I want to start this review by saying, the Mrs. and I just finished marathoning the surprisingly excellent AMC show, Hell on Wheels, so this western-themed Doctor Who episode “A town called Mercy” couldn’t have come at a better time. I found myself excited to see the doctor wearing a Stetson again, (because Stetson’s ARE cool), and looking forward to see what the show would do in a western man vs. man environment. Sadly, what whovians got this week was an episode heavy-handed with , Duality and allusion to the Doctor’s past while not so much making with the fun, or using Amy and Rory as anything but hostages and targets. There were some great one liner’s, and if I’m right some decent characterization of the Doctor. However, ultimately I’m not all that impressed with this week’s muddled offering of Doctor Who.
Written by Toby Whithouse, who is responsible for two lackluster episodes in 11’s run “The God Complex” and “Vampires of Venice”, the episode takes place in the titular town of Mercy, Texas in 1861. The opening pre-credits sequence a cyborg, later named “the Gunslinger” – who looks like he belongs on the cover of an old 60’s Sci-fi pulp magazine titled “Cyborgs of the Old West” is in the middle of taking down number two on his list of people who need to be “terminated” and when his prey asks who is left, the Gunslinger replies, “Only the Doctor”, and boom we’re off. After some newly designed credits – may I add, I do like the different logo for each episode thing, Dalek bulbs, scales, and now wood. The Doctor with Ponds in tow, now find themselves in a dusty old border town. I spent most of the first half of the episode wondering why Amy and Rory were there.
When The Doctor finds that he is in the American old west, he is chipper as all get out, and even mutters that someone has taken a peek at his Christmas list. It’s times like these where I really find my love for the Doctor as a character. The credit should go to Matt Smith for playing him so well, as with each opportunity he is given to employ the characters’ wide range of emotions in this frankly, sub-par episode; Smith succeeds. My favorite and so perfectly played here and in the last episode is his playfulness. Truly in his hearts, the Doctor is a child; a 1200 year old child, but a child nonetheless, he seizes the opportunity to play dress up and hang out in a real honest to goodness old west town. The Doctor’s first decision when seeing the big “Keep out” sign is to bring out a toothpick (rather than a cigarette or cigar) and mosey up to the first saloon he spies. Yes, he mosies and it is brilliant. The Doctor asks for “tea, but the strong stuff…leave the bag in”. Quickly, he learns that they Keep out sign was not merely a suggestion, and when the people of the town find out he goes by the name “The Doctor” and is an alien, they ride him out-of-town on their backs. A rail would have been nice, but I suppose it may have been too literal.
This cyborg gunslinger from the opening, has been menacing the town for a while now, not letting food or supplies in, and at some point has told them he is looking for an alien doctor hiding among them. While the townsfolk banter back and forth with the Doctor, the gunslinger approaches. The town’s marshal steps in and saves our doctor from being blown away. It’s at this point we learn why they are there. Amy states they were trying to get to Mexico for the Mexican holiday “the day of the dead”, a line which pleasantly reminded me that the TARDIS doesn’t always take the Doctor where he wants to go, but instead where he is needed..
There is another alien doctor named Kahler-Jex whom we learn has cured the town of cholera and has given the town electric and heating. However, he created “the gunslinger” in order to win a war, killing hundreds if not thousands in the process. The gunslinger wants Jex dead because of these cyborg experiments that won a war. Sound familiar? An alien Doctor Who did something morally ambiguous to win a war? Who doesn’t like ham-fisted duality? The Doctor angrily tosses Jex out for the gunslinger to take, in what I would break down to the Doctor being angry not just at Kahler-Jex for his actions, but the Doctor also remembering what he did to win the time war. Ultimately, the Doctor’s inner self-hatred comes out and unfortunately for Jex it’s directed squarely at him. This finally gives Amy something to do, to remind him, that this brooding, self-loathing, and anger the doctor can possess comes from him adventuring on his own, without a human to remind him where to draw his lines.
Amy’s point is a good one; remember how broody Ten got once he decided to travel alone? Amy’s point is also necessary because up until that point, I was wondering why the Amy and Rory were there to begin with. The episode is pretty Doctor heavy, and as there are only two more episodes with Amy and Rory, I would like to see more of what we saw last week, how he has influenced them, and made them grow, and not how they are used as distractions and relegated to the “Damsel in distress” category. C’mon Moffat…I know you can pull off a good ending for them. Please let us have it.
Anyhoo, once Amy talks the Doctor out of his range and back to his senses. Unfortunately, a tad too late as while Jex tries to explain to the Gunslinger that he is a better Kahler now, and, the Doctor finishes telling Amy that his mercy has led to more deaths that he feels responsible for, another death ends up on his hands, the Marshal leaps in front of Jex to save his life, and ends up on the wrong side of a bullet or lazer, i’m not entirely sure. Then, after a brief showdown with the townspeople, the Doctor and Jex begin a talk that oozes with duality. Jex tries to explain that he made one mistake to save his people and has now built a life dedicated to healing people. The Doctor cruelly explains that one does not get to choose when he has finished paying for his sins. Which in essence is why our Doctor does what he does, he is paying penance for all the lives he has been responsible for taking or ending, and dedicated his life to saving people, and aliens. So why can’t the Doctor understand that what Kahler-Jex is doing now, is essentially what the Doctor does but on a smaller scale?
The final act to the episode is where I have the most trouble with the episode. Essentially the Doctor’s plan is the same plan from Three Amigos when they remember their movie “Amigos, Amigos,Amigos” and dress everyone up like the titular “three amigos”. In this case everyone gets a cool Mike Tyson face tattoo, and scurries about, knowing that the gunslinger will not hurt innocent people . While they do this Khler-Jex escapes to his ship and announces over an invisible loudspeaker that he has decided to kill himself. I don’t get this. Why kill yourself and deny the gunslinger the chance for his revenge doc? Are you just going to kill yourself because it’s easier to do that than to stand up to the monster you created? What kind of lesson learned is that? Is Khaler-Jex saying that he is accepting the weight of his sins, because the doctor essentially talked him into it, or is he killing himself because it is the easy way out of the situation? Ultimately, The episode ends with pleasantries exchanged and the gunslinger left in Mercy as a sentry-type marshal guarding the town of mercy.
As I said there were some good moments in the episode that explored the darker side of the doctor that we have seen as of late, and saw before during the runs of 9 and 10. However, I think that as the rest of the season unfolds “A town called mercy” will be a skippable episode in the re watch of series 7.
HEY! Look at that Amy does remember she’s a mother. If you remember last week I was wondering why no one was mentioning River Song. Still, she has not been mentioned by name, but the fact that Khaler-Jex and Amy discuss about motherhood, at least lets us know that she remembers her daughter.
Secondly, many people on several forums have brought up the oddness with the lights in earlier episodes, the light being out in the Ponds living room, the flickering of lights in the Asylum of the Daleks, Also one forum poster, forgive me for not remembering your name, remembers the doctor fixing the light on the top of the Tardis in the prequel series “Pond life” that led up to this season, and in this episode we have several of them buzzing. Could this mean that the Silence are near? Are they the one fudging with the lights, or could it be the Weeping Angels chasing Amy, and the Doctor is just trying to keep them one step away?
Thirdly, one line that seemed to stick out in this episode was when the doctor said he didn’t need a new coat. Remember the Doctor’s weird new coat that he only sported for the Christmas episode, and Closing time (forgive me if I’m forgetting one other) Could this be a clue to the out of linear time movement we are seeing with the Ponds and the Doctor?
Let’s discuss on the forums! Until next week’s “The Power of Three” Whovians!