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Doctor Who: A Town Called Mercy

Written by Dr. Improbable on Monday, September 17 2012 and posted in Features
Doctor Who: A Town Called Mercy

Please do not leave your time-travelling Doctor unattended for an extended length of time

There are few things that make me giddy with joy in this world (note: that’s a lie, my brain functions at a level barely higher than a five-year-old), but Brits making fun of Americans is most definitely one of them. This week’s episode of Doctor Who does not disappoint on that front, though it also delivers us some pretty heavy messages about forgiveness, justice, and vengeance.

Watch out pardner, there’s spoilers in them there words:

We open with a voiceover of a woman explaining the legend of the town her great-grandmother was raised in, a little frontier town in Texas called (not-so-subtly) Mercy. Meanwhile, a cyborg using what looks like a slightly updated Skynet interface is murdering someone. The victim asks if he’s the last one. Our Terminator replies, “There’s one more. The doctor.”

Time vortex-y intro! This week’s font theme is “wood.”

The Doctor, Amy, and Rory approach the town of Mercy, which is bordered by an ineffective-looking fence made of sticks and stones. They enter the town, which is eerily deserted but also sports a modest electrical grid about ten years before Edison came around to fuck up Tesla’s shit. In the saloon, the townspeople ask the Doctor if he’s an alien, and when he doesn’t exactly deny it, the town’s undertaker measures him for his coffin (cliché to the max) and they throw him out past the town’s border. The cyborg shows up, and the townspeople are all ready to throw our Doctor to the wolves, when the sheriff comes out and reminds them that they know that’s not the alien doctor he’s looking for, so bring him back inside. Goody, another case of wacky mistaken identity.

We get some background on this situation. This cyborg is called “the Gunslinger” and is looking for a doctor, not the Doctor. Yes, again. Pay attention kids, this is obviously relevant to the overarching theme of series seven. Anyway, Mercy’s alien doctor is actually named Kahler-Jex, from a race of Mike Tysons (they all rock face tattoos), and he’s pretty handy at fixing stuff- he rigged up electricity, has been taking care of the town, and even stopped a cholera epidemic from destroying them. As a result, Mercy’s pretty keen on keeping him around. The Doctor, Amy, and Rory agree that maybe it would be best if he wasn’t blown up by a laser cannon mounted in place of some dude’s arm.

Our Doctor (if we’re going to keep doing this “mistaken identity” thing, I need our Doctor to have a name so I don’t need to keep specifying) rides off on a horse named Joshua Susan (respect his choices) to get his TARDIS and get Jex the hell out of Dodge. Rory and the sheriff run off to distract the cyborg while he does this, and Amy remains at the sheriff’s office with Jex.

The Doctor takes a detour to check out Jex’s ship. Rory and the sheriff are targeted by the Gunslinger. He aims at them, but his targeting system indicates he has an 87% chance of hitting an innocent. That doesn’t prevent him from taking a shot at them a bit later, though it’s hard to tell which one he was aiming at. They hide in a ridge, and as the cyborg approaches them, the Doctor sets off the intruder alert on Jex’s ship, distracting him from completing the kill. Meanwhile, the Doctor goes through Jex’s personal files and discovers- well, it’s unclear exactly what he finds, but there is a lot of screaming coming from those video files.

Jex hears his alarm going off and figures the Doctor got into his ship. He pulls a gun on Amy. Meanwhile, the Gunslinger shows up at the ship and also holds the Doctor at gunpoint. So many guns! No wonder they set this episode in the Wild Wild West. Anyway, the cyborg maintains that he will not shoot the innocents, so the Doctor is spared. But now he knows Jex’s secret, and seems apt to side with the Gunslinger.

Back in town, Jex is trying to sneak away using Amy for cover, but the Doctor doesn’t let him get away with that. He calls Jex out on his sins- he and others took their own people and turned them into cyborgs, making them weapons in a long war being fought on their planet. Yes, they effectively ended the war in a week, but he tortured thousands of innocent people in the process. The Doctor is 100% not on board with needless torture and murder, as we were reminded last week. The Gunslinger was one of those cyborgs, and he is determined to hunt down and kill every one of the people who ruined his life. Doctor Jex is his last.

The Doctor, in a fit of terrible rage, throws Jex out of the town. I’m not exactly clear on why the Gunslinger won’t cross the line they drew with sticks and stones- he said it was to avoid hurting innocents, but there are only 81 people in the town and his weapons seem fairly accurate. Pretty sure he could find Jex easily enough without hurting anyone else. The townspeople are upset- Jex has done a lot of good for them. The Doctor holds Jex at gunpoint to keep him from coming back in the town. Amy then holds the Doctor at gunpoint and demands he brings Jex back in. After some misfirings and the insistence that any non-Americans drop their weapons, Amy reminds him that their job is to be better than Jex, to rise above stooping to his level, or else they’re no better than he is. She says the Doctor has been travelling on his own for too long.

Indeed, the Doctor agrees to bring Jex back in, but exactly then (thanks, theatrical timing!) the Gunslinger shows up. He shoots Jex, but the Sheriff jumps in front of the bullet/laser pulse/plasma ejection/whatever. As he lay dying on the ground, the Gunslinger’s Skynet interface tells him that the “innocent is dying.” Which makes me wonder about before, when he was shooting at Rory and the sheriff- are we supposed to suspect Rory is, for some reason, not innocent? Ever since I read some crazy theory on a forum about Rory actually being the Master, I’ve been over-analyzing everything that has anything to do with him. Anyway, the Gunslinger tells the town they have until noon the next day to bring him Jex, or he’ll waste all of them.

The Doctor now has Sheriff Isaac’s badge, so we are subject to his authority. He puts Jex in a cell, and even goes on to stare down the fearful townspeople who come to collect him in the middle of the night. He talks to Jex, who points out that the Doctor is guilty of the same things he is. He’s done evil, but he’s also done good; things aren’t black and white. The Doctor says Jex doesn’t get to issue his own justice because it doesn’t work that way. I hope I don’t need to point out the hypocracy here. Jex explains that his race believes that in the afterlife, you must climb a mountain with the souls of those you’ve wronged on your back. His back is going to be very heavy. He says we all carry our prisons with us. Somehow this gives the Doctor an idea.

At noon, the Doctor faces down the Gunslinger. It looks like he’s itching for his gun, but he pulls out the sonic screwdriver instead, which disorients the Gunslinger. He scans for Jex and identifies his face tattoo, beginning pursuit- except it’s Rory with that tattoo. The Gunslinger stands down once he realizes this. Other “Jex”es run by, but he realizes they all just have the tattoo on them. He ends up in the church where all the women and children were hiding. Though he vowed to shoot the innocents, he clearly can’t bring himself to do it.

Meanwhile, Jex has escaped thanks to the doppelgängers.  He’s in his ship, but instead of escaping, he gives an eloquent apology speech to everyone and self-destructs. The Gunslinger acknowledges that in the end he was brave, and heads off in the desert to do the same, since he was built for war and not peace and cannot go home. That’s when the Doctor reminds him that even weapons built for war can be used to keep peace. I feel like we’re sort of getting mixed messages here on how we’re supposed to feel about gun control. Regardless, the Gunslinger goes on to protect the town. The Doctor tries to plan his next adventure with Amy and Rory, but Amy wants to go home. He agrees without argument.

We’ve got a couple things going on here. One, the Doctor is obviously losing a hold of his humanity (even though, as an alien, that wouldn’t technically be the right word). He blatantly killed a man last week and nearly did it again this week, neither time giving it much thought. Furthermore, Amy and Rory have their own, Doctor-free life going on, and it’s clear they have less and less time for TARDIS-related things. They’re turning into grown-ups. Seeing as I’m pretty sure I’m around the same age as them (though it’s hard to gauge, with all the time-travel, but they’re probably mid-20s at this point, eh?) I find that incredibly depressing. But based on the previews, I’m sure we’ll investigate this theme more next week.

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