God knows I love a knowing reference, an in-joke, a bit of intertextuality, a spot of homage, but like the time I drank a litre of orange-flavoured 20-20 (don’t ask, I won’t tell), I fear I may be overdoing it when I’m watching Doctor Who these days.
I’m aware there are some problems that are inescapable, some cultural reference points that are so deeply burned on to the psyches of the adults watching Who that they are always going to come to mind, even if the writer didn’t intend them too. Think cyborg killing machine, think Terminator. Think time travel and cowboys, think Back to the Future 3. Think cowboys and sci-fi, think Firefly…
Does it matter? Only if it becomes like the orange 20-20, something I never want to experience again. I’m not there yet, but I have to say that for the first time in a long time, I’m a bit dissatisfied with my weekly Who fix.
I didn’t hate A Town Called Mercy, there is plenty to like, and yet the niggles are niggling scratchily and insistent.
(Spoilers below the line)
A Thing I did like: The continuing playing with our expectations of who “The Doctor” is. Last week Solomon just wanted a medic. This week, the Gunslinger is looking for an alien doctor, but not The Doctor. Kahler-Jex (the doctor in question) is a character who is pleasingly difficult to get a handle on. In fact, it’s this (combined with the ongoing examination of the Doctor’s mercy) that drives the whole tale.
A Thing I didn’t like: I hate to say it, but some of the Doctor’s verbal tics are getting a wee bit tired. The whole “I see Keep Out signs as suggestions rather than orders, like dry cleaning labels” thing feels distinctly recycled.
Another Thing I did like: “Anachronistic electricity, keep out signs, aggressive stares… has someone been peeking at my Christmas list?” The Doctor’s enthusiasm for trouble remains infectious. Also, I love Arthur Darvill’s quiet but perfect acting. God, I’m going to miss Rory when he’s gone…
The saloon scene also gets the thumbs up. The goofing with the toothpick, the ordering of strong tea, the Doctor’s breezy statement that yes, in this context, he is an alien, leading slap bang into the cracklingly tense moment as the Gunslinger apparates across the desert landscape and the preacher recites the Lord’s Prayer.
I really like Isaac, I pretty much always like the Doctor doing his clever working stuff out thing, and it’s always a thrill to have someone unexpected say “I’m The Doctor” (see David Morrissey in The Next Doctor). At this point I’m still loving the sheer beauty on screen – the blue, green and gold palette is lush and lovely.
And then it goes a bit wibbly-wobbly. I can’t put my finger on exactly what my problem is with the scene introducing Kahler-Jex. It felt just about okay first time round, it should feel better on the second pass – afterall if Jex is the Doctor’s mirror, of course he would lie (rule Number One and all that) – but something in the tone, or the words, or something remains off.
Another of those in-jokes pops its head up in the shape of a horse called Sue, and reminds me that I’ve no idea if the eight year olds watching this know anything about the tropes and cliches of Westerns, though it’s probably reasonable to guess the musical motifs (The Magnificent Seven theme for one) will go over their heads. As will the Kahler alarm gag…
Anyone paying attention to Jex’s speech to Amy in the Marshall’s office will have realised long before the Doctor breaks into Jex’s spaceship and downloads his personal files, that Jex isn’t the straightforward saviour of Mercy that we’ve been led to believe. My first thought was Mengler, and I don’t think I was too wide of the mark.
But here comes my big niggle – the Doctor discovers Jex’s true colours and wants to throw him out of town and to his death, he wants Jex to pay for all the times the Doctor’s mercy has cost innocent people their lives. I could almost have bought it (he was goaded by Jex and he has emotional baggage enough to fill the Tardis afterall), but then someone wrote a gun into his hand. And one into Amy’s for good measure. I’m not sure the ‘it’s the Wild West’ is a good enough excuse.
I’m also uncomfortable with the Doctor’s solution. As Jex himself points out, if he runs away and the Gunslinger follows, the problem and the killing just get transferred to another bunch of innocents. You can sell the suicide as self-sacrifice, but it leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth. Like I said. Itchy, scratchy niggles.
So, I’m counting on next week’s black cubes to take my mind off all this. See you there…
Posted by Jo the Hat