A Town Called Mercy

Posted in Episode by - March 29, 2016
A Town Called Mercy

Aired 15 September 2012

‘A Town Called Mercy’ provides a rare trip to the Wild West for the Doctor, continuing the cinematic scope that recent episodes of Doctor Who have attained with a location shoot in Spain and unafraid to show off its gorgeous setting throughout the story. The oft-advertised cybernetic gunslinger quickly makes an appearance, promptly killing someone to cement the severity of the threat he poses, and events continue in rapid succession from there.

Even if American accents continue to be somewhat of a downfall for Doctor Who casting, the town of Mercy is brought to life exquisitely even with its purposeful anachronisms, and the classic plot device of a strange man in a stranger land works very well here as the Doctor, with all of his Time Lord and British sensibilities, walks into a saloon and asks for a cup of tea. The Doctor soon becomes entwined in events as he finds out about the mysterious gunslinger as well as another alien doctor in Mercy, the subject of the gunslinger’s hunting.

Adrian Scarborough plays this other doctor, Kahler Jex, and brings him to life quite well. He’s a man who has done some truly awful things, events that are slowly revealed through the story, it’s the change in emotions that he brings out in the Doctor that’s his most lasting effect in the story. While Matt Smith has been in several stories that have called him for him to bring out a slightly darker edge to the Doctor, the pure rage he eventually feels is tangibly intense. It’s rare that the Doctor picks up a gun, and even rarer that it feels like he might genuinely use it, but the boundless emotions on display make it seem like anything is possible. This is both a testament to Matt Smith and to the writing of the Doctor who always has a simmering rage just beneath the surface that, it seems, the presence of companions helps to keep in check.

As the script forces the two more and more against each other, it also makes the similarities between the two all that more glaring and alarming, perhaps the reason that the Time Lord gets so riled. Kahler Jex believes himself to be a war hero and that the many people who have died during his quest to make things better and save people is an acceptable consequence. While the overlying sentiment may not be shared, it’s hard to argue that noble attempts sometimes have unintended and atrociously negative side effects and repercussions. It’s unsurprising that the Doctor becomes so emotional, best exemplified as he pushed Jex over the boundary of Mercy so that the gunslinger can reach him, and it once more comes down to Amy to be his emotional balance. Though Rory is a bit more sidelined than is normal for him now, Amy and the Doctor’s emotional scenes together are certain highlights of this story, and they’re certainly setting the scene for an emotionally dramatic farewell soon.

Jex does get at least a small amount of redemption before the story’s end, but the Doctor’s defense of him and Mercy just isn’t quite as impactful as it could be due to how affected the Doctor was previously. Likewise, while Ben Browder is an engaging presence as Isaac, his sacrifice just doesn’t carry the weight intended since it was telegraphed from much earlier. Unarguably, though, the gunslinger is going to be the talking point of this episode for a long time to come. The practical effects used to realize him are superb, and the scenes where he flickers in and out view of the residents of Mercy on the city border as well as where he hunts the Doctor through the landscape are incredibly memorable and effective.

So while ‘A Town Called Mercy’ may not be the perfect episode and may not capitalize on everything that the Wild West has to offer, the Jex storyline is suitably engaging and the gunslinger is brought to life incredibly well, both enhacing the tension and mystery while bringing out perhaps the darkest side of the Eleventh Doctor yet.

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