Monday, 17 September 2012

Doctor Who - A Town Called Mercy: Fancy that - a self-reflective cyborg killer in a cowboy hat

Like many things in life, what you judge to be good and bad is all about perspective – one on hand you've got your genius doctor Kahler-Jex who is responsible for horrific experiments to help his race survive a war (bad); on the other you see he's become a valuable asset to a small town called Mercy (good) and therefore, despite what he’s done in the past, the locals want to protect him from the vigilante cyborg who's hunting him as revenge for those experiments.

So far, so ambiguous, but A Town Called Mercy disguised any potential placard waving - adorned with the words WE’RE DEALING WITH IMPORTANT ISSUES HERE AND THE SUBSEQUENT SHADES OF GREY THEREIN, VIEWERS (it was a big placard) - with an episode that was visually strong and looked great, especially on tv-ooh's 37" HD telly.

The result was basically ‘the Doctor does the Wild West’, complete with a shoot-out, a cowboy hat, and a bit of riding on a horse named Susan, and really, you could have ignored all the Meaning, Character and Relationships stuff and enjoyed the spectacle alone.

But there were some good lines, too; all full of that Meaning and also some resonance: ‘We have to be better than him,’ frowns Amy, as she watches the Doctor back a decision to release Jex to the Gunslinger cyborg, which continues the idea of the Doctor letting 'justice' take its own course, like when he watched Soloman blow up in the Dinosaur episode last week.

But Amy knows better: ‘This is what happens when you travel alone for too long.’

The Gunslinger cyborg: Self reflective; wears a cowboy hat

Amy's observation also led to a bit of ‘proper acting’ from Matt Smith - although he also danced on top of a spaceship that looked a bit like a big egg at one point too, so it wasn't all furrowed brows - and so the Doctor finds his moral compass again to become the town's new Marshall after the previous one takes a bullet saving Jex.

Continuing the theme, and the good lines, he later takes the upper hand with the bloodthirsty townsfolk - while rightly ignoring some of the slightly more dodgy accents of the locals - when he tells them: "Violence doesn’t end violence, it extends it."

In fact, it's life lessons and dialogue of portent and Meaning all round (Jex tells the Doctor at one point: ‘We all carry our prisons with us; yours is your morality,’ drawing comparisons between the two,) but there are some quippy and fun lines too (as befits a script from Toby Whithouse, creator of Being Human), like Amy’s ‘oh well, colour me reassured,’ upon realising Jex will hold her hostage.

The potential complexities of the story still manage to clearly hit its marks, so ideas of guilt, revenge and redemption are all present and visible, and even extend as far as the cyborg Gunslinger, once Kahler-Jex blows himself up in his ship - you know, the one shaped like a big egg. But fancy that - a self-reflective cyborg assassin in a cowboy hat.

'He behaved with honour in the end, maybe more than me,' says the Gunslinger, before the Doctor makes him the town's new Marshall, making them both part of the town's historical folklore - you know, myth and legend and all that.

A strong episode, with a script to match the visuals - and now, as we lead up to Amy and Rory's imminent departure, it's becoming clearer how much the Doctor needs them to keep himself in check, and while it'll be refreshing to have a new face in the TARDIS it will be sad to say goodbye to the power-combo of Amy and Rory: so it's both good and bad, but, like we say, it's all about perspective.

Related stories:
Doctor Who - Dinosaurs on a Spaceship review: 'Part comedy romp, part genocide-wreaking villian'
Doctor Who - Asylum of the Daleks review: An 'all-guns-blazing season opener' + surprise
Doctor Who: It's fair to say none of these characters will be in the new series
Idle speculation and uninformed pondering about the title of the first episode of the new Doctor Who series
Doctor Who: So what does that picture Moffatt tweeted of the 1960s Dalek actually tell us?
Two lost 60s Doctor Who episodes found: Fans thrilled, then a bit disappointed ;)

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