Doctor Who: A Town Called Mercy

Posted on September 17, 2012

Despite the vast differences in their performances, it was somehow not hard to believe that ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston and tenth Doctor David Tennant were the same being. Even if the latter never once tried to call back to the performance of the former, there was still an underlying glint of hyperactivity and brooding that connected the two; a shared sense of darkness. Matt Smith’s performance, on the other hand, came right out of the gate owing nothing to nobody. There are times we have to remind ourselves that it’s the same character. Because not only do the performances not call back to each other, but very little of the character’s history has been referenced during his tenure. Smith stands alone as a Doctor apart from the other Doctors.

Or at least, he used to. With this episode a truism of the Doctor’s existence rears its head once again: The Doctor should not spend so much time alone, because when he does, his moral sense tends to slip away and 1200 years of frustration with people and their inherent selfishness comes roaring to the surface. To be honest, our first reaction after Amy pointed this out to him was “Oh. We’re here again?” But that’s not fair. As we said, this has been a truth of The Doctor’s existence forever. And last weeks cold-blooded execution certainly should have tipped us off that this conversation was coming. What we don’t understand is why, after Amy pointed out to him that he needs companions, the Ponds just asked to be dropped off at home again? That didn’t quite scan for us. Still, the writing’s on the wall for these two companions. If the hints dropped last week weren’t enough, there’s definitely a sense that things are coming to an end – or at least to a head. “Our friends are going to start noticing we’re aging faster than they are” is both a tantalizing glimpse into the repercussions of traveling with the Doctor long term and a telling statement as to the Ponds’ priorities now. They clearly have a well established life apart from the Doctor and that life has started taking precedence. For the first time on an adventure with him, we get the sense that the Ponds would rather be somewhere else. We get the sense – as crazy as it sounds – that the Ponds are just a little … over the Doctor.

But enough of that. Let’s talk cyborg gunslingers.

You would have thought – or at least, we would have thought that this episode would be light in the way that “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” started off, because what could be more fun than the Doctor in a classic western? It’s always fun to see the Doctor in a quintessentially American setting because, for us, it only serves to illustrate how overwhelmingly British he really is. But the darkness came almost immediately as The Doctor came face to face with a doctor of a different sort; one who held up a mirror to our Doctor’s methodology and life story, which prompted another, slightly less unfair, “Oh. We’re here again?”

Along with the “You need companions to keep you moral” trope, we also got a heaping helping of the “You and I are very much alike, Doctor” one – and to be honest, we could have done without the latter. It’s a well Moffat has returned to one time too many, we’re thinking. But clearly, the goofy, clownish, children’s show host version of the character that Smith has been serving up for the last two-plus seasons is being rethought and recast into the darker version of the character that has always defined him. And when the Doctor’s darkness rears its head, it’s because the world around him has suddenly gotten darker too. The first episode of this season depicted a young woman who’d been irrevocably mutilated and had her humanity ripped from her who then sacrificed her life for the Doctor. The second episode featured a villain capable of genocide and rape who was coldly killed by the Doctor. The third episode featured a Mengele-like character who experimented on and mutilated other beings in the service of war. We’re about as far from the world of the Adipose or the Ood as we can get. Moffat is serving up some uncomfortably real-world stories about people who’ve been deeply scarred or who have inflicted deep scars (which is a pretty decent description of The Doctor, come to think of it) – and we’re starting to shift uncomfortably in our seats. Something’s about to happen to the Ponds, and given the way the season’s been unfolding so far, we’re afraid it’s going to be something really, really bad.

Also: Susan the horse would like you to respect his life choices.

 

 

[Photo Credit: BBC America]

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