes ("The OK Corral" marks the last time part of a story receives an individual episode title until 2005) and on to The Savages Episode 1.  So we're back to the soundtrack, but now that Innes Lloyd is producer the telesnaps are back!  So we can actually get a glimpse of what this story looked like.

It's got to be said though that this story starts rather oddly.  There's no visceral danger present; Steven and Dodo are threatened by some savages, but most of what happens occurs on a cerebral level.  It's also odd that the Elders who built the city near where the TARDIS arrives (sorry to be awkward with the phrasing, but neither it nor the planet itself never receives a proper name) seem to already know of the Doctor and in fact have been expecting his arrival.  We're getting a sense, quite early on in the series, that the Doctor is a known figure in the universe.  The Doctor admires the Elders' society, but when he questions what it's based on, the Elders' leader, Jano, is a bit evasive, only saying that they take energy from "a very special form of animal vitality."  Yes, this story is about exploiting other people for their own gains.  The savages outside the city are presented as just that, but they also clearly feel pain and concern and are obviously intelligent (when one of the guards captures the young girl Nanina, another savage named Chal offers to take her place).  The savages are people just like the Elders, even if their society is different.  This then is a more cerebral sort of danger, the nasty exploitation of a group of people for selfish ends.

Oh, and then while this more abstract horror is sinking in, Dodo wanders down a dark corridor and is scared by a shuffling figure with outstretched hands.  Roll credits!

24 Ok, historical nitpicking time: setting aside the fact that The Gunfighters doesn't mention the Clantons' allies the McLaurys at all, Phineas Clanton wasn't present at the gunfight, and neither was Johnny Ringo.  Although Billy was killed, Ike fled the scene almost immediately.  Meanwhile, Virgil Earp was wounded, along with Morgan Earp, who was also present at the scene, while Doc Holliday was grazed by a bullet.  It seems that more than a few of the events depicted here derive from the 1957 film Gunfight at the O.K. Corral rather than actual history.