TV Recap: Doctor Who - A Town Called Mercy
By Edwin Davies
September 17, 2012
So, The Gunslinger is an unfeeling killing machine bent on destruction, and Jex is the victim? Again, no. As we learn when The Gunslinger targets Rory at one point, he won't fire if there is a chance that an innocent will be hurt, and he is only driven to threaten the general populace when they refuse to release Jex. And Jex is not an innocent in this, but a Mengele-esque doctor who experimented on members of his own race to create cyborgs like The Gunslinger in order to triumph in a vicious war.
Such is The Doctor's dilemma: he must choose between allowing Jex to be killed, or risk the townspeople getting hurt by trying to protect him. The central conflict that drives the episode then becomes one between the moral absolutism of The Gunslinger, who believes that Jex can only pay for his crimes by dying, and the more pragmatic and relativistic ideas of Isaac (and, after he is killed protecting Jex, Amy, who convinces The Doctor that letting violence solve a problem caused by violence is the wrong course of action). In a scene that mirrors countless Westerns, though it reminded me specifically of Howard Hawks' sublime Rio Bravo, The Doctor is forced to hold Jex in a jail cell as the townspeople come to try to take him away.
The whole situation is a lot more complex than most episodes of Doctor Who, especially when we consider that The Doctor was willing to let Solomon die in the previous episode, and it was interesting seeing the show tackle ideas of justice, moral debt and the past, best underlined by Jex's description of his race's belief that they carry the souls of the people they killed in the afterlife, not unlike the chains that bound Jacob Marley. This turned the episode into the sci-fi equivalent of something like A History of Violence, or even The Great Gatsby: Tales of men trying to escape from pasts that threaten to destroy them. It was about as meditative as Doctor Who gets, considering the barrelling pace and drive of any given episode, and even though it felt a little forced having Rory (a nurse) argue that Jex deserved to die, or suggesting that The Doctor would be so uncertain of a course of action given his usual aversion to violence, it still made for a very interesting episode from an intellectual standpoint.
In the light of these ideas, the resolution felt a tad easy and neat, though not distressingly so. After an exciting sequence in which the townspeople and The Doctor mark themselves with facsimiles of the distinctive facial markings that indicate Jex's identity, then run around the town in order to distract The Gunslinger whilst Jex makes his escape, Jex's conscience finally catches up to him. Realising that The Gunslinger will just keep pursuing him, and that his continued existence will put more innocent lives at risk, Jex activates the self-destruct sequence on his ship (which The Doctor encountered earlier in the episode, so I guess this is a rare case of Chekhov's Self-Destruct Mechanism), killing himself in the process.