THE GUNFIGHTERS

"You're fast becoming a prey to every cliche-ridden convention on the American West."

Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK Buy Doctor Who video at Amazon.co.uk  US Buy Doctor Who video at Amazon.com

Download Doctor Who episodes at Amazon.com

They said it was terrible. They said it was the worst Doctor Who ever made. And you know what? They were wrong.

The Gunfighters isn't exactly standard Doctor Who fare. Since we already know the story (or at least the one the Westerns give us, which isn't exactly historically accurate), we know right at the beginning how it's going to pan out. And there isn't anybody threatening to take over the Earth - in fact, apart from the TARDIS crew themselves, there aren't any science fiction elements at all.

And there's no doubt The Gunfighters has its drawbacks. In parts, the Doctor's character is a wee bit inconsistent with the cunning old buzzard we all know and love. Dodo's embarrassingly bad, although that's pretty much par for the course. And the Clanton boys' accents lurch mirthfully back and forth across the Atlantic, even swerving sideways at times into Australia.

But it's funny. It's really, really funny. In fact, it joins the short list of Doctor Who stories that manage to be consistently entertaining right through four parts. So what's not to like?

We don't use the word "rollicking" every day, but if there was ever an appropriate story to bestow it on, this is the one. The script's stuffed full of killer lines, from Holliday's complaint "You kill a guy out of sheer professional ethics..." to the Doctor's "Sometimes after a bereavement it's difficult to find the right kind of words." We particularly liked the TARDIS crew's aliases. Steven Regret and Dr Caligari? Superb. And the Doctor referring to Wyatt Earp as "Mr Wurp" is a comedy masterstroke.

It's a particularly brilliant story for the Doctor. OK, sometimes he's uncharacteristically slow on the uptake, and we don't buy his being bullied into taking Doc Holliday's gun for a microsecond. Nevertheless, it was a stroke of sheer genius to spot the Doctor's resemblance to the Doc Holliday of legend. Bill Hartnell takes the riffs the writer manages on this theme and turns them into comedy gold. It's a sparkling performance from beginning to end and, the odd bit of character slippage aside, it's the Doctor to the life. From his irritability over his toothache (hmm, just how long has he had this toothache, anyway? That could explain a few things) to his proposal to reason with the Clantons, it brings out the comic side of the Doctor while never letting him lose his Doctorly dignity. And did we mention that it's bloody funny?

Peter Purves as Steven, retreading the American accent he used in The Chase, also shows off an endearing comic talent. (Although we would say that, wouldn't we? Mmm... Steven... ) We particularly love the sly humour of his silly satiny fringy embroidered shirt, in which he manages to look goofy and delicious at the same time. (Mmm... Steven...) And Anthony Jacobs as Doc Holliday also turns in an excellent performance, sliding effortlessly between comic and sinister.

Just sticking with sinister, Laurence Payne does a good job with Johnny Ringo: if you can overlook his wavering accent, he's a memorably scary guy. The rest of the cast show varying levels of incompetence, but they're not enough to sink the thing.

It looks good, too. Not that we're exactly connoisseurs of the genre, but it looks like a Western to us. Horses and everything!

Then there's that infamous ballad. It's repetitive in parts, it's seriously strange overall, but dammit, at least it's original. Full marks to them for having a go at something different.

We wouldn't want to claim that The Gunfighters is top ten material. It's got too many flaws for that. But as a fun-to-watch rare expedition into the comic side of Doctor Who, it's a diamond. Treasure it.

MORAL: Always remember to floss.

OUCH

"A Holiday For The Doctor"?

PURELY DECORATIVE

So the Doctor has a gun collection in the TARDIS, does he? Not that he likes them or anything. In fact, as we all know, he refuses to use one, except on virtually every occasion possible.

I THRILL WHEN I DRILL A BICUSPID

Why would the Doctor pick an era of primitive dental treatment to get his tooth looked after?

PLEASE DO

"Now let's get this straight. You don't know where Holliday - you never met Holliday either?"

AND THE HORSE YOU RODE IN ON

"Goodbye and good luck." "Oh, yes, and the same to you and many of them."

SCRIPT BY NOSTRADAMUS

Spot the anachronism: it's a bit early for ragtime piano, and "earn your gunfighter's wings" is a serious oops.

AND THEN I STABBED HER WITH A HAIRPIN

Why does Dodo, just after hearing Kate urge Doc Holliday to kill the Doctor, suddenly become her bestest pal? They're even putting up each other's hair, for God's sake!

TAKE HIM OUT AND BEAT HIM

"For the first time in my life, I have just been taken... beaten... to a draw."

WHAT A DRAG

"Your man Regret has gone after Holliday alone?" "No, my dear Marshall, she's gone off with a gentleman called Johnny Ringo."

FRIENDLY FIRE

At the beginning of the gunfight, the Clantons start laying down a barrage of gunfire, but mysteriously, the Earps manage to walk right through it unscathed. Now, we know villains are supposed to be bad shots, but that's on a different plane altogether.

BULLET POINTS

Just how many bullets do those guns hold, anyway? None of 'em seem to be stopping to reload.

YOU ARE FEELING VERY SLEEPY

We know Doc Holliday was supposed to be fast on the draw, but according to this, how this works out in practice is that his opponent stands staring helplessly at him like a deer caught in the headlights while Holliday pats down his pockets, slowly removes a firearm and leisurely plugs him between the eyes.

Buy this Dr Who DVD: UK Buy Doctor Who video at Amazon.co.uk  US Buy Doctor Who video at Amazon.com

Download Doctor Who episodes at Amazon.com