Written by: Donald Cotton Directed by: Rex Tucker
Background & Significance: There's a weird thing in Classic Doctor Who, where incoming producers and script editors are shouldered with some leftover stories commissioned by the previous production team. This happened with the first season of Hinchcliffe/Holmes, in which the two of them were forced to produce a commissioned Dalek story by Terry Nation and a commissioned Cybermen story by Gerry Davis even though Holmes had zero interest in returning Doctor Who villains (especially The Daleks), or even with Nathan-Turner, where he and Chris Bidmead were forced to produce "Meglos" despite knowing that it was totally ensconced in the previous regime's tone and feel rather than their focus on "hard science" (ha!) instead of comedic slapsticky.
"The Gunfighters" is that for Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis.
Commissioned by the previous production team of John Wiles and Donald Tosh, who were interested in another fun historical story from Donald Cotton, who'd previously "succeeded" (as far as they were concerned) with his work on "The Myth-Makers" (which we'll talk about more in a couple of months), this time set in the old west, specifically focusing on the legendary Gunfight at the O.K. Corral with all the tropes and exciting adventures and all that. Much like with "The Myth-Makers", Cotton chose to focus on the spirit of the story rather than being historically accurate (spoilers for "The Myth-Makers": that story isn't "historically" accurate much at all either).
Personally, I think that's a good approach. I think as a rule I'm more interested in the spirit of the thing rather than complete historical accuracy (I am watching a fictional show, after all).
Unfortunately, "The Gunfighters" is something of a final gasp of air for historicals. Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis were more interested in taking Doctor Who to a more serious and science fiction place (hence the hiring of Kit Pedler) and making the show more focused on entertainment and adventure than the educational whatever place it had been for the previous several seasons. It was this team that implemented the first regeneration, after all, and the one that went head on into big sci-fi stories as soon as they could ("The War Machines", "The Tenth Planet", "The Moonbase", just to name a few), employing the base under siege meme in just about all their stories... I mean, the only time they ever even ventured into the past in any sort of way that mattered was when they picked up Jamie in "The Highlanders".
Regardless. I have made my point. This isn't exactly a story they wanted to make, nor is it one that did exceptionally well when it aired, nor is it one that's been well received in the many years since its airing.
But the problem, I think, comes from... I dunno, people being stupid, I guess. "The Gunfighters" is basically anything you could ever want out of Doctor Who. It's big and exciting and fun and funny and badass and a super huge huge blast. If only the production team at the time could have seen the merits of making a story in which The Doctor goes to the old west to take care of a toothache, because this is the stuff of good and continues the hypothesis that season three is possibly the weirdest and most eclectic season of Doctor Who that's ever been made. I mean, this story is basically the why of all that.