Doctor Who Recap: “A Town Called Mercy”

By September 16, 2012
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Faced with an alien doctor whose blood-stained past rivals his own, the Doctor straddles the edge of darkness. He might be in “a town called Mercy,” but the Doctor is sick of showing any.

Last week’s episode saw the Doctor leaving a space pirate to die, and this week’s installment has the Doctor wielding a gun at another life form for the first time since David Tennant’s final episode. His guilt weighing heavily on him, the Doctor nearly abandons his policy of second chances and non-violence as he prepares to shoot Kahler Jex, the alien physician (who, in his transformation of ‘volunteers’ into warfaring cyborgs, appears to be more of a Dr. Frankenstein). The reason? To protect the town from a cyborg Gunslinger hell-bent on avenging his creation.

There is more to this change in attitude, however. Jex baits the Doctor, calling him a coward and driving full force to the heart of his pain. Each time the Doctor has shown mercy–to the Daleks, to the Master–to anyone–lives have been lost. For once, he says, he’ll “honor the victims first.”

Channeling fellow ginger companion Donna Noble, Amy informs the Doctor that he’s been traveling alone for too long. Ever his moral compass, Amy points a gun at the Doctor until he drops his own. Rory, on the contrary, is on the Doctor’s side; why should an entire town pay for the crimes of a single man?

The Doctor changes his tune, and, when the marshal dies saving Jex (who is beloved for having saved the town during a cholera epidemic), he becomes even more adamant about keeping the man alive. The marshal’s death can’t be without meaning, and the Doctor returns to his typical, violence-abhorring self. He won’t allow anyone to kill Jex, and even formulates a plan to allow him to escape.

The Gunslinger enters town the next morning, and he and the Doctor have an Old West style stand-off. In what appears to be a very bizarre dance move (perhaps à la the disco era?), the Doctor pulls his sonic screwdriver out instead of his gun, breaking all the glass in town to create a distraction. The Gunslinger nearly rips Mercy apart in search of Jex, but his need to not harm innocents remains pre-eminent. Though he bursts into a church full of innocent people–including a child–he lowers his weapon, unable to harm the crowd.

Jex escapes, but decides to end his own life, activating his ship’s self-destruct mode. The Gunslinger, now a mutant and unable to return home, prepares to go out into the desert to die, but the Doctor has other plans. The cyborg instead becomes an eternal guardian of the town.