Dr. Who Review: “A Town Called Mercy”
The Dr. Who Review of “A Town Called Mercy:” Stetsons Are Cool
This week’s episode begins with a vicious-looking monster, with a huge gun, chasing after someone with markings on his face. The soon-to-be-victim pleads to the monster, “I’m the last one,” to which the monster replies, “There is one more. The Doctor.” At this point, it’s fair to assume that the Doctor has gotten himself into some sort of trouble, and he probably hasn’t even landed the TARDIS yet.
Well, when they do land, it’s outside a Western town called Mercy, population 81. However, the town may not want their company, as there is a sign that reads, “Keep Out.” But, does this stop the Doctor? Of course not, because according to the Doctor, he sees “’Keep Out’ signs as suggestions more than actual orders. Like, ‘Dry Clean Only.’” He then rubs his hands together in his mischievous Dr. Who fashion, and they set foot into town.
The setting and feel of Mercy is great. It’s as if they have just walked into an old Western Movie. The creative team did a really great job in this episode, with both the set design and costumes. You wouldn’t know that this was an episode of Dr. Who if you happened to jump in while they’re moseying through town. All that’s missing is rolling tumbleweed and a Stetson on the Doctor’s head. The country feel doesn’t last for long, however, as a nearby lamp-post suddenly surges with electricity. Obviously, there is more to the town that what there seems, and as such, chances are that there’s going to be a problem only the Doctor can solve.
In typical Western fashion, they make their into a saloon. Where else does one find out what’s going on in town, if it isn’t in the saloon? In a scene that will go own as one of my all time Dr. Who favorites, the Doctor walks up to the bar, stares down the waitress and sternly orders, in an American accent, “Tea. But the strong stuff. Leave the bag in.” The waitress looks at him like he’s crazy, while the Doctor stands there, rolling a toothpick around in his mouth. I’ve seen the Doctor try to fit in, but never this hard. It’s more like he’s taking on the actual role than merely trying to blend in. Is he seeking some new sense of identity, or is this all for fun? I think he actually wishes that he were one of these cowboys and is going to do everything in his power to act like one. It’s playtime for the Doctor, but then again, isn’t it usually playtime? It does leave me to wonder if he’s going to make an exception to his stance on guns in this episode? I guess we’ll find out.
Unfortunately for the trio, they are instantly recognized as being unrecognized. When asked who they are, the Doctor proudly proclaims that he is the Doctor, which causes everyone to rise to their feet, obviously a bit on edge. His introduction prompts one of the townspeople to ask if he is an alien. This is a strange question to ask, because why would a town of Westerners know anything about aliens, let alone have reason to ask someone, specifically called “the Doctor,” if he’s an alien? The Doctor replies, why yes, he’s an alien, even though he thinks the question is a bit relative because to him, their the aliens, but whatever.
This causes the crowd to go wild, literally. They start a mob and carry the Doctor off to the outskirts of town, where they clearly mean to shoot him. Thankfully, the Marshal talks some sense into them. He yells out at the Doctor, “You! Bowtie. Get back across that line. Now.” I cracked up laughing upon hearing the Marshal speak to the Doctor in such a manner. I think the only other being that can get away with it is River Song, and that’s because they’re married. But, the Doctor is not in a position to talk back or disagree, and abides the Marshal’s order. The Marshal has decided to trust the Doctor for now, and without him even having to utter the famous Dr. Who line, “Trust me, I’m the Doctor.” He states that even if that man is called the Doctor, that doesn’t mean they need to kill him. Obviously, this quaint town has had some previously bad experiences with aliens, and we can assume that it’s the alien that we saw in the beginning, since he’s hunting someone called the Doctor.
This scene gives us a chance to appreciate the town that Steven Moffat has created. It functions just like one would expect a small, Western town would. Its people are full of secrets and intricacies, like any community, and they’re very close to one another. It’s obvious that they’re trying to protect themselves from this monster and are willing to sacrifice another being in order to do it. They have their group of young guns, eager to defend the town at any cause, their stereotypical Reverend and their level-headed, morally good, Marshal, who always knows what’s best for the townspeople.
The Doctor, Amy and Rory follow the Marshal back to his headquarters, which doubles as the jail, since this is a small town after all. We learn that the vicious alien is called “The Gunslinger.” Stephen King fans may get a kick out of that, though Roland Deschain is definitely a much cooler and more likable Gunslinger than this alien bloke.
The Marshal begins to fill them in what the Gunslinger wants, and within a minute the Doctor has figured everything out. There’s another alien in town, and not only that, but he also goes by the Doctor, hence the confusion. He’s the one that brought the electricity and he’s the one the Gunslinger is after. And lo and behold, behind him in that very jail cell is the alien doctor known as Jex.
The town’s torn, and they should be. Ever since they saved him from his wrecked spaceship, Jex has done nothing but help them. He’s a surgeon and a doctor, who has not only helped cure them of cholera, but who has saved many of the townspeople’s lives. So, they don’t want to just turn him over to the Gunslinger to be killed, yet they don’t want to be held hostage by the Gunslinger any longer. Lucky for the town, the Doctor has arrived, and as the Doctor always does, he’s going to try to save everyone while simultaneously solving the problem.
Or is he?
Here’s where we have to reflect a bit on this season’s version of the Doctor, thus far. Ever since, “The Asylum of the Daleks,” we’ve seen the Doctor grow steadily colder. He’s not the same, “gonna save everyone, gonna do whatever is in my power” kind of Doctor. His sense of morality has shifted and we can’t be sure as to exactly why. Has he been traveling for too long, and has simply grown tired of fighting? Is it that, despite faking his own death, it still wasn’t enough, as he’s gotten too big all the same? Is he angry because he’s still known the Doctor, even in this small Western town? If he grew large enough to be named “The Predator” by the Daleks, then he really must be some vicious man, right? If that’s the case, then why not start to act like one? How much does he even really care anymore?
The Marshal makes a statement, which speaks to us, while we’re hoping that it’s also speaking to the Doctor: “America’s the land of second chances. We call this town Mercy for a reason. Others, some around here, don’t feel that way.”
Thankfully, our Doctor does have a plan up his tweed-sleeves. Right when he’s about to walk out, Amy asks, “No crazy schemes? No negotiations?” to which the Doctor replies in his child-like, sarcastic tone, “I’ve matured. I’m 1,200 years old now.” With a Stetson on his head, he leaves to set his plan into action.
In another bit of entertaining dialog for which Dr. Who is so well known, the Doctor asks the Reverend if he could borrow his horse for a bit of Marshal business. The Reverend replies, “He’s called Joshua. It’s from the Bible. It means ‘The Deliverer.’” The Doctor responds, “No he isn’t. I speak horse. He’s called Susan. And he wants you to respect his life choices.”
While on his way to the TARDIS, the Doctor comes across Jex’s ship, which he immediately hops in and starts poking around. Upon pulling up the ship’s records, it seems there’s more to Jex that he’s letting on, and the Doctor does not like it one bit. We aren’t privy to what these documents say, but one look at the Doctor’s face tells us that he’s angry, and it usually takes a lot to make the Doctor that angry. As a livid Doctor pops out of Jex’s ship, he’s greeted by the Gunslinger. The Doctor now understands who the Gunslinger is and has some respect for him, as he’s lost any that he had for Jex.
When the Doctor informs the Marshal, Amy and Rory of what he has learned, they find that they’re still faced with the same decision that they were at the episode’s beginning, except this time there is less information in favor for fighting for Jex. During the debate, the Doctor is extremely quiet and we can tell that he is festering inside. At this point, Jex decides to push his buttons, telling him that the two of them aren’t so different, which obviously hits a nerve with the Doctor.
The Doctor doesn’t like it when people or aliens compares themselves to him, as we’ve seen in past episodes. The Doctor will put his life on the line for anyone, he will go to the ends of the universe, literally, to save a single person, yet he’s responsible for the genocide of his own people. So, no, don’t compare yourself to the Doctor, Jex, because it doesn’t put him in the best of moods, especially when he’s already really mad at you. The Doctor gets so mad that he pushes Jex out the door, out toward the city limits, and out toward the circle that, should he push Jex over, the Gunslinger is sure to shoot him.
In something completely uncharacteristic of the Doctor, he wields a gun and points it at Jex. Now, this is the DOCTOR about whom we are talking! This is the Doctor who doesn’t like weapons; the Doctor from whom River hides her own gunslinging from, because she knows her old man doesn’t like it. The only other time we’ve seen the Doctor willing to carry a weapon is way back in the first season, in an episode called, “Dalek.” And now we have a Doctor who is ready to shoot another being in the face. The Doctor faked his own death to avoid this path, yet here he is, ready to kill, as if that were the easiest answer. Since when does the Doctor do anything the easy way, let alone kill someone, no matter the crime? What has become of our Doctor? What has happened to him since last season?
It’s at this point that Amy steps in and interrupts him with a gunshot of her own. She tells him, “Let him come back Doctor,” to which he replies, “Or what? You won’t shoot me, Amy.” This begins a very poignant exchange between Amy and the Doctor, offering some of the best dialog so far this season and some of the best acting by Karen Gillan and Matt Smith to date, in my opinion.
Amy says to the Doctor, “This is not how we roll, and you know it.” She’s trying to talk to the real Doctor, the one we’ve grown to know and love, and not this angry facade of a Time Lord who has wreaked emotional highway robbery on our beloved Doctor. She’s right to ask him, “What’s happened to you Doctor? When did killing someone become an option?”
Then, Amy says to the Doctor exactly what he needs to hear. It’s only something that she can say, because she’s his best friend, she’s the girl with whom he ate fish fingers and custard, and she’s the girl who waited. Her words carry more weight than anyone else’s in the Doctor’s eyes. And so she tells him, “See, this is what happens when you travel alone for too long. Well, listen to me Doctor, we can’t be like him – he have to be better than him.”
An awestruck Doctor can only utter the words, “Amelia Pond.” She’s pinned him and he knows it. He realizes what he’s becoming and it seems like, at this point in the episode, he’s not going to stand for it.
Unfortunately, the Marshal gets killed trying to protect Jex from the Gunslinger. The Doctor decides to take on the duty of Marshal, which means that, whatever happens, there will be blood on his hands unless he can find a way to make everyone happy. The Gunslinger gives the new Marshal an ultimatum: either turn over Jex by tomorrow at noon, or everyone in the town dies. That night, it’s clear that the town has made up their minds, as they gather outside the jail with their guns. They demand that the Doctor turn over Jex, because they want to save their families and end all of this. The Doctor brandishes his gun, showing the townspeople that he’s willing to fight for Jex. Luckily for the townspeople, the Doctor is better with words than he is with weapons, and he talks them down. “Frightened people,” the Doctor says. “Give me a Dalek any day.”
It seems like we have our normal Doctor back, and Amy is likely right in saying that the Doctor has been traveling alone for too long. But, why has the Doctor been traveling alone? Is is because he wants to continue to ruse he began in faking his own death? Or was he hiding away with his pent-up anger that we saw him finally let out? He needs companions like Amy and Rory to help balance him out, to remind him of his humanity, because even though he’s a Time Lord, he still believes in and abides by human morality.
So, when it’s time to come face-to-face with the Gunslinger, what do you think the Doctor will do? Does he revert to his angry self and try to kill him, or does he have something else in store for the mysterious-space-cowboy-assassin? You’ll have to watch and see.
Geek Smash Score: 91/100
This episode is a must-see. Not only is it ripe with symbolism in its name alone, but it contains some of the best acting by both Amy and the Doctor so far this season; the dialog in this episode is at time as funny as it is gut-wrenching. The story comes full circle with its ending, which left me with a calm feeling and a big smile on my face. Hopefully, the Doctor has faced his demons and this episode will serve as his turning point, since Amy and Rory can’t continue traveling with him forever.
The Doctor: “Anachronistic electricity, ‘Keep Out’ signs, aggressive stares – has someone been peeking at my Christmas list?”
Man in Saloon: “I got a question. Is you an alien?”
The Doctor: “Well, um – bit personal. It’s all relative, isn’t it? I mean, I think you’re the aliens. But, in this context, yes. Yes, I suppose I am.”
Marshal: (Throws a Stetson with a bullet-hole in it at the Doctor)
The Doctor: “Ah, well, he wasn’t a very good shot then.”
Marshal: “He was aiming for the hat”
The Doctor: “He shoots people’s hats?!”
The Doctor: “Two Alien Doctors. We’re like buses.”
The Doctor: “The Kahler! I love the Kahler! They’re one of the most ingenious races in the galaxy, seriously, they could build a spaceship out of tupperware and moss.”
Amy: “Oh, so you’re not even a tiny bit curious?”
The Doctor: “Why would I be curious? It’s a mysterious-space-cowboy-assassin. Curious? Of course I’m not curious.”
The Doctor: “Can I borrow your horse please? It’s official Marshal business.”
The Reverend: “He’s called Joshua. It’s from the Bible. It means ‘The Deliverer.”
The Doctor: “No, he isn’t. I speak horse. He’s called Susan. And he wants you to respect his life choices.”
Amy: “How do you know? Maybe I’ve changed. I mean, you’ve clearly been taking stupid lessons since I saw you last.”
Amy: “I didn’t mean to do that.”
Marshal: “Everyone who isn’t an American, drop your gun.”
FYI: Those toys I mentioned in last week’s review are made by Underground Toys.
A trailer for next week’s episode, in which Rory’s dad makes another appearance!
– By Julie Tutwiler