‘The Gunfighters’ by Donald Cotton is an infamous and somewhat unloved Hartnell historical from the programme’s third season.
The production, as well as taking large liberties with historical detail, employed a broad comic tone to tell the tale of the famous gunfight at the O.K Corral. A similar light touch was taken with Cotton’s previous effort ‘The Myth Makers’, but this time he went further with the insertion of the infamous song ‘The Ballard of the Last Chance Saloon’ to bookend each episode.
In action unfolds with the Doctor arriving in Tombstone in need of dental treatment. Thrilled at the chance to dress up, his companions Stephen and Dodo get into the spirit of things and wind up entertaining at the piano in the Last Chance Saloon.
Meanwhile the Doctor tricked into being mistaken for the notorious Doc Holliday; The famous gunslinger, drinker and card sharp is the town’s new dentist, apparently attempting to retire in the town and settle down with his new lady love.
The author, who returned to the material almost twenty years after its original transmission, is very free with his adaptation. He takes a deliberate turn into the bizarre from the outset when, rather than tell the story straight, he bookends the whole tale with the framing device of an aged Holliday who has granted an interview.
Retold primarily in the first person, it becomes the tale of an unreliable narrator laced with quips, puns and laconic asides. There are some blunt descriptions of violence here too as well as colourful language, by which we don’t mean expletives though there are a few, but healthy doses of mixed metaphor and runs of alliteration that would make Henry Gordon Jago feel right at home.
Seeing the story for what it is, as it draws its inspiration very much from the Hollywood rather than the historical, there are frequent references to the fact that this is a Western. It even goes as far as referring to the unnamed residents of Tombstone as extras and cheekily addresses the question of why the famous Last Chance Saloon was so free of customers, presumably in a nod to the programme’s limited budget.
Shane Rimmer, who took the role of Seth Harper in the television episodes, lends his vocal talents to read the tale. Rimmer is better known as the voice of Scott Tracey in Thunderbirds as well as a host of other roles in Anderson productions and films. The Canadian’s drawl and gravely tone suit the material and he is great with the quips, puns and knowing asides that are laced through the story. Atmospheric twanging stings and gunshots on the soundtrack also help to set the tone.
This re-rendering has the effect of raising the stock of a much-derided story, undercutting the slightly preposterous premise with knowing asides that cannot fail to raise a smile from the listener. Darn tootin’!
Released on Thursday 7 February 2013 by AudioGO.
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