Doctor Who Review – “A Town Called Mercy”

The Doctor wears a stetson now. Stetsons are cool.

Cast and Crew Information

Matt Smith as The Doctor
Karen Gillan as Amy Pond
Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams
Ben Browder as Isaac
Andrew Brooke as The Gunslinger
Garrick Hagon as The Undertaker
Adrian Scarborough as Kahler Jex

Written by Toby Whithouse
Directed by Saul Metzstein


Amy, Rory and the Doctor land in a small western town named Mercy. There they find technology that just shouldn’t be there and a very unusual local problem.

High Point

The “our friends are going to notice…” line. It’s a bit spoilery, but it is a problem with the series that needs to be acknowledged.

Low Point

While the western tropes were well played, one of the reasons I hate westerns is their predictability because of the inflexibility of those same tropes. Doctor Who is usually very good at surprising me, but not this week.

The Review

The originality is mixed. On the one hand, Doctor Who hasn’t typically done westerns, at least since the relaunch. On the other hand, the western is one of the most rigid structures in storytelling genres, allowing very little variation once we know what genre we’re in. When was the last time you saw a western that didn’t have a showdown set for high noon? I can’t think of a single one. I give it 4 out of 6.

The effects were very well done, partly due to the physical nature of them and the minimalist need for effects. There were some, but this had to have been much easier on the effects budget than last week’s episode. I give it 5 out of 6.

The story is told well enough, even if the major “twists” are telegraphed within the first five minutes due to the choice of genre. I give it 5 out of 6.

The acting is what sells the episode for me, and lifts it beyond the standard western trollup. The regulars and guest cast sell their parts beautifully, and with a lot of subtlety. I give it 6 out of 6.

The production was very well done. In this regard, it’s an elaborate episode, building a town complete with high tech gadgets scrounged with low tech parts, such as the mason jars in the lights. Beyond the sets themselves, there’s a great balance between crane shots, steadicam shots and tracked camera shots, serving the series very well. I give it 6 out of 6.

The emotional response was better than mild. I have almost no tolerance for westerns. This isn’t the setting that bugs me, but the tropes, which is why I still love Firefly. Something like this that conforms to so many of the tropes is a turnoff. The character work and the potential for future plotlines is great, but not enough to completely overcome my personal issues with the setup. I give it 4 out of 6.

Overall, it is a well executed story that is limited primarily by the choice of a stock and predictable setting. I give it 4 out of 6.

In total, A Town Called Mercy receives 34 out of 42.

9 replies on “Doctor Who Review – “A Town Called Mercy””

  1. I’d been arguing with people, the age of the Doctor now.
    Glad it’s been settled.
    And I was right!

  2. When was the last time you saw a western that didn’t have a showdown set for high noon?

    Just off the top of my head: True Grit, Big Jake, El Dorado

    Then there’s Paint Your Wagon (which is a musical so that changes things), Stagecoach (I think, it’s been a while since I’ve seen that one), The War Wagon, The Magnificent Seven, The Professionals, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

    The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance doesn’t do the shootout at noon (it’s in the middle of the night, IIRC) but has an interesting twist on the trope. It’s definitely worth watching for Jimmy Stewart, Lee Marvin and John Wayne.

    You just need to find better Westerns. :-)

    • Hey! Paint your Wagon does NOT count! I’m still shocked that that’s a real movie and not a joke from The Simpsons…

      • Yes, it is, in fact, a real movie. It’s actually a pretty funny one at that. Lee Marvin is great in that one. It turns out that he plays a pretty convincing drunk when he’s drunk.

  3. I actually really liked this episode. Most of them I find SOMEthing to be a biiit unhappy about, but this one was pretty solid as far as I’m concerned.

  4. I got the feeling pretty much from the start that this was a *parody* of westerns which, of course, meant that every trope was going to be in there somewhere, and it was. All the key scenes from the hero entering the saloon to the showdown at high noon.

    My memory is a but foggy, but I think that last time Doctor Who did a western was back in 1966 with that one set in Tombstone.

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