There’s a showdown brewing and Toby Whithouse has provided the perfect opportunity to get the Doctor back in a Stetson, so let’s talk about A Town Called Mercy.
The Doctor and the Ponds find themselves in the Old West in the titular town called Mercy, about 200 miles north of their intended destination. Close enough to be considered on target, considering the Doctor’s infamous driving skills. As the writers lead us through nearly every single spaghetti western trope, we learn that Mercy is being held hostage by a cyborg Gunslinger, looking for the Doctor. Well, not THE Doctor, but a doctor, who also happens to be an alien. Our Doctor is saved from the mercies of the townsfolk by the Marshal, played by none other than Ben Browder of Farscape and Stargate fame.
Marshal Isaac knows who the alien doctor is: Dr. Kahler Jex, who has been living peacefully in the town for years, curing cholera and bringing electricity to Mercy ten years before its invention. In his initial attempt to free Mercy from the Gunslinger, the Doctor discovers the truth of Jex’s past. He may seem like a kindly old physician now, but not too long ago, he and his cronies conducted terrible experiments to create living weapons like the Gunslinger. In fact, the Gunslinger is the last of those weapons, and has been systematically wiping out the scientists who created him.
In another of the dark moments that this season is becoming known for, the Doctor is more than willing to hand Jex over to the Gunslinger, even going so far as to hold him beyond the town border at gunpoint. “Today,” he says, “I honor the victims first: his, the Master’s, the Daleks’… all the people who died because of my mercy!” Amy talks him down, but the Gunslinger has already arrived. In the fray, Isaac takes the bullet/laser/sonic beam meant for Jex. He passes his Marshal badge to the Doctor and charges him with taking care of both Mercy and Jex.
Of course, you can’t have a Western Episode without a showdown at High Noon. In this particular showdown, the climax of the episode, the men of the town band together to confuse the Gunslinger long enough for Jex to get back to his ship. Contrary to the Doctor’s escape plan, however, Jex activates the ship’s self-destruct feature, choosing to face the judgment of his people’s afterlife and ensure that no more innocents will die in the Gunslinger’s pursuit. The Gunslinger, now a weapon of war in a time of peace, stays on to protect the town he once held hostage.
I’ve been looking forward to this episode ever since the news that Ben Browder would be guest-starring, and my expectations were not in the least disappointed. It was the entertaining romp that last week’s “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” attempted to be, but without the blatant overuse of gimmicks that made that episode absurd. This episode’s strength was in playing to one genre and using that genre’s tropes to bring the humor, from the Doctor’s genre-appropriate toothpick to Miss Kitty running the saloon.
I appreciate that, like any good Doctor Who episode, it wasn’t all giggles. This episode also delved in the darker themes of wartime atrocities and what happens when the war is over. Jex’s cyborg weapons were volunteers to the program, but does that make his experimentation any less wrong? Or, as Amy points out, if the Doctor (and we viewers) condemn Jex for his creations, are we also condemning anyone who’s ever invented a gun or a bomb? The Doctor himself is getting progressively darker, from regeneration to regeneration and within Matt Smith’s arc, as well. This is the second episode in a row in which we’ve seen the Doctor willing to kill. It seems we’ve left behind the days of “everybody lives.”
This is also the second episode in a row where the Ponds have declined another trip in the TARDIS, but it looks like the Doctor will be dealing with the Ponds on their home turf next week. Stay tuned!
Rory: It’s only a few years out.
The Doctor: That’s what you said when you left your phone charger in Henry VIII’s ensuite.
The Doctor: I speak horse. He’s called Susan, and he wants you to respect his life choices.
Things to ponder:
- Amy rehashes a point once made by another ginger companion, that the Doctor shouldn’t be alone. He also gives his age as somewhere around 1200 now. Just how much time is passing between visits to the Ponds? Could that be why the Doctor is going so dark this season?
- Only two episodes left in the countdown to the Ponds’ departure. How do you think they’ll be leaving the TARDIS?
Review By: Jennifer Steele