Saturday 15 September 2012

Doctor Who - A Town Called Mercy

Once A Pond A Time In The West

Doctor Who - A Town Called Mercy
Airdate: 15th September 2012. UK. BBC1

Warning: A fistful of spoilers.

When I first read that tonight's episode of Doctor Who was going to be a western, the first since Hartnell’s Doctor in the sixties, I was thoroughly expecting something as rudimentary as the Spectre Of A Gun episode from the original Star Trek series or the Living In Harmony episode of the prisoner. Instead, I think what we got was something much less interesting. So my apologies to any readers perusing this now but... it’s, once again, going to be an uncharacteristically short review.

This episode had no real story arc woven into it (as far as we know) and there’s nothing wrong with that... but I just felt it needed something. Can’t really fault the writing which probably looked quite edgy on paper since it’s basically dealing with the alien equivalent of a nazi war criminal and a cyborg victim of said criminal seeking revenge. Oh... and about that ‘borg in this episode. Are they all going to start looking like that now since Star Trek The Next Generation? That’s got to be a copyright prosecution waiting to happen, is my feeling. Mind you, I felt the same back in ‘95 when I turned up at the cinema to watch Jeunet’s latest at the time, The City Of Lost Children... so what do I know, eh?

I think maybe a big contribution to my disappointment on this one was the fact that this was almost set up to be something bigger than it was. When an alien doctor is mentioned during the pre-credits sequence, we get the idea that The Doctor is going up against someone he’s met before and that there’s going to be some big reveal right at the end. Unfortunately, that conclusion gets shot down very quickly into the episode and you realise quite sharpish that the opening narrative hook really was just that, a hook with no real substance to back it up.

In the end, all we got was a conflict between two opposing people which just happened to be transplanted onto a cowboy backdrop. Granted, you could argue that pretty much all genre fiction is constructed in much the same way but this one just seemed a bit of a waste of the BBC going all the way to the legendary Almeria in Spain, where gazillions of legendary Italian (Spaghetti) Westerns were shot back in the day. I was expecting some more spectacular Western tropes and references on display than I actually got in this one. Maybe I was just expecting too much though because it is a genre I hold dear to my heart... although I’m by no means an expert on them.

The acting in this was okay too, not that I’d expect anything less from Doctor Who, but I must say that the flow of the narrative seemed to be a bit unnecessarily jumpy at times. Jumpy to the point that things weren’t quite making sense. For instance, The Doctor leaving the sheriff’s office off on a plan he’s concocted and leaving the others behind... followed by his friends involved in a sequence of events that could only have been briefed by The Doctor after he’d hatched his plan. What’s that all about then? Did we miss an embarrassing scene where his companions call him back and say... “Okay, Doc, we’ll help you... but first tell us what your plan is and tell us what you want us to do.” Because, frankly, the stage direction, so to speak, of these two sequences didn’t make any sense.

And then you have The Doctor talking outside the sheriff’s office again in the middle of the night. However, when he goes back in, unless i was somehow interpreting things wrong, the barely glimpsed background out one of the windows was broad daylight... or at least lit so it looked like broad daylight.

Similarly the music seemed a bit uneven in tone. At times it was aping the Italian Westerns in style, with the kind of orchestrations popularised by composers like Ennio Morricone for the films, before suddenly lapsing into the kind of Aaron Copland/Elmer Bernstein Americana feel of the classic American Westerns of the first half of the 20th Century. I’m not saying it was undeliberate, it obviously was what the composer was doing, but I did find the juxtaposition of the two musical styles somewhat jarring and it popped me out of things when I really didn’t want to be.

There was, however, a really nice sequence with The Doctor riding a gender-challenged horse called Sue in which he reveals that “horse” is also a language he can speak, as a nod to his speaking baby from last series I suspect. If you have a popular episode... echo it back to the audience when you can. That’s a common track taken with most Hollywood movie sequels, as it happens.

Amy and Rory didn’t have much to do in this one and, well... I really don’t want to knock the efforts of all the people who have sweated blood making that episode, it’s not nice, but I have to at least acknowledge that I thought tonights episode was possibly the most boring episode I’ve seen since the show started back up again in 2005. I thought last week's was going to be the worst episode in this series but, frankly I was wrong. I’m guessing, and hoping for that matter, that this was the dullest one we’re going to be getting this year. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed for that.

Next weeks looks more interesting though and when I first read the brief teaser for it a few weeks back in the Radio Times, it’s the one I pegged to be the most coolest episode of this year’s offerings. Let’s hope I’m right as I am still, in spite of tonights pseudo-western, looking forward eagerly to next weeks installment.

Now I just wish I had a time machine to get me there quicker.


  1. Too bad--I had high hopes for the Doctor transplanted to the West. Weird that they combined the western music of two distinct types of sub-genres. Methinks it was not caring rather than a deliberate mashup. Thanks for viewing and reviewing!

  2. Hi Bucko.

    Well, to be fair, they're quite astute with their music... although many would call these over scored. I think the composer knew what he was doing, so definitely deliberate. But, yes, they probably didn't care and assumed people wouldn't notice is my best guess too.

    Thanks for taking the time out of your buy schedule to stop by and read.

    All the best.