Recap: Doctor Who S33 E3 "A Town Called Mercy"

aka: Doctor Who S 33 E 03 A Town Called Mercy
Cue the Spaghetti Western music!

"Today, I honour the victims first. His, the Master's, the Daleks', all the people who have died because of MY MERCY!"
The Doctor

Written by Toby Whithouse.
The Doctor, Amy and Rory walk into the middle of a Western town and say they've come from outer space. As soon as the Doctor introduces himself, the townsfolk grab him, drag him to the outskirts of the town and offer him to a Steampunk Cyborg named the Gunslinger. Isaac, the marshal, intervenes and scolds the townsfolk for going against what they already know: the alien doctor that the Gunslinger is most likely looking for is a wholly different man, safely locked up in the marshal's cell.

This (equally Steampunk) crash-landed alien, a gentleman scientist named Kahler-Jex, arrived in the town a while ago and had already settled in quite well. Isaac happily acts as his friend and protector. Mercy is a town of second chances, where people have renounced hatred, xenophobia and mob mentality. Jex befriended the townsfolk and even provided the town with electricity — albeit 10 years before its invention on Earth — from his crashed ship. But with the Gunslinger now preventing people from entering and leaving the town, it'll only be a short matter of time before everyone starves.

The Doctor thinks this is going to be a pretty straightforward adventure: distract the Gunslinger, evacuate the townsfolk into the TARDIS, fix the crashed ship and celebrate afterwards. He befriends a horse named Susan and goes off to investigate. However, the Gunslinger turns out to be a very Gentle Giant whose programming blocks him from killing innocents unless it's absolutely necessary. Meaning that Kahler-Jex is not exactly innocent at all. In fact, Jex is a war criminal, a scientist who turned innocents into Cyborgs against their will and used them to commit genocide in an interstellar war. The Doctor rushes back to town and goes into a violent rage against Jex, knowing full well that he's Not So Different himself. They both have commited genocide in the name of ending a war, and they've both killed people directly to save the lives of others. All the Gunslinger wants is revenge for having his life taken away from him. The Doctor, furious, literally throws Jex in front of the Gunslinger and, when that isn't quick enough, pulls a gun and debates whether or not to put a bullet through Jex's head on the spot. Amy brings him back to reality. As the Doctor has a little bit of a Heroic BSOD, the Gunslinger fires and Isaac makes a Heroic Sacrifice to catch the blast. He dies in the Doctor's arms and hands him the marshal's star.

Back in his cell, Jex bitterly calls the Doctor out on his frustration at Jex not being a clear-cut villain. Jex is a genuinely nice person who just wanted to save his people and end the war, and his religious beliefs are that he'll have to carry the full burden of his actions after death (quite literally). Meanwhile, the townsfolk have formed a frightened mob and have gathered outside the sheriff's office to get Jex... using force, if they have to. They just want to protect the town's children and stop living in fear. The Doctor brings them back to reality with much the same arguments Amy used on him earlier that day, and tells them that he'll do everything he can to prevent them from having to live as murderers.

In the end, the Doctor stages a distraction and allows Jex to escape into the desert. Jex knows that the Gunslinger will follow him no matter where he goes, and since he doesn't want the lives of more innocent townspeople on any planet on his conscience, he commits Heroic Suicide. The Gunslinger, realising that he's still an immortal monster and that he can never go back home to his normal life again, heads off to do much the same. However, the Doctor convinces him to stay in the desert as the town's marshal and protector.

Once again, Amy and Rory decide to take a break from the Doctor for a while, and they head back home to their wedding anniversary.


Tropes:

  • Alas, Poor Villain: In-Universe, the Gunslinger acknowledges that Kahler-Jex behaved very honourably at the end of his life.
  • The American Civil War: Oddly not mentioned by name but likely the war referred to in the episode.
  • American Dream: The land of second chances.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • The Doctor finds the electric lights anachronistically advanced.
    • Rory apparently left his phone charger in Henry VIII's en suite.
  • Anti-Villain: The Gunslinger and Jex, in their own ways. The Gunslinger just wants revenge on the people who made him a monster. Jex, meanwhile, only committed such horrific acts to save his people from an even more horrific war. The Gunslinger in particular implies a concern that Jex may return to form.
  • Arm Cannon: The Gunslinger's right arm is all cannon.
  • Artistic License Gun Safety: Averted; when inexperienced shooter Amy waves around the revolver she's holding, it discharges twice within ten seconds. Also played straight, as the gun Amy uses is a single action revolver, so she would have had to re-cock the hammer every time she fired. You'd have thought she'd catch on...
    Isaac: All right! Everybody who's not an American, put your guns down!
  • As You Know: Isaac tells Rory the details of their plan to distract the Gunslinger so the Doctor can get the TARDIS and save the day.
    Isaac: We wait here until the Doctor comes to pick us up in your ship.
    Rory: Yes. I know. I was there when we agreed it.
    Isaac: Yeah. I said that more for my benefit than yours.
  • The Atoner:
    • Jex is helping the people of the town as a way to atone for creating the Gunslinger. He provided lightning, heating, and saved the town from a cholera epidemic.
    • The Gunslinger himself decides to become Mercy's protector, once his purpose is fulfilled.
    • The Kahler religion has this as a core belief. Before they can enter the afterlife, they have to climb a mountain while carrying the souls of everyone they have wronged in their life.
    Kahler-Jex: Do you think I am unaffected by what I did? That I don't hear them screaming every time I close my eyes? It would be so much simpler if I was just one thing, wouldn't it? The mad scientist who made that killing machine or the physician who dedicated his life to serving this town. The fact that I am both bewilders you.
    The Doctor: Oh I know exactly what you are. And I see this reformation for what it truly is. You committed an atrocity and chose this as your punishment. Don't get me wrong, good choice - civilised hours, lots of adulation, nice weather but, but it doesn't work like that! You don't get to decide when and how your debt is paid!
  • Bait and Switch:
    • This is the second episode in series 7 where it looks like the villain has been looking for the Doctor, only for it to turn out that they don't know him at all.
    • The episode also opens with a monologue about a "guardian angel who fell from the stars". It turns out to be the Gunslinger, not the Doctor.
  • Batman Grabs a Gun: What made it even more surprising is that the Doctor was quick to resort to threatening with a revolver much sooner than expected. The last time he grabbed a gun, it was due to a breach in the time lock around Gallifery and the resumption of the Ultimate Sanction.
  • Berserk Button: Kahler-Jex pushes the Doctor's by playing up how he was forced to maim and kill hundreds to end his war, much like the Doctor, who eradicated his entire civilisation to end the Time War. Just to twist the knife even further, it's extremely likely Jex did this unintentionally.
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: Played with; Jex chooses to commit suicide because he doesn't want the Gunslinger to have any more deaths on his conscience and he knows the Gunslinger will follow him anyway.
  • Black Comedy:
    • This episode has a couple of examples, the Juggling Loaded Guns gag coming mere seconds after The Doctor threatened to murder a man in cold blood being the most obvious.
    • The undertaker who can't help but measure the Doctor up for his wares even after giving him a motivational speech qualifies.
  • Black Vikings: Set just after the American Civil War, the local preacher being black is possible, but unlikely. Though it may be a shout-out to "This town was named Mercy for a reason."
  • Call Back: The Doctor references a number of reoccurring enemies during his mid-episode rant.
    The Doctor: Today, I honour the victims first. His, the Master's, the Daleks', all the people who have died because of MY MERCY!
  • Chekhov's Gun: The self-destruct program on Jex's ship is introduced when the Doctor breaks in. It is then used by Jex to commit suicide.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Matt Smith takes a few very large bites when berating Jex.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    The Doctor: He shoots people's hats!?!
    Amy: I think it was a warning shot.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Cool Hat: The Doctor once again sports a Stetson in this episode.
  • Couch Gag: The Doctor Who logo in the opening sequence is textured with bullet-riddled wood panels.
  • Cowboy Episode: The Doctor delights in this. Within a minute of coming into the town, he puts a toothpick into his mouth and walks into the saloon.
  • Deconstruction: Of westerns themselves. The local townsfolk are perfectly normal people instead of Western stereotypes. The barmaid isn't glamorous or raunchy, she's just a woman. The local minister isn't a Bible-thumper, just a sweet man. The marshal wants to help his friends, the town's young hotshot just wants to protect the town's kids. Even the angry mob turns out to be a group of frightened people who are willing to listen to reason.
  • Driven to Suicide: Kahler-Jex uses his ship's self-destruct because he doesn't want anymore deaths on his own of the Gunslinger's conscious.
  • Eagleland: America is the land of second chances, where people actually know how to handle guns.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: The Gunslinger, to the people of Mercy. Jex recognizes him as Kahler-Tek but he's the only one.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: The Gunslinger has a deep computerized voice and starts off as the antagonist. this is then Subverted, as he isn't actually evil.
  • The Extremist Was Right: Kahler-Jex's justification for his crimes is that he saved millions at the cost of a few. A nine year war closed in one week. At the end he realises he's one of those few.
  • Flash Step: One of the Gunslinger's powers. He uses it to quickly cover distance without breaking his slow, menacing stride.
  • Foil: Kahler Jex for the Doctor since both committed horrific acts to finally end a bloody and increasingly pointless war and are looking for redemption.
  • Foreshadowing: "Make peace with your gods." It's Jex's perceived inability to do this and fear of the afterlife that keeps him running from the Gunslinger.
  • Framing Device: The episode starts and ends with a woman narrating how her great-grandmother (the little girl seen at certain points in the episode) witnessed the events of the story, and how the Gunslinger came to be the town's sheriff, often thought by outsiders to be a tall tale.
  • Funny Aneurysm: The Gunslinger, Kahler-Tek is a cyborg of the same species, the Kahler, as Jex, and so is literally Kahler technology.
  • Gender-Blender Name: The horse isn't called Joshua, he's called Susan and he wants you to respect his life choices.
  • Good Shepherd: The black preacher in this episode is shown reciting prayers, leading a service and generally offering spiritual support to the frightened townspeople.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Invoked by Jex himself, accusing the Doctor of not being able to handle the fact that he is not just a Card-Carrying Villain.
    Kahler Jex: It would be so much simpler if I was just one thing, wouldn't it? The mad scientist who made that killing machine, or the physician who has dedicated his life to serving this town. The fact that I'm both bewilders you!
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Isaac takes a shot meant for Jex.
    • Jex activates the self-destruct on his spacecraft, and allows himself to be blown up so that no-one else dies in the crossfire of his conflict with the Gunslinger.
  • Hollywood Cyborg: The Gunslinger looks half-man and half-machine, with an Arm Cannon and a robotic Eyepatch of Power balanced out by a more human hand and eye.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The Doctor seems to think this after one of the town's attempts to throw Kahler-Jex out. He may just be having a nasty reminder of being stuck with a similar group of frightened humans.
    The Doctor: Frightened people. Give me a Dalek any day.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Kahler-Jex created the Gunslinger as part of a legion of cyborgs to save his people from a war. He declares himself a war hero for doing so.
  • I'm Standing Right Here:
    Amy: Look, Jex may be a criminal, and yeah, kinda creepy —
    Kahler-Jex: And still in the room.*
  • Internal Homage: A cyborg alien assassin made for war chasing after a shifty doctor who's using advanced alien technology to help people without knowing about the harm he causes because the cyborg kills people in its way? Either the plot of this episode or the Doctor Who Book Peacemaker.
  • Like You Would Really Do It: In-universe. The thought of Amy deliberately hurting the Doctor is so ridiculous that when she points a gun at him, he starts laughing. He's right, of course.
  • Living Forever Is Awesome: The Gunslinger spends four generations as sheriff of Mercy and hasn't aged a day. This implies he'll protect it forever. It's also awesome in regards to his religion. Imagine how many souls he'd have to carry to reach the mountain top.
  • Mad Doctor: Averted. Jex turned many people into cyborgs and killed several others in the process, but he feels guilt about it and has been trying to atone ever since.
  • Meaningful Name: The town of Mercy, as Isaac points out, is called such for a reason. The morality question that drives the episode is how much mercy Kahler-Jex deserves, and the town provided it to him. It also ties into the page-quote.
  • Metaphorically True: The Kahler scientists recruited volunteers by claiming that they would make them into the perfect soldiers. They just didn't specify the type of soldiers the volunteers thought they meant.
  • Morality Chain:
    • Like the Doctor's previous ginger Companion, Amy notes that the Doctor tends to slip in his morals if he travels by himself for too long.
    • The first hint of the Gunslinger's real personality is his refusal to endanger an innocent person. He still sticks to this — or, at least, Wouldn't Hurt a Child — after Isaac takes the shot he meant for Jex.
    • The Doctor himself is this to a "nearly 19" (read "18") year old boy by convincing him not to be a murderer.
  • Morality Shift: The Doctor becomes a Knight Templar again by tossing Kahler-Jex for the Gunslinger in order to spare the rest of the town. He calls this "honoring the victims first" instead of trying to understand the villain. Amy smacks him out of it.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Alien Gunslinging Cyborg Marshall.
  • No Place for Me There: The Gunslinger believes he had no place in the world once his war was over. The Doctor convinces him otherwise.
    Gunslinger: I'm a creature of war. I have no role to play during peace.
    The Doctor: Except maybe to protect it.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Rory once left his phone charger in Henry VIII's en suite.
    • The Doctor promises to show Rory and Amy what really happened to all the dogs and monkeys that were sent into space.
  • Not So Different:
    • Jex comments he and the Doctor are quite similar, as he can see the same rage and guilt that haunts him in the Time Lord.
    • Later he also compares himself to the Gunslinger, another ordinary man who became a monster in order to save a world ravaged by war. This is how he justifies his Heroic Sacrifice.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: After getting one too many whacks to the Berserk Button, the Doctor ends up dragging Kahler-Jex out of Mercy and leaving him for the Gunslinger. When Jex tries to get back, the Doctor pulls a gun and threatens to shoot him.
  • Planet of Hats: The Kahler are known for being excellent engineers. The Doctor says they could build space ship out of moss.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Isaac, the town's sheriff, makes sure that the town of Mercy lives up to its name. He prevents the townspeople from sacrificing the Doctor because he knows that it's not the right doctor, and he won't give up the right doctor because he's a good man who helps the town.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Amy waves her revolver around and accidentally fires it twice, causing everyone to duck.
    Isaac: Everyone who isn't an American, drop your gun! -points at the Doctor and Amy in quick succession-
  • Redemption Equals Death: Kahler-Jex HAS to die in order to save the town, since otherwise the Gunslinger will kill all the citizens of Mercy. Even before he dies, after Isaac saved his life, his last conversation with the Doctor shows he recognises the depth of his atrocities against the rest of the Kahler race.
  • Rubber-Forehead Aliens: The only obvious difference between Kahler and humans is the markings on the left side of a Kahler's face. The Doctor exploits this by painting Kahler Jex's marking onto the face of several townspeople, confusing the Gunslinger's auto-targetting program.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Isaac sacrifices himself to save Jex... who commits suicide anyway. All it achieves is letting him go on his own terms. The Doctor points this out and isn't happy about it.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Showdown at High Noon: Gunslinger declares that he will come into the town at "noon tomorrow" for Jex. He meets the Doctor, who is now the sheriff, in the street, and they stare each other down. Naturally, the Doctor pulls out his sonic screwdriver instead of a gun.
  • Shur Fine Guns: A gun from the Wild West would be a single action revolver, meaning its hammer has to be pulled back manually before it can fire. In the real world, there's no way a gun like that could accidentally discharge twice.
  • The Siege: The Gunslinger will shot anyone who crosses a line made of stones and wood. This traps the townspeople within the town.
  • Species Surname: The Kahlers seem to have a species forename, with them all being known as Kahler-Something.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: The Doctor speaks Horse.
  • Stealth Pun: Gunslinger has a lot of these.
    • His birth name is Kahler-Tek. He is Kahler tech (or at least half of him is).
    • There's also the Kahler-alarm.
    • The cyborg can identify the doctor by his distinctive facial markings. Which means he's equipped with... Kahler-ID.
  • Steam Punk: The first proper Steam Punk episode in Doctor Who. The Wild West with street lights ten years too early, a cybord gunslinger, and it's gorgeous.
  • Taking the Bullet: Isaac takes a laser blast for Kahler-Jex.
  • Time Skip: The Doctor and his Ponds are spending less and less time with each other, and the Doctor now lists his age as 1200.
  • Trailers Always Lie: Promos would have you convinced the Gunslinger was a straight-up villain. It's a bit more complicated than that.
  • Transsexual: The male horse calls himself Susan, and wants his owner to respect his life choices.
  • Undertaker: Mercy's undertaker fits the trope down to the tape measure, which he uses on the Doctor both times they meet.
  • Was Once a Man: The Gunslinger.
    Gunslinger: Make peace with your Gods.
    Kahler Scientist: They used to be your Gods too.
    Gunslinger: Not any more.
  • Weird West: Aliens and killer cyborgs in the old west.
  • The Western: The first Western in Doctor Who since "The Gunfighters". It's filmed in Spain like most SpaghettiWesterns.
  • What Have I Become?: Implied to be the reason why the Gunslinger went rogue, after battle-damage led him to remember who he was and what Jex and the other scientists had done to him.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Amy calls the Doctor out for throwing Jex to the Gunslinger. This continues the theme from the previous episode, where the Doctor refuses to spare another murderous villain. The difference being the evils committed by Jex were for what he believed to be the greater good, he still felt guilty for doing it and he is trying to repent. Solomon, on the other hand, continued to only be motivated by his own selfish and greedy desires, willing to happily do whatever terrible thing he felt would get him what he wanted. Not to mention the Doctor's treatment of Jex, throwing him out of the Sheriff's office and shoving him down the street, before sticking a gun in his face. It's like having a more action-orientated Time Lord Victorious.
    • Oddly enough, Rory, who is usually the first to call out the Doctor in these matters, seems to take his side on this one.
      Amy: Are you gonna let him do this?
      Rory: You mean save us all? Yeah, I am.
  • Where Do You Think You Are?: "Anyone who isn't an American, drop your gun!"
  • White and Gray Morality: Exploring this is really the point of the episode. Isaac sums it up as he dies.
    Isaac: You're both good men. You just forget it sometimes....
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: In a roundabout way: the Gunslinger killed Sheriff Isaac, and by the end of the story he ends up as the town's eternal sheriff.


Alternative Title(s):

Doctor Who S 33 E 03 A Town Called Mercy