Ideas may be bulletproof, but nobody’s tried plasma rifles

Skip to content

Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Rob
    April 5, 2011 @ 1:23 am

    As the one who originally called the Gunfighters out on this blog, I should put my criticism in context. Short of a few unremembered glimpses here and there, I didn't begin to watch Dr. Who until around 2002ish, at the suggestion of an English friend of mine. We rented/borrowed VHS tapes from wherever we could find them, trying to do it in a chronological way. This was one of the first episodes I watched and thus my opinion is largely independent of the literature you mentioned.

    What made it bad for me is indeed the ballad. For some reason, whether it was the woman's voice or something else, it really grated on me. Add to this that I watched it straight through and found that it dragged on a little, and my opinion of it is rather low.

    Of course I also found that the the Talons of Weng-Chiang to be boring, so I guess that invalidates my opinion entirely.


  2. Elizabeth Sandifer
    April 5, 2011 @ 7:02 am

    Secretly, I also have never much enjoyed Talons, and I'm not 100% sure I actually finished it ever. Though I find myself enjoying everything more this go through than I have in the past, so I expect I'll find it more satisfying when I get to it.

    As for The Gunfighters, yeah. I can understand not liking it. But I find its reputation as an object of unceasing and wholesale scorn puzzling, to say the least. I'll grant that it's not to everybody's taste, but with a handful of exceptions, I can't think of much Doctor Who that's to everybody's taste, and even those episodes have their detractors. This, however, is one of a handful of episodes that, by legend, seem to be to nobody's taste. And that's not really fair, to my mind.


  3. danrachelcleasby
    April 5, 2011 @ 12:32 pm

    The problem, Rob, is that you kept falling asleep during Talons of Weng-Chiang. 🙂

    I think my inherent dislike to this story is the fact that I don't enjoy westerns. Never have. I should try to objectively watch it again.

    By the way, love your ambition in this blog.


  4. Elizabeth Sandifer
    April 5, 2011 @ 4:10 pm

    Yeah, this one more than most requires, I think separating enjoyable from good. As the western and Doctor Who are deeply different genres, and that's the whole point of this story, there's something implicitly not about being enjoyable here. A story that's about showing how its own genre doesn't work here is something more on the "to be appreciated" end of things than the "to be enjoyed" end. For me, I prefer the former though, because I have too many things to do to get around to regularly rewatching Doctor Who. So my favorite Doctor Who stories are the ones I keep thinking about long after I've watched them, as opposed to the ones that are an immediate thrill while watching them. The Gunfighters supports this approach unusually well.


  5. Spikeimar
    April 13, 2011 @ 7:12 am

    The children who have and will become fans of New Who will hopefully never go through that terrible teen coming of age when you suddenly realise that the programme you have loved and cherished is evidently deeply embarrassing to almost everyone else on the planet. I went through this in the early 80's when my parents finally got a colour television set and suddenly it made sense to watch Doctor Who out in the lounge rather than on a 5" black and white fire hazard. What a mistake to make, it seemed as all the family could chortle at my favourite programme. The one good thing that came out of all that heartache, or so it seemed at the time, was that now everyone knew that I watched Who people would buy me things connected to it that they saw out and about. hence I was given the Peter Haining book. I read it, I loved it, i believed it. After all, it was there in print so couldn't possibly be wrong.

    Or could it? For years I believed it's claims that Toymaker was a classic of Shakespearian dimensions, (I agree with your review, it's a racist clunker) that Hartnell's Doctor was a 'grumpy old man' (he's a lovable, possibly senile old gent) and that Gunfighters was the worst offence to televisual eyes since Prudence Kitten was surprised by Muffin the Mule and had a whoopsie all over the scripts.

    I finally caught up with Gunfighters on the UKGold Sunday morning omnibus. Hang on, thought I, where is this awful 'plan nine' style show that blots the history of Who? I loved it on first viewing, it was funny (in the right places) as well acted as any Beeb production, and looked pretty damn good to me.

    Suffice to say it made me start to question accepted fandom wisdom on all matters Who, which is a good thing to do. Seek out, watch and make up your own mind say I.

    BTW Love your blog, it's criminal that you only have 15 followers. To quote Captain Mainwaring "Early to bed, early to rise, no jolly good if you don't advertise"


  6. Elizabeth Sandifer
    April 13, 2011 @ 10:12 am

    Interestingly, despite only having 15 followers, this blog gets as many readers-per-day as my other one with 345 followers. Apparently followers of Doctor Who blogs are bigger on the inside than they are on the outside?

    Glad you're enjoying it, in any case.


  7. Anton
    April 18, 2011 @ 7:34 am

    Okay okay I'll rewatch The Gunfighters! I've had the VHS since it was released in that lovely Hartnell Box set with The Sensorites and The Meddling Monk. ( A great combination by the way, it should be reissued as a DVD box.)I re-watched it once with the Haining critique foremost in my head. After reading this I'll give it another go. I do remember being a bit embarrassed by it as a child (yes I'm old enough to have seen and remember the complete Doctor Who from the start) but perhaps the intervening years, the English and Drama degree and a good understanding of Post-Modernism (not to mention 'Reconstructionism') may force a reevaluation. Thanks once again Philip for reigniting my Enjoyment of Hartnell's era.


  8. Elkins
    May 6, 2011 @ 5:20 pm

    This explains much.

    When my husband and I watched this one, about halfway through the second episode he turned to me and said: "Isn't this one supposed to be bad? It's great!"

    "Yeah," I said. "It's supposed to be bad. I have no idea why."

    So now I know why. It explains much.

    I am really enjoying this blog, by the way! Just found it a couple of days ago and am having a great time reading through. You need to find a publisher.


  9. 7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194
    July 15, 2011 @ 10:22 pm

    "Jeremy Bentham (Yes, Foucault fans, he is related)."

    As someone who read (the original) Bentham long before reading Foucault, I got a chuckle from that line.


  10. Kat42
    November 11, 2011 @ 8:15 am

    Where do you get your chart information from now if you don't mind me asking? I would love to know for my own interest in music of the time.


  11. Elizabeth Sandifer
    November 12, 2011 @ 6:23 am

    I've been using the tremendously fantastic


  12. Kat42
    November 12, 2011 @ 12:14 pm

    ooh that's great thanks! Until now I'd been using but this looks even better.

    I love your blog btw, even when I don't agree with you I find myself being incredibly interested in what you have to say. Yours is one of only 3 blogs that I spend any amount of time reading.


  13. tantalus1970
    January 21, 2012 @ 3:59 pm

    I may be mistaken about this, but didn't Bentham's claim that The Gunfighters had the lowest ever ratings (as of when he wrote the entry in the Haining book) turn out to be wrong?


  14. Exploding Eye
    February 9, 2012 @ 11:58 pm

    I watched this on YouTube a couple of years back, with the vague memory that it was supposed to be the worst Doctor Who story ever made, and I thought it was fine entertainment. Creature From The Pity was a jolly romp too.


  15. Nick Smale
    May 14, 2012 @ 8:49 am

    Was "The Making of Doctor Who" the first complete list of stories published?

    Well, the second 1976 edition certainly had such a list, but in the 1972 first edition (with it's terrifying cover photo of a Sea Devil reaching out to grab the Doctor from behind, an image which haunted me as a child) there was only a summary of notable adventures, framed as a court document from the Doctor's trial by the Time Lords.

    No, the real first published list came a year later in the Radio Times 10th Anniversary Special. Fascinatingly to the modern reader, the Hartnell stories listed had yet to acquire their modern titles, so The Daleks was "The Dead Planet", and The Dalek Invasion of Earth "World's End"…


  16. Tim Roll-Pickering
    June 23, 2012 @ 10:17 am

    Yes – it was also a claim he had previously made in articles in the early DWMs. * I don't know if he was misunderstanding what the figures are, or repeating some Chinese whispers, or relying on an interviewee who confused things but the story's ratings were as follows:

    A Holiday for the Doctor 6.5 million viewers (50th most watched programme that week) Audience Appreciation 45
    Don't Shoot the Pianist 6.6m (45th) AA 39
    Johnny Ringo 6.2 (51st) AA 36
    The OK Corral 5.7 (60th) AA 30

    The raw number of viewing figures was low for Who at the time but the next three stories all got even lower and the ratings had been in a general slump since the Massacre. The chart positions were similarly average for the latter part of the third season – not the best by the standards of Who up until that point but part of a general decline and there have been much worse since.

    It's the Audience Appreciation figures that are the worst although again bad AAs were common for this period – they dropped below 50 starting with Celestial Toymaker 1 and with the exception of 50 for Tenth Planet 1 they didn't start getting above that level until Moonbase.

    It's now more generally understood that it was the AAs not the viewing figures or the charts that were bad, but even then the wider context of how the figures impacted on the series is often ignored. It's easy to grasp the idea that the poor figures for the Gunfighters killed, or justified the killing, of the historicals, but the War Machines saw AAs slump to 39 by the final episode and yet the present day with military format returned a lot.

    (* In contrast to Philip I think it is possible to overstate the influence of A Celebration because a lot of the opinions had already been stated over the past four years in DWM and possibly even longer in the late 1970s DWAS output and so the reputations were already being repeated a lot by the time the book came out. Maybe this is a British-American fan difference.)


  17. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 23, 2012 @ 11:31 am

    I'd bet at least somewhat that it's a difference even within Britain – Celebration was, as I understand it, a much more widely sold and distributed book than DWM. I agree it's interesting to look at the history of the opinions in it, but I think a lot more people had Celebration than the early issues of DWM or DWAS, and that a lot of fans who grew up after 1983 had used copies of Celebration rather than used copies of those. Which is where I think its influence comes from – being the first one-stop definitive source for an overview of the series' past.

    As for the AAs, it's worth pointing that the AAs display a general upwards trend over the history of the series, and thus it is essentially inevitable that some Hartnell story would get the lowest AAs ever.


  18. The Mara
    July 18, 2012 @ 6:57 pm

    The Series 7 trailer places a lot of emphasis on an upcoming "Western" story. Do you anticipate it calling back to The Gunfighters at all? What do you imagine they'll do with it?


  19. Alphapenguin
    February 1, 2013 @ 5:51 pm

    Recently BBC America aired a special called The Doctors Revisited in which several people, including Stephen Moffat and John Barrowman, claim that Steven singing the Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon was "the strangest thing ever to happen on Doctor Who."

    Leaving aside the question of the accuracy of their statements, do you think they genuinely mean it, or is it that same old fan orthodoxy rearing its ugly head?


  20. Nicholas Tosoni
    April 6, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

    I took it to mean "a good thing"…"Doctor Who" is, after all, the best at doing the utterly strange.


  21. Henry R. Kujawa
    June 26, 2014 @ 10:33 am

    Here in America, I got to see "THE GUNFIGHTERS" around 1985, along with al the other still-available Hartnells & Troughtons. Loved it from the first. It's funny, and it's fast-paced (well, it's only 4 parts, let's put it that way).

    After being "out of it" because of the toothache, The Doctor really comes out of his stupor when he's introduced to the Clantons. "Oh dear… I mean, what a pleasure to make your acquaintance." When Kate takes charge and he's standing with her, side-by-side, both holding guns, and he asks, "How shall we proceed?" it's brilliant. But the funniest scene in the story has to be after Steven hands him a gun while he's in jail, Earp sees him with it and doesn't even for a moment get worried, and The Doctor hands it to him saying, "Would you mind looking after this for me?" I also like how Kate & Dodo become such fast friends.

    It does seem to me the murder of Charlie is at least as shocking and uncalled-for as the murder of Oscar in "THE TWO DOCTORS". Charlie, by the way, is NOT the first death in the story. HOW did you miss Seth getting killed earlier, by Doc? Both Seth & Charlie are Gerry Anderson alumni, buy the way– Seth being Shane Rimmer (THUNDERBIRDS) while Charlie is the voice of "Prof. Matic" on FIREBALL XL5 and "Brains" on THUNDERBIRDS. He also turned up as the scientist in "CITY OF DEATH".

    Johnny Ringo, of course, returned as the scientist Dastari in "THE TWO DOCTORS". (Hey, didn't I mention that before?) The 1st Colin Baker season made it here at the same time as Hartnell & Troughton, the Colin stories being run one per month initially in between the Hartnells on their first run on PBS.

    This has become one of the few WHO stories I love to watch completely on its own, separate from the rest of the series. I also love to watch it as a double-feature with the 3rd-season STAR TREK story, "Spectre Of The Gun". Earp, Holiday, etc. are played as psychotic evil scum in the ST ep. I prefer them here, likable if unorthodox. "For what we have failed to receive, let us give thanks!"


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.