Monday, 24 September 2012

Series 7a Review: A Town Called Mercy

I have to admit that I didn't enjoy as much as I thought I would.  The trailers and clips that I'd seen had initially seemed to suggest that we'd be in for a bit of a rootin' tootin' romp though the Old West with cyborg cowboys.  Then I saw the 'Next Episode' trailer at the end of 'Dinosaurs on a Spaceship' and realised that we'd be in for something a little more serious.

This episode is a definite change of pace from the two that precede it.  It's slower, more measured and perhaps a bit darker in tone - ironic really considering how much of the episode takes place in brilliant sunshine. I think that this sudden shift in tone is probably why I didn't enjoy the episode as much as I expected to.  Having something like this follow 'Dinosaurs on a Spaceship' comes as a bit of a shock.

Of course there is humour here, because even the darkest of Doctor Who episodes has had some humour in it, but in amongst the jokes about 'speaking horse' and Amy messing around with a pistol, we see the Doctor go to a very dark place indeed.  It's always a shock to see the Doctor holding a gun, not least because it's such a rare occurrence.  It's even rarer to see him actually pull the trigger but this was one occasion where I could honestly believe that he might actually go ahead and do it.  Of course he was never going to but such was Matt Smith's acting in the scene where he almost gives Khaler-Jex to the Gunslinger that I did have my doubts as to whether he would be able to hold back from squeezing the trigger.

He's saved from going over to the Dark Side by his companions, Amy and Rory who, other than being his moral compass, have frankly bugger all to do in this episode.  But their mere presence in this episode reinforces something that has been said over and over for the past few series: that the Doctor cannot travel without someone with him to keep him in check.  Yes, it seems like we're raking over old ground here but in light of what is to come in two episodes time, it seems appropriate to bring this up again.  I have no idea what will happen to Amy and Rory when they leave the series but I do wonder if the Doctor's actions in this episode as well as what he did to Solomon in 'Dinosaurs...' are just the tip of the iceberg.

Of course the Doctor's moral crisis isn't the only one here, there's also fellow Doctor Khaler-Jex.  Like Solomon he seems to be someone who, initially, has no real understanding or regard for the damage and suffering he has caused.  He's also very much a coward.  However, over the course of just a few short hours,  he seems to change his outlook completely and is prepared to end his like as punishment for his crimes.  His sudden decision to blow himself up is just a little too quick and convenient for my liking.

Overall I did quite enjoy this episode, just not as much as the previous two.  It was a little too slow in places and certain character weren't as well used as they could have been (the aforementioned Amy and Rory as well as Ben Browder's Marshal) but it looked stunning and certainly had a proper Western feel.  But, once again, for all that Steven Moffatt said that this series' episodes would be 'blockbuster movies' we have another story where the characters take precedence over the spectacle.  Like the Daleks and the Dinosaurs, the eye-catching Western setting is just a backdrop to the real drama.  

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