[EDIT: This review is a post episode review, for the spoiler-free preview of the episode click here.]
I hope you weren’t expecting the cowboy episode to be a happy fun one, because this is a dark episode. The much touted Gunslinger is laying siege to a small American frontier town called Mercy, and the Doctor becomes caught in the mix; torn between which party to help.
The script comes from Toby Whithouse, who also wrote the episodes School Reunion, Vampires In Venice & The God Complex. It’s his strongest script so far and asks some rather probing moral questions of our hero. Some older fans may find the analogies a little on the nose, though I found them to be much better integrated and moving than the similar analogies found in The Beast Below.
By the same merit, comic book fans may find the questions being asked a little old hat as its an issue that has been intensely debated both inside and outside comics often in the past few decades. But they are very relevant to Doctor Who, the sort of questions that have been bubbling just under the surface ever since the revival and never addressed so fully or so frankly.
The decision to shoot on location turned out extremely well. The Desert of Tabernas (which has doubled for the wild west in many classic Western, including A Fist Full Of Dollars) looks absolutely stunning, and really helps to sell the idea of being among cowboys like a CGI desert wouldn’t be able to.
Series composer Murray Gold once again shows why he’s one of the most beloved and respected composers working in TV today with a score that not only fits the episode perfectly, evoking the spirit of a Western and giving a sense of adventure and tension, but stands up brilliantly on its own.
Though Rory has little to do and his relationship with Amy continues to get little exploration, there is real growth between the Doctor and Amy here. As a character study and mediation on the Doctor, A Town Called Mercy strides the line between exploration and explanation, and the emotional tension between the various characters are both tense and satisfying.
I know I said this of Asylum of the Daleks, but I do think that A Town Called Mercy stands a good chance of becoming a fan favourite. What can I say? It’s a great series this year.