Title: Doctor Who: Earth Story
Directors: Rex Tucker (The Gunfighters) and Michael Owen Morris (The Awakening)
Starring: William Hartnell, Peter Purves, Jackie Lane, Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson
Released: Out Now
The First Doctor, Steven and Dodo touch down in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881. Needing to cure his toothache, the Doctor pays a visit to local dentist and notorious gunslinger Doc Holliday and gets the time travellers caught up in a grudge between him and the Clanton family. Things get even worse when criminal Johnny Ringo turns up and the whole posse heads towards the OK Corral.
In Little Hodcombe, the local civil war re-enactment society is starting their war games and the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough have arrived to visit Tegan’s grandfather. The man mysteriously disappeared a few days ago and they begin to search but are plagued by psychic visions from the past. The malevolent Malus is trapped in the local church and using the war games to claw its way back to power.
The principal of Occam’s razor suggests that the simplest explanation is most likely the correct one and should be applied when wondering why the Earth Story box set is so called. At first you think that it can’t be as simple as the fact that both of these stories are set on the planet Earth, especially since quite a hefty chunk of Doctor Who stories are. Maybe it could be something else? Something underneath the earth like the Tractators from Frontios? Nope, it’s just that these two are set on our little part of the universe although cowboys Vs giant alien woodlice would make a great concept one day. The Gunfighters is Doctor Who’s only televisual venture into the Wild West and the last complete story featuring the First Doctor, Steven and Dodo (not that there were many to begin with) to be released. Much more significant however is The Awakening which is the final Fifth Doctor story to hit DVD. Davison fans rejoice!
Fandom has not been kind to The Gunfighters and for many years it was seen as one of the very worst stories but it’s not bad...just different. This story is one of the last old style historicals without any monsters or alien involvement and like some of the best stories you’re so wrapped up in the plot that you barely notice that some guy in a rubber suit isn’t terrorizing the regulars. Calling it a historical may not be the best description because as, with some of new Who, this tends to tell the legend rather than the true story and is played more for laughs. Donald Cotton’s main influence in writing this tale was the 1957 film Gunfight at the O.K Corral by way of 1965’s comedy western Cat Ballou. It also reflects the time it was broadcast in, as westerns were still a film and TV staple in 1966 despite their popularity starting to wane.
The whole story is punctuated by The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon, a song especially written for it which starts to refer to individual scenes by episode three. Lynda Baron, who would appear in the series twice in an acting role, sings the song which can be hard to get out of your head by the end of the serial. With the music, the set and Steven’s comedy cowboy outfit you would be forgiven for thinking that the cast were about to burst into song. Speaking of Steven, it’s a lovely moment when he and Dodo jump for joy as they realise that they are in the Wild West. There’s some lovely dialogue especially in the dentist’s office and the First Doctor even gets in a few pop culture references (for him anyway) and Dodo trying to threaten Doc Holliday is a delight. You get the feeling though that the Earps and Clantons would have had the same showdown without the TARDIS crew’s involvement. While it’s not the best regarded serial it’s still worth a look if only to see how the show doesn’t always stick to its own supposed rules.
The Awakening is a nice little two part story which thankfully wasn’t stretched out to four parts as originally planned. Its title was also changed from War Games to avoid confusion with the Patrick Troughton serial. It’s another wonderful example of the Doctor fighting a potentially world conquering alien menace in a small corner of England. The themes are similar to Third Doctor adventure The Daemons (including an exploding church) and just a touch of The Wicker Man. The modern setting helps to heighten the situation as the civil war re-enactors start to believe that they really are soldiers. Take, for example, the scene where Captain Willow forces Tegan to wear a May Queen’s dress. Now if he really was a 17th century soldier we might forgive him a little for just being a man of his era but realizing that this is all happening in 1984 gives it a much more chilling angle.
The pace and length of the story makes it a fitting viewing for new Who fans getting used to the classic series with Davison again proving to be a very active Doctor. Apart from some twinkly CG lights, the special effects are rather good with the Malus prop being a standout although the efforts to make it move don’t do it many favours. The guest cast is good and Polly James, another of The Liver Birds to appear in the classic series, is excellent as a teacher struggling to understand it all. It may not be the finest Fifth Doctor story to go out on but it’s a decent two-parter.
Although these two stories may not seem much, they are by no means the worst of the series and have many good features. The Gunfighters is an old-fashioned style western but it’s also a very unique Doctor Who story and The Awakening feels like a Short Trips story made for TV, and although it riffs on themes we’ve seen before it’s still a decent slice of Davison. Oh, and they are both set on Earth. How often do we see that?
Extras: The Gunfighters: Commentary with Peter Purves, Shane Rimmer, David Graham, Richard Beale, Tristan de Vere Cole and Toby Hadoke. The End of the Line looks back at the programme’s original third series, mainly through the recollections of then script editor Donald Tosh while Tomorrow’s Times: The First Doctor looks at the press reaction to the William Hartnell era. Also included is a text commentary, photo gallery, PDF material and Coming Soon trailer.
The Awakening: Commentary with Michael Owen Morris, Eric Saward and Toby Hadoke. Return to Little Hodcombe is the ‘making of’ and returns various cast members to the three villages used for filming, which come under the spotlight again as Now and Then compares them to how they looked in 1984. Making the Malus reunites the Malus prop with its creators, From the Cutting Room Floor is a selection of extended and deleted scenes including a rare glimpse of Kamelion while The Golden Egg Awards sees Peter Davison turn up to collect a blooper award from Noel Edmonds. This segment was first shown as part of The Late Late Breakfast Show in 1983. Also included is a text commentary, photo gallery, PDF material, isolated score and a Coming soon trailer.
Continuing Adventures: The TARDIS returns to the Wild West, although not to Tombstone, in the New Series Adventures novel Peacemaker (2007) by James Swallow with the Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones. The Malus and its companion probe are further explored in BBC Books’ The Hollow Men (1998) by Keith Topping and Martin Day starring the Seventh Doctor and Ace and Last of the Gaderene (2000) by Mark Gatiss with the Third Doctor and Jo Grant.
Trivia learnt from the disc: The Malus prop is now owned by fan Paul Burrows who paid £3,500 for it at auction in 2010. It currently resides on his living room wall where it apparently enjoys scaring the gasman.