The seventh season gets a little darker, and reminds us of how the west was fun.
For all the talk of The Doctor visiting the United States a lot more these days, the tradition behind A Town Called Mercy stretches all the way back to 1966’s The Gunfighters, when the First Doctor (William Hartnell) visited Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and company. Being Human creator Toby Whithouse’s fourth Doctor Who script literally brings the series back down to Earth after last week’s romp of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, adding a healthy dose of drama tinged with a touch of darkness. That doesn’t stop it from being an incredible amount of fun though.
The Doctor (Matt Smith), Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) arrive in the Wild West town of Mercy, which is under siege by the not-entirely-human Gunslinger (Andrew Brooke). The cyborg creature is hell-bent on taking vengeance on the ‘Doctor’, just not the one we think. In fact, the Time Lord is not the first alien visitor to the town, as the refugee Kahler Jex (Adrian Scarborough) has taken up the place of the local physician, even curing an outbreak of Cholera along the way. However, with the arrival of our favourite gang of time-space travellers, the Gunslinger’s patience is at its end, giving the town until high noon to make a decision about the fate of the doctor – both of them.
A Town Called Mercy returns to a theme explored back when David Tennant still held the mantle of The Doctor, and the idea of how dangerous the Time Lord can be if he travels alone for too long. Here the The Doctor seems to uncharacteristically want to throw Kahler Jex to the wolves at first, perhaps imbuing him with the guilt he feels over the death he perceives himself to have causes over the eons. Putting him at odds with Amy, we gets the sense that the seeds are being sewn for this season’s bigger story arc, which has been hitherto undiscussed in these ‘blockbuster’ episodes to date, and perhaps foreshadowing her departure sometime this year.
Shot on location in Spain, the vistas live up to the ‘epic’ scope that showrunner Steven Moffat has promised over this season. A textbook Western, by way of The Terminator (1984) and Westworld (1973), A Town Called Mercy offers up a slightly deeper story than this season has given us so far, unsurprisingly peppered with some well-pitched comedy as well. That The Doctor spends a great deal of the episode speaking to a horse named Susan is just icing on the cake.