on 8 September 2013
The link between these two stories may be tenuous, but if we judge the stories on their own merits they both have a great deal to offer.
The first story is the William Hartnell story 'The Gunfighters' which is quite possibly the most maligned Doctor Who story ever and, having watched it, I cannot understand why. The story is a historical set in the wild west in 1881, it concerns the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral and the events leading up to it. Donald Cotton's script is very well written; it's consistently very amusing and has loads of great dialogue. William Hartnell had apparently wanted to do a western and his performance here is a joy to watch. The rest of the cast are also pretty good, Anthony Jacobs in particular excels as Doc Holliday.
The sets constructed for this story are very impressive and are made to look even better by Rex Tucker's stylish and confident direction. Perhaps the most often criticized part of this story is the 'Ballad of the last chance saloon' which is sung by Lynda Baron and appears at various times throughout the story. The ballad is there to commentate on the action and if you listen to the lyrics they are very clever, I also found Baron's vocals to be more than satisfactory.
So in conclusion The Gunfighters is wonderfully entertaining and so I would urge you not to be put off by the undeserved criticism this story has received.
The other story is the Peter Davison story 'The Awakening', Davison's time on the show gave us many excellent stories and this is certainly one of the best. This is well acted and directed with especially excellent use of location filming. The sets for this story are also fabulous, but extra praise has to go to the magnificent church set which was so convincing that you could be forgiven for thinking the scenes it was used for were filmed inside a real church.
The antagonist is an incredibly malevolent entity by the name of the Malus which is buried inside the walls of the church and is breaking out, the design for the Malus too is impressive it really projects a sense of menace despite the fact that it doesn't actually speak. It has been said that his story is insubstantial due to it's brief length but I disagree, after all stories such as 'The Girl in the Fireplace' and 'Blink' which are both almost exactly the same length as this are rightly considered classics and I believe this should be as well.
In conclusion The Awakening is nearly faultless and is, for me, one of the finest Doctor Who stories ever.
So, we have two superb stories packaged together, I believe the quality of these stories more than compensates for the lack of reasoning for why they were released together in the first place.
It's late October 1881 in Tombstone and the Clantons are waiting in the Last Chance Saloon to knock off Doc Holliday when three (very) strangers drift into town: a Doctor calling himself Caligari (William Hartnell) who's looking for a good dentist, a singer calling himself Regret (Peter Purves) and a pianist called Dodo (Jackie Lane). When they mistake the eccentric Doctor for the gunman, Holliday decides to let them kill him to get a bit of peace and quiet once the Clantons assume he's out of the way. Naturally, things don't quite work out that way... especially since the Doctor is a time traveller whose TARDIS has just landed at the OK Corral. Yep, The Gunfighters is Doctor Who way out west - well, West London on a small TV soundstage masquerading as Tombstone's main street and populated by British actors with cowboy hats and dodgy accents and the odd Canadian like Shane Rimmer.
The casting isn't all bad, though: John Alderson makes a convincing Wyatt Earp, Anthony Jacobs is a decent Doc Holliday while the barkeep is played by David Graham, Brains from Thunderbirds and the voice behind many of Gerry Anderson's puppet shows including, perhaps most appropriately, the cowboy show Four Feather Falls. Best of all is Laurence Payne, usually typecast as tortured and ineffectual types (not surprising with a name like that) but clearly having a ball playing a charismatically rotten Johnny Ringo, a character who seems to have posthumously made up for missing the real gunfight by turning up in almost every fictional version of it.
Although from the last days when the series did historical adventures with no science fiction elements as part of a dimly remembered educational remit that had been part of the original pitch, this plays fast and loose with history with such rampant dime novel abandon that even Ned Buntline himself might have told writer Donald Cotton to hold his horses there for a moment. Urban legend has it that this was the lowest rated Doctor Who story ever (it wasn't, though it scored the worst audience appreciation rating of Hartnell's tenure), and while it does come from a period when it looked like the wouldn't be needing to regenerate its hero - then still a grumpy old traveller in time rather than a lord of it - it's more fun than its dismal reputation implies. It's certainly one of the more ambitious Who stories of its era, although that ambition isn't always realised and it often gets repetitive - the Clanton boys sure do spend a lot of time in the saloon talking about killing the Doc while Tristram Cary's Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon (sung by Lynda Baron) starts off as a nice nod to old Westerns but is quickly diluted by constant overuse, bookending just about every scene with only minor variations until you're hoping a stray bullet will shut the chanteuse up. The gunfight itself caused some friction behind the scenes, with director Rex Tucker taking his name off the credits because of the way it was re-edited, but despite one shot where the roof of the soundstage and its arc lights creep into view it's shot with some real panache.
It's hard to make a case for The Gunfighters as anything other than a modestly entertaining diversion, but it's a long way from the worst of the series even if its DVD release does treat it somewhat as leftovers, clumsily doubling it with an equally leftover story from the Fifth Doctor's third season and calling it a boxed set.
The Awakening is one of those Peter Davison stories that seems almost in danger of seeming overstretched at two episodes, and that when the series was still in its 25-minute format. With the Doctor, Turlogh and the less obnoxious than usual Tegan finding themselves in a 20th century English village where the local squire is disastrously turning the clock back with his increasingly draconian war games recreating the English Civil War - naturally part of a plot to revive a malignant alien that has been buried for centuries - it's an okay story that seems designed to fill in a gap between more ambitious stories. Once again it nods to Nigel Kneale's Quatermass and the Pit with its alien explanation for the Devil, but it never really builds up much tension or fear along the way as it hits the story points professionally enough but without much verve or inspiration. Rather like the character of Will Chandler, originally intended as a new companion along the lines of Jamie McCrimmon from the Patrick Troughton years but quickly discarded, you get the feeling that no-one knew quite how to make this one stand out from the crowd and just tried to salvage something passable from it all with only minimal interest.
Extras on The Gunfighters are an audio commentary by Peter Purves, Shane Rimmer, David Graham, Richard Beale, Tristan de Vere Cole and Toby Hadoke, a couple of featurettes (the best, The End of the Line, about the show's troubled future prospects at the time, while Tomorrow's Times - The First Doctor deals with contemporary press coverage of the show), stills gallery and trivia track. The Awakening gets an audio commentary by Michael Owen Morris, Eric Saward and Toby Hadoke, extended and deleted scenes, a trio of featurettes dealing with the troubled production, the making of the monster and the locations, an outtake and extract from the Golden Egg Award, isolated score, stills gallery and on-screen production notes.
The Gunfighters is still a story that polarises opinion, although not half as much as back in the 1970's and 1980's (when few of us had actually seen it and all we had to go on was received opinion). For me, it's a cracking little story, although very much a tale of two halves.
The first two episodes crackle with humour and everybody, Hartnell in particular, are having a ball. The Doctor's initial meeting with Doc Holliday, as a somewhat unwilling patient in the Doc's dentist chair, is a joy and Holliday (Anthony Jacobs) and Wyatt Earp (John Alderson) both get some lovely lines.
The Clantons are, it's true to say, a family of mismatched accents - some (such as Canadian-born Shane Rimmer) do come off better than others, but as they are played for laughs early on this isn't really a problem.
Mid-way through the story there's a sharp change of gear as the Clantons gun down Warren Earp, which leads Doc Holliday, Wyatt and Morgan Earp to line up against the Clantons and Johhny Ringo at the Gunfight at the O.K. Corrall. These events don't really involve the Doctor and his friends, so they could have left in the TARDIS in episode three and not really have been missed.
This apart, The Gunfighters is a definite highlight from the later Hartnell era, and much more entertaining than, say, the somewhat stodgy fare of The Ark. Special-features wise, the highlight is a very convivial commentary with Toby Hadoke moderating a lively discussion with some of the cast and crew.
The other story in the boxset is The Awakening, a compact two-part story from 1984, starring Peter Davison. There's a slight Sapphire and Steel air about the story as people's emotions are key to the return of the Malus - similar to some of the story concepts from PJ Hammond's writings. A very strong guest cast (Denis Lil, Polly James, Glyn Houston) give Davison plenty to work with and there's some nice location filming which is a good contrast to the two studio bound stories that preceded and followed it on original transmission. No classic, but a good, solid story that doesn't exceed its welcome. An informative making-of documentary (Return to Little Hodcome) and some extended and deleted scenes are the highlights of the extras package.
Well worth picking up for The Gunfighters which has much to recommended it (particularly Rex Tucker's direction which favours both high and low shots - given the cumbersome nature of 1960's TV cameras this is impressive) and The Awakening is a decent story as well. There's also plenty of bonus materials to put the two adventures into context. A good purchase for anyone who is only interested in picking and choosing certain Doctor Who stories to own.
on 28 March 2013
At first glance, it seems an odd split to put together these two stories under a rather weird title, but that's "Doctor Who" for you - never sitting still, never mundane, always on the go as a programme. For me, watching "The Gunfighters" was just like seeing new "Who", as I had absolutely no memory of it from the time it was first shown (I was probably out playing football on those Saturday afternoons....!). It was fun and entertaining, despite the sometime dodgy accents of the support cast, and the chance to see William Hartnell towards the end of his tenure is fascinating. WHile sometimes struggling, he is still very much an engaging and interesting Doctor, and it was a real shame that his health deteriorated enough that the production team decided it was time for him to go not too long after this story. (He only had four more left, two of which are, at present, completely lost from the BBC archive.) That decision, though, was to prove one of the great TV moves EVER, creating the concept of regeneeration, so that the show could always change its lead character and move on.
And four regenerations later, we have "The Awakening", one of my favourite Peter Davison stories. A two - part gem, with some nice performances and a really atmospheric feel to the "war games" of Little Hodcombe.
All in all, a great little package to add to your "Who" collection.
on 30 March 2011
Is there an end of term feel at 2 Entertain as they approach the end of complete classic story releases? Do they have a DVD boxset party game and is it beverage related? Who knows, but if they do it has given us Myths & legends and now The Awakening and Gunfighters, stories only connected by taking place on Earth (like that's a rarity). Still, they are both fun stories. They've been remastered as per usual, nice clear picture for Awakening & Gunfighters is a bit better than it looked on VHS.
The Gunfighters used to in the pre-video days have the reputation of lowest ratings ever & biggest Who turkey ever. the former was never true and the latter is unfair. The 2nd of 2 scripts by Donald Cotton*1, it's more like Dennis Spooner's the Romans in it's mix of comedy and drama than it is like Cotton's previous tale The Myth makers ( a recommended CD). Cotton's set up is very Abbott & Costello- the Tardis crew land in Tombstone on the eve of the Gunfight at the OK Corral and the Dr gets mistaken for Doc Holliday, something the infamous gunslinger himself encourages. The scene where the mistake occurs as the Doctor sits in Holliday's Dental surgery awaiting treatment is great;
"I suppose so"
The comedy elements are the most successful and you get the feel Hartnell really enjoyed it. He plays the comedy for all it's worth knowing he's getting the best lines, like the T-shirt worthy "People keep giving me guns, I do wish they wouldn't!" All the cast make the most of the comedy and it's a good cast all round. The top honours go to Anthony Jacobs (Pa to Matthew Jacobs who wrote the McGann Who movie) as the incorrigible yet likeable Holliday, Sheene Marshe as his world weary girlfriend Kate & Laurence Payne as a psychotic Johnny Ringo. Watch also for Shane Rimmer (Scot in Thunderbirds) & David Graham (Parker in Thunderbirds plus Dalek voices and Kerensky in City of Death).
Good costumes and great sets.
Where does it go wrong a bit? Well the direction by Rex Tucker, a man with a cowboyish sounding name and 1st Producer of Who *2, is very uneven with the dramatic material. While the callous gunning down of an innocent is one of the most shocking deaths in 60's Who, a threatened lynching & the gunfight itself fall flat.
Then there's the Ballad of The Last Chance Saloon. Fitting, well sung by Lynda Baron and a clever way to track the plot, but it's used too many times and grates in places.
All in all a very fun even if flawed tale, worth checking out if you've enjoyed what you've seen of Hartnell so far.
The Awakening is a fun but quiet little Peter Davison story by Eric Pringle. The tardis crew hop off to Earth to visit Tegan's grandad (you don't want to be in her family, 1st Auntie, then Cousin and now Grandad's in peril!).
they discover a village Little Hodcombe where historical re-enactment is taking a strange turn, all connected to the mailgn force of an alien entity called the Malus, which has been affecting people since the English Civil War. The Malus feeds off negative energy and is represented by a static figure which can burst through walls. It's a nice change to have an alien which is not a man in a costume for once and relies on the acting for atmosphere.
There is atmosphere but it never quite gets scary lacking say the operatic if slightly OTT quality of the Daemons, a story it resembles in many ways.
Good performances with Polly James & Denis Lill making the strongest impression amongst the guests & Peter Davison as with most of his last year giving a relaxed and charming performance. There's a nice link to the Visitation as the Terileptils are mentioned.
Nothing outstanding but an enjoyable 2 parter for Davison fans.
Peter Purves, Shane Rimmer and David Graham do a fun commentary for Gunfighters joined by Richard Beale (Bat Masterson) who reveals he was in the Green Death (he plays a minister who asks the PM to have a word with the Brig). They dicuss the pros and cons of Director Rex Tucker and that song! They mention John Alderson (Wyatt Earp) was a stalwart of Hollywood westerns and mention nuances such as how Steven's outfit looks like a costume rather than authentic weterns garb. All think it stands up well now.
End of the Line is a top notch look at Who's 3rd (& Hartnell's last) year. Interviewees include Peter Purves, Anneke Wills & Donald Tosh plsu there are soundbites (textbites?) read out from interviews with people like producers John Wiles & Innes Lloyd. there's also a Galaxy 4 clip of a Rill which I don't recall seeing before. 1st class doc!
It's well supplemented with Tomorrow's Times which has clearly found it's stride telling the story of the press loving Who for the 1st year or 2 then becoming disenchanted & how a paper writer tried to predict the "great success" of the Voord (from Keys of Marinus)!
Director Michael Owen Morris and Script Editor Eric Saward comment on Awakening, enjoyably recalling the shoot, script probles, JNT and comparing Matt Smith to Peter Davison e.g. both young men who can convey wisdom beyind years.
There's a double look at the Awakening locations with a now and then (nicely put together as always) plus Return to Little Hodcombe a making of documentary shot at the location used. It's a good doc with a range of interviewees including our commenters, actors Keith Jayne who thinks the famous outtake has earned him more in repeat fees than the story & Janet Fielding who wonders if treading lightly with an inexperienced director sold him short. A bit short but using the location is a definite plus as is interviewing residents who recall the show's visit
Making the Malus is a look at the creature, recalling its creation & showing it now in a collector's hands-a fun short.
Some extended and deleted scenes are included, notably Kamelion's lost scene and the Golden Egg Award from Noel Edmonds' Late, Late Breakfast Show where a horse destroys a lych gate is there too.
A trailer for Paradise Towers rounds things off.
It's a good all round package very well put together
*1 Cotton also wrote either a script or storyline called The Herdsmen of Venus/Aquarius where aliens herd creatures one of which ends up in Loch Ness but it was never made. He also novelised Myth Makers, Gunfighters & Romans. All written in the 1st person and all recommended.
*2 Tucker did pre-production work on Who prior to Verity lambert's arrival and briefly alongside her but the 2 clashed.
on 7 September 2014
This is an excellent little boxset!
William Hartnell - 1st Doctor
Peter Purves - Steven Taylor
Jackie Lane - Dodo Chaplet
(It ranked 202 in the 2014 Doctor Who Magazine pol)
This is an entertaining little story, which is effectively a comedy! The only irritating thing is the woman singing all the way through it! This DVD also features a few special features. One of interest is The End Of The Line which focuses on the turbulent third year of Doctor Who.
Peter Davison - 5th Doctor
Janet Fielding - Tegan Jovanka
Mark Strickson - Turlough
(This serial rated 155th In the Doctor Who Magazine Pol published in 2014)
This is a great story, it is amazing and the acting is great, all in all a great little boxest.
on 17 April 2016
Box set of two of the stories that few people actually want and have very little in common other than being loosely 'historical' and designed by the wonderful Barry Newbery.
The Gunfighters is not nearly as bad as it is often made out to be, it's rather fun and very amusing in places (intentionally and not so intentionally) .
The history is almost totally wrong which is disappointing for the Hartnell historicals and the Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon is quite original and fitting at the start, but is overdone and becomes irritating and intrusive by the final two episodes. You know, all in all I rather like the performances and most of the accents and enjoyed the show much more than i though i would.
The commentary and extras are also interesting and worthwhile.
Unfortunately, I rather dislike The Awakening, a poor substitute for The Daemons , with a silly and only half explained plot, some arch performances and nothing much to commend it other than a quite nice monster in the Malus both in the wall and in the Tardis, though the compulsory green slime is a bit unnecessary. All a bit trivial, really and the ending feels rushed with the nastiest character being quickly forgiven and welcomed back into the community.
Again the extras are pretty good and the commentary too, though sadly, this is the only Davison story that Peter doesn't provide commentary on and Mark Strickson is also missing (as Turlough is from the plot, as usual) and Janet Fielding is only on the making of bits.I love the Malus prop today bit and although the Golden Egg Award is pretty funny best of all is the cut scene which features the even more missing in action than Turlough companon, Kamelion. Nice to see the unworkable robot once more.
A moderate DVD, for completists only.
on 29 March 2011
Not that either one is bad, but The Awakening suffers from the same fault as many 'filler' episodes of the 21st century series, in that forty-five minutes isn't enough in which to develop the story. We're given a picturesque location and a mystery involving clashing time zones that Sapphire and Steel would stare at each other for six whole episodes in. But in typical Davison fashion we get urgent running around instead, and like the Doctor, we don't get time to admire the scenery, nor piece the puzzle together in our heads. It's all rather lightweight really, and in the end the Malus could just be any old generic monster. Even the subplot concerning Tegan's family ties - especially after Aunt Vanessa - ends up feeling less substantial and important than it should be.
As for The Gunfighters, it's a story with a reputation that's definitely improved with age. It could hardly have got any worse - Doctor Who Magazine, in the dark days of a series tainted by more extant episodes and folk memories that were, at the time, unchallengable, latched onto The Gunfighters' low Appreciation Index figures and mercilessly beat the story to death with it. Yes, the style and nature of the beast seem utterly bizarre and corny now; but first and foremost, it's a comedy, and not a bad one. Embittered fans just don't seem to want to recognize this. As the first Western serial the BBC ever produced, it's also an experiment that could have gone much more awry than it did. But mainly, right up to the final climactic shootout, The Gunfighters has a genuine sense of fun about it. The principles are clearly having a much more enjoyable time than in the Celestial Toymaker before it, which rubs off onto the less closed-minded viewer; and Gerry Anderson fans will have even more fun spotting the familiar voices that turn up in the supporting cast.
on 16 March 2015
The BBC has a strange way of packaging it's products from time to time and this is one of them, the Dr Who story of the gun fight at the ok coral is supposed to be the worst one of Bill Hartnell's tenure but it's not that bad, the repetative tune in it can grate after a while but remember this is 1964 tv and they are stuck in lime grove with a micro BBC budget so don't be too quick to judge,it is nice to see the original Tardis crew doing their level best to make a silk purse out of it. the other story the awakening is one of those where they changed the day of broadcast to midweek and stretched each episode to 45 minutes, it is also known for the famous outtake of the horse and cart demolishing the church entrance prop (great laughs) the story has some interesting elements, but being 90 minutes long in total it seems like it's over before it had a chance before anything shattering takes place, but they do seem to be having fun with it so not a total loss.
on 27 June 2011
Ok, so these two seemingly unrelated serials have been paired together in a box set, but at the end of the day they are both good stories. They are also from two different eras of the shows history and so wont suit all fans, but come on this set is only five pounds more than an individual release. I am not a big Peter Davidson fan, but the Awakening is a claustrophobic story with no padding and some very good location work. These are all characteristics of any good Doctor Who serial. However after watching these two short episodes I found myself thinking what was the point of it all when in the end, through no direct result of the doctors actions, the Malus ends up destroying itself. Despite this I will still watch this again and the Awakening is worth the five pounds I effectively paid for it.
Now onto the Gunfighters, which for some reason has such a bad reputation. One of the main niggles people have is the ballad of the last chance saloon. In my view this works well with the comedy aspects and also keeps the story moving along. Another one of the gripes are the dodgy American accents, but I have to say I never really noticed them. What other reviewers don't seem to mention are the impressive sets and a strong performance from William Hartnell, who seems to thrive on the comedy aspects more so than in the Romans. The first episode is by far the best and moves along at a decent pace, introducing the main characters and setting the scene well. Although it turned out to be a disappointment the cliff-hanger at the end of the first episode is a good one and made me want to watch the next episode straight away. The plot then moves along steadily, but with no real padding, and although the climatic gunfight is hardly cinematic in quality it does work well in my opinion. Overall the gunfighters is an enjoyable, fun serial, definitely not a classic but way underrated.
The highlight of the extras is the end of the line documentary, which gives a unique glimce of what the, mostly missing, third series of doctor who looked like.
All I can say to some of my fellow reviewers is shame on those who have rated this set at one or two stars as it is easily worth the three stars I have given it. Neither of these are classics but they are both well worth a watch.