‘Doctor Who’ Recap: ‘A Town Called Mercy’

The Gunslinger in A Town Called Mercy

So this is a yarn, a story handed down from a grandmother to a grandchild, and it concerns a spaceman who has seen too much. Is it the Doctor? We shall see.

Meanwhile, a man has fallen from the sky, a robot has been shot, and a cyborg cowboy with a voice like Marvin the Paranoid Android is on the prowl. He shoots the man, but his quest is not quite over, there’s still one more person to hunt down. Is it the Doctor? It IS the Doctor.

Then the actual Doctor, Amy and Rory have turned up in a Wild West town, name of Mercy, which is surrounded by a ring of stones and lumps of wood. Can’t be anything significant, right?

So, as in every western ever, our heroic threesome ride into town – pausing to take note of the electric lights that shouldn’t be there – and head on into the saloon. The pianist stops playing as soon as they walk in, because that is what saloon pianists are paid to do. Meanwhile the Doctor gets his toothpick stuck on his teeth, and is forced to admit he’s a) the Doctor and b) an alien.

The townsfolk respond to this by throwing him out of town, past the ring of stones and lumps of wood, and out comes Marvin the Paranoid Cowborg (also known as the Gunslinger, which, given that everyone in the town is packing heat, seems an oddly vague name. Surely the Terrifying Shootyhand Man would be more specific? Or Ol’ Blue Eye?), ready to shoot. However Sheriff Isaac is having none of it, and allows the Doctor back in.

In the jailhouse, Isaac explains that the ring of stones and Marvin turned up one morning, and now no one can leave or bring supplies without risk of being shot. They are under siege until the alien Doctor has been handed over.

But this man Marvin is chasing, is it the Doctor? The Doctor thinks not. And of course he is right. There’s been a shipment of Kahler, ingenious alienfolk, one of whom we saw killed earlier, and their Doctor Jex has been helping the townsfolk of Mercy with a few of their local problems, like cholera. Not that it’ll stop them from throwing Jex to Marvin, given half a chance. Thankfully Isaac is on hand to keep him safe, but he won’t explain why Marvin is after Jex in the first place.

So the Doctor, after confessing that he is now 1200 years old, and therefore mature, hits upon a plan: Isaac and Rory are the decoys, while the Doctor rides off on a horse called Sue, stopping on the way to sniff a cable and set off an alarm (which saves Isaac’s life). Then he’s inside the Kahler spaceship, and watching the footage of Doctor Jex’s screaming patients, while the theme music to Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy threatens to break out.

Jex has worked out that the Doctor must have discovered his secrets, and tries to take Amy hostage. Of course, he’s right, and the Doctor emerges furious. He has a brief conversation with Marvin, who is clearly on a quest for justice, but is unwilling to take innocent lives, and then heads back to Mercy. Unfortunately for Jex, Isaac and Rory are back now, safe and sound, and his escape plan is foiled. Then a furious Doctor arrives.

It seems Jex was essentially like Davros, stuck at the wrong end of a long war and looking for way to bring it to a close. So he experimented with volunteer soldiers, creating a legion of cyborgs from the survivors. But unlike Davros, Jex’s creations ended the war in a week and were decommissioned, apart from Marvin, who is the last of his kind, and is now furiously chasing the men who made him the half-man he is today. And Jex is the last of them. The question is, what to do with him? Let’s hope he doesn’t provoke the Doctor by prodding at his copious guilt bruises…

Oh JEX! What are you DOING? Now the Doctor is furious, and wants to assuage his own feelings of remorse at allowing the Master, the Daleks and all manner of space rotters to live by kicking Jex out of town. And he’ll use a gun if he has to. Or will he? He genuinely doesn’t know.

Thankfully Amy is on hand to talk sense and shoot squiffily. The Doctor backs down, but Marvin (whose real name was Kahler Tek) arrives anyway, ready to shoot Jex. And so he does, except Isaac gets in the way. He dies, after deputizing the Doctor. And now it’s a game of High Noon: hand over Jex, or the entire town dies.

So, what to do? While everyone is mulling things over, a lynch mob emerges, ready to throw Jex to the unmerciful mercy of Marvin. They’re scared, and rightly so, but the Doctor manages to talk them down. Violence can’t end violence, it can only extend it, something the Doctor knows from bitter experience. It doesn’t make him like Jex any better, but at least he knows what must be done.

So, it’s high noon. Marvin and the Doctor face off in the center of town. A blast from the sonic and the Doctor is off and running. Meanwhile the townsfolk run around with Jex’s snakemark on their faces, to confuse Marvin’s targeting, and the real Jex is sneaked out of town. Marvin, clearly annoyed, smashes into a church, terrifying the townsfolk. Jex runs off to his ship, but soon realizes that he can’t allow the town, or any town, to be the backdrop for a revenge story. And he won’t allow Marvin to add to his kill quota either, so he triggers the self-destruct on the ship. It’s over.

But what do you do with your weapons once the war is over? Marvin is at a loss. Until the Doctor realizes that Mercy still needs protecting. And so that is what Marvin proceeds to do, forever more. Is it the Doctor? No, it’s the Sheriff.

Next: The Power of Three

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

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