The Ninjabot

About Last Night: Doctor Who in Review – A Town Called Mercy

Posted on September 17, 2012 at 5:00 am by Amanda Andonian

a town called mercy 2 doctor who

We haven’t really been doing Doctor Who recaps here, but I couldn’t resist writing something about the third episode of this season. Not only is it a western, but it also features Ben Browder (Farscape, Stargate: SG-1), which makes it an automatic win in my book. Enough gushing, though, on to the episode itself. It’s an episode about revenge, redemption, and the consequences of one’s actions; and it gives us a deeper look into the Doctor’s soul and what he’s been dealing with in between his adventures with Amy and Rory.

SPOILERS AHEAD. You have been warned.


“A Town Called Mercy” begins with a starry night sky and a voiceover in the Southern drawl of an older woman who reminisces over a story she used to hear as a girl about “a man who lived forever, but whose eyes were heavy with the weight of all he’d seen. A man who fell from the stars.” The Doctor perhaps?

We then cut to an alien running from a cyborg in a stetson, but he doesn’t manage to escape. When he asks the cyborg whether he’s the last one, it answers that it still needs to find “the Doctor.” Our Doctor perhaps? Wait for it.

The scene changes to a hot day in the middle of the desert with our favorite companions and the Doctor himself, musing over what looks to be a ghost town named Mercy, and a line of stones and wood stretching around it, as if to keep people out. In fact, there is a sign telling them to keep out, but of course the Doctor ignores it and walks right into the nearest saloon.

The townspeople are not happy to see these new strangers, and they seem to have heard of “the Doctor” as well. When he confirms that he is in fact called the Doctor and is actually an alien, they grab him, Amy, and Rory, and march them back to the outskirts of town where they attempt to sacrifice the Doctor to a strange figure they call the Gunslinger. Two guesses who the Gunslinger is. Did you guess the cyborg? You were right!

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Before the Gunslinger can attack, the town sheriff, Isaac (Ben Browder!), catches up with everyone and orders the other townspeople to allow the Doctor back across the line. When he steps across, the Gunslinger takes a long look at the assembled crowd, then disappears.

It’s at this point that we learn that the Gunslinger is not actually looking for our Doctor, but another doctor named Jex who crash landed near Mercy three years prior and had been acting as the town doctor ever since. Isaac is determined to protect Jex, despite the threat of the Gunslinger and the fear of the other townspeople; and of course the Doctor and the Ponds agree to help however they can.

But as it always is in these sorts of situations, all is not as it seems. The Doctor manages to track down Jex’s “crash landed” ship, only to find that it’s in perfect working order. After accessing its database, he learns the truth behind Jex and the Gunslinger–namely that Jex created the cyborg to fight a bloody war back on his homeplanet. Once the war was over, the cyborg went rogue and began killing the men who had created it as punishment for what they did to him and the other cyborg test subjects.

The Doctor returns to Mercy in a rage, determined to turn Jex over to the Gunslinger to meet his maker. When Amy tries to stop him, the Doctor screams at her, “Today I honor the victims first…all the people who died because of my mercy!” Amy retorts, “This is what happens when you travel alone for too long. We can’t be like him. We have to better than him.” It’s this that seems to get through to the Doctor, and he agrees to try an alternative plan.

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It seems that Amy’s argument gets through to Jex, as well, because he tries to sacrifice himself to the Gunslinger in order to save the town. However, Isaac jumps in front of Jex at the last moment, taking the bullet that was meant for Jex. With his dying breath, Isaac begs the Doctor to protect Jex and the town. “You’re both good men, you just forget it sometimes,” he gasps, handing his badge over to the Doctor.

The episode continues the debate of whether it’s right or wrong to sacrifice Jex to the Gunslinger. Of course the townspeople want to, but the Doctor cannot allow it now that he’s committed himself to protecting everyone. “Violence doesn’t end violence,” he tells him, “it extends it.” Eventually, he convinces them to go along with his plan to save Jex and the town.

At high noon, the Gunslinger returns, demanding that they hand over Jex. Though the Doctor believes that Jex has gone to escape in his ship, it turns out that Jex intended to sacrifice himself after all, and he sets off the self-destruct, saving the town and ending the Gunslinger’s mission. Now that his purpose in life is over, the Gunslinger turns and begins to walk away, readying to destroy himself. The Doctor stops him, though, saying that it doesn’t have to end like this, that the Gunslinger can still do some good even though he’s been turned into a monster.

We then hear the old woman’s voice again as she talks about the man who fell from the stars, who watches over a town called Mercy, and is known as the Gunslinger. It’s cute, wraps things up nicely, though perhaps too nicely; but it ends the episode on a note of hope, and I’m a sucker for happy endings.

Though most of the episode is fun and lighthearted with frequent jokes between the Doctor, his companions, and the townspeople, the question of whether to save Jex puts the story in a more serious light. Ostensibly it’s about the atrocities that Jex committed against his own people, but it’s also about the Doctor struggling with his own demons. As he tells Amy, so many people died because of his mercy, and the weight of those deaths is beginning to crush him. In an offhand comment during the first half of the episode, the Doctor mentions that he’s 1200 years old now, meaning that 300 years has passed since the events of last season. Who knows what happened to him during that time, especially since he’s obviously been traveling without his companions.

Everyone delivers an outstanding performance, especially Adrian Scarborough as Jex, jumping between amiable doctor and fierce war criminal in a heartbeat. As a huge fan of Farscape, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Ben Browder again, and his turn as Isaac was welcome if a little one-note. That’s clearly the way that the character was written, though, since Isaac serves as conscience to both the Doctor and Jex, continually saying that America is a place of second chances, thus reminding the Doctor that his mercy can do some good if he lets it.

More than anything, though, this episode begins to set up the exit of the Ponds. As Amy begins to notice how the Doctor has changed, she also notices how she and Rory have changed because of him as well, and the previews for next week definitely indicate that Amy and Rory are seriously considering whether it’s time for them to stop travelling with the Doctor.

For those of you who saw it what did you think? Did you enjoy this Western romp as much as I did? Or did you feel like it fell a little short?

    • Jennifer

      I liked it a lot. That's saying something bc usually I HATE Westerns. I like that we learned how long the Doctor has been traveling alone. I also like that The Doctor had some emotion. I always enjoy when Amy calls him out on his own hypocrisies. I think I'm going to miss the Ponds. 🙁
      Good episode.

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