Doctor Who: Seeing ‘Keep Out’ signs as suggestions

DOCTOR WHO: 7.03 “A Town Called Mercy”

KT is still behind.

After last year’s flirtation with using a stronger season-long arc, we are solidly back in the stand-alone adventure groove.  This week’s installment comes from Toby “School Reunion” Whithouse, and he’s here to school Chibnall in how to construct three dimensional supporting characters.

In recent seasons, it has often seemed that, wherever the Doctor went, he found someone who knew him, or had heard of him, or was waiting for him.  That made a good echo of Amy being (repeatedly) the Girl Who Waited, and there also was a certain logic—the Doctor has traveled so widely and been part of so many crises, naturally word would spread.  But it’s refreshing this season for him to be able to show up as just another stranger again. And where does the motif of a stranger coming to town fit better than a Western? When he, Amy, and Rory walk into a town called Mercy, nobody knows who they are, and past a certain point, nobody cares.

For a change, the town is caught up in a crisis brought on by ANOTHER alien doctor—a man with a dark past called Kahler-Jex. And in another classic Western theme, he’s being hunted by a man seeking vengence.

The exact nature of the wrongs done to Kahler-Mas by Kahler-Jex are both horrific (yet get some credit for helping to end a long and terrible war) and suggestive of things the Doctor has done in the course of trying to help others.  It’s not a terribly subtle comparison—keeping in mind that we are aiming to include a fairly young audience here—but it is apt, and it clearly bothers the Doctor a great deal.  As you might guess, there’s a thematic focus on mercy.  I think I would have liked even more discussion among the various characters of who has earned it and why, but I liked what was there.

I also liked that there was plenty of gray.  Like the Doctor, both Jex and Mas desperately need absolution and some kind of fresh start, and—short of perhaps the townsfolk—no one here is entirely innocent.  The notion of who the villain is, and according to whom, is very fluid.  I like that.

Like most Westerns, the character list skewed male this week, so I appreciated that they chose a woman to do the narration at the beginning and end—she and Amy may have been the only female speaking roles.  But we also had this, which was pretty awesome:

The Doctor: Can I borrow your horse, please? It’s official marshal business.
The Preacher: He’s called Joshua. It’s from the Bible. It means ‘The Deliverer.’
The Doctor: No, he isn’t.
The Preacher: What?
The Doctor: I speak horse. His name is Susan, and he wants you to respect his life choices.

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