Welcome to a town called Mercy. Population: 81. That is until the Doctor, Rory and Amy arrive and the town’s head count goes up and then down.
Steven Moffat set up this episode for RT (1 September) as “a tale of war, betrayal and vengeance, converging on one small town in the Old West”. He went on to say, “Like all the best westerns, this is a tale of one man standing against impossible odds and his own impossible demons. And like all the best westerns, it was shot in Spain.”
I would add that, like many a good western, it’s a morality tale, dealing in revenge, yes, but also justice, atonement, self-sacrifice and the mercy that gives this small-town its name, the mercy its citizens prize so highly.
All the stock Wild West characters are in place: marshall, preacher, brassy saloon moll, undertaker, trigger-happy teenager, even a little girl like Laura from Little House on the Prairie. A gunslinger, too, although he’s an alien cyborg who shimmers out of the haze a bit like Clint Eastwood playing Arnie’s Terminator.
Like many a western, A Town Called Mercy looks good (gorgeous images from Saul Metzstein, who also shot the dinosaurs episode) and it sounds good (thoughtful dialogue by Toby Whithouse and atmospheric music from Murray Gold).
Unlike many westerns, however, this is Doctor Who for a family audience, so while it strives for authenticity, it has to settle for anaemia. While not toothless, it’s bloodless. Mercy is, literally, a one-horse town and perhaps a one-horse episode.
Patrick first joined Radio Times as a teenager in the black-and-white days of 1984. A career in journalism led to ES Magazine, Time Out, rival TV guides and Doctor Who Magazine. The Tardis returned him to RT in 2005, since when he’s been reviewing Nordic noir and Sicilian vice, saucy sitcoms, the BBC Proms and the further adventures of the Time Lord. He lives in the Smoke but prefers a sea breeze.