I have to say, the last two week’s worth of Doctor Who didn’t exactly make my list of all time favorite episodes. I was a little concerned that my love for the show was starting to ebb. But then there was this week! Which was, by and large, quite fantastic, if you like your Doctor Who dark and kinda heavy. Which I do.
We begin with a voice-over, talking about a man who lived forever, who fell from the stars, who’d seen too much. Then, a man with a tattoo on his face is shot by someone with a deep mechanical voice. The dying man asks if he’s the last one, and the deep-voiced person, who looks like a cyborg, says there’s one more – the doctor! (DOCTOR WHO!?)
We come back from the credits to see the Doctor, Amy and Rory standing outside the boundary line of a town called Mercy. No idea how they got there, when we are, any of it. Despite a “Keep Out” sign, the Doctor strolls into town, as keep out signs are suggestions – like dry clean only! We’re in an old-timey western town, complete with clearly-labeled stores, suspicious townspeople, and, um, streetlights? Which are too advanced for this time. The Doctor wants to know if someone’s been peeking at his Christmas list (which would be the second time the Doctor’s Christmas list has come up in as many episodes.)
Our trio stroll into a saloon, complete with tinkly piano, swinging doors, etc. The music stops as soon as they enter, and silence falls. The Doctor orders tea, “but the strong stuff. Leave the bag in.” When the Doctor announces that he’s, well, the Doctor, everyone stands up, and an undertaker comes forward and starts measuring him. One of the saloon patrons asks if the Doctor’s an alien, and upon Eleven’s admittance that yes, he is, the crowd forcibly picks him up (and a few of them grab Amy and Rory as well) and they run him out of town, across the boundary line. Everyone pulls their guns on the Doctor, and someone says “he’s coming.” The preacher recites the “Our Father” as a figure appears and reappears in the distance, getting closer. The town Marshall shows up, orders “Bow-tie” back across the town line, just as we see who the distant figure is – it’s the Cyborg from the beginning of the episode. As the Doctor crosses back into the town line, the Cyborg disappears.
Amy, Rory and Eleven follow the Marshall, named Issac, back to the jail, where they get some information. The Cyborg is called the Gunslinger, the border line around the town has been there for three weeks, and nothing and no one can get in or out – including supply wagons, which is a problem. Apparently, if anyone crosses the line, they got shot – even if they’re a hat. Also, the Cyborg wants the alien doctor.
The doctor, being clever, realizes that there’s already another alien doctor here – one who’s rigged up electricity a bit earlier than it ought to be around.
And we meet him! His name is Kahler-Jex, and he’s the Doctor. He also has some sort of face tattoo. The Doctor recognizes the Kahler – they’re a resourceful species. Kahler-Jex is a refugee, his ship crashed, and he’s not only electrified the city, but cured a cholera outbreak. Issac’s a big fan of Kahler-Jex, and doesn’t like that the townspeople don’t appreciate him. Also, apparently, it’s 1870, and what with the Civil War ending so recently, there’s still a latent violence in people. The Doctor suggests that he go get the Tardis, bring it into town proper, pickup Jex, and take him back home. And the Doctor’s 1200 years old at the moment, which would put us where, exactly, on his timeline?
So the Doctor goes to get the Tardis, apparently using Rory and Issac as decoys to confuse the Gunslinger. Speaking of the Gunslinger, we learn that his gun won’t fire if there’s a high chance of injuring innocent bystanders, which is the sort of feature all guns should come with. Meanwhile, the Doctor commandeers a horse, which, we are going to need to talk about this exchange. It’s the preacher’s horse, and the preacher says that the horse’s name is Joshua. The Doctor says no, he speaks horse, and the horse’s name is Susan. Susan wants the preacher to respect his life choices. Which sounds to me like we’ve got a transgendered horse. I would cheer for this, except I can’t quite decide if it’s meant to be a joke or not. What say you?
Anyway, the Doctor and Susan ride away, Rory and Issac get shot at, and Amy has a heart to heart with Kahler-Jex. He apparently doesn’t want to go home, he wants a fresh start, and to help people. There’s a heaviness to him. Amy puts a coat on him, and he asks whether Amy’s a mother. Kahler-Jex is a father, “in a way.” The Doctor detours to go examine Jex’s ship, following the world’s largest extension cord. The ship looks like a large egg, and looks pretty intact? He sets off what certainly sounds like a car alarm, and so the Gunslinger, who’s about to take out Issac and Rory, leaves and heads towards the noise. Kahler-Jex is upset that the Doctor’s not following the plan. Eleven gets the ship open, overrides the security system – which would have blown the ship up, with him in it, and asks for information, first about the Gunslinger, and then about Kahler-Jex. There’s an awful lot of information, and a lot of it involves screaming. The Doctor is not pleased.
Back in town, Kahler-Jex pulls a gun on Amy. Oh dear. The Doctor pops out of the spaceship, coming face-to-face with the Gunslinger, and tells him that he doesn’t understand why he hasn’t just walked into town and shot Jex. The Gunslinger doesn’t want innocent people to get in the way. It seems the Doctor thinks the Gunslinger is in the right, now? Kahler-Jex is about to leave, with Amy as a hostage, but Issac and Rory show up. The Gunslinger says he’s done with warning shots, and will kill the next person over the line – be sure it’s Jex.
The Doctor shows up to confront Jex, and has gone all Oncoming Storm. We get some plot exposition – the Gunslinger was once an ordinary Kahler, but Jex and some others essentially turned them into Cylons – living machines programmed to kill! Kahler but not Kahler! Apparently they’d been at war for nearly a decade, and Jex built the Cyborg army to end the war quickly. Jex talks about war and destruction, clearly paralleling some of the choices the Doctor made. Issac, Rory and Amy debate what to do about Jex, but the Doctor’s lost in his own thoughts. Jex flat-out says that the Doctor mirrors him, except the Doctor doesn’t have the nerve to do what needs to be done. So Eleven essentially snaps. He hustles Jex out of the jail and towards the town line, as all 80 townspeople hustle out to watch.
The Doctor pushes Jex over the boundary line, and then points a gun at him, which is pretty rare for this character. Amy pulls out a gun herself, points it at the Doctor, and orders him to let Jex back into town. Which, yay for Amy taking a stand! She then accidentally sets off her gun several times, and tells the Doctor that this isn’t what they do. The Doctor is thinking of all the people who’ve died because he’s been merciful and not destroyed villains, and Amy says that they’re better than this. The Doctor finally agrees, and tells Jex to come back over the line. Jex freezes, the Gunslinger shows up, and Issac jumps in front of Jex, taking the (bullet? Laser? Electrical pulse?) that was meant for Jex. So Issac does, commanding The Doctor to become town Marshall, and protect Jex. So that happens. The Gunslinger announces that the town’s got until noon tomorrow – hand over Jex, or he’ll kill the whole town. So now the Doctor’s the Marshall, which makes Amy the deputy.
That night, the preacher comes to get the Doctor and the Ponds, and we see that some people have gathered to either force Jex over the line, or possibly hang him themselves? The spokesperson for the crowd says they liked the doctor, but are worried about their families. Said spokesperson is also 18 years old, and the Doctor doesn’t want to perpetuate the cycle of violence. Preventing this teenager from becoming a murderer is apparently worth trying out whatever plan the Doctor has. The Doctor also seems to prefer dealing with Daleks over frightened people.
The undertaker shows back up, tries to measure the Doctor for a coffin again, despite the speech of support. It’s a good running gag. Jex tempts the Doctor, saying that he could just dump him in the desert. It would be so much easier if Jex wasn’t both a killer and a physician who’s helped people. The Doctor says no, he sees through Jex – Jex has decided that helping this town is his punishment for the things he’s done, and that’s not right, you don’t get to decide for yourself when your debt is paid. Jex replies, explaining that his people believe that in your afterlife, you have to climb a mountain carrying the souls of all the people you’ve wronged. Jex is terrified of death, due to the people he expects to meet in the afterlife. He also says, quite fittingly for the Doctor, that we all carry our prisons with us. This gives the Doctor some sort of idea.
It’s high noon in a town called Mercy, and the Doctor, with his Stetson-with-a-bullet-hole in it (similar to the one River shot in the beginning of Season Six, for those of you paying close attention) is waiting in the center of main street. The preacher leads some of the townspeople in prayer, and you could cut the tension with a knife. Or a screwdriver. As the noon bell tolls, the Gunslinger crosses the boundary line and faces the Doctor, who’s got his hand by his gun. As the Gunslinger raises his weapon arm, the Doctor turns on his screwdriver, which has apparently been set on the “break stuff” setting. All over town, there are people who have painted on Jex’s facial tattoo, and they all start running around. The Gunslinger’s targeting weaponry reads them all as Kahler-Jex, because of the face paint, so Jex can get to his ship safely. In the church, a little girl knocks over some books, alerting the Gunslinger to their presence. He storms the church, looks around menacingly, and then walks out.
Meanwhile, Jex has made it to his spaceship. The Gunslinger deactivates the targeting based on the facial tattoos, and finds the Doctor, and demands to know where Jex is. Jex, meanwhile is broadcasting from his spaceship. He asks the Gunslinger where he’s from, if he intends to return home. He says he can’t, he’s a monster now. The Doctor yells at Jex to leave, but Jex instead turns the self-destruct alarm back on on his ship. He has to face the souls of the people he’s wronged, he says. Perhaps they will be kind. And boom goes the spaceship. The Gunslinger seems defeated. He says that Jex behaved with honor at the end, and that he himself will walk into the desert and self destruct. A creature of war has no role to play in peace. (MIRRORING THE DOCTOR AGAIN, ANYONE?!) The Doctor suggests that perhaps he could protect the peace.
So that’s sorted, then? The Doctor asks Amy and Rory to come with him on a new adventure, and Amy – for the second time in a row – says no. She’s worried her friends are getting suspicious. As the Tardis vwomps away, the voice-over comes back, and it seems to be the great-granddaughter of the little girl who knocked over the books. Said little girl walks out to the edge of town and sees the Gunslinger looking over the town, protecting it, with the Marshall star on his chest.