A Town Called Mercy


There’s been a lot of debate across Twitter, podcasts etc over the last seven days about the Doctor’s actions at the end of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. My take was that it was no different to blowing up the Slitheen and the Krillitanes, and that it just jarred because Solomon is human. The events here arguably call for some re-assessment; but as Amy talks about the inappropriateness of executing people (twice), she doesn’t refer back the events of last week’s climax at all, so it looks like that isn’t part of an ongoing arc, and she had no moral objection to it!

The Gunslinger looks great, a really iconic-looking character, part-Terminator, part-Ash, part-Jonah Hex. He’s built a barrier round the town of Mercy in one night out of rocks and bits of wood. Hard work for a man with just one hand. Then he’s laid siege to the town until Kahler-Jex is offered up to him for execution. He says that he won’t just mosey into the town and shoot the varmint because he doesn’t want to harm innocents. So far he’s just shot someone’s hat. Even after Isaac has been killed, the cyborg has ages to kill Jex and just… doesn’t. He never feels like that much of a threat. The Gunslinger does eventually come into town the next day but he still won’t harm the residents, so why not do that in the first place? If the inhabitants of the town were really desperate to throw themselves in front of Jex, well, he’s a big guy, surely he could just barge them out of the way? In any case, he can see through walls, which are made of wood, and he has a powerful, sophisticated gun!

The Doctor suddenly deciding to chuck Kahler-Jex over the town’s boundary is by far the best scene. The events leading up this are rather open to interpretation, particularly for regular Doctor Who viewers. Jex’s backstory is clearly very similar to the Doctor’s Time War escapades. The sole survivor of a war he had to do unthinkable things to end and who is suffering survivor guilt. There’s a hypocrisy to the Doctor criticising Jex for choosing his own punishment, as he’s just doing what the Doctor does, on a smaller scale. Without this type of ‘fan-gap-filling’ (as @ellardent calls it) the scene as-written is the Doctor just being goaded into it by Jex, which is massively out of character!

His explanation afterwards for this is then: “Today, I honour the victims first. The Master’s, the Daleks’, all the people who died because of my mercy!”

Which is interesting because Asylum of the Daleks is the only story I can think of where he happily leaves Daleks alive at the end of the episode. In the past he has felt compelled to stay in dangerous locations and situations just because the Daleks were there, and he wouldn’t leave again until the job was done. It’s not like he often lets anyone go because he’s feeling merciful! They generally end up dead or imprisoned and its not his fault they ‘keep coming back’. It’s a line that sounds good, but I don’t know when the Doctor doesn’t put the victims first.

It does cast new light on the Doctor’s death sentence to Solomon; because another parallel for Jex is Davros. He created war machines to win a conflict, but went much, much further than this, and the Doctor has given him chance after chance to redeem himself, right up to his most recent outing in Journey’s End. So, it seems he’s becoming more ruthless even than the ‘no second chances’ Tenth Doctor. Amy mentions that it’s a result of the Doctor travelling alone, as Donna before her did in The Runaway Bride; but it’s an uncomfortable notion that the Doctor is compassionate and merciful only by osmosis from his human companions, and doesn’t stack up with the Fourth Doctor travelling with Leela!

Even Kahler-Jex choosing suicide at the end wasn’t straight-forward. The Doctor didn’t say anything clever or inspiring that made him re-think his position, and it wasn’t to save the Mercians, he’d already put them out of danger by leaving! He just seems to realise that the Gunslinger will find him in the end and wants to die on his own terms. But he receives no new information to tell him this (he created the cyborg, so must know its capabilities and tenacity) and nothing happened particularly in this episode to change his point of view from early on. He’s lived there for years, so already has the close relationship with the residents.

Kahler-Jex is fairly superstitious for a man of scientist, fearing death because his religion says in the afterlife he must give piggybacks to the souls of everyone he’s wronged. But what if someone’s been wronged by more than one person? What if a Kahler just short-changed a customer in his shop, does that count?

Amy and Rory felt under-used here. In the best, most crucial, scene Amy pulled a gun on the Doctor, which seems to make him think again. Rory felt a little surplus to requirements, like when the Fifth Doctor used to have too many companions to occupy them all. Though his best moment is a riff on The Simpsons gag about finding a character’s exposition an odd thing to say.

It’s only a small point, but how does the immortal Gunslinger enforce the law in modern-day Mercy? They don’t need any other form of law enforcement at all?! All he could do is shoot people! I don’t see him dealing with DUIs and domestic disturbances, let alone taking witness statements or appearing in court!

The production values are incredible here, the episode looks gorgeous, but the episode just lacks the twists and surprises and great moments of the previous two scripts.

Not seen A Town Called Mercy yet? Buy now on DVD from Amazon:

Doctor Who – Series 7 Part 1 [DVD + UV Copy]

or blu-ray:

Doctor Who – Series 7 Part 1 [Blu-ray + UV Copy]

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