Doctor Who Recap: Breaking Down A Town Called Mercy
Continuing the trend of self-contained “matinee-style” episodes that make up the first few episodes of Doctor Who‘s season seven, “A Town Called Mercy” dropped the Doctor and the Ponds into a classic Western town troubled by a pesky cyborg. The cyborg won’t let any of them leave until they hand over their town doctor, a man with a few secrets of his own. Mercy is running out of food and doomed to die unless someone intervenes. Is there a Doctor in the house?
Once again it’s time to break down the latest Who. Geronimo!
I Hope Ben Browder Got A Nice Paycheck
Going into “A Town Called Mercy,” many genre fans were gleefully anticipating an appearance by Farscape actor Ben Browder. Getting to see one of our favorite SF icons stepping into yet another great series? And he’s playing a Western sheriff with a badass moustache? Sign us up! And it was great to see Browder’s appearance, but appearing is about all he did. To say he was underused would be kind, and I find myself feeling the same way I did about Browder’s stint on Stargate. This guy was an amazing actor throughout Farscape, so why the hell can’t anybody other than Rockne S. O’Bannon seem to figure out how to utilize him? Browder did fine with what he had, but the role of Sheriff Isaac could have been played by just about anybody as written. What’s the point of bringing in somebody like Browder if you’re not going to give him a role with some real meat on it?
Warriors in Peacetime
“A Town Called Mercy” was effectively about two veterans of war who are trying to find their way in the aftermath. The Gunslinger was literally a weapon of war, having had his humanity (or whatever the alien equivalent is) stripped away in order to make him a deadlier fighting machine. Now that the war is over, his only goal is to kill the man who made him. Kahler Jex, the man responsible for the cyborg and those like him has fled to the town of Mercy to try and help people where he can, some small attempt at finding redemption for immoral acts he committed in the name of necessity. Both are relics of wartime that are struggling to find purpose after the war that defined them has come to an end. That description also fits some elements of the Doctor’s modern incarnations, especially the Ninth Doctor played by Christopher Eccleston. His war was the Time War, and his aftermath was even worse because he was the only survivor.
A Choice Called Mercy
These first few episodes have continued to touch on the theme that was at the heart of last season: the Doctor’s legacy, and his attempts to destroy it. Last season the Doctor went so far as to fake his own death in order to stop all the collateral damage that’s been following in his wake. Despite the first episode of this season serving up a huge win in that category after the Daleks lost all memory of their Time Lord enemy, that doesn’t mean the Doctor isn’t still carrying the weight of his past. This adventure unfolding in a town called “Mercy” is no coincidence, and we see just how guilt-ridden the Doctor is when he levels a gun at Kahler Jex and genuinely considers pulling the trigger. In Jex he sees an avatar of every old enemy he has let live in the past, and he feels drenched in the blood of all the people who died because of that mercy. It’s a moment for the Doctor that reminds me of an argument often leveled at the Batman mythology: How many people have to die before Batman stops arresting the Joker and finally just kills him? In the end, he may very well have pulled the trigger had a spunky redhead not intervened.
“This is what happens when you travel alone.”
The person who stops the Doctor from killing Kahler Jex is, of course, Amy Pond. Afterwards, she reiterates her belief that it’s not good for the Doctor to travel alone. Without the anchoring force of his companions, and their inherent humanity, the Doctor inevitably goes to a dark place. With companions, he gets to relive the wonders of the universe through their wide-eyed amazement, and a cosmos that he’s been kicking around for hundreds of years becomes fresh and new as he watches them experience it. It’s a strange but compelling concept: that the immortal Time Lord can only survive his immortality by latching onto the beings whose lives are little more than an eyeblink from his perspective. They provide him context, they keep him moving forward rather than dwelling on the past, and because they are often willing to risk their all-too-short lives to do the right thing, they challenge him to do the same.