A Town Called Mercy
The Doctor: (gruffly ordering at saloon bar) Tea. But the strong stuff. Leave the bag in.
Production Code: 3.3.
Doctor Who Season: S33 (Ep3).
Story Number: 228.
Doctor Who does a Western, again…
The Gunfighters of the Hartnell era didn’t have the gorgeous overseas filming that this story does though. (There’s something of Hartnell’s performance in Matt’s wonderful performance here though, the “Ah, no, yes … I see” while rubbing his hands.) Filming overseas is actually very rare, at least for the Classic era, with notable exceptions including City of Death (Paris as Paris), Planet of Fire (Lanzarote as actually Lanzarote but also as an alien planet too in the same story).
It’s Spain, but standing in for the mid-west of America – which, while trying to be of the Western genre is actually more authentic as that’s where a lot of the classic Westerns were filmed (such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.)
The convention of this half-season has been established, the Doctor from time-to-time takes Amy and Rory on an adventure, so there’s no need for a big “scooping up the companions scene” to begin, so we can go straight to establishing the atmosphere of the story. The conventions of the genre are there, the still silence of the saloon bar as the stranger enters, but subverted by the Doctor ordering tea.
The High Noon showdown later isn’t quite the norm either.
The main drama of the story picks up from last episode’s strand of the Doctor effectively giving a death sentence to the villain of the previous story.
“I genuinely don’t know”
“What’s happened to you Doctor, when did killing become an option?”
“Today, I honour the victims first, his, the Master’s, the Daleks’, all the people who died because of MY mercy”
“See, this is what happens to you when you travel alone for too long”
“Listen to me Doctor, we can’t be like him, we have to be better than him”
It’s heartening to see the tenets of the programme re-established after that aberration of last week, so this forms a mini “Dark Doctor” arc.
The ending continues the themes of story and legends woven through the past seasons.
Watch again the middle of the story with Jex (marvellously played by Adrian Scarborough) and the Doctor though, and there’s more going on than a tale we might have seen before, that tale of the companion reminding the Doctor he sometimes needs someone with him to stop him (such as The Runaway Bride).
There’s a dark undercurrent to the story that you might miss. It’s this that elevates the story into an all-time great Doctor Who story.
“War is another world, you cannot apply the politics of peace to what I did”
It’s not difficult to read this an insight into the Doctor’s psyche even though this line, it’s spoken by Jex – there’s talk of Jex’s war, the war just ended five years ago in the American West, but we the audience know of the Time War, and how it’s affected the Doctor. It’s been touched upon lightly in the Eleventh Doctor’s era (The Doctor’s Wife – “Fear me – I’ve killed hundreds of Time Lords”, “Fear ME, I’ve killed all of them” as an almost throwaway line), but it has been there as a mainly unspoken presence.
“Just another casualty in your endless bloody war”
Think back to Lorna Bucket of A Good Man Goes to War, dying in the Doctor’s arms.
“It would be so much simpler if I was just one thing?”
“You chose this as your punishment”
The idea that this is why the Doctor is going on with the TARDIS travels, because of what he has done?
“In my culture, we believe that when you die, your spirit has to climb a mountain carrying the souls of everyone you wronged in your lifetime. Imagine the weight I will have to lift, the monsters I created…”
There were Ealing film studios filming for that story (not uncommon for DW of that era).
Two film sets in Almeria, Spain were used. One, “Oasys” was originally built for For A Few Dollars More, and was later used for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
The American Civil War. There’s another Western-set television programme that features a doctor in small town grappling with what he’s seen in that war and how that affects his actions, and that’s Deadwood (with Brad Dourif as the doctor).