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Gunsmoke's New Doctor in Town TV Episode: James Arness, Pat Hingle & Buck Taylor Star

Gunsmoke's New Doctor in Town premiered on Monday night, October 11, 1971. Pat Hingle first appears as Dr. John Chapman, Doc Adams' temporary replacement who is forced to operate in order to remove a bone fragment pressing on Newly O'Brian's brain. Regulars James Arness, Amanda Blake, Ken Curtis and Buck Taylor are also joined in the cast by Lane Bradford, Sarah Selby and Jon Lormer.

CBS-TV's Gunsmoke (1955-75) reigned as the king of TV westerns. The 1971 episode "New Doctor in Town" introduced Pat Hingle as Dr. John Chapman, Doc Adams' temporary replacement in Dodge City.

Gunsmoke's New Doctor in Town: Cast & Credits

Jack Miller penned the teleplay for "New Doctor in Town," with Philip Leacock directing. Regulars, guest stars and supporting players are:

  • Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness)
  • Kitty Russell (Amanda Blake)
  • Festus Haggen (Ken Curtis)
  • Newly O'Brian (Buck Taylor)
  • Dr. John Chapman (Pat Hingle)
  • Sam Noonan (Glenn Strange)
  • Nathan Burke (Ted Jordan)
  • Lathrop (Woody Chambliss)
  • Dump Hart (Lane Bradford)
  • Ma Smalley (Sarah Selby)
  • Cody Sims (Jon Lormer)
  • Halligan (Charles Wagenheim)
  • Saloon Girl (Michelle Breeze)

Pat Hingle as he appeared in Hang 'Em High (1968) - United Artists

New Doctor in Town: Episode Synopsis

Festus Haggen and the other citizens of Dodge City are eagerly awaiting the return of Doc Adams. When Festus eyes Doc's black buggy coming down the street he hightails it over to Doc's office. Here he's greeted not by Doc but by his replacement, a Dr. Chapman. The doctor explains that Doc Adams had decided to go back to medical school in Baltimore and hands Festus a letter from Doc explaining the entire situation. A suspicious Festus – who of course can't read the doctor's letter – views Dr. Chapman as an interloper and arrests him at gunpoint, locking him up at the Dodge City jail.

Matt Dillon learns of the mix-up and releases Dr. Chapman from jail. Matt, Festus and Newly all go over to the Long Branch Saloon where Miss Kitty reads Doc's emotional letter. Extremely upset about losing a little girl to a blood disease, which he later found out was highly treatable due to new medical advances, Doc has decided to re-enroll in medical school in Baltimore. He plans to return to Dodge City one day, but can't say when that will be. Meanwhile, he has handpicked his replacement, the eminently qualified Dr. Chapman, a hospital physician who wants to practice medicine on the frontier. 

Dr. Chapman is put to the test early by a wary Dodge City when a sign outside of Newly O'Brian's gunsmith shop comes crashing through the window, sending a coal lamp into a barrel of gunpowder. The ensuing explosion blows Festus out of the store and leaves Newly with a critical head injury. Dr. Chapman believes a piece of bone is pressing on Newly's brain, resulting in hallucinations. The only course of treatment, he says, is surgery, with a skeptical citizenry doubting his diagnosis. 

New Doctor in Town: Air Date & Network Competition

"New Doctor in Town" debuted on Monday night, October 11, 1971, in the 8-9 PM (ET) time slot. Network competition was the sitcom Nanny and the Professor starring Richard Long and Juliet Mills and local programming (ABC) and the irreverent Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (NBC).

New Doctor in Town: Analysis & Review

Milburn Stone (1904-1980) as old, crusty Doc Adams had been with Gunsmoke since its debut in 1955. But when Stone suffered a heart attack during Gunsmoke's offseason filming hiatus in 1971, producers were forced to bring in a replacement until Stone was well enough to return. That came in the person of Pat Hingle (1924-2009) who came aboard as Dr. John Chapman, Dodge City's new physician in residence. 

Pat Hingle would appear as Dr. Chapman in six Gunsmoke episodes – all in 1971. Hingle, who had winningly played Judge Adam Fenton in the violent 1968 Clint Eastwood western Hang 'Em High, carries the role well. His early run-in with the illiterate Festus Haggen sets the stage for his entrance on a bleak, windy night in Dodge City. Hingle scores one of his best lines when he tells Festus, "You can't lock me up, I'm a doctor!" 

Walter Clarence "Buck" Taylor III as gunsmith Newly O'Brian gets to spread his wings a bit in this episode. Taylor's Newly incurs a brain injury following an explosion at his store, creating something of a monster as he suffers hallucinations and even attacks Miss Kitty. When Festus unwittingly unties the sheets holding down Newly in his bed, the patient escapes and winds up in a farmer's barn, where the man is forced to shoot Newly.

"New Doctor in Town" illustrates the challenges of 19th century medicine, especially as it applied to the western frontier. (Also look to the 1970 Gunsmoke episode Sam McTavish, M.D. for another great medical segment.) Not only does Dr. Chapman have to pluck a bullet from Newly's right side but he also has to perform delicate brain surgery, skillfully removing the bone fragment pressing on Newly's brain. All of this is done not in some sterile hospital setting but by candlelight on a wooden table with Festus looking on in wonder. Of course no antibiotics have been invented yet to combat infection, but Newly pulls through just fine to live on for future Gunsmoke episodes. 

"New Doctor in Town" features one of the more emotional moments in Gunsmoke's 20-year history when Kitty Russell and Newly O'Brian read portions of Doc Adams' farewell letter. "I'll be gone from Dodge for a while. I don't know for how long, but it will not be forever. I will be back...and I'll think of you very often. I pray all of you will remember with affection, your old friend, Doc," Newly concludes Doc's words to a somber audience.

"New Doctor in Town" hails from Gunsmoke's 17th season and is episode #544 of 635 in the series. "New Doctor in Town" was preceded by "Waste" Part II (10/4/71) starring Jeremy Slate, Ruth Roman and Ellen Burstyn. "New Doctor in Town" can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube and several other Internet venues. Enjoy this one...

Top Image

  • Gunsmoke's famous Dodge City TV logo - CBS-TV

 Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

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