A Town Called Mercy

Prequel: A corporate video detailing the making of a cyborg killing machine, which seems to have been undertaken by a man who looks remarkably like Derek Jacobi. That was quite distracting. As a side note, it’s really annoying that the prequels are on a different Bluray submenu to the episodes, as it takes ages to navigate back and forth.

There are plenty of things this episode does right, but several that it gets so very very wrong. I enjoyed the Wild West setting and the location looks great, even if I did spend half the episode trying to figure out if it was Laredo from off of Gunmen of the Apocalypse but with better weather and a really impressive grade. Even though the town wasn’t familiar, the tropes were, from the sudden silence as the strangers enter the saloon, to the showdown at high noon. It was only a shame it wasn’t punctuated with Lynda Baron narrating the episode in song.

Mr Jolly from Psychoville turns up as a nice, kindly alien doctor, and he’s so lovely that you just know he’s going to turn out to be a war criminal. The cyborg Gunslinger tracking him down is nothing we haven’t seen before – the look of Robocop with the HUD of a Terminator – but I liked that both characters had plenty of shades of grey. It was hard to figure out which was the baddy and which was the goody, but really neither of them fit either role. One is a bad man doing good things for a bad reason, the other is a good (half-)man doing bad things for a good reason.

All was going well, until the Doctor – for the second episode in a row – decides to condemn someone to their death, physically pushing him over the line that the Gunslinger arbitrarily can’t cross. Then the Wild West trappings are taken too far, and culminate in the Doctor brandishing a gun, and pointing it right in Mr Jolly’s face. And then Amy points a gun at the Doctor. What the fuck is going on here?

Call me an old traditionalist, but there’s something about TV’s most pacifist action hero holding a gun that really doesn’t sit right with me. A normal, real Earth gun too, not some futuristic space gun that doesn’t carry the same connotations. I get the point they were trying to make, which is that he goes a bit rogue whenever he doesn’t have a regular companion around, but I’ve never really been on board with that. It happens far too often – you can’t have him forget who he is every time he’s left alone for five minutes, otherwise who even is he?

Amy’s speech reminding him that killing people is wrong is about all her or Rory get to do in this story. They might as well have sat this one out at home, other than the fact that the episode started with them in-situ with the Doctor, forgoing the usual picking-them-up part. This needless division has made both them and the Doctor worse as a result, which is so frustrating as the three of them in the TARDIS were so good. If they were only going to be around for five more episodes anyway, why bother changing it?

There was more stuff that happened in the episode, but it lost me with the whole Doctor-trying-to-kill-someone thing. There was a noble sacrifice from the nice sheriff, but that didn’t work because it was entirely the Doctor’s fault. There was a big Doctor speech about how violence begets violence, but that’s all a bit hypocritical considering what he was up to five minutes earlier. And there was supposedly a big clever masterplan to solve the situation, but that boiled down to loads of people running around with alien markings painted on their face, before Mr Jolly saves the day by blowing himself up unexpectedly.

It wasn’t one of my favourites, but the annoying thing is that it really could have been, if only the Doctor, Amy and Rory had just been more like the Doctor, Amy and Rory.

RATING: 6

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