Friday, August 30, 2013

50th Anniversary Countdown: Doctor Who 7.03: "A Town Called Mercy"

“Today, I honor the victims first. His, the Master’s, the Daleks’. Everyone who died because of my mercy.”
-The Doctor

This was definitely a different feel episode wise from the last two. We’re back on Earth and in the Wild West. We start with a woman giving a voice over about when she was a girl and heard stories about a man who lived forever and fell from the sky. Clearly we’re supposed to believe this is the Doctor. But with the likes of Toby Whithouse writing this episode, we have to assume it isn’t that straightforward. We cut to a spaceship of sorts crashing and a cyborg shoots an alien, claiming there is just one left; the doctor. That’s not ominous right? The cyborg is kind of like the Borg but slightly less ugly (Seven of Nine excluded of course). We then find the Doctor and the Ponds standing outside the border of a town called Mercy, home to 81 residents with a Keep Out sign that the Doctor treats as a suggestion, rather than an order. He wants to explore so they cross over a barrier of stones and pieces of wood into town. Things are very old West looking minus the electric street lamp that’s about a decade too early. And it keeps shorting out. The Doctor, Amy and Rory head into the saloon and the Doctor orders tea (bag still in). The bar maid just looks at him funny. Things go from bad to worse when he introduces himself as the Doctor. The townspeople then hustle him outside and toss him over the line. Our cyborg (known in town as the Gun Slinger) starts to appear until the Sheriff in town orders the Doctor back over the town line.

He explains that the Gun Slinger showed up three weeks back and the border around the town appeared. Nothing can get in or out that might help the townsfolk. The Doctor quickly surmises that the real alien doctor the town is willing to hand over is hiding out in the jail. Enter Kahler Jex. He was a surgeon on his home world and the Sheriff (Isaac) was nice enough to save him from the Gun Slinger and the burning wreckage of his vessel. Jex stayed on to repay the town’s debt (well and probably so he didn’t get annihilated by the Gun Slinger). Isaac is still impressed with the things Jex has done for the town, including curing cholera and bringing some electricity.

The Doctor says he can just pop off, get the TARDIS and get Jex back home but he’s going to need a distraction. Amy and Rory are both skeptical that the Doctor isn’t interested in solving the mystery of the robot assassin and the alien doctor. I have to agree with them. No way the Doctor is giving up. He wants more info on Jex’s ship. So he sends Rory and Isaac to distract the Gun Slinger (Isaac gets to dress in Jex’s clothes) while the Doctor commandeers Joshua (who according to the Doctor is really called Susan) to ride out into the desert to check out the ship. Rory and Isaac hide behind some rocks and it seems that the Gun Slinger won’t take a shot if there’s too high a chance of innocent bloodshed. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Susan discover Jex’s ship, undamaged. Intriguing indeed. Back in town, Amy and Jex chat about whether he wants to go home. He gives the impression he’s done all he can do for his people and he’d like to stay and help in town. He even spots that Amy is a mother and he says in a way, he’s a parent, too. The Doctor manages to get inside the ship but only after setting off the alarm. This alerts the Gun Slinger to his presence as well as Jex to the fact the Doctor’s gone off script.

This deviation from the plan sets Jex on edge. He starts rambling about how things are going to get complicated now and that Isaac may not be willing to forgive some of his past transgressions. The Doctor hacks the ship and scans through Jex’s personnel file. He’s rather horrified by what he sees and he offers to help the Gun Slinger get justice. But the cyborg just wants Jex to cross the line so he can take him out. Just as Jex is about to force Amy to join him at gunpoint, Rory and Isaac arrive back to stop them. He starts to tell the group assembled he thought people would be safer if he left when the Doctor turns up and is furious. He accuses Jex of being a war criminal. He info dumps a bit about Jex’s planet and the fact he created cyborg killing machines under the guise of enhanced training for soldiers. Jex admits that one of the cyborgs got messed up and started hunting down the team that built him. Rory wants to hand Jex over to the Gun Slinger and Amy disagrees. Jex starts comparing himself to the Doctor. They are alike in a lot of ways but Jex says he has the balls to do what needs to be done. This pisses the Doctor off to such an extent he drags Jex out of the jail and tosses him over the town line, pointing a gun in his face. As we all know, the Doctor is not one for guns but today he doesn’t know if he’d use it or not.

Amy’s got her hands on a gun too and she’s waving it about trying to convince the Doctor that this isn’t the way. Letting someone get killed isn’t the way to solve the problem. But the Doctor is tired of negotiating and seeing it fail. He is going to honor all of the victims of those he tried and failed to resolve conflicts with. All those who died because of his mercy. I like we got to see a bit of the darker side of the Doctor in this episode. Ten came peeking through a bit again and that always makes me happy. Part of me wonders if David Tennant could have delivered the little monologue a bit better, with more edge. Amy manages to talk him down but unfortunately, the Gun Slinger gets to Jex and Isaac pushes him out of the way and dies. The Doctor becomes the sheriff and Amy is his deputy. The Gun Slinger gives the Doctor an ultimatum: turn Jex over by noon the following day or the town becomes a graveyard.

That night, the townsfolk gather and an 18-year-old boy demands the Doctor let them in and take Jex so that the town will be safe. The Doctor refuses and reasons that Jex made the Gun Slinger into a weapon, the young man can’t let himself become the next victim of that violence. The Doctor isn’t sure if Jex is worth all the fuss but the townsfolk certainly are. As the crowd disperses, the Doctor confides in the Ponds he’d rather deal with a Dalek any day over a group of angry and frightened people. He goes back inside and Jex explains that he fears death because in his culture, the dead are made to carry the weight of the souls of all they wronged in life up a mountain. This sort of gives the Doctor an idea. They don’t hand Jex over and at noon the cyborg crosses into town. A bunch of the men have the symbol on Jex’s face painted on theirs to confuse the auto target. It works for a while as Jex starts to make his way out of town. But the Gun Slinger figures out it’s a trick and crashes into the church instead. The Doctor orders Jex to keep going so he can save the people. Since none of the people in the church (mostly women and children) register as innocent, he disengages and switches to manual targeting. He’s rather angry when he finds the Doctor.

The Doctor is likewise rather confused when Jex uses the connection between his ship and the electricity in town to communicate with the Gun Slinger. Jex is going to end the war for both of them by self-destructing his ship. Guess that’s one way of dealing with the problem. At least Jex got to go on his own terms. The Doctor convinces the Gun Slinger to stay on and protect the town and it appears he does so as the woman from the start of the episode continues her voice over about the town and how it has its own special angel that fell from the sky.

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