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doctor who series 7 episode 3‘A Town Called Mercy’

This episode opens with a brilliantly written narration. The voice of an American old-western woman says, “When I was a child, my favourite story was about a man who lived forever, but his eyes were heavy with the weight of all he’d seen. A man who fell from the stars…” I think at that moment everyone watching the episode presumed that she was talking about The Doctor. It’s very similar to when Steven Moffat tried to convince us that Amy was talking about The Doctor and not Rory in A Good man goes to War (“He looks young but he’s lived for hundreds and hundreds of years…this man is your father”). We don’t realise until the end of the narration that it’s not what we first thought. Seconds later Rory appears in shot instead of The Doctor. The granddaughter of the woman doing the voice over plays a very small part in the episode, but it fits in perfectly in the grand scheme of things.

The main plot of the episode itself is very simple –  a guy has done bad things in his past, but can he be redeemed? Last week, The Doctor was seen sentencing Soloman to his death. Many fans described this as a one off, giving him the excuse of Soloman being innately evil, thus deserving a horrible death. This has allowed the conflict in this episode to be even greater, as Jex is a much more complicated ‘bad guy’. He’s supposedly seen the errors of his ways, having saved the town of Mercy and become loved and admired as a hero by the community. There are some excellently written emotive scenes between Jex and The Doctor, particularly the one where they discuss Jex’s desire to change and be forgiven for his past sins. He’s so much like The Doctor in that sense and it makes things really interesting.

The Gunslinger, for me, doesn’t really have enough of a character. Sure, he’s a cyborg, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have a bit of personality apart from his determination for justice. He’s not a cyberman; he should have feelings. Clearly he still has compassion along side his commitment to duty, or he wouldn’t have stood predicting the town at the end. Although cliché, that was a fitting end to the episode and tided in with the narration nicely. I did find it strange that he walks away and teleports somewhere else until he’s needed again in the plot (where does he go?).

Jex’s spaceship looked like a giant egg! But it looked the part enough and I liked the idea of it having a self-district mode if it couldn’t go through all of the security in time. It was different enough inside than previous crafts to look interesting (Oswin’s ‘spaceship’ and Jenny’s get away spaceship in The Doctor’s Daughter looked identical). The scene where The Doctor watches and listens to Jex’s victims being murdered is very powerful; the extreme close up on his eyes and the green, alien-like lighting creates a haunting moment where you know The Doctor’s gonna fly off the deep end.

The introduction of Susan, the apparent transsexual horse, brings a fun, comedic element to the episode. There’s something epic about The Doctor riding a horse across the landscape. The cinematography is beautiful and has huge scope to it, which is refreshing after the last two episodes were so claustrophobic. I’m not really into the western genre, but the music and epic feel of the episode enabled it to appeal to me. “Tea. The Strong stuff – leave the bag in”, is a fantastic line delivered by Matt Smith in an old America accent. The stupid face he then pulls completely sums up the comedic side to his doctor – he’s simply ridiculous. He just had to be carried through the town by a bunch of cowboys didn’t he!? That scene is going to be iconic in Doctor Who history. It’s amusing purely as a standalone scene.

The crew’s arrival in the town feels refreshing and I’m glad that we didn’t see The Doctor picking them up from home again, as that could have been repetitive. Amy and Rory really don’t do much in this episode. The dynamic is different between the three main characters of the series, with The Doctor becoming a much more dominate role in the story. Jex and The Gunslinger are more important to this story and the companions didn’t even have to be there in order for the story to be told. Yes, Amy has that great bit of dialogue where she tells The Doctor “Since when did killing someone become an option?” but it’s only really that scene that she’s needed for, and once The Doctor chooses to protect Jex, her and Rory fade into the background. It just about works for the story, as the next time trailer promises that we’ll see much more of the Ponds in The Power of Three.

There are also a few supporting characters, such as the barmaid. However, the only one who really has an impact on the story is Issac, whose death I saw coming. He was a walking plot-device, but at least his part was decently acted and had a defined character. Oh yeah, there was also the guy who reminded me of Mcfly from Back To The Future – he was a stereotypical, but well played character.

In conclusion, this episode was very bland. Despite the epic cinema feel and some great dialogue, the plot didn’t do it justice. I was expecting a lot more from the episode and found it hard to write about because it whizzed by so quickly. It is however, a great example of how dark The Doctor can be and how well that side of him is played by Matt Smith. The scenes where he confronts Jex and demands that he pay for his crimes are the honourable mentions for this story.

★★★

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