Monday, September 21, 2009

The Gunfighters

I loved, loved, loved The Gunfighters. If the novelization is this much fun, I have to hope the TV story isn’t beyond all hope. It is an odd Doctor Who in that it’s a comedy and completely silly—Steven and Dodo are bordello pianist and singer respectively, and the Doctor stumbles around the bloodthirsty Old West inadvertedly getting into trouble and giggling, no doubt. What must work in the novelization’s favor, of course, is that the voice is just right and you don’t have to contend with (what I’m told are) wobbly American accents. Donald Cotton is pulling a tour de force with voice in this; if I ever teach creative writing I will use The Gunfighters to show my students how consummately it can be done. It is funny and utterly convincing, if you need to be convinced of a mad, half-serious alternative universe version of the Wild West as seen through the filter of old films.

As Jamie pointed out to me, the frame story which adds just a bit more credulity to this tale (as if that was required!) of a journalist meeting Doc Holliday dying in a Wild West old folks’ home and hearing from him the real events at the OK Corral is a great device. This gives us my favorite part of the book:
'So I take it, Mr Buntline, that at your tender age you may not have heard of time travel . . . or even, so help me, of the TARDIS? Well, like I say, it ain't that easy to understand: but the TARDIS, if you'll kindly believe me, was--and is, for all I know--a kind of four-wheel buggy designed for ridin' every sort of direction through eternity, without much decent respect for the laws of physics. And this other Doctor feller I was tellin' you about, he drives it back an' forth through the star-spangled centuries, like it was a rodeo-bull got loose in Jackson's Hardware Store! It's a fact! Never seems to know quite where he'll land up next! And back in 1881, by golly, it was Tombstone, Arizona--where the poor old buzzard got hisself taken for me!'

What really sets the tone and shows you just what kind of nuttiness you’re in for is the fact the Doctor demands to land the TARDIS because he needs a dentist. Surely, surely at his age and his Gallifreyan superiority he could fix his own teeth?! Or what has he been eating that caused such bad tooth decay?! I’m giving this way too much thought, aren’t I? Doc Holliday, his lady friend Kate, Wyatt Earp (and his brothers), and Clanton Brothers, Johnny Ringo, and other “vernacular” characters cause riotous laughter—the cast of Firefly might, just might, be at home in this particular universe!

I also like that Kate likes the cut of Steven’s jib (as do I!), that Dodo is mistaken for Steven’s “bespoken,” that Cotton manages to explain any plot holes with the wonderful voice that deprecates itself and plants itself firmly on the reader’s side, and the fact the Doctor goes around accidentally shooting people with a shot gun (think of the assured Fifth Doctor who later points so many guns! Clearly he learned from this experience it pays to have some savoir-faire with weapons even if he doesn’t want to use them).

My copy of The Gunfighters was owned by Rhys Wyn Hughes of Bangor, and I really wish I could get in touch with him as I suspect he owned this book as a teenager (in the back he’s ticked off all the Target novels he’s read). The only drawback I can think of for The Gunfighters is that the book smells like mold.


Anonymous said...

I find using sailing lingo in the midst of the desert to be highly amusing. No doubt the story is much improved by the complete lack of the "ballad" which the producers, for some unknown and, I think, demented reason, decided would make the story more dramatic in some way.

I'll have to read it some point.

0tralala said...

Donald Cotton also wrote superb novelisations of The Romans and The Mythmakers - the latter possibly the best of all the novelisations ever.