Saturday 15 September 2012

A Town Called Mercy. Review.

Dr Who, A Town Called Mercy, Stetsons are cool and Rory holds a dead animal

Speaking as someone who's only ever seen four Westerns all the way through, and one of them was Carry on Cowboy, I was always going to approach a Wild West themed episode of Doctor Who with the wariness of an ageing rattlesnake.

But, with the open-mindedness that's made me as big a legend on the plains as Calamity Jane, that didn't stop me sitting down to watch it.

A Town Called Mercy finds our heroes confronting a problem.

That problem's a cyborg gunslinger who wants the locals to hand over an alien who's living amongst them.

 Or else.

That alien is Kahler Jex who, since his arrival, has provided the town with a power supply and saved everyone from cholera, making him a valuable asset to the locals - especially to Ben Browder's Sheriff Isaac, a man determined to keep him alive and to maintain civic unity in the face of danger.

The moral choice seems simple until the Doctor discovers Jex is the war criminal responsible for creating the cyborg in the first place. Now the Doctor has to make a decision. Is it better to hand the man over to meet his death, or to let him live and escape the consequences of his actions?

It's not the first time the show's handled the dilemma in question. Christopher Eccleston was faced with exactly the same one way back in Boom Town. As in that episode, it provides the opportunity for soul-searching on the part of the Doctor, as well as plenty of talky bits. As in that one, the Doctor ultimately doesn't have to face up to the responsibility of making the decision.

This can only be viewed as a cop-out by writer Toby Whithouse but, given that Doctor Who's primarily designed to be family fare, the truth is it's difficult to see how it could ever respond to such a challenge without being forced to cop-out in some way.

Despite my fears before watching it, this is by far the best episode of this season so far, reminding us again that Doctor Who isn't Star Wars and nor is it a sit-com. Instead, it's at its best when it drops the silliness and loses all pretensions of epicness, in order to simply concentrate on telling a story about people.

I really don't have that much to say about A Town Called Mercy because there's really not much to criticise. Maybe Isaac's death failed to carry the emotional impact it was meant to, I could have done without the cyborg talking to itself as it stalked the town, and Karen Gillan didn't act as good as she looked but these are minor failings that did little to undermine the success of the outing.

Whithouse even solved the too-many-companions problem, by sidelining Rory to such a degree it was a genuine shock to me when he suddenly reappeared in a scene and reminded me he was actually in this week's episode.

It'd be nice to think every episode from now on could be as successful as this one but we all know we don't live in a perfect world and, like a drunken cowpoke, the show will as always lurch around from good to bad. Still, it can at least for this week ride off into the sunset, with its head high and its stetson proud, as we wait to see what awaits it over the next horizon.


Wil said...

I'm afraid I didn't like this one at all. The Doctor veered all over the place. One minute he's ready to kill the alien, then he's protecting him and why, if the cyborg didn't want to kill any innocents (as we saw on his scanner thingy) did he follow and get ready to blast Rory and the sheriff behind the rock? Both Rory and Amy were just set dressing with absolutely nothing to do and the whole thing just seemed an excuse to get in as many spag western tropes as they could muster.

And just how far away was that spaceship/egg? The doctor galloped for what seemed ages to get to it but the alien seemed to find it in a few secs?

Steve W. said...

The changing proximity of the egg did strike me as odd.

My understanding was the cyborg thought the Sheriff was Jex when he and Rory were hidden behind the rock - he was wearing Jex's coat - and that's why the cyborg was willing to blast him.

Wil said...

Ah, so although all the other times he registered his target by indentifing the squiggle on their face he was willing to go by just a jacket that time. Nice one cyborg.

Anonymous said...

OK, I'm curious - what were the other three Westerns?

B Smith

Steve W. said...

A Fistful of Dollars, A Few Dollars More and The Good the Bad and the Ugly.

Mostly, I've only ever seen the second half of other westerns, as I usually stumble across them by accident whilst zapping through the channels and end up watching them without even knowing what they're called, or what's going on.

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