Short thoughts on Doctor Who, disc by disc. (originally published July 2012)

The Gunfighters

Tonight’s soundtrack: Cream, “Badge”


This one goes long, but it’s my party, as the Bishop, etc.

As I’m sure I will one day grow tired of jabbering enthusiastically (but today is not that day), one of the reasons I love Doctor Who is that it’s so query-friendly. It encourages questions from top to bottom. Yes, it’s about exploration and discovering answers, but it’s just as much about making sure there are always more mysteries ahead.

Things must be left unresolved, identities in flux, masks and masquerades unstripped. Answers made of fact are necessarily limiting, fixed in their dimensions. Questions are magic doors, bigger on the inside. Doctor Who is the question that asked itself, and in doing so sprung fully-formed into our world.

With that in mind, The Gunfighters, eh?

It’s the last story to have individual titles for each week’s episode1. It’s the only story to have an omniscient singing narrator commenting on the action, like Rod Serling mixed with Shirley Bassey2. It’s the only time (until later this year) that the show has done a Western. It’s also an outright comedy, albeit one that ends with a John Woo shootout. For a not very spectacular story, it’s doing a lot to distinguish and draw attention to itself.

Here comes my question: Why is Bat Masterson in it?

W.B. “Bat” Masterson (1853-1921) scouted for the army, hunted buffalo, fought natives, ran for office, gambled professionally, and saw his loved ones shot more than once. He was a gunfighter, a lawman, an opportunist, and a writer. Friend to Wyatt Earp and frenemy of Doc Holliday, he died alone at his typewriter in New York City. He saw the West from soup to nuts, lived to write books about it, and is a fascinating and problematic source of inspiration for people who share his surname and also love Batman3.

But he sure as hellfire wasn’t in Tombstone on the day of the O.K. Corral gunfight. He’d left town two weeks earlier. 

Yes, the character was there in a movie version of the fight from 1957, but that just punts the question. Why would the Doctor Who people rely on that film when they made this? Or if they liked his TV show, where’s his derby hat?

And that’s another thing about Bat Masterson: he’s a real writer who became a fictional character. Yes, we’ve got plenty of those now. But this guy… he built part of the fiction suit himself. In the 1880s. This is the steampunk version with the big riveted diving helmet; it’s amazing he survived.

So: >>?<<:  Did Doctor Who add Bat Masterson into a story as a failsafe in case I forgot about the show for too long, or did Bat Masterson insert himself into my favorite show so I wouldn’t forget Mrs. Leavitt telling me about him in second grade?

Answers on a postcard. Questions across the sky: batmasterson@me.com


1 The first of which is “A Holiday for the Doctor,"and didn’t that semi-pun on "Doc Holliday” just tickle my younger self when he was going through The Programme Guide. Multiple highlights there.

2 Lynda Baron, actually, who was in Doctor Who again in the 80s and then again just last year - an episode which has one of my favorite scenes of all time in it, FWIW.

3 It also helps if your dad is usually referred to as “Bud Masterson”. Universally.


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