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Series 7 was split into two different parts. The first part was to close out the story of companions Amelia Pond and Rory Williams, while the second part was to introduce and explore the new companion, Clara Oswald. Compared to Series 8, this season looks like an improvement.
A Town Called Mercy
A Town Called Mercy is a gem of an episode. As Den of Geek states in their review:
Firstly, it looks sizzlingly wonderful. It’s no secret that the episode was shot in a sun-baked Spain, doubling up for the American west, and the investment in taking this production overseas was clearly well worth it. Director Saul Metzstein ensures the camera spends a good and proper amount of time soaking up the beautiful surroundings, and once again, there’s a real big screen feel to what’s been put together. Every penny you spent on your nice telly is justified right here. Murray Gold’s score very much captures the genre, too. His work is similarly excellent.
Furthermore, the episode opens quite brutally, too, and grabs the attention quickly as a result. This is when we see the gunslinging cyborg, who we’ll come to meet later in the episode, blowing someone to smithereens. The gunslinger is great. He’s part Terminator, part-Yul Brynner in Westworld, and he’s a convincing creation. Practical effects and make up go a long way here, and he’s the kind of character we’d love to see return. Not that it looks like he will: A Town Called Mercy is a self-contained story, almost a legend of the old west. If he remains a one-off, though, he’s a memorable one.
As for the Doctor himself? Well, he’s back with Amy and Rory again when we meet him, and the initial scenes as he walks through the lowly-populated town of Mercy are excellent (even if some of the residents speak with odd-sounding takes on American accents). These early moments hark back to the fish-out-of-water approach that serves many westerns so well, a mechanic that was gloriously played with in Back To The Future Part III. In this instance, the Doctor walks into the saloon and asks for a cup of tea. Just lovely.
Then the story kicks in proper. As it turns out, there’s another alien Doctor in town, and it’s not David Morrissey this time. Instead, it’s a Doctor who’s being hunted by the aforementioned gunslinger, for reasons that very quickly feel apparent. That notwithstanding, the gunslinger’s first appearances on the outskirts of Mercy are extremely strong. Flickering in and out of view, as the residents stand on the edge of the town, it’s strongly staged and very effective. Even Clint would be impressed.
Enter, then, Adrian Scarborough as Kahler Jex. He’s the aforementioned other alien Doctor of the episode, and Scarborough’s performance is a solid one. It feels like we’ve seen characters like him before – in different forms – in Doctor Who. Jex is, after all, a man who has done terrible things, who proves to be the truer ‘foe’ as such of the episode. There’s nothing massively interesting about his character itself, however. Instead, where he’s most effective is in the emotions he brings pouring out of the Doctor. Yet that means the Doctor’s eventual battle to protect Kahler Jex (and, more importantly, the town) doesn’t quite have the impact it feels it should.
A Town Called Mercy also gets bogged down with one or two other parts that also don’t seem to gel as well as they might. Take the sacrifice of Ben Browder’s Isaac. When it happens, it feels like it had been coming for some time (nice to see Ben Browder in Who, though), and that lessened the impact of his death, too. Similar minor quibbles can be directed at the eventual redemption of sorts of Kahler Jex – save for his speech about the weight of souls, and the monsters he created (a real highlight).
Yet for all our slight miserableness here, there are real merits to A Town Called Mercy, and the darkening once more of Matt Smith’s take on the Doctor – for which Kahler Jex is the catalyst – is a major, major plus. Here, he’s picked up a gun, he’s bursting with rage, and we get a stark reminder of what happens when he travels for long periods without a companion. It harks back in some ways to where David Tennant’s Doctor got to as he approached his exit. The difference is that Smith’s excellent Doctor isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’s a reminder of the rage that’s never far from the surface of the character.
Pitching the two alien Doctors against each other does have its merits, then, not least because there are obvious comparisons between the two (the episode leaves you in no doubt about that). It leads to some weigthy, impactful dialogue between them, too. When Smith’s Doctor accuses the other one of being a murderer, his riposte is “I’m a scientist”. It’s a bit like a Shakespearian foil, then. Kahler Jex believes he’s a war hero, and people have died in his pursuit of trying to make things better, and in attempting to save millions of lives. Does any of that sound familiar? Perhaps that’s why he gets under the skin of the Doctor quite so much. Both, as the episode tells us, carry their prisons with them.
So angry does the Doctor become, then, that he needs a counterweight to the thoughts that are running around in his head. Amy provides that here (Rory gets slightly less to do this time around). Their impending parting feels like it’s going to be a dramatic one, and these exchanges were amongst the further highlights of the episode. When the Doctor pushes Kahler Jex over the perimeter of Mercy, there’s a sense of uncontrolled vengeance we’ve not seen for a while. It’s just a shame that, arguably, the air goes out of it all a little from that point onwards.
One further positive, though: the comedy is strong again, as it has been all series. What we learned from this episode in particular was that The Doctor should be allowed to talk to horses more often. He’s good at it.
So let’s sum it all up. A Town Called Mercy is a good episode, and an entertaining piece of television. At points, it’s excellent, and rarely has a Doctor Who location shoot looked as sun-drenched and exquisite as this one. But we end where we start: it felt like it should be something just more than it is. It’s a fun, bumpy adventure to spend 45 minutes in the company of, and it demonstrates the real range in Matt Smith’s performance. But it doesn’t add up, when the credits roll, to much more than that. We suspect more than usual will disagree, though.
The Name of the Doctor
It’s shouldn’t be a surprise to see this as the worst episode of this series. It was difficult choice between this and The Crimson Horror, but with this story being so complicated and convoluted, even more so after The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor aired, the choice was became incredibly easy.
Before we go over the story itself, we should look at the tropes Clara has so far inhabited in the series. In Asylum of the Daleks, Oswin Oswald clearly the Evil Demon Seductress (see Feminist Frequency‘s Evil Demon Seductress, for future references to this particular link, I will use this symbol, Ω, to indicate it).
This was proven by some of the characters statements that regarding sexual interests (making it for certain viewers, easy to sexualize her).
The second incarnation of her we meet in The Snowmen, who most fits the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (Ω) whose personal mission was to bring the Doctor back from a depressive state.
This worked, as we see the Doctor finding the real, modern day Clara in The Bells of Saint John.
For this part of the series, because we simply didn’t know how the Doctor met a version of Clara (Oswin) inside the Dalek Asylum, and in Victorian London, along with the version that become his companion, this has been the mystery driving the Doctor, as seen in Journey to the Center of the TARDIS. It is in this episode that this mystery is finally solved.
Much of the content in this episode might cause you to fall over in confusion. It begins on Gallifrey in a repair shop as The First Doctor is set to steal a TARDIS with his granddaughter, Susan. So who greets him and tells him he is about to “make a very big mistake”? Clara. Then we see her in the vortex with a sequence of her in various attire trying to get to several incarnations of the Doctor in danger.
“I don’t know where I am. It’s like I’m breaking into a million pieces and there’s only one thing I remember. I have to save the Doctor. He always looks different. But I always know it’s him. Sometimes I think I’m everywhere at once, running every second just to find him. Just to save him. But he never hears me. Almost never. I blew into this world on a leaf. I’m still blowing. I don’t think I’ll ever land. I’m Clara Oswald. I’m the Impossible Girl. I was born to save the Doctor.”
So the episode really begins in London 1893 at Paternoster Row with Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, and Strax. In a prison cell, a man by the name of Clearence deMarco (who has killed fourteen women) tells Vastra about the Whispermen.
“Do you hear the Whisper Men? The Whisper Men are near. If you hear the Whisper Men, then turn away your ear. Do not hear the Whisper men, whatever else you do. For once you’ve heard the Whisper Men, they’ll stop and look at you.“
As well as a secret that has been discovered about the Doctor.
“In the babble of the world, there are whispers, if you know how to listen. The Doctor has a secret, you know…He has one he will take to the grave. And it is discovered.”
So, Madame Vastra decides to the “conference call” and sends a message to Clara.
“My dearest Clara. The Doctor entrusted me with your contact details in the event of an emergency, and I fear one has now arisen. Assuming this letter will have reached you as planned, on April the tenth, 2013, please find and light the enclosed candle. It will release a soporific which will induce a trance state, enabling direct communication across the years. However, as I realise you have no reason to trust this letter, I have taken the liberty of embedding the same soporific into the fabric of the paper you are now holding. Speak soon.”
How does sleep allow time travel again? Oh, who cares, right? It just couldn’t be that simple, but then it is. And so, Vastra, Jenny, Strax, Clara, and lastly, River Song enter the trance state.
Of course, as I already knew, that River Song was not only dead, as seen here in Forest of the Dead:
So how did River actually get into a dream state when already dead? Oh, who knows? At this point, I wanted to slap Moffat.
After Clara wakes up, and tells the Doctor of what occurred in the dream state, the Doctor takes her to Trenzalore, where a massive dying TARDIS sits on a desolate planet out somewhere. I remain rather ambivalent at the idea the Doctor can simply goes to this place after he died, so freely, but again, this story isn’t about coherence.
As Clara and the Doctor make their way to the tomb to find the Paternoster Gang, they find a grave for River Song, but even the Doctor would have known she wouldn’t have been buried there. When the Doctor says that River Song was his wife, Clara says “Your what?”
As this is happening, the Great Inelligelnce makes itself known to Vastra stating that the war on Trenzalore was a “minor skirmish, by the Doctor’s blood-soaked standards. Not exactly the Time War, but enough to finish him.“ (More on that later.) The Doctor enterts the tomb, finding Vastra, Jenny, and Strax with the Great Intelligence.
Inside the tomb, they find the Doctor’s “scar tissue of my journey through the universe” or rather “path through time and space from Gallifrey to Trenzalore”: It’s his time stream. The Great Intelligence enters it to “rewrite every living moment,” “turn every victories into defeats,” and “poison every friendship” causing it to turn red.
Clara, having figured out how the Doctor met her twice, realizes she has to enter his timestream to correct the problem. However River Song tells her she can’t because “time winds will tear you into a million pieces. A million versions of you, living and dying all over time and space, like echoes” and that ” they won’t be you. The real you will die. They’ll just be copies.” Clara retorts that “The soufflé isn’t the soufflé, the soufflé is the recipe” and that it will “be enough to save him.” So as she enters the timestream she says, “Run, you clever boy, and remember me.”
The cliffhanger of this episode ends with the reveal of a new incarnation of the Doctor being revealed, whose story will be told in The Day of the Doctor.
The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor
Despite River Song telling Clara that if she enters the Doctor’s timestream, she will die. Not only does she not die, but the Doctor follows her into his timestream, and there is not an explanation provided as to how this escape took place. It’s a massive plot hole that undermines any sort of danger in her entering the timestream, minimizing it’s overall impact.
We also know that in The Time of the Doctor that the Rules of Regeneration are rewritten for the Doctor when the Time Lords give him a whole new set of regenerations, but this brings serious questions in tow for The Name of the Doctor. If he doesn’t die on Trenzalore with his TARDIS in the first place, how did Clara and the Doctor get there in order for the Great Intelligence (and Clara) to enter into his timestream? The elements of that story are negated. Erased. As this Fanboy Comics review of The Time of the Doctor states:
Another major flaw was that by the Time Lords rescuing the Doctor, they created a major paradox, and while the time travel rules in Doctor Who allow for some wiggle room, that does not include one’s own timeline. If the Doctor does not die on Trenzalore, then the Great Intelligence and Clara do not enter his timestream, which means that he never meets Clara, and this entire last season was erased! What is this, Doctor Who or Dallas?
The Legacy of The Name of the Doctor
The after effects of the sequence in which Clara enters the Doctor’s timestream result in Clara inhabiting the Ms. Male Character (Ω) trope, such as in Flatline, and Death In Heaven. Additionally, Clara is seen with this trope in The Day of the Doctor, such as when she rides the motorcycle without the Doctor, as they had done before in her introduction story, The Bells of Saint John.
And all of this nonsense combines to make an episodes built not on character development or coherent story telling, but rather it’s centrally around call backs to the shows history. Pathetic.