Doctor Who: 703 – ‘A Town Called Mercy’

We join The Doctor, Amy and Rory in the Wild West (they missed their intended target, the Day of the Dead festival by a sizable margin). Turns out that the town they have entered is stuck in a force field that will let no food or weapons in but will let people cross over. The reason for this is because on the horizon there is a teleporting cyborg called The Gunslinger that is out for revenge against the Doctor. No, not our Doctor, but a Doctor called Kahler Jex, who seems like a nice guy. He supplies the town with medical supplies and electricity by using his advanced alien ways and the power from his crashed spaceship.

Turns out that Jex is actually a bit of a dick who, to win a war on his home planet, changed volunteers against their will into killing machines. The Gunslinger (real name Kahler Tek) is the last remaining survivor and having got his memories back, has decided to kill Jex. The Doctor (our Doctor), who is stuck in the middle of all this, has to decide what the heck to do when the cyborg demands that he is going to kill everyone if Jex is not given to him. Turns out that the Doctor should not have worried. Jex kills himself to stop anymore innocents being hurt and the cyborg’s killer urges die down a wee bit. He actually decides to stay on the outskirts of the town, protecting it from any problems it may have.

There is no way to sugar coat this, so I will just come out and say it, what we have here is a mess. An episode that steals pretty much every good element out of the Western genre and then proceeds to do it an injustice by using the plot twists so generically you will soon stop caring about anything put on screen. It is another one of those episodes that does not explain anything to the viewer and has huge, massive plot holes that you could cram a T.A.R.D.I.S. in. For example how does the cyborg teleport without a power source? Does he age slower as it seems from the intro and outro of this episode he has been there for a while? How does his gun work without a power source? Does he eat? How does the force field work? In the grand scheme of things these questions are not that relevant to the plot, but it just reeks of lazy script writing when you cannot really be bothered to explain anything. I could forgive this if the episode was fun, but it’s not.

There are humorous elements to it of which I would have loved to see more. The Doctor being able to speak horse and telling a cowboy the horse is called Susan and he should “respect his life choices” was really funny and had me laughing more than I probably should have.  The scene where The Doctor enters the salon and acts like a cowboy, only to mess it up and almost get into a shoot off was a nice touch. But these moments are few and far between.

The episode just plays out very slow and predictable. You will guess most of the plot within the first 10 minutes, and even though the ending seemed mildly interesting it was still not a shock when it was revealed. There are no characters to relate to here either. The Doctor does his thing but Rory and Amy might as well have stayed at home. Aside from running about a lot as a decoy (Rory) and moaning about the Doctor being grumpy (Amy) they get very little screen time. They try to build Jex’s character up into this multi-layered tortured soul but instead of gaining sympathy for him you actually get a bit annoyed. He flits constantly from regretting his crimes and making amends, to teasing the Doctor about his lack of conviction and saying everything he does is for the good of his planet. This is not a slight on actor Adrian Scarborough who plays him the best he can, and in some scenes works the nice/nasty character traits together brilliantly. You just never feel it’s that sincere, or interesting for that matter, because of the material given to him.

Another major problem is it’s dull. Really dull. You would think cowboys and cyborgs would be easy enough to put together and at least be exciting, but no its not. Because of the lack of root-able characters you really don’t care who lives or dies. The town folk just pop up to moan and no one sticks out enough to actually have a character trait more exciting than a preacher quoting lines from the bible, or an undertaker taking measurements. The cyborg is the main problem. Removing the fact he talks like Marvin the Paranoid Android from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, he has no charisma, charm or personality to keep the episode flowing. He looks like a rejected Borg and his back story of being a tortured soul never really wins you over because he is so monotone.  There is no emotion to him which is what I would expect if they were creating a killing machine, but this story requires him to be a sad little soldier who wants revenge. It does not work at all. He does not even build suspense in the story because we learn very early on he will not kill innocents. So he is running around like someone off the Benny Hill Show, trying to catch Jex but stopping every time he finds out it’ss Rory in disguise. This gets old really quickly. My fiance compared it to an end of level boss on a rubbish computer game, the story just keeps using the same old repetitive formula on him until he is defeated and we move onto the next scene! There is a sequence set in a church where the cyborg enters, and you know the writers wanted it to feel suspenseful but it’s all shot down the toilet because we already know he will not kill anyone. Even when they throw in the sheriff Isaac as a sacrifice to try and get some tension going it comes off flat, because he had no character other than being a sheriff. It had the same emotional punch as stepping on an ant.

The Doctor is back on his Emo phase too, which I thought he had lost in the last episode. For the most part he is okay, but every now and again he has to moan about how he has caused the deaths of millions and then Amy has to tell him to stop being a knob.  I was so sick and tired of this I wanted to nip into the TV screen and slap him myself. The Doctor feeling blue can work great when used sparingly (see the Christopher Eccelston series for evidence of this) but it just never feels right in this episode. I know that it is going to lead up to the separation of himself from his companions as their views are becoming polar opposites, but all the fans know that as well, they read the internet. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but all these scenes seem really forced into the story arcs instead of nicely built up.

I can forgive a lot of things with Doctor Who, but it being dull is something that cannot be excused. The last episode was stupid and childish but at least on most levels it was fun. This episode however, was a massive chore to sit through and I cannot see it appealing to anyone. Adults will find it dull because the pathos just does not pay off, while children will think it’s a snooze fest because there are no scenes of cowboys vs cyborg. The problem with a western setting is that all the genre conventions can seem generic if there is no energy surrounding the use of them. I was unsure if they were been used for parody or as a serious attempt to invoke a western style spirit, but the lack of atmosphere and characters destroyed all that, leaving it hollow inside. A fail all around I’m afraid. I give this episode a slightly higher rating than I would have just because the horse line made me laugh out loud. If the horse line did not work for you please remove half a grizzly from my review.

Here is a sneek peek of next weeks episode

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