Doctor Who #904: A Town Called Mercy

"Everyone who isn't an American, drop your gun."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.15 2012.

IN THIS ONE... In the Old West, the Doctor must choose whether or not to protect an alien from a cyborg gunslinger.

REVIEW: Though Doctor Who hasn't done a western on TV since The Gunslingers in 1966, I feel like I've had my fill of such fare in the new era thanks to the expanded universe. The 10th Doctor novel Peacemaker wasn't entirely unlike this episode (it featured a living weapon in the Old West), and the comics have gone there too (I don't know if it's the Stetson or what). I can't exactly fault this episode for that over-familiarity, but it's not exactly innocent of poaching ideas from elsewhere either. Obviously, westerns have a set of tropes, like the gun fight at high noon, that are part and parcel of it. But the Gunslinger looks like the Terminator, uses Terminator vision and even sees a flashing TERMINATE when he finds his prey; they may be stressing the reference too much. I don't like to complain about a story that focuses on one clear idea/premise/setting in a half-season that usually looks like a frenzied collage, but A Town Called Mercy falls a little flat, visually, despite the spaghetti western location (it's Spain!).

Still, I can appreciate that it's about mercy and when to give it. Some characters, like Isaac (Ben Browder's sympathetic marshal) and Amy, would say always. Rory and the townsfolk would say only when it doesn't put oneself in danger. And the Doctor, who normally would side with Amy, needs her to bring him back from the edge because there are limits to what he can forgive. It's apparently been almost 100 years since he faked his death, which means he traveled alone too long and has started to lose his moral compass. This is nothing new, and puts Dinosaurs on a Spaceship's murderous finale in a better context (but doesn't save it, the tone is still all wrong for it). In A Town Called Mercy, the Doctor actually does struggle with his morality. Like Jex, he could be considered a war criminal. He too stopped a war at a terrible cost, not to mention all the other blood he has on his hands. If Time Lords had an idea of the afterlife anything like the Kahlers', he would never be able to get up the Mountain with all the weight he'd have on him. It all takes us a little close to previously-covered 10th Doctor territory, but it may be time to remind us of the Time War now, with the 50th Anniversary special only a little more than a year away.

Toby Whithouse's script has a lot of good moments - the Doctor's Christmas list, the Doctor convincing a young man not to kill, ordering tea at the saloon, Amy and Rory at opposite sides of an argument, Jex and Tech's contention that they're both monsters - but the plot is only fair. Too much Doctor Who ends with a character sacrificing themselves so the Doctor doesn't have to do something difficult. Usually, because the 45 minutes allowed are up. At least the Gunslinger doesn't go through with his own suicide and becomes a mythical figure instead. It's a neat new take on the "Moffat fairy tale".

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The DVD includes a moody promotional video for the cyborgs, which really shouldn't be watched as a prologue because it gives away the game.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - It's okay, but easily the least memorable story of the Ponds' farewell tour.


Toby'c said...

I really love the bit where the Doctor claims he can speak horse, and you can probably guess why.

Siskoid said...

You're a... horseman?

Siskoid said...

NO! A Centaur!

Did I guess it?!

Timothy Brannan said...

I was prepared to hate this one but it has gotten better with a second viewing. It's not perfect by any stretch, but I liked it.

Brian said...

Toby'c: it's allergy season, so you're sounding a little...ho(a)rse?

Toby'c said...

jdh417 said...

Terrible waste of a great guest star, Ben Browder. If there was ever an American Dr Who, I'd want him.


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