Doctor Who: A Town Called Mercy – TV Review

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?

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  1. sgreco1970

    “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 villains to commit their crime again?”

    Because when you become judge, jury and executioner, oftentimes the wrong people face “justice.” Had the Doctor gone with the first instinct, he’d have killed the cyborg. Would he have been chasing away evil? How long before he realized the real villain was the alien doc?

    Also, evil is a very subjective term. Sure, its easy to label Hitler as evil, but what about the millions of other criminals? Should every infractor be vaporized with no chance for redemption? Not everyone or everything is black-and-white evil, and a real hero tries to redeem or rehabilitate someone who has gone wrong, not just obliterate them.

    I think an immortal who goes around killing everyone he alone has judged and deemed evil is closer to a villain than a hero. That’s best left to Judge Dredd than Doctor Who, IMO.

    1. pirho

      The horses name is Susan and he wants you to respect his lifestyle.  Anyone else noticing that they are playing the translation card an awful lot lately?

        1. pirho

          The horse that the Doctor rode to the spaceship. They told him the horses name was Joshua, but when the Doctor got on top he said “No it’s not, I speak horse and it’s susan and he wants you to respect his lifes choices”  

      1. Gerard McGarry

        LOL – I’m surprised there wasn’t a whole conspiracy thread devoted to the fact that the horse was called Susan and…HEY! Wasn’t that what you called the Doctor’s granddaughter? Could she really be the horse? Ooooooo……

        * I’m joking, obviously!

        1. Emperor Gregor

          The Doctor’s grand daughter a horse? Why not? She’s presumably a Time Lord, and Time Lords, as we have been told by the Doctor himself (and Moffat), can regenerate into anything they like, including non-human’s. Maybe she fancied a break from the humanoid race. Maybe she wanted fast, advanced language lessons in horse (speaking of which, where did the doctor learn HIS horse language skllls)?

          Now that would really explain his comment about accepting her life choices!

  2. Emperor Gregor

    “Looking at you is like looking into a mirror”


    That upsets the Doctor, who is starting to see a difference between what he did and toe likes of Jex or Solomon. We are watching the end of the Doctor who blames himself for the genocide of the Time Lords. Tennant was always sorrowful but The End of Time showed us why he felt it necessary.He didn’t hate himself the way Matt Smith’s Doctor does and tried to be merciful. But no second chances. He was hard on the family of blood when they pursued him. When Nine regenerated into Ten he didn’t kill his enemy in a duel until that enemy broke the combat rules and tried to kill Tennant underhandedly. ‘No second chances. I’m that kind of man’. As John Smith the lady refused to come with him because he had no regrets hiding in the school and bringing about all the deaths. In the end his weariness was for living so long – like many old people he outlived so many people and had to watch them turn to dust. 

    Smith’s Doctor is guilt ridden over the killing of the Time Lords – though not the Daleks. He’s changing though and recognising that ‘for evil to succeed it is only necessary for a good man to do nothing.’. He is no longer a total absolutist as Amy is. And he sees a difference between himself and Jex especially after looking at that video. He recognises that for every mercy he shows one criminal many more people die. Is he turning into judge jury and executioner. If so is Moffatt setting up the fall of the Eleventh. Because the next line of my quotation is ‘great men are often wicked me ‘

  3. Emperor Gregor

    the Doctor got so recognisable throughout the universe – so ‘noisy’ – that he had to fake his own death and duck out of sight. 

    What’s the first thing he says when he arrives anywhere?  ‘I’m the Doctor’. !!!

    Not much of a low profile there. 

        1. pirho

          Oh please I beg you, on the off chance that Moffat reads this blog, I beg you please, don’t give him any ideas.  This Season has been god awful, they don’t need any more help in making it worse.

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