A Town Called Mercy, Or, The Doctor Grapples with Universal Human Rights


A Town Called Mercy may be the finest episode of nu-Who to date.

As in School Reunion, Toby Whithouse takes full advantage of the meta-concept that he Doctor may be the protagonist of this show called Doctor Who, but within the narrative universe, he's really just a minor character. All that business about being The Oncoming Storm really doesn't affect the day-to-day lives of, well, anyone in the universe.

It's an ambitious concept for the show to deal with, which may be why the revived show has previously limited the question to the Doctor's impact on his human (and very mortal) companions.

A Town Called Mercy grapples with a particularly messy issue - is the Doctor really a hero, or is he the intergalactic equivalent of the IMF, an arbiter of "correct behavior" with a worldview and a mission statement that refuses to adapt to cultural differences?

Screen shot 2012 09 15 at 6 14 10 PM

Thankfully, Whithouse doesn't feel the need to answer that question fully - he takes the decisions out of the Doctor's hands. Each of the key players actually make their own choices. Isaac chooses to protect Jex, the Gunslinger has moral heft to guide his own mission, and Jex decides to face his greatest fear - his guilt.

The central moral quandary leads us to one of the most wonderful conversations ever between a Doctor and his companion. Amy finally proves that maybe, just maybe, she actually knows him a little better than everyone else.

I love how their dialogue mirrors a famous scene from Genesis of the Daleks (below). My, how the tables have turned, eh Doctor? (watch clip from :48 to go straight to the scene in question).

The Marvellous Mrs. Pond

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Speaking of Amy, the writers have finally figured her out. I wrote last year that she wasn't a character with any clear reason for being, lacking real desires or motivations. But now she feels like a more defined character.

There's two explanations for this:

  1. The writers intended all along that she wouldn't become her own character until she made a life without a Doctor, to make a facile point.
  2. The writers realized that her reactions to having and losing her baby were inadequate and unrealistic, so they've written in hints of severe post-partum trauma. This trauma allows her to be more empathetic, and yes, more ferocious.

Either way, she now feels like a living, breathing human being, instead of a sassy Scottish china doll. She's still clumsy and childish but now we know that these traits are external manifestations of deep-set emotional pain.

So that was long-winded, eh? I'm genuinely excited to see what comes next. Steven Moffat's era finally seems to be living up to its initial promise.

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3 Responses to “ A Town Called Mercy, Or, The Doctor Grapples with Universal Human Rights ”

  1. I thought the episode started off very sloppy, but managed to redeem itself just about when the Doctor looked to become a vengeful vigilante with the gun headed at the other alien doctor behind the barrier -- that wonderfully savage moment reminded me very much of Christopher Eccleston's incarnation in "Dalek." If Moffat's playing a long game whereby the Doctor's bloodthirsty emotions prevent him from finding a companion of any durability, this episode certainly signaled a darker direction forward -- especially with the Daleks forgetting the Doc at the head of the season, which in turn harkens back to the dilemma that Russell T. Davies started and abandoned, which was also briefly picked up during McCoy's incarnation, when they were playing with the Doctor toying with humanity and his companions. I certainly hope this isn't another Moffat cocktease, a la River Song (or perhaps he's redeeming that).

  2. Oh this is such a lovely post! I hadn't ever really thought of Amy in terms of post-partum but now that you say it, I think I'll look at these episodes and last season in a whole new light. It's such a normal, human, emotional reaction that I think we don't typically consider in the context of such a fantasy/sci-fi environment but that we SHOULD.

  3. I really do hope that's what the writers intended!


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