Doctor Who Review: A Town Called Mercy (Season 7 Episode 3)

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"Today I honor the victims first. His, the Master's, the Daleks', all the people who died because of my mercy."

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...So there I am sitting in the Last Chance Saloon drinking a Brandy to ward off my cold when this Stranger walks in. He’s short, wearing a tweed jacket and doing his best John Wayne impression. I do a bet with my partner and say he’ll probably ask for a warm milk. Well, a close call - cause he goes an asks for tea, the strong stuff. The Bartender asks who he is and he replies he’s a Doctor. Thirty Colt 45’s point in his direction and the pianist falls off his stool. I go back to playing my last hand at the Poker game I’m playing. Two Aces, a five and a Jack. I lose. Game over. The one thing about this town – life here ain't dull.

"A Town Called Mercy" is a rare beast  – A Who Western – not the first mind  - the last one, "The Gunfighters" was 49 years ago, a pure historical with William Hartnell mistaken as a new Dentist  having moseyed into Tombstone along with the Clanceys. Here though we’re into familiar sci-fi trappings wrapped in gorgeous stunning vistas of desert and scrubland and rickety old buildings comprising a frontier town in the late 19th Century –  ably used by director Saul Metzstein as he and the team spent a few days in Spain using the very studios used by Sergio Leone for his Spaghetti Westerns.

All the cliché concepts were on display here: a veritable wagon train blazing its way to Alpha Centuari, chewing grass, Stetsons, the salon bar, the Undertaker always ready with his tape measure, the local Sherrif getting shot, a shoot out at High Noon, the subtle tones of the harmonica, and the Doctor riding across the badlands on a horse called Susan with gender issues. Okay the last one wasn’t a cliché, but that’s where the expected familiar concepts of Doctor Who doing a straight forward Western ended, 'cause what we ended up with thanks to writer Toby Whitehouse was a morality play which in all fairness could have been set around any historical setting.

I have to say that the revelation of Kahler-Jex turning out to be a villain was sign-posted early on. I mean the whole Terminator look for the Gunslinger sorted gave it away, but credit to Whitehouse it was an excellent jar to reveal the exact nature of what Kahler-Jex has done; mad scientist turned latter day Doctor Frankenstein with his former creation bent on wiping out what atrocities he had conceived. And that of course led to yet another delving into the Doctor’s darker side – Smith giving a great performance – both with his Starling/Lecter scenes in the gaol house and having to justify himself to Amy at the point of a gun.

It was a shame guest star and Stargate veteran Ben Browder wasn’t given a lot of air time, but he played his role as Lucas perfectly before being cut down. And kudos also to actor Adrian Scarborough (who I had to check for previous credits as I wasn’t familiar with his work, turns out he stared in Gavin and Stacy alongside a certain James Corden who cropped up in Doctor Who twice as Craig in "The Lodger" and "Closing Time") who gave a  great performance as Kahler-Jex before sadly blowing himself to bits.

"A Town Called Mercy" isn’t a classic episode, not by a long shot. There were some big plot holes evident here, such as the fact the Doctor could have easily used the Tardis to take Jex out of the town, and do you really think putting piles of wood on the ground will stop murderous Cyborgs from running rampant? Even so, despite the flaws, it was certainly a step up from last week’s episode.

Now speaking of previous episodes, hands up if you’ve noted a trend developing. Third week running we’ve had flickering lights (previously in Amy’s dressing room during her photo shoot, in her home and now on the streets of Mercy, and in the gaol house) – references to eggs ( Eggs to Daleks, dino eggs and a ship looking like a egg) and the sense that the Power of Three is definitely on the wane. [Editor's Note: I've also noticed a "Christmas" reference in the past couple episodes, was there one in "Asylum" as well? - EIC Matt "Pond"]

Speaking of which – tune in next week as the Doctor becomes a Lodger for a year in Amy’s home during the Year of the Slow Invasion and don’t blink or you’ll miss Rory’s pants. 

For an in-depth look at the upcoming season, check out our Doctor Who Series 7 Fall Preview.

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