Wednesday, September 19, 2012

TV Review: DOCTOR WHO S7E3 "A Town called Mercy"


Before I begin, I have to say that "A Town called Mercy" is one of probably my favorite episode of the season. The episode breaks up expectations left and right and did not stop surprising me until the very end and it was one of the more seriously introspective episodes so far. As always, I will be spoiling everything up until this episode.

Check out the review after the break.

The episode started with us hearing some narration from a woman about a man in the sky who could live for a long time but had some sadness in his eyes. Then we transition to a scene of someone looking through the targeting system and chasing down a ship. The pursuer, who we later find out is the Gunslinger, is able to catch up to his prey. After telling his victim to pray to his gods, the man about to be executed asks if he is the last one. The Gunslinger responded, "No, the doctor is still left" before we go to the title credits.

Once we come back, we see that the Doctor, along with Amy and Rory, have come up on a little town with a population of 81 people called Mercy. After I finished watching the episode and seeing its theme, I thought that the name of the town was a little too on-the-nose and cheesy, but whatever. As they enter the town despite the "Do Not Enter" sign and the perimeter made out of rocks, they see some rather anachronistic lamp posts. This is set about ten years before electricity was invented on a larger scale. Obviously, this picques at the Doctor's curiosity, so they go to the bar to talk to the locals. One of the things that this episode excels at was the funny lines. Like when the Doctor enters the bar, he says "I want your finest tea. The strong stuff. Leave the bag in." It seems that the townspeople are wary of strangers, but then they find out that he's alien doctor they freak out on him and seize him.

After trying to kick out the Doctor out of Mercy past the perimeter, we meet the Sheriff who ropes the town out of the mob mentality and bring the Doctor back before he is blown up by the Gunslinger from the beginning of the episode. The Marshall then tell the trio why he knows the Doctor isn't the "alien doctor" that the town thinks he is. We are then introduced to ANOTHER alien doctor Kahler Jex.

The doctor goes on to say that he was a surgeon back in his home planet and had crash landed on Earth. The Marshall and the town of Mercy rescued him and brought back to full strength. He repays them by giving them electricity a little too soon and during a cholera outbreak, and he ensures no one dies, which is why it's so puzzling that the Gunslinger is all about trying to kill Dr. Jex. The 'Slinger has kept the town under quarantine until they turn over Dr. Jex. They have been low on supplies, but they refuse to leave or turn in Dr. Jex.

The Doctor wants to help Dr. Jex escape so they hatch a plan to distract the Gunslinger so they can evacuate the whole town out of the TARDIS. While executing the plan, the Doctor finds Jex's ship and activates the ship's memory where he finds out what Jex is really like. He is cornered by the Gunslinger and tells him he knows what his mission is now, but that he should not let the people of Mercy suffer because of Jex.

You see, Jex is a sort of war criminal, an obvious Nazi war refugee parable. He used to experiment with soldiers back in his home planet. As a last ditch effort to win the war that had ravaged his home planet, the doctor took volunteers and made them cyborgs, such as the Gunslinger, to use as weapons to turn the tide of the war. Jex claims that after his invention, the war was over in a manner of weeks and that he was just trying to save his people from themselves. The Gunslinger is the last remaining of these cyborgs and he's been hunting down Jex and the rest of the people responsible for this atrocity.

This is where the episode gets interesting for me. The Doctor's reaction in direct escalation of the "murder" of Solomon in last week's episode grabs Jex and leaves him outside of the town's perimeter to allow him to be killed. The hatred you see in his eyes in nothing you've seen with this incarnation.  The Doctor even points a gun at him. This is pretty huge. The 10th Doctor had an explicit hatred of guns, and this version, while still not into them, was more OK with them but you rarely see the Doctor actually hold someone at gun point. You can see that this snapped something in him, where he almost seems to be taking out his own guilt out on Jex. He yells at Amy that he wants to think of the victims for once and he talks about all of the victims of the Master and the Daleks because he failed to act and actually kill them. This reminds me of what I like to call the "Batman dilemma", where the Dark Knight's one constant is he does not kill or use guns. This is never going to change. But because of this, a villain like the Joker is able to exploit it to escape and kill more people before he is locked up in Arkham to start the cycle anew. I wonder how much guilt Batman feels about the fact that so many people have died because of his values.

Of course, you know that Amy is the one to bring the Doctor back down. She comments on the fact that this is what happens when he travels alone. This feels like they are trying to establish a pattern of the Doctor's need for Companions to keep him grounded because as I mentioned before, this is what happened to the 10th Doctor after Donna left him (WATERS OF MARS). When the Gunsliger shows up to kill Jex, the Marshall sacrifices himself to save him. He truly believes that America is the land of second opportunities and knows that Jex has good in him despite his past. After being talked down by Amy and seeing the Marshall die for Jex, he takes him to the jail in order to figure out what to do with him.

The jail scene where Jex and the Doctor are discussing the situation was one of the highlights for me. The fact that the Doctor hates Jex so much and wanted to have him killed. Jex tells the Doctor that he is very much like him. And it's sort of true. Let's not forget that at the beginning of the new series he had wiped out his own people as well all but two Daleks and locked them up in a frozen state of time after the Last Great Time War because the war was too huge and dangerous. Let's not mention the genocidal attempts towards the Daleks and Cybermen that he's done over the years. I think that Jex is a reflection of what the Doctor doesn't like about himself which is why he wants to be rid of him so badly.

After deciding that he would not have killed by the Gunslinger, he hatches a strangely elaborate plan to distract the Gunslinger's targeting system by painting Jex's distinctive alien marks on everyone's face. When Jex is able to escape, he goes straight to ship, but not to escape, but rather to blow himself up. Jex realized that violence doesn't end violence but it extends it (to paraphrase the Doctor), and because of this, he realizes that he needs to sacrifice himself so neither the townspeople of Mercy or the Gunslinger have to be more casualties of his own violence and therefore starting a new cycle of violence.

In the end, this particular episode turned out to be a lot more introspective than I expected. I like that the episode in a way called out the Doctor for his past violent actions, and I'm really glad that Amy showed him that he still is the better person than all of the villains he's fought. I think this was a pretty solid episode that spent a lot of time discussing the ethics and the morality of the issue at hand rather than showing off cool dinosaurs (that are still very cool).

Finally, a minor nitpick was that Rory just kind of stood there and rarely factored in to any of the plot. I get it's usually the Amy/Doctor show, but I don't think I saw him for the majority of the episode.
Observations (can you tell I'm a fan of the AV Club?):

  • He is now 1200 years old. He has been with the Ponds for 300 years and been gone about 100 years since last season.
  • The fact that after four years the Master has been mentioned makes me think that there will be another appearance by him.
  • I love transgender horses.
  • I'm still a little iffy on the darker turn that the show has taken if only because this was already explored with the 10th Doctor. 

Next week, the recap/review will be a little later because of that little thing called Fantastic Fest. I'd love hear some feedback regarding these recaps so leave some comments.

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