[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 7 Episode 3, "A Town Called Mercy"

Courtesy of the BBC

My first thought was this episode would make a nice comparison to the horrendous Daleks of Manhattan. That two parter, marking what I believe to be the worst Dalek story ever, is a prime example of a writer not doing his homework. The depictions of Depression era New York were very European, or rather, those of someone who wasn't taught it in school, and was working off more an idea of a concept rather then a foundation of knowledge.

This episode doesn't have that problem, and it's very simply why: despite the Western being the first truly American genre, it has a well established set of tropes that make a Western very hard to screw up, if you follow the basic formula. This episode follows that basic formula to a tee. It's a foundation of knowledge that works to the advantage of the writer, and no matter what story is actually told within that framework, it can be seen as successful.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers guilty of horrible atrocities.

Small town, desperate locals, everyone stopping when a stranger enters a tavern, good guys wore white hats, bad guys wore black. There was a shoot out at noon. The episode played it straight too, never subverting these tropes. They were there so we knew where the story was going. The Western side of things really wasn't the point though. Like Toby Whithouse's last (and far superior) episode, The God Complex, this was an episode driven less by the horrible thing, and more about the ideas behind the thing. In this case, that no one is simple. Things cannot be widdled down to white and black hats. People are not all good, or all bad.

And it's a good idea to have in a Western. Clint Eastwood won several Oscars the year he examined the same idea in the old west. And while this episode probably won't win many awards, it is a very strong episode, thanks in part to a complete absence of the usual Doctor nonsense. This is as joyless as we've seen the Doctor in a long time, and the angriest he's been since his last regeneration. Even in the early moments of the episode, and even when bantering with Susan, the Doctor is never as cheerful as he is usually. And after last week's happy for happy sake episode, a good old fashioned bring-me-down was probably for the best.

While all due credit goes to Smith, equal credits needs to go to Adrian Scarborough, as the conflicted Jax. Their scenes together crackled, but the war criminal was a strength in each of his scenes. He came off as Bond villain, and damaged soul. You certainly never sympathised with him, but you never felt the raging hate the Doctor seemed to. Maybe it's a sign of age, but the Doctor seems to feel much stronger, and much faster then he used to. As Jax says, he seems unwilling to accept that anyone can be more then one thing.

Which brings us to the companions, who seem incapable of being even one thing. Not for the first time this series, they are completely pointless in this episode. Rory runs off with the Marshal at the start, but does so only so we the viewer won't have to ask "what's Rory doing" if he hung around the Sheriff's station. As Amy did. Far as I can tell, Amy stood around waiting be get kidnapped, and Rory ran about, and hiding. Neither contributed, nor did they get in the way. Remove them from the episode, and it wouldn't change matters. I'm beginning to think this first half of the series would have been better off being companionless, and letting characters like the ill-fated Issac to fill the companion role, as he did here.

Which brings me to my biggest complaint of the episode (as I only really had two episode specific ones). Self sacrifice, as Jax does in the end, sounds all well and good. The cyborg even calls him brave. Except it isn't brave. It's selfish. Worse then that, it's insulting. Issac gave his life to protect Jax. If Jax survives, then that sacrifice means something. But he doesn't. He blows himself up. What does that make Issac's action, but meaningless? Issac might as well not been killed, the results would have been the same. This is a problem I have with any movie or TV series that ends with self sacrifice: it rarely serves any purpose except to cheapen the actions of those that protected them up to that point.

My other complaint was, what is the logic, if you know a killer cyborg is coming to slaughter the entire town, with putting everyone together in a confined and inescapable place? Spread them out, make them hard to find. Don't hold them up in the church, in perfect "two birds, one stone" range.

I think this episode will stick out in this series for what it wasn't more then what it was. It was lacking in special effects, the budget obviously having went to the first two episodes. It was lacking complex reasoning. The Doctor and companions are simply there. No TARDIS scenes, no indepth explanations, they just are there. Mercy isn't given much detail, even the year is only passively alluded to. There is none of the usual set up. Because, like I said, it's not about the who and where, this episode was about the how. The only word I can think to describe it was mature. It wasn't absurd, or wacky, or full of references. It was just mature.

Rubbish face tattoo though.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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