“Mr Denton on Doomsday” is quite interesting as it is the first time that the show leaves the modern-day setting that it had in the first couple of episodes. It’s also the first of the episodes to have a real cast of characters beyond the main character, or the antagonist. It’s a nice opening up of the world that the show can inhabit. On my first viewing I enjoyed it but mostly thought it was just fine, a little disposable, but as I thought more and more about the episode I came to appreciate what it’s doing. See, at its core “Mr Denton on Doomsday” is taking what is a pretty straight forward western story and using it as a way to talk about addiction in a subtle way for the time.
The episode begins with the titular Denton, played by Dan Duryea, drunk and being taunted by one of the other gunslingers in the town to sing for a drink. After diving in the dirt for a broken bottle of booze he finds a gun, appeared there by a mysterious man in black. Denton, a former expert duelist, picks up the gun and finds that his shooting touch has returned although he swears he isn’t in control. He embarrasses and defeats the gunslinger, and decides to get sober.
However, Denton feels no joy at this, explaining that the reason he had become an alcoholic was that he once was a great shooter perhaps the best in the west. People came from far and wide to challenge him, and the stress and pressure led him to drink, culminating in a moment in which he shot a sixteen year old. After that he hung up his guns and sunk to a low point. Knowing that now that he has picked up the gun again more will come to challenge him, he sobers up in order to die with dignity.
Finally, a challenge comes. Denton realizing that he will probably die tries to slink out in the night. As he walks through town he comes across the man in black from before. He reveals himself to be Henry J. Fate, a name that is way too on the nose for the role he plays, and offers Denton an elixir that will make him the fastest shot in the world for about ten seconds. As he draws his gun against the challenger he sees that he also has a bottle of the elixir. They both draw and shoot each other in their shooting hand. The doctor tells them that neither of them will shoot again, and the episode ends with Fate leaving town and tilting his hat to Denton.
The episode for the most part is competent and while the first two episodes were actors showcases this one belongs to Rod Serling. He turns a story that takes western motifs and uses them to talk about addiction and recovery. This is expressed through Denton, who we first meet as an addict, an alcoholic, who has turned in one addiction, violence, for another. Through the episode we watch his recovery, his relapse, his low point, and finally a turning point where he finally decides to get well. It’s an episode that rewards looking deeper into it and succeeds because of its script. Perhaps not as good as “Where is Everybody?”, it is still an excellent episode. and well worth a watch.
The Twilight Zone
Season One Episode Three: “Mr. Denton on Doomsday”
Written by Rod Serling
Directed by Allen Reisner