Doctor Who – “A Town Called Mercy”: My two doctors

Doctor Who: Series 7

“A Town Called Mercy”

Aired: September 15, 2012

Writer: Toby Whithouse

Director: Saul Metzstein

“See, this is what happens when you travel alone for too long.”

– Amy Pond

The American cowboy mythos is at odds with Doctor Who‘s British sensibilities.

Most American Westerns focus on exactly what Hans Gruber chastised John McClane for in Die Hard – the John Wayne mentality of gunning everyone down who ever wronged you in order to balance the scale. But The Doctor, though he may have a surprisingly high body count in his wake, always attempts to find diplomatic solutions. Sure, there’s blood on his hands, but violence is always the last course of action for him.

So putting The Doctor into a Western motif made for some rather strange bedfellows. I think writer Toby Whithouse was able to nail the landing with an ending that felt very Doctor Who, but much of the journey spent getting to that point just felt off. Seeing The Doctor point a gun at anyone’s face for any reason is incredibly jarring and just feels wrong. The way Kahler-Jex was (rather easily) able to provoke him to that extreme level of anger seemed off tonally.

The show has gotten away before with having Amy Pond and River Song brandishing weapons, but it feels wrong having The Doctor using a gun. I much preferred watching him draw his sonic screwdriver during his duel with The Gunslinger – it’s more creative and much more in line with the character we all know and love.

Another big problem I had with the show is its utter lack of subtlety. I realize that ultimately this is a kid’s show, but it usually refrains from talking down to the audience. Calling the town “Mercy” and having Kahler-Jex give a long, windy speech about how he’s two different people instead of just simply being black and white just seemed over the top. I wish the episode had trusted the audience more to get the themes it was going for without hammering us over the head with them via unnecessary specifying.

Still, while it was a very uneven episode overall, I thought it ended strong. Kahler-Jex nobly sacrificing himself (instead of being handed over by the townsfolk) and The Gunslinger finding a place in the end as the town’s sheriff felt very Doctor Who. And there was enough fun imagery and silly moments along the way to keep the episode entertaining enough to overlook most of its flaws. The throwaway bit about the horse being named Susan, in particular, really cracked me up.

And another thing …

  • Once again, a shout out to composer Murray Gold, who always nails the music in this show.
  • That’s the second week in a row that there’s been mention of The Doctor’s Christmas list. The episodes were written by two different writers – I wonder if that’s just an odd coincidence?
  • “Tea, but the strong stuff. Leave the bag in.” Matt Smith had some fun chewing scenery and being quasi-tough in this one. The tea line and his swagger when he was wearing a pistol around his waist and the sheriff’s badge on his chest both killed me.

Gratuitous Amy Pond photo of the week

Only two more of these gratuitous photos left before Amy leaves our lives forever …

Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his recaps, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at

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