The third episode of season seven, “A Town Called Mercy,” is, in my opinion, a step up from the previous two episodes, but ultimately it’s still nothing special.
Mild spoilers ahead!
“A Town Called Mercy” is the first Doctor Who episode to take place in the Wild West since 1966′s “The Gunfighters,” in which the Doctor, in his first incarnation, finds himself at the iconic shootout at the O.K. Corral with Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, et al., a full two years before Star Trek did their own version with “Spectre of the Gun.” But because these are the Moffat years, and because for some reason Moffat thinks the Doctor is hilarious in silly hats, it’s not long before the Doctor once again dons a stetson. Cue every possible Western movie cliche imaginable, from the dirty looks in the saloon to the dying sheriff making our hero the new sheriff to the climactic showdown at high noon. (All that’s missing is a hooker with a heart of gold named Miss Kitty, though I’m certain she would have been integral to the story if this were Torchwood.) Throw in a touch of The Terminator — the cyborg gunslinger’s targeting scanner thingy even reads “terminate” when he’s about to shoot someone — and you have a mishmash that probably works better than it ought to.
I did appreciate that the two ostensible villains in the story were more complicated than the usual kill-everyone-and-take-over-the-universe baddies. As if to drive that point home, the Doctor name-checks the Master and the Daleks. What I didn’t appreciate was the Doctor pointing a gun at someone. That’s just not something the character would do. He rails against guns and other weapons constantly, and prides himself on using his smarts to get out of sticky situations, not violence. In fact, he gives quite an important speech about the pitfalls of answering violence with violence just a few minutes later in this same episode. The Doctor pointing a gun at someone was an off moment.
Kahler-Jex, the strangely Caucasian, British-accented alien from a distant world, recognizes that Amy is a mother, and it’s the first time in a long time Amy’s sorrow and anger at what happened to her daughter is even referenced. I liked that, but alas, it was dropped almost immediately, much like the whole plotline was last season. I really do think it needs to be explored more, or at least made known more through Amy’s choices and behavior, but she and Rory are only in two more episodes before they leave so I don’t think it’ll happen. That’s too bad. The stolen baby plotline could have really ramped things up and completely transformed Amy and Rory’s characters, but instead Moffat basically ignored any emotional or plot ramifications. Why follow through on something interesting when you can put the Doctor in a silly hat, right?
Also of interest, in this episode the Doctor now claims to be 1200 years old. Since he was only 1100 at the end of last season, he has apparently been traveling, on and off with Amy and Rory, for another 100 years subjective time since then. I suppose that’s where he met folks like Nefertiti and Riddell from “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.” (Seriously, they need to bring back Riddell. He would have been awesome in this episode. Instead, we have Rory, who gets to stand around and shrug a lot.)
All in all, “A Town Called Mercy” is a serviceable episode without too many plot holes and with a smidge of genuine emotion, which I’m starting to think is the best we can hope for from Doctor Who these days.