Doctor Who · Steampunk

A Town Called Mercy – episode review & analysis

Ah, ah, ah… SPOILERS: Episode Summary

On a distant planet in the dark, a cyborg in a stetson has a man at his mercy. He scans the man, identifying his target. The target is kneeling and resigned to his impending death. He asks if he is “the last one”. The cyborg says no, raises his gun and states that one remains… The Doctor.

Mercy… a wild west town of 81 residents and they do not like visitors. There is a low wall made of not-quite impenetrable wood and rock and a sign that says “KEEP OUT”. Yup, them folks don’t go liking them drifter types! As The Doctor, Amy and Rory cross the barrier, we cut to the cyborg scanning the trio.

The Doctor: I see “KEEP OUT” signs as suggestions more than actual orders… like dry clean only.

Now inside the sleepy town, The Doctor notices that it is powered by electricity several decades to early. They walk into a tavern and cliched ensemble stop what they are doing and look up at the new arrivals in a rather cliched way for a Western film. They become ever the more hostile when The Doctor introduces himself as such. Cliches stack up as The Doctor gets measured up for a coffin and then the angry mob throws him out of the tavern and toss his ass outa town. The steampunk cyborg arrives to kill his quarry but thankfully, John Crichton posing as a Sheriff shoots his irons and struts over to the rescue. Hurrah! If this guy can handle Scorpius and Bilar Crais then the steampunk cyborg and a group of paranoid wild west types are nothing. Unfortunately, it it quite clear that Claudia Black is most definitely not playing the cyborg.

John Crichton takes them to the town jail and explains that the gunslinging cyborg had held the town to hostage for three weeks and that the barrier had appeared overnight. He also says that the cyborg did not let anybody in or out and that the trio were permitted entry because they were not carrying supplies.

After a little exposition, our Doctor realises that there is another Alien Doctor and he has been hiding out in the town jail – hence John Crichton’s rescue of our Doctor. The man’s name is Kahler Jex. He is (unsurprisingly) responsible for the anachronistic technology and the good health of the townsfolk.

The Doctor comes up with a plan to get everybody out using the TARDIS. John Crichton and Rory act as a decoy while The Doctor borrows the preacher’s gender-confused horse in the other direction to get the TARDIS. Cool shot of The Doctor riding on a horse in Spain being passed off as California or New Mexico (it is in Spain, I checked). The Doctor and Susan (the horse, not his granddaughter) find Jex’s damaged ship and he notices a distinct lack of damage.

The Doctor: Yes, I wear a stetson now

Meanwhile, Rory and Crichton are under attack from the not-Claudia Black cyborg who is diverted when The Doctor manages to open Jex’s ship. Inside, The Doctor acts like a suspicious husband in accessing the personal files on Jex’s computer. Then he confronts the cyborg and states that he knows everything and asks why the cyborg didn’t just walk into town and kill Jex.

Back at the town, Jex is taking Amy hostage to make his escape. He is quite vexed that The Doctor didn’t follow the plan and clearly believes himself rumbled. He also believes that he will be safe with his hostage, that the cyborg would not shoot at him if Amy is present.

The cyborg tells The Doctor that he will kill the next person who crossed the line and that he should make sure that it was Jex. The Doctor is allowed to leave and makes it in time to confront Jex: he created the cyborgs, experimented on people, fused them with weapons and turned them into killers. Be honest, how many of you didn’t see that one coming?

This one was battle damaged and was able to break its programming. He decided to hunt down and kill the team that created him. Jex was the only one left and in the chase their ships crashed in the town of Mercy. Enraged, The Doctor grabs Jex and drags him to the town gate. Taking a gun from a local, he points it at Jex to stop him re-entering the town. Amy also grabs a gun and demands The Doctor allow Jex to re-enter the town.

Doctor: Jex has to answer for his crimes
Amy: And what then? Are you gonna hunt down everyone who’s made a gun or a bullet or a bomb-
Doctor: But they keep coming back; don’t you see? Every time I negotiate I try to understand. But not today, no. Today I honour the victims first. His. The Master’s. The Daleks’. All the people who died because of my mercy.
Amy: You see this is what happens when you travel alone for too long. Well listen to me Doctor. We can’t be like him. We have to be better than him.

The Doctor has a change of heart and asks Jex to move back over the line. The cyborg is rapidly gaining on them though and Jex, instead of crashing over the barrier chooses to turn and confront the cyborg. Raising his weapon to fire, John Crichton (whose name in this is actually Isaac), pushes Jex out of the way and in Western cliche fashion, takes the bullet. In his dying breath he asks The Doctor to look after my girl take care of the town and protect Jex. The cyborg gives another Western cliche in demanding that Jex be handed over before noon the following day.

A couple of minutes to midday and The Doctor squares up to the cyborg, using his sonic screwdriver to shatter all of the glass windows while several others act as decoys to confuse the cyborg. After a little fracas, Jex gets to his ship but is called out by the cyborg. Jex chooses to take his own life for his sins while the cyborg fancies a career change as the Sheriff of the town and they all lived happily ever after.


Does anyone else see the metaphor here? A small, isolated town that has become a stand off between two people – both the last of their kind. Both do not fit in this world and both exist purely to torment the other. Neither is completely innocent and neither is completely guilty. Without the other, each is at a loss. Inside the town, the protector is hunted by his enemy. Outside, the enemy is a wronged man seeking his revenge yet if he ever got it what would he do next? This could be a metaphor for the relationship between The Doctor and The Master, such has always been the nature of their relationship. The two men both last of their kind, collectively and individually, should not go unnoticed either.

Both Jex and Tek, for all of their faults, are both haunted men. Haunted by either what they have done or what has been done to them. In the final scene, Jex sacrifices himself so that he can confront the souls of these he has wronged.

Again we see The Doctor express anger enough to try to kill somebody only this time Amy steps in and recreates Donna Noble’s speech about how The Doctor needs people to travel with him. In Amy’s case it was “this is what happens when you are on your own for too long” whereas Donna said “You need somebody to stop you going too far.” I’m expecting this anger and frustration on the part of the Doctor to develop through the next few episodes though he isn’t quite at the arrogance of “Timelord Victorious” just yet.

Clearly a stand alone episode but the themes are an ongoing part of the Doctor Who mythology.


2 thoughts on “A Town Called Mercy – episode review & analysis

  1. Overall, I felt the episode was enjoyable, but nothing at all special. I like your comparison with the Master and since he was actually mentioned too I think he might be making an appearance in the second half of the season, or maybe they are introducing him for the 50th. Anyway, I’m getting a bit tired of the whole ‘villain turns out to be wronged party, real bad guy eventually sacrifices himself to save everyone’ story. I feel like it’s been done a lot. And I kept waiting for the doctor to make comparisons with the Doctor’s dark side. The only difference here was that I felt it was a little edgier. The Doctor went a bit farther than normal trying to kill the other doctor; the gunslinger turned out to be a lot nicer than the nice bad guy usually is and the real villain was a bit nastier but still a decent person in the end. The lines of everyone’s deeds really did blur, which made the possibilities all that more difficult to predict but in the end it took the most predictable path. Oh well. Next week’s looks like the ‘Amy’s Choice’ of the season; a real odd one out and I’m looking forward to it.

    Regarding the Doctor’s darkness, I feel like that’s heading towards him realising he’s gone off the edge and needs a companion just as the Ponds are finished off. Then he goes through some trauma getting close to Oswin even though he knows he needs her.We’ll see how close I am.

    1. You make some very succinct points there ans I wouldn’t be surprised if The Master comes back. We’ll see soon enough.

      I think I was too busy over-analysing the wider metaphor to care about the “wronged villain” cliche though.

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