Sheriff: “He says he wants to kill the alien doctor.” Amy: “But that’s you. Why would he want to kill you. Unless he’s met you?”
The last time we played the Two Doctors storyline was back in the 2008 Christmas special, when David Morrisey appeared to be a future incarnation of The Doctor. In A Town Called Mercy, The Doctor’s arrival triggers a case of mistaken identity: a cyborg gunslinger, hell-bent on revenge is tormenting the town, demanding the “alien doctor” be turned over to him to be killed.
Toby Whithouse’s script is light-hearted to begin with, playfully having fun with the time travellers in a Western setting. So, we get The Doctor chewing manfully on a toothpick, then gracelessly getting it stuck in his jaws. We see him unceremoniously bundled out of town by the hostile locals and there are quips galore between the Time Lord and his companions. Like the one about Rory leaving his phone charger in Henry VIII’s en suite.
But as it turns out, the scary monster isn’t the sinister cyborg with a gun instead of an arm. It’s actually the weasley little “Doc” who arrived in Mercy after his spaceship crashed outside the town. He’s a scientist and surgeon from a race known as the Kahler who experimented on his own kind and converted many of his people into cyborgs in order to win a war on their planet.
What Whithouse does with incredible skill here is welds the story of this amoral scientist – who has committed horrible attrocities – to the Western theme of a drifter finding a place in an innocuous desert town. Jex even talks to Amy about how he wants to remember himself, to erase his past and live a peaceful life in service to the town of Mercy.
When The Doctor discovers what Jex has done – and why the cyborg wants him dead – he’s less than sympathetic. In fact, for once the pacifist Gallifreyan is all for turning Jex over to Kahler justice. He even pulls a gun on the Doc to force him out of town.
The height of the episode is The Doctor’s argument with Amy about the subject of mercy. We’ve seen The Doctor have the opportunity to eradicate his enemies in the past, but walk away. However, maybe in light of killing Solomon in the last episode, The Doctor sees that if he leaves a murderer alive to kill again, then he has allowed that to happen. Amy believes that the good guys must hold themselves to a higher standard.
I tend to disagree with Amy. If The Doctor is this great galactic protecter, someone who rescues races and chases away evil, then what good is he if he leaves the villians to commit their crime again?
However, didn’t The Doctor also attempt genocide during the Time War? Didn’t he destroy the Time Lords in order to eradicate the Daleks? The parallels with the Kahler’s war and the Time War are there to see. The Doctor survived and has done immeasurable good since then, so why is he against giving someone else a second chance?
All in all, A Town Called Mercy is delivering on Steven Moffat’s promise to make each episode of Doctor Who a blockbuster this year. The cinematography is stunning, and the concept was intelligently introduced while still giving the kids a memorable bad guy in the Cyborg Gunslinger. I’m loathe to criticise, but the Gunslinger’s face looked a bit cheap, like a bashed-up Kryten from Red Dwarf.
Isn’t it funny, but I feel like the chemistry between The Doctor and The Ponds is finally beginning to mature…just as Rory and Amy are due to make their exit from the show. How are you finding the relationship with The Doctor and his companions this season?