Doctor Who Recap: “A Town Called Mercy”

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A Town Called Mercy © BBCA Town Called Mercy © BBC

A Town Called Mercy © BBC

From dinosaurs on a space ship last episode to cyborgs in the old west. I wonder how many more mash-ups we’ll see this season. A bit of back story comes in the form of a rather mysterious voice over that bookends the beginning and end.

Spoiler Alert***

[Voiceover] When I was a child, my favorite story was about a man who lived forever, but whose eyes were heavy with the weight of all he had seen. A man who fell from the stars.

But it’s not exactly clear whose voice this is or why we need her to introduce the episode, other than to pay homage to the story teller narrative device in some westerns. Honestly, when she comes back in at the end with her unconvincing American accent, you’ve already forgotten that she introduced the story, a story that begins with events that the narrator would actually have no knowledge of:

[In an undetermined location]
Kahler-Mas: I knew you’d find me eventually.
The Gunslinger: Make peace with your gods.
Kahler-Mas: Once they were your gods too.
The Gunslinger: Not anymore. [Shoots Kahler-Mas]
Kahler-Mas: Am I the last one?
The Gunslinger: There’s one more. The Doctor. [Deliver final shot]

Roll opening titles: is it just me, or do they seem to be getting darker and darker?

It’s funny how that name get bandied about. There may only be one “The Doctor,” but there are a lot of doctors in the universe. Speaking of which, our favorite The Doctor, with Amy and Rory in tow although we don’t see how they are reunited for this adventure, is standing outside a town in the wilds of the American old west.

The Doctor: Mercy. 81 residents.
Amy: Look at this. It’s a load of stone and lumps of wood. What is it?
The Doctor [scanning with his sonic screwdriver]: A load of stone and lumps of wood.

And sometimes a load of stone and lumps of wood is just a load of stone and lumps of wood. But, sometimes it’s a warning.

Rory: Ah, the sign does say “Keep Out.”
The Doctor: I see keep out signs as suggestions more than actual orders. Like “dry clean only.”

As I always like to say, “Sign, what sign?” But then, the show would be pretty damn short if that weren’t the Doctor’s guiding philosophy.

The Doctor: That’s not right.
Rory: It’s a street lamp.
The Doctor: An electric about ten years too early.
Rory: That’s only a few years out.
The Doctor: That’s what you said when you left your phone charger in Henry VIII’s own suite.
Amy: Um, Doctor —
The Doctor [chuckling]: Anachronistic electricity. Keep Out signs. Aggressive stares. Has someone been peeking at my Christmas list?

Again with the Christmas lists. The Doctor mentioned it last episode on the beach. You think this might be a clue?

The Doctor: Tea. But the strong stuff. Leave the bag in.

Hey, that’s how I like my tea!

The Preacher: Sir, might I inquire who you is?
The Doctor: Of course, I’m the Doctor. This is — [everyone suddenly stands] No need to stand. [turns to to Rory and Amy] You see that? Manners. [The Undertaker starts measuring him] Oh! Thank you. But I don’t need a new suit.
The Undertaker: I’m the undertaker, sir.

And then the Doctor is run out of town, not exactly on a rail, that’s only because the townsfolk are in too much of a hurry to grab one. Dumped on the other side of the load of stone and lumps of wood, the Doctor is forced to stay on the other side at gunpoint as a mysterious figure approaches, seeming to phase in and out of reality.

The Preacher: He’s coming. Oh god, he’s coming!
Abraham: Preacher, say something.
The Preacher: Our Father, who art in Heaven. Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.
Isaac [Fires a shot]: You! Bow tie! Get back across that line. Now.

After a speedy retreat to the jail house, it’s expository time!

The Doctor: What was that outside?
Isaac: The Gunslinger. Showed up three weeks back. We’ve been prisoners ever since. See that borderline stretchin’ ’round the town? Woke up one morning, there it was. Nothing gets past it in or out. No supply wagons, no reinforcements. Pretty soon the whole town’s gonna starve to death.
Rory: But, you let us in.
Isaac: You ain’t carryin’ any food. Just three more mouths to feed. We’ll all die even sooner now.
The Doctor: What happens if someone crosses the line? [Isaac tosses him a hat with a hole in it] Ah. Well. He wasn’t a very good shot then.
Isaac: He was aiming for the hat.
The Doctor: He shoots people’s hats?
Amy: I think it was a warning shot.
The Doctor: Ah. No. Yes. I see. Hm.
Amy: What does he want? Has he issued some kind of demand?
Isaac: Says he wants us to give him the alien doctor.
Amy: But that’s you? Why would he want to kill you? Unless he’s met you.
Rory: And how could he know we’d be here? [whispering] We didn’t even know we’d be here.
Amy: We were aiming for Mexico. The Doctor was taking us to see the Day of the Dead Festival.
Isaac: Mexico’s two hundred miles due south.
The Doctor: Well that’s what happens when people get toast crumbs on the console!

And now we know how they came to the town. Well, sort of.

The Doctor: Anyway, I think it’s about time I met him, don’t you?
Isaac: Who?
The Doctor: The chap outside said I could be the alien doctor, but you said I wasn’t. So you already know who it is. Two alien doctors! We’re like buses. Resident 81, I presume. So beloved by the townsfolk he warranted an alteration to the sign. Probably because he rigged up these electrics. And I’m guessing he’s in here, because if half the town suddenly wanted to throw me to my death, this is where I’d want to be.
Isaac: I don’t know what you…
Kahler-Jex: It’s alright, Isaac. I think the time for subterfuge has passed. Good afternoon. My name is Kahler-Jex. I’m the doctor.

Meanwhile, the Gunslinger is watching the town carefully.

The Doctor: The Kahler! I love the Kahler! They’re one of the most ingenious races in the galaxy. Seriously, they could build a spaceship out of Tupperware and moss.

And Doctor Kahler-Jex is a particularly smart one, having crash landed a few years before and been taking care of the town. All the Gunslinger seems to want is for the townsfolk to hand over Kahler-Jex, but the Doctor has a cunning plan that cannot fail.

The Doctor: We evacuate the town. Our ship’s just over the hills. Room for everyone. I’ll pop out, bring it back here. Robert’s your uncle!
Amy: Really? Simple as that? No crazy schemes, no negotiations?
The Doctor: I’ve matured. I’m twelve hundred years old now. Plus I don’t want to miss The Archers.

The Archers is a long running and venerated radio show on BBC Radio 4, basically a soap opera set in rural England. You are welcome.

Amy: Oh. So you’re not even a tiny bit curious?
The Doctor: Why would I be curious? It’s a mysterious space cowboy assassin. Curious, of course I’m not curious.

Nope, no curiosity here. Along the way, we get a little insight into the Gunslinger’s motivations: he refuses to fire when there is a high chance that he may hit an innocent life, and disengages from the targets.

Meanwhile, the Doctor finds Kahler-Jex’s supposedly damaged ship.

The Doctor [to Susan, the horse]: Yes. I wear a stetson now. [Looking at the ship] Yes, good point, Susan! Where is the damage?

Ship’s Security: Security Breach. You have ten seconds to enter the passcode or this vehicle will self destruct. Thank you for choosing Abaraxas security software. Incinerating intruders for three centuries.

After bypassing the security, the Doctor learns the horrible truth about Kahler-Jex, a war criminal who experimented on other Kahlerians in order to create cyborgs like the Gunslinger. Speaking of whom, The Doctor encounters the Gunslinger again, but this time he’s ready to talk.

The Doctor: I know who you are. And who Jex is too. Now, what I don’t understand is why you haven’t just walked into town and killed him.

Wait, what? Kill? The Doctor wants the Gunslinger to kill Jex?

The Gunslinger: No more warning shots. I’ll kill the next person to step over that line. Make sure it’s Jex.

The Doctor makes his way back to town to confront Kahler-Jex and provide more expository to Isaac.

Isaac: Okay, somebody want to tell me what is going on?
The Doctor: The Gunslinger is a cyborg.
Isaac: A what?
The Doctor: Half-man, half-machine. A weapon. Jex built it. He and his team took volunteers, told them they’d been selected for special training, then experimented on them. Fused their bodies with weaponry and programmed them to kill.

Kahler-Jex seems unrepentant.

Kahler-Jex: War is another world. You cannot apply the politics of peace to what I did. To what any of us did.

But, he also seems to be playing on the Doctor’s own guilt.

Kahler-Jex: Looking at you, Doctor, is like looking into a mirror almost. There’s rage there, like me. Guilt there, like me. Solitude. Everything but the nerve to do what needs to be done. Thank the gods my people weren’t relying on you to save them!
The Doctor: No! No! But these people are! Out! Out!

The Doctor seems to have gone a bit off the deep end.

Kahler-Jex [the Doctor has a gun to his head]: You wouldn’t.
The Doctor: I genuinely don’t know.

The Doctor is not the only crazy person around with a gun.

Amy: Let him come back, Doctor.
The Doctor: Or what? You won’t shoot me, Amy.
Amy: How do you know? Maybe I’ve changed. I mean, you’ve clearly been taking stupid lessons since I saw you last.

But, fortunately, Isaac has the solution.

Isaac: Everyone who isn’t an American, drop your gun.

The Doctor is struggling with what to do. Protect a murdering torturer or save the town.

The Doctor: We could end this right now. We could save everyone right now!
Amy: This is not how we roll, and you know it. What’s happened to you, Doctor? When did killing someone become an option?
The Doctor: Jex has to answer for his crimes.
Amy: And what then? Are you going to hunt down everyone who’s made a gun or a bullet or a bomb?
The Doctor: But they keep coming back, don’t you see? Every time I negotiate, I try to understand. Well not today. No, today I honor the victims first. His, The Master’s, the Daleks’. All the people that died because of my mercy!
Amy: See, this is what happens when you travel alone for too long. Well, listen to me, Doctor, we can’t be like him. We have to be better than him.

And then things go south, when Isaac is accidentally shot by the Gunslinger.

Isaac [dying]: Listen to me, you gotta stay. You gotta look after everyone.
The Doctor: It won’t come to that, Isaac.
Isaac: Protect Jex. Protect my town. You’re both good men. You just forget it sometimes.

Isaac’s last act is to make the Doctor the town marshal. The Doctor’s first act as marshal is to make Amy his deputy. the Doctor seems to come back to his senses, abstaining violence, regardless of who it’s against.

The Doctor: Don’t you see? Violence doesn’t end violence. It extends it. And I don’t think you want to do this. I don’t think you want to become that man.

Although he’s talking to a boy in the town trying to bring Kahler-Jex to the edge of town to give to the Gunslinger, I think the Doctor is talking equally about himself.

Kahler-Jex: It would be so much simpler if I was just one thing, wouldn’t it? The mad scientist who made that killing machine. Or the physician. Who’s dedicated his life to serving this town. The fact that I’m both bewilders you.
The Doctor: Oh, I know exactly what you are. And I see this reformation for what it really is. You committed an atrocity and choose this for your punishment. Don’t get me wrong — good choice. Civilized hours, lots of adulation, nice weather. But — but! Justice doesn’t work like that. You don’t get to decide when and how your debt is paid!

After the obligatory show-down at noon — It is a stereotype of westerns as seen by the Brisith, after all — Kahler-Jex ends up solving everybody’s problems by killing himself.

The Gunslinger: He behaved with honor at the end. Maybe more than me.
The Doctor: We could take you back to your world. You could help with the reconstruction.
The Gunslinger: I will walk into the desert and self-destruct. I’m a creature of war. I have no role to play during peace.
The Doctor: Except maybe to protect it.

And, on to the next adventure?

The Doctor: Okay, so! Our next trip. Oo! You know all the monkeys and dogs they sent into space in the ’50s and ’60s? You will never guess what happened to them.
Amy: Um, can we leave it awhile? Our friends are going to start noticing that we’re aging faster than them.
The Doctor: Another time? No worries.

The Ponds seem to be getting weary of the time-hopping life style. I don’t think this can end well.

[Voiceover] By the time the Gunslinger arrived, the people of Mercy were used to the strange and impossible. Where he came from didn’t matter. As a man once said, “America is a land of second chances.” Do I believe the story? I don’t know. My great grandmother must have been a little girl when he arrived. But next time you’re in Mercy, ask someone why they don’t have a marshal or sheriff, or policeman there. “We got our own arrangement,” they’ll say. Then they’ll smile like they got a secret. Like they got their own angel watching out for them Their very own angel who fell from the stars.

Really, the voiceover for this episode is about as useful as a preface to 50 Shades of Gray. Another weakness of the episode was the Ponds. Other than providing the occasional moral bearing, they didn’t really have much to do. Maybe next episode?

More great quotes:

Sadie: Whatcha doin’ here, son?
The Doctor: “Son”? Ha! You can stay.

The Doctor: Can I borrow your horse, please? It’s official marshal business.
The Preacher: He’s called Joshua. It’s from the Bible. It means “the Deliverer.”
The Doctor: No, he isn’t.
The Preacher: What?
The Doctor: I speak horse. He’s called Susan. And he wants you to respect his life choices.

Kahler-Jex: That’s the alarm on my ship.
Amy: Maybe the Doctor wants to get it working again.
Kahler-Jex: But that wasn’t the plan. He’s not following the plan.
Amy: Welcome to my world.

Kahler-Jex: It’s unlikely the Gunslinger will shoot if I’m with you. As far as I can tell he’s programmed to take innocent lives only if absolutely necessary.
Amy: Well, color me reassured.

Rory: Yeah. I mean he’s a war criminal.
Isaac: No, he’s the guy that saved the town from cholera. The guy that gave us heat and light.
Amy: Look, Jex may be a criminal, and yeah, kinda creepy —
Kahler-Jex: And still in the room.
Amy: — but I think we should put aside what he did and find another solution.
Rory: Another solution? It’s him or us.
Amy: When did we start letting people get executed? Did I miss a memo?

The Doctor: Frightened people. Give me a Dalek any day.

Kahler-Jex: In my culture, we believe that when you die your spirit has to climb a mountain, carrying the souls of everyone you wronged in your lifetime. Imagine the weight I will have to lift. The monsters I created, the people they killed. Isaac. He was my friend. Now his soul will be in my arms too. Can you see now why I fear death? You want to hand me over, there’s no shame in that. But you won’t — we all carry our prisons with us. Mine is my past. Yours is your morality.

The Doctor: “We all carry our prisons with us.” Ha.

Next Episode: The Power of Three

Saturday night at 9PM EST on BBC America

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