Mon
Sep 17 2012 11:45am
Doctor Who: “A Town Called Mercy”

A spoiler recap and review of Doctor Who season 7 episode: A Town Called Mercy

That, my dear fellow Whovians, THAT is what Doctor Who should be. “A Town Called Mercy,” written by Toby Whithouse, was about as perfect an episode of Doctor Who as we could ask for, delving into a complex moral dilemma, showing us both the comedic and the hardened sides of the Doctor, and demonstrating just how important it is that the Doctor not be alone for too long. Also, I’m digging Doctor Who’s new episode-specific titles. It’s a nice touch.

Though I have to say, it’s kind of annoying that the word “decimate” has come to be used so willy-nilly. At one point, Kahler-Jex mentions that a war “decimated half of our planet.” Really? It destroyed a tenth of half the planet? That doesn’t sound too terrible....

I mean, I know that’s just how the word’s used now, but damn.

/etymology rant.

Taking a wrong turn through space and time in an attempt to get to a Day of the Dead festival in Mexico, Team TARDIS ends up in a frontier-era American town called Mercy, which attracts the Doctor (Matt Smith), because it has electricity ten years too early, loads of “Keep Out” signs, and a ring of stones and wood around it. As it turns out, the town has all of this because of its own doctor, an alien by the name of Kahler-Jex (Adrian Scarborough), who crash-landed in the town and was taken in by its marshal, Isaac (Ben Browder). In order to repay the townspeople for their kindness, Kahler-Jex introduced them to electricity and stayed on as their doctor, curing diseases like cholera with his advanced technology.

But there’s a problem. A half man/half machine known as The Gunslinger (Dominic Kemp) wants Kahler-Jex dead and is terrorizing the town in an attempt to lure him out. For some reason, The Gunslinger won’t broach the town’s border, but neither will he let anything cross that border.

Because Kahler-Jex wasn’t actually as benign as he currently presents himself. The Doctor searches through Kahler-Jex’s spaceship and discovers that Jex is actually a war criminal who, in order to help his planet win a war, experimented on its citizens, turning some into literal killing machines like The Gunslinger.

The Gunslinger is actually a Kahler named Kahler-Mas who wants Jex dead for taking his life away from him. The Doctor and Rory (Arthur Darvill) are perfectly happy to turn Kahler-Jex over to Kahler-Mas in order to rid the town of this entire problem. Something the town’s own Marshal, Isaac, and Amy (Karen Gillan) are not willing to do. Isaac resists because to his core he believes that folks can find a second chance in Mercy. Amy, meanwhile, is concerned about how harsh the Doctor is becoming in their absence.

Amy stops the Doctor, warning him that if he turns Jex over, he’d be no better than the criminal whose actions he condemned, but it takes the accidental death of Isaac to really bring the point home to the Doctor. In the end, the Doctor agrees, and attempts a plan to help Kahler-Jex go on the run, but Kahler-Jex, realizing he’d be running the rest of his life, because Kahler-Mar rightfully wouldn’t stop, commits suicide by causing his ship to self-destruct while inside it. His quest for vengeance at an end, Kahler-Mar says he’s going to go kill himself, but the Doctor suggests a greater purpose, and the town of Mercy gains itself a new marshal.

 

The Heart of Doctor Who

Toby Whithouse has written a perfectly structured episode that delves into some of the major themes of Doctor Who. The most important, of course, being the Doctor’s relationship with his companions and how they bring out the best in him, highlighted by Amy when she, surprised by the Doctor’s decision to give up Kahler-Jex says, “This is what happens when you travel alone for too long.” What was particularly powerful about how it was explored here is that Amy, the Girl Who Waited and who generally takes the tack of punishing those who wrong her was the one who reminded the Doctor of his better self.

Meanwhile, Rory, the one who is generally considered more “noble,” was ready to turn Kahler-Jex over without a second thought. Whithouse did a great job of showing that moral questions like this are not black and white; that even in the case of war criminals, people are multi-faceted and not all “good” or “evil.” This was summed up as Isaac lay dying after being shot by Kahler-Mar. He says to the Doctor, “You’re both good men. You just forget it sometimes.” The Doctor and Kahler-Jex are more alike than he would like to admit, as they both make difficult, sometimes morally dubious calls for what they consider the greater good. Amy, however, reminds him that perhaps the greatest good is staying true to the value system you purport to inspire in others.

There’s one line of the Doctor’s that highlights the second major theme of the episode. When Kahler-Jex tries to explain himself and why he wanted to stay in Mercy to help the people there, the Doctor yells, “You don’t get to decide when and how your debt is paid!” This is true, and it’s interesting coming from the Doctor, because he spends a lot of time trying to compensate for the times when he’s made morally dubious choices by trying to Save the Universe. The entire reason why the Doctor felt the need to turn Kahler-Jex over to Kahler-Mar in the first place is because he himself was trying to repay a debt to all those that died because of him. Sometimes it’s amazing how completely un-self aware the Doctor is; how, for all his brilliance, he knows surprisingly little about himself, and needs his companions to be mirrors through which he can see himself better.

The other thing that stood out to me with regard to the Doctor’s character is that he genuinely didn’t know what he was capable of in his Moment of Truth. When he forces Kahler-Jex out of town at gunpoint, and Jex says asks if he would really shoot him, the Doctor says “I genuinely don’t know.” The Doctor uncertain is always an interesting thing, especially when it’s about himself, since he spends most of the time acting like the Cleverest Being In the Universe.

Whithouse did an amazing job tying together all these themes that run through Doctor Who, getting to the heart of the show in a lovely way.

 

A Non-Cheesy Western

Okay, as fun as it was to hear the Doctor say “I wear a Stetson now. Stetsons are cool” at the beginning of season six, it was pretty danged cheesy. I worried that a western episode of Doctor Who would be a cheese factory, but this was not the case. If the season six opener was a spaghetti western, then “A Town Called Mercy” was Unforgiven. This doesn’t mean that the episode was humorless. Far from it. When the Doctor enters the saloon pulling up his pants and sidling up to the bar asking for tea, it’s hilarious, and it’s as much to do with the writing as it is to do with Matt Smith’s brilliant performance. Smith is at his best in this episode, striking the perfect balance between the Doctor’s wacky side and the side of him that’s guilt-ridden and damaged.

But I loved the framing device of the episode being narrated by a descendent of a child in Mercy; the character of Isaac, who had a good heart and was a fully-formed character (played wonderfully by American actor, Ben Browder) rather than a stereotype of a Character In a Western; and the added element of a transgender horse called Joshua but whose real name is Susan and wants its life choices to be respected. (When will Doctor Who have actual transgender characters on it? *taps foot* Tick-tock, tick-tock.)

Interesting, too, was the acknowledgement of Amy’s motherhood, and the fact that its something she will never, ever forget. It sits in her eyes even as she’s traipsing around with the Doctor, or otherwise going on with her life. It’s not just that she’s unable to have a child with Rory now, it’s that she already does, and the circumstances of that will pain her forever. I’m so glad that this episode allowed us to remember that for a moment. Lastly, “A Town Called Mercy” offered everyone a bit of redemption and forgiveness, even as difficult lives were being lived through, and difficult choices were being made. Kahler-Jex died nobly, Kahler-Mas got to find purpose in peacetime, and the Doctor was reminded of his nobler self by his better angels, whose names in this case are Amy and Rory. The episode had some of the best elements of Westerns while also incorporating issues relevant to today’s audience, as the best science fiction does.

 

The Performances

As I mentioned above, Matt Smith was in top form in this episode, and so was Karen Gillan, whose Amy is always best when (rightfully) challenging the men she loves. What’s funny is that, when I first watched the episode, I commended it in my head for “finally getting British actors who could do American accents well.” Then I found out that they just used American actors and went “Oh.” Still, that was a wise decision, as it allowed “A Town Called Mercy,” to steer clear of the cringe-worthy accents in something like “Daleks in Manhattan,” which completely took me out of that story. Ben Browden, again, was a wonderful presence as Isaac. Equally wonderful were Scarborough and Kemp as Jex and Mas, who always felt like fully lived-in people, not the devices of a writer to move the plot forward. The entire cast of this episode, from the leads to the guest stars, were talented across the board.

After the sophomore slump of “Dinosaurs On a Spaceship,” it’s nice to see Doctor Who back in top form with “A Town Called Mercy.” Let’s hope Doctor Who continues its upward trajectory as we move ever-closer to saying goodbye to The Ponds.

 

Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9 PM Eastern Time on BBC America.


Teresa Jusino is going to order tea like a cowboy next time she goes to a bar. Her Feminist Brown Person take on pop culture has been featured on websites like ChinaShopMag.com, PinkRaygun.com, Newsarama, PopMatters.com, and she’s recently joined Al Día, the #1 Spanish-language newspaper in Philadelphia, as a pop culture columnist. 2012 will see Teresa’s work in two upcoming non-fiction anthologies, and she is also a writer/producer on Miley Yamamoto’s upcoming sci-fi web series, RETCON, which is set to debut in 2013. For more on her writing, get Twitterpated with Teresa, “like” her on Facebook, or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.

39 comments
Christopher Hatton
1. Xopher
I agree enthusiastically. I think this answers much or all of the fannish criticism of "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship." I myself was chastened by Amy's speech (since I was completely comfortable with how the Doctor dealt with Solomon, and perhaps shouldn't have been).

I remain annoyed by plot-driven incongruities. (Why doesn't the Doctor go save the Silurians? Is there no medical technology right up to the year FIVE BILLION that can fix Amy's infertility? How can a society that has interstellar travel need surgically-altered people to fight a war?) But they don't, as you say, take me out of the story; they bother me later.

I thought the Doctor's self-awareness peaked when he said he was trying to atone for all the people who died because of his mercy. I have found my belief that genocide is always wrong strained by the Daleks, a species created for the sole purpose of exterminating all other life. I'm not so sure that wiping them out to the last psychopathic blob-in-a-box would be bad; and then I feel guilty for thinking that way. Everything good has some bad consequences; that includes mercy and kindness.

It was good to see Ben Browder! Too bad he gets killed. I hate that mustache, though IIUC it's absolutely authentic for the period. (Housekeeping note: you typoed his name (as Browden) in the Performances section.) I'm glad he plays a good guy (so good that he reproaches the Doctor with his own goodness even as he's dying). I'm not sure I'd buy him as a villain, especially the kind of turtles-all-the-way-down slavering EVOLL that true Who villains tend to be, like Solomon or Davros. But perhaps casting Browder as a villain would make it hard to see his evil at first. Anyway, I hope they'll use him again (a descendant! an ancestor!).
Bittersweet Fountain
2. Bittersweet Fountain
I completely disagree. I don't know...maybe I'm just going to be the opposite of everyone on every episode this season, since I was very meh about Daleks and liked dinosaurs and thought this episode was out of left field and made little sense with the Doctor's development as a character.

When the Doctor attempted to throw Jex out of the town, to sacrifice him for the town, I was like, "WHAT?" That was a very tenth Doctor move. And yes, the eleventh Doctor and the tenth Doctor are the same Time Lord...which only backs my point more. Because shouldn't 11 have then learned 10's lesson? That being a Time Lord does not make you God? He cannot be the Time Lord Triumphant. And wasn't the whole point of season six that he had gotten too "warrior-like" and too big for his own good and that he needed to back off?

And sure, you can tell me it's because the Doctor has been travelling too much by himself and is now a hundred years older than he was when I last saw him...but isn't the first lesson of writing "show and not tell"? You can tell me that all you want, but all I've seen of the Doctor is him traveling with the companions. They should have given me a Doctor by himself episode if they wanted me to believe that.

Both this and the blatant execution of Solomon (my only un-ease with the dinosaur episode) have left me confused. I thought Matt Smith was the Doctor now. Not David Tennant.
Cassie Ammerman
3. leanoir
I enjoyed this episode, though I agree with Bittersweet Fountain that it feels like the Doctor has forgotten the lessons of his own past, particularly those dealing with mercy...although that may have been the point. I suppose everyone needs a reminder every few hundred years!

On a sidenote, I noticed that throughout this review, you switch back and forth between Kahler-Mar and Kahler-Mas for the Gunslinger. I can't remember which is correct, but it confused me a bit as I was reading the review. Might want to fix that.
Jenny Thrash
4. Sihaya
It was ... boring. The plot had no holes because it was so very simple, which is usually a great opportunity to explore character, setting, themes, etc. But we sat around talking high concept, and it just wasn't very good talk. It didn't feel to me like it developed or illuminated anything. The overriding idea was this: Eugenics are bad. So what do you do with a war criminal if he'd been a good man since? Well, uh, I don't know. If he kills himself first, we'll be able to avoid much more head scratching. Hey, we need thirty more seconds before the break - could he beg or wheedle a little bit more right here? Thanks, writers.

An idea would get shot out and then dropped like a hot potato before the next one came along. Heck, there wasn't even anything for Rory to do or say. He had, what, three lines?

"Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" threw alot of Jello against the wall until something stuck. "Mercy" turned 180 degrees and got completely timid. The metaphorical wall was practically blank.
Ursula L
6. Ursula
It destroyed a tenth of half the planet? That doesn’t sound too terrible....

A tenth of half the planet.

Current human population of Earth, roughly 7 billion.

Half of that, 3.5 billion.

A tenth of that, 350 million.

Yes, it does sound that terrible.

A tenth of half the population. 5% of the population. By contrast Wipedia estimates the death toll of WWII at around 2.5% of the global population. 60 million, with a lower starting total population than today. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties

And that's the death toll for WWII at the end of the war. By contrast, Jex tells us that his estimate was one from when the war was still ongoing, the death toll still rising.

One person in twenty dead, and the fighting is still ongoing.
Bittersweet Fountain
7. Bryan Rasmussen
chiming in on the decimate thing, agreement with Ursula, would also like to note that while the Ancient Romans may have used it in one way, modern usage seems to mean a large percentage.

Anyway, decimation also seems to mean, in modern terms, not just loss of life but also destruction of property. So it could have decimated not just the population, but a significant percentage of the infrastructure of half the planet, leading to probably even greater losses from side-effects.
James Whitehead
8. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
@6Ursula, nicely put.

The use of decimate has changed somewhat from its Latin roots. As it was used as a punishment against troops breaking and fleeing battle during the Roman Empire.

The fact that the generals would inflict this destructive and potentially demoralizing punishment on their own troops has, over time, given greater weight to the word than the literal one in ten. That is, the horrific, self-inflicted nature of the punishment has expanded the word past its literal meaning.

Decimate, and its usage, has sparked some very lively debates here on Tor; particularly the WoT reread thread. ;-)

Kato

PS - @7Bryan Rasmussen, nicely said as well.
Del C
9. del
The rampages of Genghis and Timur, and some Chinese wars, have been that bad, but very few others.
Bittersweet Fountain
10. NormanM
I have to disagree, as well. I loved the first two episodes, but this one was just a bit too slow and simple for me. It was OK, and as you point out the performances were good, but I don't think Isaac, Kahler-Jex, or the Gunslinger were nearly as well-developed as they could have been. It cleared up that the Solomon incident wasn't just the writers getting sloppy as some suggested, but was in fact a sign of how wrong the Doctor's thinking is at the moment. Karen Gillan keeps getting better, it's rather a shame the Ponds are leaving when she's really upped her game this season. Rory continues to be underused (his resume includes nursing school and 2,000 years as a Centurion, explore that dagnabit!).

Overall, though, I'm still very excited about this season, and don't think we've had any clunkers yet.
Bittersweet Fountain
11. misreall
Does anyone else feel that the reason that normally merciful Rory sided with the Doctor in throwing Kahler-Jax out was personal outrage at the thought of a doctor using his skills to harm rather than heal? Just a thought.
Bittersweet Fountain
12. Patrick M.
Nice as well to see a nod to Christainity as a pillar of stablity in the Old West, which balances nicely with the "Susan" the horse moment.
Ursula L
13. Ursula
Does anyone else feel that the reason that normally merciful Rory sided with the Doctor in throwing Kahler-Jax out was personal outrage at the thought of a doctor using his skills to harm rather than heal? Just a thought.

Both the Doctor and Rory can be ruthless at times. And they definately feed into each others most aggressive sides.

Consider how they worked together to time the destruction of an entire fleet of Cybermen just to provide punctuation for Rory's question "Where is my wife?" in "A Good Man Goes to War."

Rory also didn't object to the information he gathered about the medical problems of his coma patients in "The Eleventh Hour" being used to effect the capture of Prisoner Zero to a certain death penalty. Rory also fights quite effectively when needed, and particularly post "The Big Bang" he's able to fight and kill without hesitation. He doesn't like it. But he doesn't hesitate when its necessary. And he doesn't seem to put much effort into figuring out merciful options, he just does what's needed, in the same way that, as a nurse, he might give someone a painful treatment if that was what was needed.

When Rory is in "nurse" mode, he's nurturing. But that is different from being merciful. He'll care for those who are sick and injured, with compassion and intelligence. But when it comes to advocating for mercy for the guilty, that's not the way that Rory focuses his attention.
Teresa Jusino
14. TeresaJusino
I love that so many of you can get into the word "decimate." :) This makes me happy. My point, though, is that I don't think it's being used to mean "a tenth of half the planet." It's being used interchangeably with "destroyed," which is the word's common usage now, but it kinda bugs me, because that's not what the word actually means.

Bittersweet Fountain @2 - I think the difference here, though, is that him being willing to turn Kahler-Jex over to The Gunslinger was motivated by something different. This wasn't him thinking himself a god, it was him feeling really, really guilty about thinking himself a god. It was actually motivated by the opposite of what motivated 10. Amy wasn't reminding him not to get to big for himself. She was reminding him to keep his moral compass no matter what his feelings. She was reminding him not to be so navel-gazey that he forgets his own ideals.

leanoir @3 - It's Kahler-Mas. Sorry! I thought I caught them all. But yes, "Mas" is correct. Hey Tor.com Fairies! Can you fix that? Sorry to make more work for you!

Sihaya @4 - I don't know. A big part of why this episode worked for me was that the script (and performances) did a great job of introducing Kahler-Jex as benevolent. There wasn't any telegraphing of any hidden agenda, and I was at first under the impression that the danger was going to come from elsewhere (like maybe from Isaac). It wasn't until he started talking with Amy alone that I suspected something might be "up" with him, whcih led nicely into the real meat of the moral dilemma. I thought the episode was going to be a simple case of Mob Mentality Vs. The Outsider. But when the outsider "deserves it," it becomes a whole other thing. I thought it was a great progression.
Teresa Jusino
15. TeresaJusino
misreall @11 - I love that idea. :) And I think that can work hand in hand with Ursula's idea:

"Consider how they worked together to time the destruction of an entire fleet of Cybermen just to provide punctuation for Rory's question "Where is my wife?" in "A Good Man Goes to War."

The biggest way to get under Rory's skin and get him to show his least merciful side I think WOULD be to abuse medical skill for political ends.
Christopher Hatton
16. Xopher
the capture of Prisoner Zero to a certain death penalty

While I agree with your overall point, we only had Prisoner Zero's word for that. It certainly didn't want to go back to prison, but IIRC it was the only one who said the Atraxi were going to kill it.
Ursula L
17. Ursula
I love that so many of you can get into the word "decimate." :) This makes me happy. My point, though, is that I don't think it's being used to mean "a tenth of half the planet." It's being used interchangeably with "destroyed," which is the word's common usage now, but it kinda bugs me, because that's not what the word actually means.

To be clear, my point was not that the program used "decimate" to mean "destroy one-tenth."

My point was that you looked at what was decribed as the decimation of half a planet, defined it with the strict definition of "decimate" to mean 5% of the planet, and said that didn't sound "too terrible." Which led me to question just what you'd consider "too terrible," or if you'd thought about what decimating half a planet actually added up to.

Jex may have intended "decimate half the planet" to mean either more or less than the destruction of strictly 5% of the planet. He definately used it to mean something terrible enough that he considedred evoking the idea of 5% of a planet being destroyed was an apt reference point.

He certainly was trying to defend himself and justify his actions - to make the TARDIS gang, and the viewer, think about what they'd do in the middle of a war that had already destroyed 5% of the population of their planet and was showing no signs of ending.

What we would do, in a war, here and now, that had already killed 350 million people, and showed no signs of ending. Where one in twenty of our friends and family, our neighbors, the children of our community, were gone. And it wasn't stopping.
Ursula L
18. Ursula
Also, did everyone here catch the "prequel" that came out for this? It's called "The Making of the Gunslinger" and is about the creation of that character in-story, not the making of the episode.

It's very spoilery, and I wouldn't reccomend anyone watching it who hasn't already seen the episode. But it creates an even starker image of Jex's actions to end the war. Well worth seeing, and considering when thinking about how far he went to stop the war, and the moral consequences of his choices.
Christopher Hatton
19. Xopher
According to Kahler-Jex when he confronts the Gunslinger, the latter is Kahler-Tek, not Kahler-Mas.

ETA: Kahler-Mas is the guy the Gunslinger kills at the beginning, the one who asks if he's the last...and the Gunslinger says there's one more...the doctor.
Bittersweet Fountain
20. Earl Rogers
"When will Doctor Who have actual transgender characters on it? *taps foot* Tick-tock, tick-tock"

They have, but she was kind of evil at first, but somehow became more sympathetic when she died. Cassandra O'Brien from Series 1 and Series 2 was born male, then became a woman, then ended her life a piece of ultra-stretched skin. Um, yay?
Mike Edenfield
21. kutulu
I really liked the moral dilemma faced in this episode, but I was completely distracted by the huge elephant in the room that was practically begging for Amy to point out - the Time War.

We know she knows about it, and knows that he killed all of the Daleks and Time Lords to end it. It was a key plot point in The Doctor's Wife and Amy and Rory were both pretty familiar with what he had done, and why. So how did it not come up in this episode where it had a perfect parallel in Kahler-Dex?

The Doctor is angry at Jex for doing something just as morally repugnant as what The Doctor did to end the Time War, for the same reasons. Jex butched and mutilated members of his own race to end a devastating and costly war. The Doctor commited complete genocide of his own race and a second one to end a devastating and costly war.

How does he have any right to condemn Jex for what he did?

I know that this was part of his motiviation -- he's seeking forgiveness for that act and will continue seeking forgiveness likely forever, since no one is around to forgive him. But every time Amy started to chastise him for his actions I was just waiting for her to drop the Time War reference and make The Doctor actually look at what he was doing, and it never happened.
Erik Amundsen
22. Bigerich
@kutulu: +1.

It distracted me as well. I think I might have liked this episode if that had been mentioned, but as it is I can't help feel that it's missing a crucial part of the post-Time War-Doctor's personal history.

I actually thought that was why he suddenly snapped and forced Jex outside the barrier:
"Looking at you, Doctor, is like looking into a mirror. Almost.
There's rage there, like me. Guilt, like me. Solitude.
Everything but the nerve to do what needs to be done."

Surely this is a reference not only to what he did to end the Time War, but also what he did during the war before that.

It needed to be brought up, IMO. Perhaps Moffat aims to do so later in the series, but this episode suffers for it.
Teresa Jusino
23. TeresaJusino
Ursula @17 -
My point was that you looked at what was decribed as the decimation of half a planet, defined it with the strict definition of "decimate" to mean 5% of the planet, and said that didn't sound "too terrible."
That was me being sarcastic to try and illustrate that the word wasn't being used correctly. Sorry if that didn't come across. Obviously ANYONE dying or ANYPLACE being destroyed in ANY war is pretty damn terrible. Didn't think I'd have to spell that out. :)
Teresa Jusino
24. TeresaJusino
Earl Rogers @20 - Right, but all of the gender stuff is mentioned in passing and is only dealt with off-screen. Cassandra, The Corsair, Susan/Joshua. Skin, a Time Lord we never meet, and a horse. These are our transgender characters? Doctor Who TALKS a big game about the future and how fluid gender is, but mentioning isn't showing. We never really get a character who's actively living that. All I'm saying is that, in their picture of the future, it would be nice to see.
Ashley Fox
25. A Fox
Anyone else think the Doctors Mmmm...moment with 'carring your prison with you' was a referance/where he got the idea to use the Tesselcta? Where he has a moment of hope, and in remembering hope is fight to find another way out is ignited.

@Ursula. I like your posts and in general agreeance. :)

Re Doctor/God. Yeah I dont agree with this. Sure its been explored in the past but I do not believe this go centric motivation is what caused the Dr's crisis in this episode, series theme. More of the aftermath of that really. The consequences. The parralels between the Doctors here are key-and cleverly done. The Doctor finds what altDr has done reprehensible...and yet he sees the parralels to his own actions. He is preparing to die, with no way out, a death he feels he deserves, for his failings for the reprucussions of his actions. He can find no mercy for himself and so he initially shows no mercy to altDr.

But Mercy changes him, the others change him. The simple forgiveness/acceptance of Issac. Amy's forceful reminder to stick to his guns and uphold his morality. And, of course, altDr's guilt. He is not an evi characture. He knows what he has done, the difficult choices he has made, he outlines the reasoning behind his choices but doesnt ever go as far as saying they were right/good.Then we have the gunslinger...who finds peace, and a way to use the horror he has become in order to fight, to protect, to nurture. Quietly in the background.

Personally I think this episode was brilliant. An examination of the turmoil the Doctor is feeling represented in the struggles of the characters/plot. From taking the Ponds to the Festival of the Dead (come on!) to figuring out a way to survive, and perhaps a reason too.

A turning point which will enable him to face what is to come. Or at least the beginings of one.
Alan Brown
26. AlanBrown
I have liked all three of the episodes this season, each for different reasons. The first one was built around a surprise, and really punched us in the nose when we realized the damsel in distress was a Dalek. The second was just one wild idea piled on another, was totally unpredictable, and a lot of fun along the way. This third one was different because, rather than surprise us, it told its story through an homage to the old westerns. Rather than misdirection, or chaos, it gave us the tale with all the familiar tropes. There is the damaged and lonely man who enters a town and finds acceptance and healing and a purpose (actually, there are two, as both the Doctor and the cyborg could fill this bill). There is the prisoner facing a lynch mob protected only by the heroic sheriff. There is the showdown at high noon. There were promises made to a dying man, who imparts wisdom with his dying breath. There is the young hothead who learns moderation. The villian who ends up dying at his own hand. There is even an echo of Blazing Saddles in the "let's totally confuse our opponents by enlisting the townsfolk into some razzle dazzle deception." This episode was definitely a variation on a familiar theme rather than a whole new opus. (And how many of us knew, as soon as the Doctor found the ship with its self destruct mode that someone was going to blow up--that is foreshadowing with a sledgehammer.)
I don't think they needed to mention the Time Wars explicitly, since it was there, as big as life, and perhaps even more powerful by being unstated.
While each episode is strikingly different in the tales they tell and the way they tell them, however, there is a common thread here, and it all seems to echo that speech where River warned the Doctor about his behavior in "A Good Man Goes to War." It will be interesting to see how that plays into the last couple of episodes of this mini-season.
Jenny Thrash
27. Sihaya
TeresaJusino @#14: Well, I caught telegraphing, though I wasn't sure of what. When the sheriff sat down and told the Doctor how very wonderful the doctor was, and how much the whole town just loved him to pieces, I said, "Uh oh." That's the sort of speech that ends badly. From that point on, the doctor was either evil or dead. Although the actor played the part so very straight that you were still left guessing which.
Bittersweet Fountain
28. Earl Rogers
I don't think Who has ever "talked a big game about how fluid gender is"...it's merely had the occasional character who sees gender as fluid.

The problem is, as it's ostensibly still a show for "what happens NEXT?" serial adventure, not character development, I don't see that changing anytime soon.

(I know, New Who tries a bit harder to add nuance and dimension, but character studies are still second fiddle to DAH ADVENTUH under RTD, Moffat, and likely whoever their successor will be.)
Bittersweet Fountain
29. ravenlunatick
"Though I have to say, it’s kind of annoying that the word “decimate” has
come to be used so willy-nilly. At one point, Kahler-Jex mentions that a
war “decimated half of our planet.” Really? It destroyed a tenth of
half the planet? That doesn’t sound too terrible..."

This. Not huge, but it grated.
Ashe Armstrong
30. AsheSaoirse
This is now my favorite Who episode ever because a) it's a weird western and b) BEN FREAKING BROWDER! FARSCAPE FEELS!
Ian Gazzotti
31. Atrus
I didn't really like this episode. The whole thing is a bad uninspired plot which only exists as a way to pose the moral dilemma, which would be OK if said dilemma were actually resolved by the Doctor instead of being swept away by convenient suicide. Oh, a moral quandary! Good thing the decision is taken away from us!

Plus, Ben Browder was criminally underused. Maybe the real recurrent theme of the season is to overhype a secondary element of the episode (the old daleks, the dinosaurs, Ben...)
Bittersweet Fountain
32. JohnElliott
Taking 'Decimated half the planet' as meaning '5% of population killed' would still make the war twice bad as WW2 (~ 2.5% of population, according to Wikipedia).
Bittersweet Fountain
33. JohnElliott
... and looking at earlier comments, I see the point has already been made more eloquently. Sorry for the duplication.
Alex Phillips
34. Youichi
I would point out to all the pedants that the destroy meaning of decimate has been used since the 17th century, maybe its time to accept this meaning ?
Noneo Yourbusiness
35. Longtimefan
While we are being pedantic... :)

"Doctor Who TALKS a big game about the future and how fluid gender is, but mentioning isn't showing."

Scientifically gender is not fluid but a persons interests are.

The show has done a bit more about showing how diverse interests are.

The previous Dr. Who did not even mention or attempt to include many of the topics presented in this current Dr. Who.
It is a show about the future but it is restrained by the time it is produced in. :)
Corey Sees
36. CorwinOfAmber
I loved this episode.
I think it's better that the Time War wasn't mentioned. We all know about it. Yes there were clear parallels between Jex's crimes and what the Doctor did. To so and mention the Time War would have showed down the pace of the scene, maybe even given a chance for cooler heads to prevail. Because we all know what is in the Doctor's past, we know that Jex found a sore spot in the Doctor's psyche and poked it. Hard. The Doctor's out-of-character reaction was completely natural feeling for me. Yes, lots of time has passed, but I think those wounds are still very raw. They don't dominate his character like 9 or even as much as 10, but I think they're buried - not healed.

Also, I love it when we think someone is talking about the Doctor and we find it they're talking about someone else. (Like the narrator bookending this episode)
Bittersweet Fountain
37. ClintACK
Finally got around to watching this off the DVR... Pretty solid.

Always disappointing when a grand moral dilemma is short-circuited rather than being faced head on, but otherwise quite entertaining.

I'm more than fine with the Time War being left as the unspoken elephant in the room rather than being directly discussed. It felt very real to me -- there are some things that are so big you don't talk about them directly most of the time. Amy and Rory and the Doctor, and perhaps the Kahler doctor, were all clearly aware of the Time War and talking about it without talking about it.
Nathan Smith
38. nmsmith84
So I tend to think that the Doctor's response to the Kahler doctor's accusation of lacking the nerve to do the necessary thing is entirely understandable, and the Doctor would be less believable and more superhero-ey if he could just take that from someone who hasn't the foggiest idea of what the Doctor has done in the name of necessity.

And of course, as others have noted, he is taking out his guilt on the Kahler doctor, because their situations are relatively similar.
Bittersweet Fountain
39. SKM
You have to love a show that provokes debates over the proper usage of the word "decimate." :)

That said, I'm surprised that nobody pointed out that NuWho has used the word correctly (and rather pointedly so) before, in a comment by the Master in "The Sound of Drums":

"Shall we decimate them? That sounds good. Nice word, decimate. Remove one-tenth of the population!"
Brent Longstaff
40. Brentus
Teresa's right; Grammar Girl explained this recently, that while decimate does not mean 10% or any other particular percentage (but it has to be a significant portion), it cannot mean complete destruction. From http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/decimate.aspx:
"Use “decimate” without fear to describe a huge culling or loss. Because of its roots, “decimate” is particularly well used when describing significant casualties in a population of military troops or another group of people, but it can be used to describe any extreme loss.Beware of using it to describe death or a complete loss, however. Those uses are incorrect."

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