Doctor Who: 703 “A Town Called Mercy” Advance Review
Reviewed by Benjamin Tavener (Creator & Editor of GeographyBase)
Warning! While I have not included any large plot twists in my review, spoiler-phobes should read ahead at their own risk!
Before I dive into this, I must say that this is not an action-packed episode of Doctor Who. Unlike last week’s “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”, which was a light-hearted romp, this episode is fuelled by pure emotion. Yes action scenes are present, as you would expect from a western story, but it is the emotion that really captivates you throughout the entire episode. I know this sounds clichéd, but Doctor Who just keeps getting better and better! Would you care to know why? If you do, then keep reading for my advance verdict on “Timelord Cowboys VS Aliens”…
In terms of the plot, this episode is a very strong one, as well as one of the most unique in Doctor Who to date. Similar to “Asylum of the Daleks”, the episode begins with a narration, doing wonders to create an epic tone which is sustained throughout the episode. We get to see a glimpse of the Gunslinger within the first minute and all I can say is that he is searching for an alien doctor. The TARDIS Trio then find themselves in the middle of the Wild West, on the edge of a town called Mercy.When the Doctor, Amy and Rory see that the town is a couple of years ahead of its time, they go to seek answers from the locals. However, before so much as a welcome, the Doctor is thrown head first out of the town straight into the reach of the Gunslinger.
The story then develops when we find out there is indeed another alien doctor, called Kahler-Jex. The Gunslinger wants revenge on Jex and is prepared to tear the universe apart in order to achieve it. However, the story becomes much more emotional when the Doctor learns what Jex has done. It comes to a climax when the Doctor tries to hand (or push) Jex to the Gunslinger in order to save the town of Mercy. Amy realises that the Doctor’s moral compass must be fixed.
The acting in this episode is, quite simply, outstanding. From start to finish the actors give it their all to make this western a true heart-felt drama. In particular, I must praise Matt Smith, who once again delved into a much darker side of the character than we are used to. In one particular scene, Matt Smith puts so much anger into the character that you will be on the edge of your seats with excitement. In this scene he is holding a pistol and says he really doesn’t know what he will do. The way in which Smith delivers these lines just sends a wave of shivers down your spine. Arthur Darvill does not have a huge part to play in this story as Rory, but from his strong acting, he manages to convey that he is much more at-ease to be around the Doctor than in Whithouse’s 2010 story, “The Vampires of Venice”.
Adrian Scarborough, who plays Kahler-Jex is a brilliant addition to the cast. He works very well to convey a strong sense of innocence and makes the revelation that he is not all what he seems quite shocking. In the end, we feel sympathy for his character, when he says that his “Prisons” will be carried with him when he dies, using his eyes to show how guilty he feels. Finally, it must be said that Karen Gillan is on top of her game this week as she shows a “tough love” side to Amy which makes the Doctor snap out of his outburst of rage.
On the subject of the Gunslinger, he is used very well in this episode and has a great amount of screen time. The design is superb and it is evident that the production team put a lot of effort into it. The Gunslinger is a constant presence throughout the story and is always lingering over the distant hills, which adds to the chilling atmosphere. However, one technical aspect which I must criticise is the voice of the Gunslinger. It is very much like the voice of the Silence and is, at times, hard to hear. On the other hand, maybe this is what a half-human, half machine would sound like, realistically!
The direction in this episode is superb. I can honestly say that I would buy an 82-inch TV just to watch it. Saul Metzstein has settled into Doctor Who well and he has produced an epic. One scene, which was shot extremely well, is one of the first scenes of the episode. It involves the Doctor arriving (apparently alone) at Mercy, and then the camera slowly zooms round to reveal the Ponds in tow. This little slice of visual perfection really reflects the amazing detail present in this episode.
One aspect of this episode, which I don’t normally comment on in an advance review is the music. In the previous two episodes, the music has been somewhat of an addition to the episode. However, in “A Town Called Mercy”, the music is crucial in setting the tone. For example in the scene where the Doctor is about to have a showdown with the Gunslinger, Murray Gold manages produce a clever mix of his own style with a definite hint of the old “Spaghetti Westerns”.
Just like the last two episodes of Series 7, there is a minimal change to the opening sequence. This week, the Doctor Who logo appears in a metallic silver colour, to represent the Gunslinger, who is a Cyborg. Just after the episode title appears, the TARDIS materialises into a deep scarlett coloured vortex. This could possibly be foreshadowing the theme of war, sin and the increasing amount of rage emitted by the Doctor.
There is certainly a clear philosophical undertone to this episode. However, I would say that the main themes of the episode are war, justice and the guilt of having so much blood on your hands and the theme of life after death and how we essentially, in the words of the Doctor, “Carry our prisons with us” to the next life.
In conclusion, this episode is pretty much everything you could want out of a western movie, packed into a 45-minute episode. However, although this episode is, in my opinion as good as last week’s, “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”, it does lack the action-packed pace and running down corridors. On the other hand, it could be said that this emotion-packed episode is a milestone for the development of everyone’s favourite Timelord and of course one of the most blockbuster film like episodes of Doctor Who ever written. We take our Stetsons off to you, Mr Whithouse!
The Doctor (Talking about Kahler Jex): “Two alien doctors. We’re like buses!”
Episode Rating: 9/10
UK Airdate: 15th September 2012 (BBC One & BBC One HD)
Written by Toby Whithouse Directed by Saul Metzstein
Cast: Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Pond-Williams), Ben Browder (Isaac), Adrian Scarborough (Kahler-Jex), Dominic Kemp (Kahler-Mas), Garrick Hagon (Abraham), Rob Cavazos (Walter), Andrew Brooke (The Reckoner) and Joanne McQuinn (Sadie), Byrd Wilkins (The Preacher), Sean Benedict (Dockery)