REVIEW: Doctor Who - "A Town Called Mercy"
On the surface, last Saturday’s Doctor Who might seem like another self-contained “bottle” episode, unconnected to the overall narrative of the Eleventh Doctor. But after two other single-episode arcs in a row, I’m seeing a pattern emerge. Steven Moffat and his writing team may not be unveiling any huge new mysteries, but they’re steadily dropping in references to what we all know is coming: the departure of Amy and Rory.
The seventh series’ third episode “A Town Called Mercy” is a straightforward Wild West story, but it rises above the simple plot by continuing the theme of Doctor’s mercy, a consistent feature of the series seven episodes so far. It’s a topic the Doctor struggles with, and one Amy is always challenging the Doctor about. Given the moral grey areas implied by the Western setting, “A Town Called Mercy” makes for an intelligent and surprisingly effective entry.
We find ourselves in an isolated town in 1870, where a murderous cyborg and his maker crash-land. Kahler Jex (Adrian Scarborough), the alien doctor, wants to help the townspeople, but he hides his past as a military scientist from them. The cyborg wants revenge on Jex for turning him into a “monster”, and threatens the town with destruction unless they hand Jex over.
Several weeks later, the Doctor (Matt Smith) and his companions arrive. The cyborg has trapped the residents, cut off their food supplies, and the town is slowly starving. The townspeople initially believe they can offer up the Doctor to the cyborg in place of Jex, but the town marshal decides to team up with the Doctor to defeat the gunslinger. When the Doctor learns about Jex’s past, however, he must decide whether to support Jex’s attempt to redeem himself, or punish Jex for his crimes.
I appreciated how the show shifts from the zany action of the previous episode, and simmers into a more thoughtful mood. The debates between the Doctor and Jex about Jex’s crimes were the strongest part of the episode, especially since Jex and the Doctor have similar philosophies. And even though Amy didn’t have much screen time in this story, she was indispensable in keeping the Doctor from making an impulsive decision about Jex.
Being such a fan of Westerns, I found myself hoping for a few more direct references to classic movies like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. While “A Town Called Mercy” doesn’t do that, it includes just enough elements of Westerns to feel authentic, like the stranger walking into the saloon, the undertaker measuring for a coffin, and the showdown at high noon. Even still, I’m holding out for a future Wild West episode where Matt Smith proclaims “I wear a poncho now. Ponchos are cool.”
Perhaps the most effective part of this episode was how we weren’t sure who the real villain was. Is the cyborg just a mindless killing machine, or does it deserve justice? Has Kahler Jex really reformed himself? Is the Doctor really the best person to judge Jex’s character?
As always, Amy cuts through the nonsense, and comes up with a decidedly human solution. The Doctor’s mercy has been tested in three consecutive episodes now, and I believe we’re all wondering the same thing: what will happen when he doesn’t have Amy around to orient him? “A Town Called Mercy” gets three and a half stars out of four.
What did you think of the third episode of Doctor Who series seven? Impressed? Bored? For those of you who have seen the trailer for tonight’s episode, how do you think it will play out? Sound off in the comments section! If you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers, and check out my other series seven reviews: