Sunday, September 16, 2012

"This is not how we roll and you know it" - Review of "A Town Called Mercy"

Hello again, all.  It's time for another Doctor Who review.  Spoilers below my mom's favorite song (at least, I think it's her favorite.  I know she likes it.  We watched "The Gunfighters" for Friday Night Who and the song they kept playing in that story made me think of this song) -

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say "A Town Called Mercy" is the best episode of Series 7 so far.  Maybe it's because the story itself is so timely it's scary or maybe it's just a really well-put-together and tightly-written story and I enjoyed it very much (I'm going to be diplomatic here and say that it's both).

If I had one complaint about "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship," it's that story tried to do waaaaay too much and was trying waaaaay too hard.  By contrast, "A Town Called Mercy" had a few simple ideas and wove them so tight together that everything worked - even stuff that you'd question was addressed quickly (like why Team TARDIS managed to walk through the desert and into Mercy without encountering the Gunslinger - because they didn't have any food or supplies for the town).  The pacing was EXCELLENT (not just good or excellent or even Excellent - EXCELLENT).  At no point was I bored or checking my watch or how much time was left on my iTunes counter.  I would put this on par with "The Girl Who Waited" from last year, it was that good (and I just about had myself convinced that it was the same writer - except it really wasn't.  Toby Whithouse wrote "The God Complex" last year, which I thought was a hot mess.  Guess people do learn from their mistakes after all).

Also, the dialogue was snappy and quick and just lovely.  Some favorites:

- Toast crumbs on the TARDIS console (that's why they didn't make it to Mexico)
- Rory left his phone charger in the court of Henry VIII
- The Doctor speaks Horse and discovers that "Joshua's" name is really "Susan" (I wonder how many fanboys that particular name sent into a tizzy)

Amy was brilliant in this episode.  The whole scene where Amy chastises the Doctor for throwing Kahler-Jex out of Mercy was bang-on awesome.  Even had some time for a few gun-related jokes (and here I must say that Amy was handling that gun very dangerously and people need to be very careful around firearms).  Amy knows the Doctor well enough by now that she can call him on his crap and, guess what, he actually listens!  *applause* *and some more applause*  You know, I guess Amy always has this ability with the Doctor - going back even as far as "The Beast Below" where she find the elusive Third Option (don't click that).  This time is a bit different in that Amy just says "I don't know what we're going to end up doing about this, but it sure as hell isn't what you're doing right now!"

Something I Must Address and It's Disgusting That I Must Do So - Even though Steven Moffat didn't write this episode, I know the "Moffat is a misogynist pig and we hates him - RAWR!" feminazis are going to have their g-strings in a twist over Jex observing that Amy must be a mother because she exhibits kindness and ferocity.  I know it's a little too much to ask you to think that Doctor Who isn't necessarily saying only mothers have these qualities because you all have your opinions set in stone, but could you not be so rabid about it?  That's  probably what drove Steven Moffat from Twitter last week (The Mary Sue, I am side-eyeing you SO HARD right now!  Tor, you're heading for the side-eye shit list).  I should have a whole essay on this nonsense of being a female geek meaning you have to take torches and pitchforks to anyone who doesn't toe the hardcore feminist agenda the way the hardcore feminists want, but in the meantime, could you all take your fuzzy pink vagina cosplay and stuff it?

Back to more important things -

Another thing that seemed to bother people - including me - last week was the way that the Doctor dispatched Solomon so brutally.  It was a little, um, out of character.  You know - just a little bit.  One could probably argue that the Doctor's actions toward Jex in this story were over-the-top as well (I keep wanting to call him Sharez Jek.  Which is COMPLETELY different).  But, again, the writing made the difference here.  The context we had to that point and the way the Doctor went off after he found out what Jex's M.O. really was (not to mention, again, the sheer BRILLIANCE of Matt Smith's acting chops) made it so much more chilling and believable rather than just scratching our heads and going "Did he just do what we thought he did?"  It actually made me wonder "What's happened since the last time he's had Amy and Rory along for an adventure?"  What has the Doctor been through that he goes off like that?  I really feel like we're only getting half of what's been going on (or maybe it's just I've been used to the over-arching story-arcs and this new stand-alone stuff takes some adjusting to)

Here's a list of other stuff I loved/noticed -

- The music. Back when I reviewed Firefly, I said that the first thing that really hooked me was the music.  The western-and-sci-fi motif is probably very difficult to mesh together and make it work.  But just like Firefly, "A Town Called Mercy" did this beautifully.  And I think this is the first time since Series 5 that we really had some original, not-recycled-from-a-past-series Murray Gold to go along with our Doctor Who (there might have been a few snippets last year, but I never noticed them.  I only ever noticed them playing "I Am the Doctor" during those "Shit's Gettin' Real!" moments).

- The Gunslinger has a distinct Anthony Hopkins look to him.  Or maybe that was just me.

- I loved that the Doctor just took the "warning shot" and made it his own.  However, I have a nit to pick with that - it wasn't a real Stetson (I'm a country kid - I know my western wear. Don't argue with me on this one).

- The kid that faces down the Doctor during the lynch mob scene?  His new name is Porkpie the Boy Wonder.    Seriously, Lynch Mob - why do you send the kid who just emerged from puberty to speak for you all?  I know you're frightened, but that's just ridiculous.

- This is a little thing, but you know how they all had those Kahler marks on their faces during the last showdown with the Gunslinger?  And how the Doctor was only partway through getting his painted on his face before he ran out to be a distraction?  Well, a few frames after he hides around a corner, he suddenly has the whole mark painted on his face.  Production-continuity-error?  Maybe.  But if that's all I have to complain about this story, then that's not much to complain about.

Honestly, I loved this story.  Great morality, wonderful conflict (that sounds weird, but it's the truth) packaged in an entertaining and thought-provoking episode.  Definitely a keeper.  And next week's looks intriguing as well - maybe get some insight into why the Doctor's been "Hi Ponds! *adventure, danger, running* Bye, Ponds!" all the time.

ETA: I just remembered something else that I forgot to mention earlier - Doctor Who novels and Big Finish have done Western-type stories before and I thought "A Town Called Mercy" sort of felt like those stories as well, just on TV and better executed.  It was cool to actually see a story like this work on screen in the New Series.

ETA2: I should have thought of this!  But credit to Radio Free Skaro on this one - the horse's name is Susan and it's a boy horse (quite obviously).  What does that give us?  A Boy Named Sue!

This calls for some Johnny Cash action!  It fits and you're welcome.

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