Doctor Who News A Town Called Mercy

Published on September 19th, 2012 | by Christian Cawley

Reviewed: A Town Called Mercy

Matt Smith as the Doctor in the old west. A Town Called Mercy

Me and Doctor Who go way back, all the way to the late 1970s. Not far enough to say that I enjoyed The Gunfighters on first viewing, but certainly enough to be able to say that while westerns have been rare in the show, they haven’t been completely missing.

They just haven’t been overtly set in the old west. Planet of the Spider‘s Metebelis 3 setting is only the most obvious of these.

[pullquote align=right]Kahler Jex is essentially Davros, a brilliant scientist who has melded flesh and metal to build an all conquering army to end a seemingly endless war. Doctor Who only needs one irredeemable mad scientist.[/pullquote]As a result, the whole PR exercise that has gone on concerning A Town Called Mercy has been slightly lost on me; clearly I look at things in a slightly different way to most fans (or PR people). I suspect that my feelings about the episode’s slightly obvious conclusion for Kahler Jex comes from this same alternative viewpoint.

After all, this guy is essentially Davros, a brilliant scientist who has melded flesh and metal to build an all conquering army to end a seemingly endless war. Doctor Who only needs one Davros, one irredeemable mad scientist; as redemption is a key element of much adventure fiction and certainly the western, Kahler Jex was always going to make that sacrifice.

The Doctor attempts to throw Kahler Jex out of A Town Called MercyOf course, there’s something else, something long-time fans of Doctor Who have been missing and which sadly isn’t addressed here: the alien-free historical. The last time the Time Lord went back in time for a full adventure without any form of alien invasion, god like entities and machines and just found intrigue within the minds of mere men in a historical setting was 1982′s Black Orchid. Given that the old west was dangerous enough without steampunking it, A Town Called Mercy in some ways feels like a lost opportunity.

But I’m grumbling, when really I should be enthusing. Almeria in Spain is the home to countless classic westerns, and its use in this episode brings a delicious authenticity that is rarely found in Doctor Who, even now. Production values are as high as ever, with the visual look as striking and impressive as the last time the series utilized a movie set – The Fires of Pompeii back in 2008. Add to that some wonderful camera angles and the atmosphere of desolation, desperation and isolation and it can be confirmed that director Saul Metzstein has done a smashing job.

Sure, there are downsides; there is little among the townsfolk of Mercy that endears the viewer, save for the little girl in the church. Similarly, there are plot oddities, such as the persisting electricity after Kahler Jex blows up his craft, the apparent source of the (once again flickering) power.

Along with the location and a compelling story (featuring a moral debate between Kahler Jex and the Doctor of the type only heard in Big Finish audios) the true strength of A Town Called Mercy is in the guest casting. Ben Browder, a man who is known to many genre TV fans as a star of Farscape and Stargate SG-1, is superb as the ill-fated sheriff, Isaac. Similarly, Adrian Scarborough once again displays a fascinating new edge to his long list of characters with the polite, principled yet guilt-ridden Kahler Jex, a man with a past who is trying to find some form of redemption for his crimes. While he believes helping the simple townsfolk is the answer, one of his surviving creations, Kahler-Mas (Dominic Kemp) has other thoughts.

Accusations that Kemp channels Yul Brynner’s Westworld “gunslinger” are unimaginative. This character is more like Robocop combined with Marshall BraveStarr, the kids’ cartoon from the late 1980s.

Karen Gillan, Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill star in A Town Called Mercy

Conspicuous by their lack of any real impact on the episode, however, are the Ponds – at first glance, at least. However looking at things a little more deeply, this is just another example of the Doctor’s slow separation from his young friends, who continue to age in his absence. While we avoid further clunky methods to reunite Amy and Rory with the Time Lord, there remains an unusual dynamic between them – the Doctor’s attempts to let Kahler Jex die at the hands of his would-be killer frustrated by Amy’s loyalty and childhood belief in the Raggedy Doctor. Arthur Darvill, meanwhile, gets some memorable moments but on the whole he is overlooked in the script, reduced to the role of “wanting to stay alive” – something he wasn’t too acutely aware of when tapping on the casing of a Dalek two weeks ago.

All in all, A Town Called Mercy is a memorable episode. It adds to the series’ mythos, with an interesting new race, includes more of the odd electrical stuff that has been surreptitiously taking place in the previous episodes and shows a Doctor who is closer to the last days of his tenth persona than the warmed-by-Pond incarnation that we have come to know and love since he crashed in Leadworth.

But: when are we going to get a genuine historical episode, one which drops the Doctor and friends into a real historical situation with no alien activity?

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About the Author

A long-term Doctor Who fan, Christian grew up watching the show and has early memories of the Graham Williams era. His favourite stories are Inferno, The Seeds of Doom and Human Nature (although The Empty Child, Blink and Utopia all come close). When he’s not bossing around the news team, Christian is a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology and domestic computing, and enjoys classic rock, cooking and spending time in the countryside with his wife and young children. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.




3 Responses to Reviewed: A Town Called Mercy

  1. January Lost says:

    Thought this episode to have a lot of potential, too. I felt the concept alone was vastly improved from the Dinosaurs (atrocious story), and in some ways even more than Asylum just on Who originality.

    However, my expectations were popped. As well as the above, it seemed formula was key here. And I don’t mean genre formula–I mean straight-forward commercial formula. And then there’s the insufferable rush or points that just don’t make sense.

    The sheriff died in a moment meant to be poignant, but unfortunately I saw him for all of 6 scenes and couldn’t have cared less. The Doctor barely knew him longer… yet the Sheriff hands off his badge to the Doctor? Mmkay. Then we’ve got this line around the town that keeps getting showcased but goes relatively unexplained apart from a metaphor. Meanwhile the cyborg from the future with the huge futuristic canon on his arm is running around with a bandoleer filled with earth bullets?!? Was he just trying to fit in?

    Skipping over the fact that Kahler Jex’s craft was clearly Mork from Ork’s ship, I was equally dismayed that the Doctor willingly left behind so much anachronistic technology. Isn’t that against the rules??

    For me, the only saving graces were the hint at the Time War and that there were no ridiculously pointless “riding a dinosaur” scene.

  2. STLShawn says:

    I must respectfully disagree with January.
    I found the episode a bit rushed (as with a lot of new who), but still extremely enjoyable. A welcomed change.

    There’s always a mix of things that do not make sense in every episode, little overlooks that may or may not be “fixed” in the DVD (remember the windshield flash of the car in LOTR 1, the cigarette ad in the Millennium Falcon, and all the errors in Titanic (My favorite is still the storm trooper in A New Hope who hits his head on the door as it goes up,,,, did they fix it by editing,,, noooooo, they added a “clunk” noise))

    Dinosaurs is a fun romp of an episode, bits of comedy where riding a triceratops just fit in. Like “The Lodger” was a romp, just a fun episode.

    I think we will eventually see a “no alien – low budget” story, some script that may have been originally ideas for Sherlock recreated in the Doctor’s world. A wonderful mystery with a strangely earthly resolution. I think it would be fun to have the Doc searching for an alien menace only to find it’s some earthly evil genius, or a college kid, or technology gone awry.

  3. Jon Roberts says:

    I really enjoyed this episode, best one of this series so far. Although there were plenty of Western cliche’s, it didn’t matter, i thought the story flowed well, the characters were realistic and the Cyborg gunslinger was menacing without being over the top.

    If only in the original Cybermen had been similar to the gunslinger we could have perhaps got better milage out of them, more depth, more menace more humanity, instead of being the pantomine villains they have recently become.

    More of the same please.

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