Doctor Who – A Town Called Mercy

joshuasusan

Series 7, Episode 3

CONTAINS SPOILERS

Every episode of series 7 so far has reminded me of a Red Dwarf episode. Episode one: Kryten. Episode two: Pete. Episode three: Gunmen of the Apocalypse. Both Gunmen of the Apocalypse and A Town Called Mercy feature a Wild West theme and a rogue cyborg. If you’re going to take inspiration from Red Dwarf, and I know Steven Moffat loves his timey wimey plots, but please, please, please don’t do Ouroboros. If you thought River turning out to be Amy and Rory’s daughter was a convoluted sci-fi family plot, that has nothing on the bizarre and let’s face it, gross revelation that Dave Lister turns out to be his own father and his love interest Kochanski turns out to be his mother!

The Simulants in Red Dwarf were cyborgs “created for a war that never took place”, but went rogue afterwards and became a threat for whoever they came across. The cyborg in this episode, known as The Gunslinger, was also created for a war, but rather than killing for the sake of killing, he is after vengence against the scientists who made him that way.

Last week’s episode was controversial because of the Doctor leading Solomon to his death. Solomon was an evil murderer, so wouldn’t the universe be better off without him, and when it comes to something like murder, why should the murderer continue to live when the victim won’t and the families will be haunted by it for the rest of their lives? Shouldn’t they be the ones that should be given peace of mind? On the other hand, does the death penalty make you just as bad and as the saying goes, an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. Where will the violence end if nobody is willing to stop it?

Much of this is discussed in this episode. The situation is more complex than it was with Solomon. The Western town has ended up caught between an alien conflict. An alien, Jex, crash landed there and integrated into the community giving them electricity earlier than it had actually been invented and curing the town of cholera. It turned out though that in his own planet his species had been in a long war, and in a desperate attempt to end it he and others tricked some people into being experimented on to become cyborgs in an attempt to end the war quicker. They succeeded in that goal, but it took many deaths to get the cyborgs to the exact standard they wanted. Jex makes the point that morality in wartime and peacetime are different and it often becomes ”the ends justify the means”.  However, there are limits as to what people will consider ”worth it”, war or not. The Gunslinger was the only surviving cyborg, and had killed all those that had worked on the experiments, with Jex as the last one. He tried to be careful not to kill any innocent bystanders, but he was willing to use it as a threat, and he ended up accidentally killing the town marshal who tried to protect Jex.

Who you would side with is a question. For me, Jex didn’t come across as terribly sympathetic. He was a bit too smug when saying that it would be easy if he was just a murderer and hadn’t been someone who did good for the town. The Gunslinger definitely had more wrong done to him, and while he may have been vindictive he wanted to punish those directly involved in what was done to him, not try and punish everybody regardless of whether they had anything to do with it or not. But still there is a big difference between vigilantism and justice. In the end a remorseful Jex decides that the conflict will never be resolved while they are both alive, so ends it by killing himself. The Gunslinger goes from being a threat to the town when the episode opened to being the town’s protector when the episode ends.

Morality discussions aside, it’s an average episode. It’s not all that memorable, and it’s a bit dull. The townsfolk are little more than Western archetypes, which doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but they could have had more fun with it. But then as is said in the episode, the place just happens to be a backdrop for this conflict.

What I liked most about this episode were the funny moments. You can always rely on a Toby Whithouse script to provide good humour.  The three moments I liked the most were;

* The Doctor goes into the saloon asking for tea. “But the strong stuff, leave the bag in”.

* He speaks horse, and realises a stallion called Joshua prefers to be called Susan.

* Jex’s Futurama-esque security system with a calm and slightly cheery female computer voice saying. “Thank you for choosing Abaraxas security software. Incinerating intruders for three centuries.”

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