Last week’s episode of Doctor Who seemed to generally please a lot of people with it’s sense of fun and the fact that it was a good old-fashioned romp. Watching the trailer for this week’s episode, A Town Called Mercy, I got the impression that it would be another light-hearted affair I wrong as this was a fairly dark instalment which partly focused on why The Doctor needs company on the Tardis. Fans of Westerns will be happy though as this is a well-researched pastiche drawing elements from High Noon, Bad Day at Black Rock and even a smattering of True Grit however due to the sci-fi elements it does also resemble Back to the Future III and the Red Dwarf episode Gunmen of The Apocalypse.
The story begins with Amy, Rory and The Doctor materialising on the edge of a desert on the outskirts of the city limits of a town called Mercy which has a sign telling the trio to keep out however this being The Doctor he steps into the city thus being at the mercy of a Cyborg Gunslinger who can teleport at will and is keeping the town hostage. The Doctor and friends eventually end up in the Marshall’s office where they encounter another alien doctor in the form of Adrian Scarborough’s Kahler-Jex whose ship crashed some years ago but who has been helping the folk of Mercy since he arrived. His work has included curing the town of cholera and rigging up electricity from his ship in order to keep the town lit at night while in return the people of Mercy have kept him safe from The Gunslinger who has kept the town hostage because he wants to kill Jex. The Doctor attempts to help the people of Mercy by having Rory and Isaac the Marshall create a diversion so he can get the Tardis into the town and whisk al the townsfolk away however on the way he finds Jex’s craft and learns the truth about the seemingly kindly Doctor.
This is where the darker part of the episode kicks in as The Doctor reveals that Jex and his scientist partner took volunteers and turned them into cyborgs in order to stop the war on his planet. Jex sees himself as a war hero while The Doctor views him as a murderer eventually deciding to drag him out of town to face his fate at the hands of the gunslinger that he himself created. Thankfully Amy is on hand to talk some sense into The Doctor telling him he is now being stupid and that killing people shouldn’t be an option with him eventually relenting just as The Gunslinger appears killing Isaac who jumps in front of Jex to save him. Realising The Doctor will do the right thing by the town and by Jex he makes him The Marshall and from there he has to make an agonising decision about the fate of a man that he doesn’t know what to make of before the entire town is destroyed.
The fact that The Doctor has to be talked out of marching Jex to his certain death plays into the way that the title character has changed since his adventures with the Ponds have become less frequent. One of the debates about last week’s episode was whether The Doctor should’ve killed bounty hunter Solomon and this week it is Amy who has to point out that them killing people isn’t an option asking him if that’s what happens when they’re not around? This is an interesting question and one that has to be answered as the Ponds are leaving soon I personally think that the Doctor’s companions act as his moral compass and without them around he wouldn’t be as lenient as he is, indeed he mentions that he’s sick of people becoming victims of his mercy, and the rage that seems to have built up in him must be a result of not having his friends around on a regular basis. Jex also comments on this theme saying that The Doctor’s prison is his morals and he has to live with the fact that people die because he often lets the bad guys live. Jex himself is an interesting character who compares himself to The Doctor as they both have rage and guilt but unlike him The Doctor doesn’t have the courage to follow through. It seems that The Doctor is thoroughly perplexed by Jex not knowing what to make of him as Jex himself picks up on saying it would be easier if he was either the kindly physician or the killing machine and the fact that he’s both bewilders him.
I absolutely loved Adrian Scarborough, most recently seen as Charmian’s disapproving father in Mrs Biggs, who is able to portray the stereotypical English doctor from the western films but also the slimy, sinister scientist who explains away his crimes by saying that he did what he did for the great good. Matt Smith perfectly bounces off Scarborough here and as The Doctor he is definitely the angriest he has been in a while as his morals are tested in this tale as he realises that he soon will be without the people who matter to him the most. Karen Gillan also excels in her one speech where she stands up to The Doctor when he is about to do the unthinkable though Arthur Darvill is somewhat relegated to the side-lines acting as Rory becomes just another part of The Doctor’s various schemes.
There has also been a lot of devotion put into the Western theme with the episode being shot in the Spanish town of Almeria where movies such as The Magnificent Seven and The Dollars Trilogy were filmed. The genre is also exploited for most of the jokes this episode such as the town undertaker constantly measuring The Doctor for a coffin or the ability of The Doctor to speak horse in order to inform one of the bemused townsfolk that his horse is called Susan and wants him to respect his life choices. In addition the music seems to have been based on a variety of Westerns, most notably The Magnificent Seven, which once again makes this episode feel as true to the genre as it can.
I had to watch A Town Called Mercy twice to really get a feel for the episode and I ended up really enjoying it as it continued the overall story arc of the series as well as containing a very involving stand-alone plot. As we see now the Ponds aren’t as willing to join The Doctor on his adventures which in turn is making him more angry and turning him into something that he doesn’t want to be a theme that I hope will continue throughout Gillan and Darvill’s final two episodes. The Western genre has been faithfully handled while the performances, especially from Adrian Scarborough, were once again top notch as was the overall pace of the plot. While it may not have been as fun as Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, A Town Called Mercy was a very rewarding episode which left me intrigued about what direction the series will go in the Ponds’ final two episodes.
Did you watch A Town Called Mercy? If so what did you think? Leave Your Comments Below.