Doctor Who: A Town Called Mercy spoiler-free review

Review Simon Brew 10 Sep 2012 - 09:45

Doctor Who series 7 heads to the old west for Toby Whithouse's A Town Called Mercy. Our spoiler-free thoughts are here...

7.3 A Town Called Mercy

Amongst the best episodes of the last series of Doctor Who was surely Toby Whithouse's The God Complex, a richly rewarding piece of work that was willing to steer the Doctor towards much darker places. The Being Human creator has form with Doctor Who, of course, having also previously penned School Reunion and The Vampires Of Venice. But with A Town Called Mercy, he's put together something of a rarity: a Doctor Who western.

And this is a slightly darker beast, too. After the comparable lightness of Dinosaurs On A Spaceship, A Town Called Mercy pushes the Doctor to more uncomfortable emotional places than we've seen this series thus far. The cracks and strain on the Doctor are starting to show. There are no spoilers here, of course, but it is worth pointing out that, where series 7 has demonstrated the comedy skills of Matt Smith extremely well, here we get to see his strengths when things go more serious. Smith is, once again, terrific.

As for the episode itself, Whithouse certainly knows his westerns. He throws in a few more ingredients, too, with a sense of The Terminator in places, and a tip of the hat or two to the mighty Westworld in others (you might have already spotted that in the trailer, though). The early part of the episode, where he's having fun with the genre and exploring it, is arguably when A Town Called Mercy is at its strongest, and the initially fish-out-of-water Doctor does have the occasional feel of Back To The Future Part III about it. That's a very good thing.

A Town Called Mercy does a few other things, too. It tells a sci-fi/western crossover tale far better than something like the recent Cowboys & Aliens movie. It brings Amy Pond a little further forward than we've seen her the past week or two. It also exists pretty much as a standalone piece, even though there's the odd hint of an undercurrent developing. We'll be talking a little more about that once the episode has aired.

We'll be talking about the terrific production values, too. We'll never tire of saluting these, as Doctor Who has taken on three different genres this series so far, and each of them has looked outstanding. That's no small feat, and A Town Called Mercy looks the best of the lot so far.

Director Saul Metzstein has the relative luxury of a location shoot here, but then he really makes the most of it. The wild west landscapes (it was actually shot in Spain, but you'd never know) look sumptuous, and A Town Called Mercy is the most cinematic of the three episodes we've seen this series to date. The glint of sun, barren landscapes, and a town that's got its fair share of scars are all very much present and correct.

All said, though, there's still a small sense that there was a slightly better episode that could have been made out of the mix of ingredients here. A Town Called Mercy isn't on a par with the aforementioned The God Complex, although that's arguably a bit of an unfair comparison. Yet whilst appreciating that this is a very different story, it seems, ultimately, a little conventional when everything is brought together.

That's not to say A Town Called Mercy is a bad piece of television: far from it, as it happens. And perhaps we're a little too much the target audience for it: we love sci-fi, and we love westerns. As it stands, though, A Town Called Mercy is a pretty good episode, with some excellent moments, all draped in utterly glorious visuals.

Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.

Disqus - noscript

The Cowboy/Cyborg in the trailer, as well as the aforementioned Westworld, puts me in mind of Sheriff Kryten from Gunmen of the Apocalypse.

If I still remember it three hours after the screening has finished, it's done a better job than "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship".

Interesting review. I personally thought that 'God Complex' was one of the low points of the disastrous second half of season 6, and indeed the whole relaunched show. Cliched, over acted and not at all satisfying. I hope town called Mercy is better than that.

I thought the God Complex was one of the highlights of the relaunch... and given the Girl Who Waited rocketed up to the #1 spot for this VERY old school Who fan the fact that it wasn't completely overshadowed was amazing.

The actress offered up as a potential companion was just superb, the direction was fantastic, the atmosphere spot on. It was an episode that sits beautifully along such classic series stories as Ghost Light.

I pretty much forgot the pile of dinosaur dung as the credits rolled, with the exception where the Doctor cheerfully kills the rapist bad guy - that was different

Has potential to be the best episode of the "mini-series" of five. Toby Whithouse is such a great writer, it's a shame he's not offered more Who. Though his commitments elsewhere would perhaps make for a tough schedule.

Ah yes, that old sci fi series staple, the epsiode set in the wild west. Will it be a decent wild west, or a toe-curling cut-and-paste cliche akin to the terrible Manhattan of 'Daleks in Manhattan'? Not my favourite setting, I must admit. I thought Red Dwarf's 'Gunmen of the Apocalypse' ws one of the worst episodes they've ever done, but I seem to be in a minority on that one.

There's been talks that he and Tom McRae are at the top of the list to take over when Moffat goes. :)

"the disastrous second half of season 6"?!?!?!
I thought that run of 6 episodes waas excellent., probably the most consistantly good run of episodes in the new series, with only Closing Time being slightly weaker but still a good entertaing 45 minutes of TV.

Personally I've liked both the episodes so far.

Where did you hear this then? I hope it's true!!

Heard that too. Hope it will be the case. The amount of work Chris Chibnall is getting suggest he may be a contender - something I REALLY don't want to happen...

Honestly can't wait!

Talks at Comic-Con with Moffat and both the writers have hinted at such things. And since it looks like regular contributors are more likely choices, they're certainly up there. And Moffat has said they're both very capable of such a job.

Agreed!

In fairness, it was a fairly blatant 'for the kiddies' episode (implied rape threat villain aside). The 'main plot' moment (i.e. the Doctor going poker face when Amy notes that visits are getting further apart) was done well. Aside from that, having a couple of episodes per season aimed squarely at younger children isn't a bad thing, given that the show originally started as a children's educational show.

I'm with you on both Daleks in Manhattan and Gunmen of the Apocalypse. Never understood why GoA won the award for that year (even then, the concept of virtual reality computer games wasn't at all original, so it wasn't for that), but I think it got an undeserved reputation for brilliance as a result. Unfortunate, because it sits in the middle of a rather strong season of Red Dwarf.

For me - and, I suspect, a lot of viewers - the 2nd half of season 6 is made a lot weaker than its individual episodes, by virtue of the series' sudden shift from having a strong serial component in the first half of the season, to dealing with giant plot points (like 'young Dr Who assassin River') far too quickly, the Ponds being incongruously unconcerned at their child being kidnapped (due to the decision the change the running order of the episodes) and the apparent scaling down of the Silence as a universe-threatening entity (after all of the mentions the previous season of races fleeing the Silence as they invade through a crack throughout time and space...and then the brilliant opening 2-parter of season 6 where they actually managed to pay off on that concept) to be addressed only summarily in the very last episode.

Great review!

Sponsored Links