The season continues with another standalone episode, this time set in the Old West! Guns! Horses! Stetsons! Cyborgs! And Crichton!
A Town Called Mercy:
One of the best things about Doctor Who is its ability to use the setting and era of each episode to say something about the story line. At least, that’s what we want. For instance, setting an episode all about the power of words in Shakespeare’s England was appropriate (though not, you know, good). What we don’t want is an episode where the location and time is simply a backdrop to the plot.
Luckily, this one works. The ideas of vengeance, guilt, and starting over are perfectly at home in an old west, gunslinging environment. The post war environment in the south made a triangle between the town, the Doctor, and the doctor, and we get a solid, enjoyable episode.
We return to the common trope of the Tardis deciding where the Doctor and his companions go, and what is best for them. The Doctor needed to be here, to face what was, for all intensive purposes, a mirror of himself: A brilliant, alien Doctor who committed terrible war-crimes and is now trying to redeem himself by helping humanity. Every time the Doctor screams in fury at Kahler Jex, he is really yelling at himself.
Okay, so the metaphor was a bit thin, and more than a little obvious, but luckily, it worked. Not to stir up trouble, but I don’t think it would have worked with Doctor 10. Not because Tennant wouldn’t be up to it, but because his Doctor wore his guilt on his sleeve for his entire run. The nice thing about the Moffat series is that we don’t need to constantly hear about the Doctor’s guilt for killing everyone, so when we do, it’s effective and not stale.
At the finale of “The End of Time”, we’re all supposed to be shocked when the Doctor grabs his gun after the twenty minute long scene of him going on about how much he never would. But it was such an obvious set up that, instead of being surprised, we were just feeling impatient for him to finally do it. This time, it actually is a shock when the Doctor suddenly grabs a gun and points it at Jex. It’s downright scary, and we haven’t seen that kind of rage since Eccleston’s fantastic episode, “Dalek”.
It’s pretty clear that Smith’s doctor is closer to 9 than 10, and we’re seeing it a lot in this seasons: Manic, optimistic, and caring, but also full of madness, and, at times, rage.
The other nice thing about the Moffat series is the production value. I realize high-budget doesn’t mean good quality, but with sci-fi, part of the entertainment are the visuals. While we all love a good bubble-wrap monster, it’s hard not to appreciate how beautiful the show has gotten.
Of course, the show is still funny. It’s nice to undercut the drama with a bit of humor, and reminding us of the Doctor’s ability as a polyglot was charming, as usual. Hopefully the joke won’t be overused, but I liked “Susan” and his “lifestyle choices”. Of course the Doctor speaks horse.
And nothing made me as giddy as realizing who the Marshall was! I was sad to see Browder killed so quickly, but it felt like a very Doctor Who style death (if it had been Ten there would have been way more crying). And right after the Doctor was talking about how his mercy got people killed, PROOF. To me that makes more sense than the “You turn your companions into weapons” thing.
I did have a few minor qualms with the episode: While I liked Amy once again, and her being the voice of humanity, grounding the Doctor like a companion should, I feel like Rory was completely underused. Which is fine, there’s only so much time in an episode and it looks like he’s playing a major part in the next episode (so. excited.), but his eagerness to kill Jex was out of character for him, the always kind and sensitive nurse. I get that he wanted to save the town, but I didn’t expect him to be so ready to kill to do it. If it was because he was horrified that a doctor would break a good of “do no harm” so readily, it would have been nice to see. Instead, he just seemed to old that opinion to add to the drama. Then again, “needs more Rory” is a pretty easy argument to always make.
The fact that Kahler-Mas never went into town to just kill Jex didn’t really make a lot of sense, but oh well.
But a minor qualm of an otherwise very good episode. Drama, humor, Wild West Showdowns, and is it just me, or did The Ponds both look especially attractive in this episode?