Saturday, 15 September 2012

Review: Doctor Who 7.3: A Town Called Mercy

The Gunslinger is a fun but complex figure.
Some people are claiming that Toby Whithouse, in this episode, is only writing a "standard Doctor Who episode," and are using that to dismiss A Town Called Mercy as forgettable, or unimportant. But what it does do is highlight a few problems that the Moffat era has posed, in that this was totally unlike its two predecessors. Mercy wasn't just a bam, sham, thank you ma'am romp, it was actually about something. it had a message, it talked about stuff that we need to be talking to our kids about. Sure, it didn't leave me with the... strength of emotion that I felt last week or the week before, but it's certainly the first story of this season that I'll be inclined to watch again.
     The Doctor and co. arrive in Mercy after attempting to head to Mexico, finding the Western town surrounded by a border enforced by an alien cyborg known only as the Gunslinger (Dominic Kemp), who has demanded that they turn over "The Alien Doctor." The townsfolk are well aware that their Doctor, a Kahler scientist named Jex (Adrian Scarborough), isn't from around here, and thus have let him rig up the town with leccy and cures for most of the contemporary diseases. The Doctor tracks down Jex' ship, using Rory and the protective Sheriff Isaac as decoys, and discovers that Jex is in fact a war criminal whose experiments created cyborgs like the Gunslinger by torturing innocents. The Gunslinger is a rogue cyborg who has searched the Universe to destroy his creators, and The Doctor doesn't know whether to allow Jex to escape or to hand him over to save the town. Soon, his deadline comes up and Jex, having had a big moral debate with The Doctor, self destructs in his own ship. Without purpose, The Gunslinger takes up the position of the town's Sheriff, becoming its everlasting protector.
     After touching upon both the issues of faith and the doctor's own sense of guilt in The God Complex, Whitouse this time looks at a Star-Trek style moral dilemma between a monster rightfully seeking revenge and a war criminal seeking redemption to hold back his own guilt - a parallel that the post-Time War Doctor can clearly relate to. It helped that Adrian Scarborough is such a brilliant actor, and imbues Jex with a sense of fragility and regret that also keys into a sort of quiet desperation when the Gunslinger does come for him. After last week's Chibnallisms (I can't bring up the courage to actually call them "characters"), these more complex characters came thick and fast and they're absolutely divine to watch in this context. Whithouse, after Being Human and his previous stories, knows how to write for people as opposed to Chibnall's empty shells and Moffat's un-thought-out archetypes.
Jex is a complex villain - the first for a while.
     Of course, it wasn't perfect. The moments which I so loved didn't gel together as well as they should have. But I really didn't mind. Whithouse's story is immeditely the standout story of the ones so far this season, simply because I'm still thinking about it for reasons that don't include confusion, anger or pure hatred. Instead, I bloody loved this episode. It was thoughtful, intelligent and visually captivating at the same time, and that's exactly what I want from this show.


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