Well, we already know Matt looks cool in a Stetson don't we? So when this episode was announced I was really very excited. Last time we had a full blown Doctor Who does a Western was with the very first Doctor (William Hartnell) in "The Gunfighters". To be honest, the story has never been one of my favourites. The less said about the "ballad" the better in my opinion, but this I had high hopes for.
All of the photos and clips from the story show that it should be a cinematic treat and the cyborg bad guy looks like a cross between Kryten from Red Dwarf fame and a Borg from Star Trek. It promises some tremendous performances and eye catching set pieces and scenery. I would say that if you had to pick any regeneration to star in a Western themed Who episode Matt Smith would be top of any ones list. The right amount of silliness and boyish excitement mixed with a seriously dark and gritty edge. So would it be "High Noon" or "Blazing Saddles"? I, for one, couldn't wait to find out.
Definitely, "High Noon" and every other brilliantly scripted and acted Western Ive ever seen. But you know what it reminded me of the most? "Westworld". First off I'd like to tip my hat to Murray Gold for delivering another fantastic score. It was all slide guitars in the best Western film tradition. The town of Mercy itself was a wonderfully built town nestling in the heart of American, well Spanish (it was filmed around Almeria, where many a classic Western has been filmed) So, the plot? a town is terrorised by a cyborg who will stop at nothing to terminate (hasta la vista baby) the "alien doctor". Simple? come on, this is Doctor Who!
There are, in fact, two alien Doctors in town. THE Doctor and the alien, Kahler Jex. This is a story that is bristling with twists and turns. It seems clear that "the gunslinger" is clearly the villain of the piece. As the story opens we see him brutally kill an innocent man. Or is he? As The Doctor uncovers more of the mystery behind the "victim" Kahler Jex it soon becomes clear that he has more to hide than was originally thought. He built the cyborg in an attempt to end a bitter war on his home planet. When the cyborg goes rogue and starts destroying his creators, Jex runs away and attempts to appease his conscience by helping the towns folk of Mercy. It is at this point that The Doctors dark side makes an appearance and he seems to be happy to sacrifice Jex to cyborg as a war criminal.
Doctor, how you've changed! As Amy comments "this is what happens when you travel on your own for too long" Gone is the man who would not brandish a gun. This Time Lord is changing, and I'm not quite sure where its going to end. His actions divide the town, and Rory against Amy, ultimately you can say that it results in the death of the Marshall. As The Valeyard once remarked "Another death Doctor?"
The elements you would expect to find within a Western film are all here. Shanty Town, Saloon (complete with piano) horse riding (A horse called Susan, as of course The Doctor speaks "horse") and of course the gunfight at high noon. Complete with wiggly fingers pre gunfire! But in a tremendous fusion into Who world its deeper than that, much deeper. The Doctor is clearly fighting with inner demons. Struggling with what he has become. Jex, right up until the very last moment, seems to have come to terms with what he had to sacrifice to win his worlds peace. This is something The Doctor never has! He remembers every life, every injury every lost soul caused as a result of "his mercy". This isn't a Time Lord victorious, this is a Time Lord in mental torment!
This is Doctor Who at its best, classic adventure, gripping twists and, as we've come to expect, a deep mesmerising performance from Matt Smith. The final scenes when he convinces the cyborg to stay and protect the peace of the town end the adventure on a tremendous note. The killer becomes the towns protector. In the space of 45 minutes we move from fearing The Gunslinger to pitying him, from feeling sympathy for Jex to hating him and back to sympathy again. The Doctor points out to the riled townsfolk who want to remove Jex "violence doesn't solve violence it extends it". A very, very poignant comment!
So to conclude then, a very simple idea. "A robot terrorises a western town" The delivery? anything but! Building on what we've seen previously, The Doctor is on shaky ground. He no longer entirely trusts his own judgement. He is quick to anger, boiling up from deep inside him. How long will Amy be able to hold him back? At the end of the story who was the villain? it depends on what you view as evil. So many questions? Moffat!!! (*shakes fist)