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A Town Called Mercy

Review by Paul Bowler

[Contains Spoilers]

The Doctor takes Amy and Rory for trip to the American Old West. They arrive in a small town called Mercy, which has recently come under attack from a crazed cyborg called The Gunslinger (Andrew Brooke) – a creature hell-bent on tracking down its creators. The last person on The Gunslinger’s list is one of Mercy’s local residents, Kahler-Jex (Adrian Scarborough), a man with a mysterious past and a strange facial tattoo who also claims to be a space travelling doctor… When The Doctor is put in charge of Mercy after the Marshal, Isaac (Ben Browder), is killed by the Gunslinger, the Time Lord comes into conflict with Amy and Rory when both The Gunslinger and Kahler-Jex’s true identities are revealed. But as the Doctor finds himself stuck in the crossfire of this ancient conflict between cyborg and alien fugitive, he is faced with a moral dilemma – but which side will he choose?

A Town Called Mercy is not the first time The Doctor has travelled to the Wild West, The Gunfighters (1966) saw the 1st Doctor visit Tombstone and become embroiled in the shoot out at the OK Corral, but in a bid to really capture the feel of the old Spaghetti Westerns this episode was filmed in Almeria, Southern Spain, which has also provided the settings for such classic films as A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966). The amazing Fort Bravo set is another highlight, it’s a wonderful setting for a Dr Who story, and director Saul Metzstein seizes every opportunity to utilize nearly every western movie cliché in the book – setting it all against the backdrop of Almeria’ incredible panoramic scenery.

He may have a good reason for wearing a Stetson this time, but as The Doctor finds himself caught up in the vendetta between The Gunslinger and Kahler-Jex, it also sets him on a collision course with his companions who are beginning to question the Time Lords increasingly erratic sense of justice and high-handed morality. Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are on fine form, especially when Amy stops The Doctor from handing Kahler-Jex over to The Gunslinger to be executed, but their role as part-time companions is beginning to cause friction between them and The Doctor. It’s almost as if neither party is willing to face up to the fact that they have grown apart, but are unwilling, or unable, to do anything about it.

Ben Browder is no stranger to being in cult Sci-Fi TV shows, and the Farscape & SG-1 actor certainly has an action packed role to play in A Town Called Mercy as the marshal Isaac. Much of the story revolves around Adrian Scarborough as the mysterious Kahler-Jex, who is actually a scientist responsible for carrying out terrible experiments on his own people to create the cycbors to fight a war. Scarborough has some brilliant confrontational scenes with Matt Smith’s Doctor, both are war veterans, and each has yet to really come to terms with the consequences of their actions. The make up for Andrew Brooke’s cyborg Gunslinger makes him a formidable looking adversary for The Doctor. A cross between the Terminator and The Man With No Name, he’s seven foot tall, dressed in black, sports a strange tattoo, and has a right arm that features a deadly Gatling gun. Even though The Gunslinger is really something of a tragic character, a relic from a terrible war and consumed with the need to make his creator (Kahler-Jex) pay for his heinous experiments, his showdown with the Time Lord is still nerve jinglingly tense. It’s also a fun idea when Rory and some of the townsfolk paint facial tattoos on themselves, running from building to building in ordet to confuse the cyborgs targeting systems. Garrick Hagon (Ky from 1972’s The Mutants) plays Abraham the town’s undertaker, Sean Benedict also stars as Dockery, Byrd Wilkins is the towns Preacher, and Joanne McQuinn features as Sadie – together they make up just a few of the colourful townsfolk of Mercy. There are some lighter moments, especially when the Doctor walks into a Saloon Bar to order a cup of tea, and then later when he is riding a horse he telepathically learns is called Susan, but thankfully the comedy is not as manic as Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.

Writer Toby Whitehouse delivers a cracking story that deals with the moral implications of The Doctor’s standpoint in the universe. A Town Called Mercy is Toby Whitehouse’s fourth Doctor Who story: after School Reunion (2005), The Vampires of Venice (2010), and The God Complex (2011). While it may not be on quite the same level as The God Complex (Read more about this story in my article: The God Complex A Retrospect From Room 11 https://scifijubilee.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/70/ ) there is still plenty of subtexts running throughout A Town Called Mercy; primarily those which question that fine line The Doctor so often walks between vengeance and mercy. Toby Whitehouse deftly handles the increasingly unsettling morality behind The Doctor‘s actions when he learns about Kahler-Jex’s past after inspecting his spacecraft; and also serves to show that the Time Lord is not as benevolent as he would like his companions to believe. Whitehouse’s scrip is full of nods to classic westerns, bristling with snappy dialogue, and an inhospitable atmosphere of impending dread as The Gunslinger strides into town for a duel with The Doctor. Kahler-Jex returns to his ship while The Gunslinger goes on the rampage, but instead of escaping in his ship he activates the self destruct – hoping that his sacrifice might atone for what he has done and offer some peace to his cyborg creation. The Doctor, Amy, and Roy depart in the TARDIS, leaving the cyborg to become the towns new marshal, a silent guardian to watch over them. All this is topped off with a rousing score by Murray Gold, his work here is phenomenal, and really helps complements the scope and scale of the production.

Whitehouse has done a great job of satisfying fans of the genre, drawing on many Wild Western movies such as High Noon (1952) and Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) to ensure A Town Called Mercy more than lives up to our expectation. It’s also great to see Matt Smith, Karen Gillian, and Arthur Darvill mosey on into this little town with a big problem, throwing themselves into the thick of the action with the unmistakable swagger of companions at the height of their game. A Town Called Mercy is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure, full of action, and sure shoot the hat off all the competition.