Review of Doctor Who ‘A town called Mercy’
We are now into week three and Amy, Rory and the Doctor have embarked on an adventure in the Wild West. However, this is not the first time that the Doctor has donned a Stetson and ventured out West. Back in the William Hartnell era the first incarnation of the Doctor stumbled into Tombstone, Arizona and was mistaken for the infamous real-life gunfighter and gambler Doc Holliday.
A town called Mercy is another story from writer and Being Human creator Toby Whithouse, last year he wrote The God Complex which was set in an eerie hotel that looked much like one from The Shining. This year he has produced something completely different, however the script is characteristically witty and edgy, mixing the sardonic with the serious in unexpected ways. Whithouse throws in the Wild West clichés from rolling tumbleweed and out-of-town strangers walking into a saloon to a showdown at high noon. Incidentally, A Town Called Mercy was filmed in Almeria, Spain where many a Western has been filmed which adds to the cinematic, spaghetti-western element.
This week’s episode felt stronger than Dinosaurs on a Spaceship but perhaps that was because episode 2 was an intentionally lighter follow up to Asylum of the Daleks. A Town Called Mercy fell into middle ground tone-wise. The lighter moments were vital because the dark elements of the story were so bleak and quite twisted, particularly when the Doctor discovered that Kahler-Jex (Adrian Scarborough) had carried out horrifying experiments on his own people. Although the audience never saw any of it, they could hear the screams and from it piece together in their mind’s eye what the Doctor was witnessing. The implication of torture was disturbing enough and took the story into adult territory. This strand was also reminiscent of Whithouse’s work on Being Human where Doctors were knowingly killing supernatural beings despite claims of trying to cure patients of their ‘conditions’.
The Doctor’s revelation about Kahler-Jex’s true past was a brilliant twist because up until that point the villain was supposedly the cowboy cyborg. The real monster was the creator not the creation, harking back to Frankenstein as is oft the case with science fiction. The twist shows just how complex Kahler-Jex is as a character and his attempts to atone for the past sins by saving lives in the present blur the lines between good and evil, right and wrong. The distinction between good and evil gets even more confusing when Khaler-Jex suggests that there are similarities between himself and the Doctor. He mentions that both of them carry prisons, i.e. the guilt over those who have died as a result of their actions, which hits a nerve with the Doctor.
Along with the dark nature of the story, the Doctor grew a little bit darker. It was absolutely shocking to see him holding Kahler-Jex at gunpoint and was completely uncharacteristic of him. It also goes against the anti-gun message that the Time Lord has always promoted and it felt quite jarring. This out-of-character moment and Amy’s comment about the Doctor travelling alone for too long are all foreshadowing the fall of the Ponds. The Eleventh Doctor is getting far darker than some of his other incarnations and this series will touch upon that more in the next couple of weeks.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t all doom and gloom and there were some comedic moments. The best one was probably a horse called Susan who wanted people to respect its life choices. The scene where the Doctor was talking to Susan was brilliant. It never gets old watching the Doctor having seemingly one-sided conversations whether it’s with babies or horses.
All in all, A town called Mercy was a good watch, there were moments of darkness but also a lot of humour. Whithouse has placed tropes from cowboy films over an episode of Doctor Who and the combination worked well together. Compared to Dinosaurs on a Spaceship it was certainly a meatier story with depth to it.
Next time on Doctor Who: It all gets a bit Torchwood with the year of the slow invasion. Unlike the other trailers, next week seems to be shrouded in mystery but it looks more like an adult-ish drama. Oh, and Rory’s dad Brian is back again.
Image credit: BBCTagged in: being human, cowboys, toby whithouse, torchwood, westerns
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