“Who” Writers, Give Me Mercy: “A Town Called Mercy” Reaction

Tumbleweed and dusty ground was in order this week on Doctor Who as the programme went Stateside for “A Town Called Mercy.” Also: face paint. Also: stetsons. Also: cyborgs. All the makings of a cracking episode, right? Not so much. At the risk of constantly sounding like a cloister bell of melodramatic doom, I was once again massively disappointed with the episode. It felt empty, dry and although it was full of one-liners, it was devoid of any sort of real dialogue.

In fact, I started keeping score. Snappy one-liners in this episode:

  • “I see keep out signs as suggestions more than actual orders, like: dry clean only.”
  • “All the people who died because of my mercy.”
  • “We can’t be like him, we have to be better than him.”
  • “This is their home, not the backdrop for your revenge.”

Nicely executed dialogue:

  • “Is he really worth the risk?” “Don’t know. But you are.”

I don’t mind a one-liner when it’s embedded effectively into an episode but “A Town Called Mercy” seemed to put the “clever” lines first and story second, as though the story formed around the smart things the Doctor said rather than the complex way in which he behaved. As a result, there was very little complexity and only things that were, well, bothersome, from pretty poor transgender jokes to the episode’s treatment of suicide.

When the dialogue and narrative of an episode bothers me I normally switch my focus on the other bits: the effects, the set and the framing; but in these I found no relief. The Doctor Who writers have a bit of a love affair with voiceovers and used sparingly voiceovers can be an intriguing way to frame the episode but we’ve already had voiceovers with “Asylum of the Daleks” and those at least didn’t have a dodgy U.S. accent. I don’t want to spend the opening titles questioning how genuine an accent is because it takes you out of the story and I have no vested interest in the person doing the voiceover.

Even though “A Town Called Mercy” was filmed on location in Spain, I couldn’t stop thinking about how fake the set-up looked, particularly the town buildings. Everything was a distraction to a storyline that didn’t push as hard as it could have on the complexity of morality, the confusion of a person who is more than “one thing,” more than “good” or “bad.” The episode might have been a strong allegorical comment on retribution and the meaning we ascribe to someone’s death when we act with vengeance, making their lives mean nothing, “just another casualty in the war.”

This is what frustrates me about the current era of Doctor Who. It’s almost there. There’s almost something. The puzzle has all of the corner bits and edges but none of the middle bits that provide us with the story or the satisfaction. The silence that fills the gaps between the one-liners isn’t stylistic or any sort of contribution towards building the tension but indicative of an absent storyline and it makes me so annoyed because I love this programme so much and want it to be so much more.

Next time, we’re at home with the Ponds and episode four, “The Power of Three” and the next time trailer made me laugh, so there’s something. What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know your thoughts in comments (and feel free to call me a huge cynic.)

  • Laura

    This is a perfect summary of what I have been trying to say about the episode.

  • http://twitter.com/youaremythief Marina

    Well I think as it’s a kids show first and foremost the whole ‘people aren’t just good or bad’ thing may not have been pushed enough in your opinion, but it does start the wheels turning in a young person’s mind.

  • QED42

    I was looking forward to this ep a lot as I’m a bit of a fan of westerns and they have been known to stick in some obscure references (like Where Eagles Dare in Vicotry of the Daleks) but nothing stuck out :( The actual plot was a bit meh too. Every genre has a lot of cool stuff you can pillage from but it seems like in this instance doing a western ep was just a gimmick for the sake of courting the cross pond audience.

  • LarryBright

    I would say that your critiques of the show are becoming increasingly laughable. Just another whiny little Tennant fan girl. The fact you are well known for your love of the substandard derivative drivel spewed up by your hero JK just makes your slating of DW even more pathetic. I would suggest you piss off and watch Partners in Crime (oooh look! Talking blobs of fat! How brilliant! I wonder if one of thems called Rosiana?). Leave this show to the real fans that actually understand and love it.

    • http://twitter.com/youaremythief Marina

      Wow, okay. I personally liked the ep but I didn’t feel the need to insult Rosianna, I don’t see why you do

    • QED42

      I just wanted to say this is a completely unacceptable way to express yourself. Not only is it unacceptable in general but goes completely against the whole ethos of the show you claim to like.

    • KatHarris

      Wow, that was rude and uncalled for. I don’t necessarily agree with Rosianna, but I appreciate her opinion along with everybody else’s. It’s people like you that give DW fans a bad name. Yikes.

    • ImSorryWhat?

      Breaking News: Opinions No Longer Valid, only one way to think on anything ever. We go to crack reporter Larry for more on the topic. Larry, tell us what to think and insult anyone who doesn’t agree.

    • critterfur

      Wait, how on earth did you lead yourself to a site which splintered off from a Harry Potter fansite? Given your hatred for Potter, it doesn’t quite make sense. I happen to be a big Potter fan, but I also appreciate a number of other fandoms (maybe too many), and I’ve often found Doctor Who enjoyable, if not perfect. I’ll admit that I don’t quite agree with certain reviews like Alex’s recent one, not because he isn’t valid in stating that he found problems with the episode, but because I’m distant enough from the core fandom to see these same flaws in the RTD era and even prior to that. In other words, from my somewhat disconnected point-of-view, none of these eras of Doctor Who were flawless; there have always been boring episodes, preachy episodes, overacted and hyper-melodramatic episodes, unique episodes, and spectacular episodes, like with any other fandom. I don’t subscribe to anyone on any side of a debate dictating that the other side is unintelligent for disagreeing with me or liking something I don’t (which is another reason I have a few issues with Alex Day’s review, but also with yours, sir). If certain people don’t like the show anymore, it’s really no skin off my back, as I’m probably not as emotionally invested in it as some are (I really had to struggle through some of both RTD’s and Moffat’s pro-atheist and anti-American propaganda moments, but in the end the stories they both told were genuine, intelligent, and heartfelt, so sometimes I had to do my best to leave my personal beliefs and opinions at the door…yes, an American Catholic can still like Doctor Who, although maybe they don’t particularly want me in the fan club). I personally think Rosi was very fair and even-handed in her review, so let’s all do our best not to get vicious about personal tastes as an indicator of whether someone is qualified to like or dislike something.

  • http://elinious.tumblr.com Elinious

    Actually, I quite liked it for a Doctor Who episode… It was much better than the first episode of this series, but Dinosaurs in Space is #1 this series so far. That’s all meant relatively though as I’m just losing interest in Doctor Who in general. I don’t get pulled in as I used to anymore and I have no desire to pick apart story lines or characters or whatever anymore. I don’t know, Moffat wrote some of my favourite episodes, but they all come from the RTD era :/ I used to go online and talk about Who for hours after an episode aired. Not lately…

    I’m not giving up on Who now though. I’ll probably finish this season and give JLC a trial run ;) but they better impress me or else I’m gone. Sorry.

  • Harrietjones

    I almost fell asleep several times throughout the episode tbh

  • larryBright

    I have been watching this show fior decades- I dont need some jumped up Harry Potter fan trying to tear it to pieces just because theyve grown tired of hopping on the bandwagon. My main problem with this review and the last two from this individuall is that they make no sense- i could almost understand it if it was coming from someone who had allways hated the show but the fact they used to praise it makes no sense for a simplle reason- try turning all the critcisms levelled at this epsiode on 75 % of the RTD era and see how that works out for you- pluds if you didnt get anything from some of the fiercely incisive and intelligent dialogue in this episode then you are watching the wrong show.
    I would also point to Whithouses ‘The God Complex’ as another examplle of how much this show has grown since the days of Tennat and Tate doing half arsed Laurel and Hardy routines- maybe that was more what Rosiana was into. In which case dont worry- Wizards vs Aliens starts soon enough.

    • Harrietjones

      ahahahaha.

      your opinion is incorrect.

    • Harrietjones

      and you lost any right of discussion when you called someone far more intelligent than yourself a blob of fat.

    • ImSorryWhat?

      Thanks for that, Larry. Remember, folks, if you like Harry Potter, you can’t hate anything else. According to Larry, your opinion is invalid. It should also be noted that we should probably eschew editing for spelling and grammar as Larry doesn’t like that either. Now to Darcy with sports. Darcy, what teams are the fat cry babies wrong about today?

      • larrybright

        Oh do shut up- im rantring on an obscure nerd website, not adressing the oxford union so excuse me if i dont care much for grammar and sense- calling people out for that stuff on the internets is a pretty poor show
        You miss my point it would seem- the art and culture someone loves and consumes defines them- so if they like shoddy shite like Potter then it is directly relevant when they spout utter rubbish like this about DW. Its like a fan of fingerpainting pointing at the sistine chapel and saying ‘hmmmm this could have been a bit better’- it makes them an idiot.

        • errr

          “if I don’t care much for grammar and sense” – Yep, you’re very obviously not trying very hard to make sense.

        • Teatime

          You’re really comparing who to the Sistine chapel? Okay… I’m a fan of the guardian who blog, you might want to try that and behaving yourself instead of insulting the above reviewer. But I’m a hp fan so what do I know? :)

  • larrybright

    also its clear Rosi is just trying to hoover up some of the controversy crumbs left over from that despicablle cocksucker alex days attempts to get a bit of notoritey by sticking the knife in.
    personally im glad these fickle teenyboppers are falling out of love- they can piss off and find another bandwagon to jump on- but its slightly annoying habving tio read a person so disgusting that they are partially responsible for the abomination that is chamelon circuit slate a genius like Moffat.
    Doctor Who is for all time. It doesnt need whiny brats like this to exist. so off you trot/

    • ImSorryWhat?

      It’s slightly annoying “habving tio read” the comments of someone likely arguing his points with a cardboard cutout of the 4th Doctor while his roomba – dressed to look like K-9 – gets stuck in a corner trying to pick up all the Cheetos crumbs.

      • larrybright

        its a captain jack cutout actually

    • Katiedora

      I am shocked and appalled at your commentary on this review. You have completely taken away from anything productive and enjoyable on here and dragged the focus to your…whatever insulting thing it is you keep harping about. I’m not actually sure because your spelling and grammar is awful and I can’t follow it.
      I think you need a hobby.

  • Brielle

    I can relate to this review quite a lot.. I kept seeing little previews and trailers and thought, yay, a Doctor Who episode set in the wild west – With a freaking cyborg! I looked at a clock half an hour into the programme and sighed; thirty minutes of one liners with a plot off in the background. The narration at the beginning and end felt like a ‘cutesy’ way of giving the episode more depth, plus it felt odd that Amy and Rory had basically no part in this episode.. especially when we’re two episodes away from their departure! Rory was just used for that “That’s what you said when you left your phone charger in Henry VIII’s ensuite.” and Amy for the bit about being a mother with concern and ferocity. They didn’t actually do anything. I thought there would be some more emotional (/suspicious or foreshadowing!) dialogue..

  • J.M

    That’s just the issue with the Moffat stuff post series 5. It’s all mouth and no trousers, all gravy and no potatoes.

    Where’s the plot? where’s the arc?

    He doesn’t seem to understand that all the really cool bits have to be built on something.
    It’s empty calories, sugar sandwich storytelling. You get a great buzz off the cool one liners and the western bits and the dinosaurs and what have you but by the time the episode ends you feel sick and empty.
    It wasn’t a bad episode really, just nowhere close to what DW is capable of.

  • http://www.facebook.com/daniel.etcovitch Daniel Etcovitch

    The episode was definitely almost there. I felt like they hinted at character development, hinted at depth, but never really dealt with the underlying issues. Sometimes that leads to intrigue, but sometimes it just leaves things open…

  • Katiedora

    Overall, I enjoyed this episode more than the last two, even if only because there were fewer things to upset me. I giggled at all the right points and one liners, and I got the alien doctor-Doctor comparison. I actually enjoyed the scenery, too.
    But the puzzle analogy rang true with me, too. These episodes could be FANTASTIC. They have all the makings of a really great series. But something just isn’t clicking. It’s like a puzzle piece has fallen under the couch and everyone keeps saying they’ll pick it up later. At this rate, the pieces won’t be in place till the series finale.

  • Moraza

    I think the main problem I’ve come to terms with in Doctor Who for the last season or so is it feel like if the episodes were just a little bit longer most of the problems that exist – the lack of tension, slightly subpar dialog, and lack of build up – could easily be addressed. An extra 15 minutes to make each episode an hour long would solve any kind of pacing problem and allow a much better set-up and delivery.

    Overall I do think the episodes have been solid – I mean, this run of three has been better than most of the other opening three of any Doctor Who series. I also think the direction gone in is much improved. I was a huge fan of series 5, and felt it did pretty much everything I wanted it to do with Doctor Who. It combined stand alone episodes with a strong arc, and an especially strong closing to the season. Series 6 however felt a lot like the end of the Russell T Davis era, with a lot of hype and a poor payoff, and really odd character development. There were plenty of good standalones, but overall felt muddled. I can see this series has gone back to basics, going for a more subtle foreshadowing than ‘shove-down-your-throat’ plotlines, so at least that’s nice. It just needs that extra bit of time to make those moral complexities a bit more meaningful and not forced.

    Still thought Dinosaurs On A Spaceship ruled though.

  • http://www.youtube.com/MrLazarus01 The Gene Genie

    Loved the episode, best so far this year.

  • Niki

    I agree with everything you have said here. I love reading your reviews because I have disliked the most recent Doctor Who episodes, without knowing why, and your reviews explain my dissatisfaction, so to speak. I wish you had written more about the episode’s treatment of suicide though, I would interested to hear what you have to say.

  • Joel

    Rosi, gotta disagree. There’s a strange mentality that fans of the RTD era seem to have when it comes to Moffat. It seems a bit like doublethink to me. RTD episodes are so devoid of any real believable human emotion, so lacking in pace, and such a low production value that I cannot bear to watch them; they bore me to tears. Moffat’s era has been exciting and clever and this latest run is among his best work.