by Todd O'Dowd
Cowboys! Desperadoes! Cyborgs! Lynch mobs! Aliens with dirty secrets! Sergio Leone homages! Transgendered horses! Someone’s been peeking at my Christmas list…
(Side note before we continue: Am I hallucinating or have we been hearing a lot about the Doctor’s supposed Christmas list over the past few episodes? And if so, will this have a pay off for this Christmas?)
Anyway, unlike the frivolity and fun of last week’s episode, this one had the sparse economy and emotional heft of a spaghetti western; from the cyborg’s evocation of this iconographic character, to Murray Gold’s homages to the work of Ennio Morricone, to the nods to the work of Sergio Leone and even the classic western High Noon. In fact, the entire episode was filmed in Almedia, Spain, where many of the spaghetti westerns (including A Fistful of Dollars) were filmed. But this episode was extremely dark in its emotional overtones, which made it a nice tonic after last week’s romp.
So let’s fetch the undertaker, order a strong tea, and let’s get to discuss this…
•I loved the framing voice over, just because it had that perfect feel of a western tale. That said, in hindsight, it’s interesting that the story could be applied to at least three characters in this episode.
•Who didn’t love the fake out in the beginning with the cyborg’s reference to The Doctor?
•For all of the dark turns this episode took, there were some laugh out loud lines to be had: “I see ‘Keep Out’ signs as suggestions more than actual orders. Like ‘Dry Clean Only.’” “Anachronistic electricity, ‘Keep Out’ signs, aggressive stares… Has someone been peaking at my Christmas list?” “Why would he want to kill you? Unless he’s met you.”I speak horse. He’s called Susan, and he wants you to respect his life choices.” “When did we start letting people get executed? Did I miss a memo?” “Everyone who isn’t an American, drop your guns!”
•Speaking of the horse, as I mentioned on my Tumblr, if the horse had suddenly broken into this early ’90s jam, I would have lost my mind! And while we’re at it, why hasn’t Dr. Who done a musical episode yet a la the classic “Once More With Feeling” episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer?
•The special effects were less computer generated and a lot more real; from the explosion at the end to the haunting scene where The Doctor learns all of Jex’s horros as the screens illuminate his face.
•It seems to me (and this is purely conjecture) that episode writer Toby Whithouse seems drawn to villains who have to make difficult but justifiable decisions (see the villains in “School Reunion” and “The Waters of Venice”), but in neither case did said villain dare to say the following to The Doctor…
Looking at you, Doctor, is like looking into a mirror, almost. There’s rage there, like me. Guilt, like me. Solitude. Everything but the nerve to do what needs to be done. Thank the gods my people weren’t relying on you to save them!
…My reaction was “Ooooh, Bitch! You don’t dare say that to the man who killed all the Time Lords to prevent The Time War from destroying the universe!” and I was thinking The Doctor was going to pull the classic Joan Holloway maneuver…
•But in the end The Doctor took our nice medical experimenter out of the town limits and held him at gunpoint, which forced Amy to pull a gun on The Doctor. (And when he said that she wouldn’t shoot him, I so wanted Amy to say “If my daughter can do it, then so can I!”). And this led to something I’ve been seeing pop up as subtext so far this season but it has become explicit now: The Doctor needs his companions as much as they need him. They provide some sense of moral restraint that helps The Doctor from crossing the line. (For a more explicit version of this notion, watch the season three opener “The Runaway Bride” and the fourth season episode “Turn Left” which shows what happens when The Doctor goes to far without a companion to reign him in). In a gut-wrenching scene, Amy manages to turn The Doctor by saying that they have to be better than this (meaning Jex), and it sets up for the later scene where The Doctor, now the town marshal, is defending Jex from the lynch mob.
•And in the end everyone did the honorable thing; Jex ended the vendetta by blowing up himself in his ship, and Tek became the new marshal in charge of the town. And then we realize who the narration was talking about at the end.
•I also have to give major kudos to all the actors in this episode; especially Ben Browden and Adrian Scarborough as Isaac and Jex respectively for carrying so much of the episode.
•And finally, a word about the arc of this season (yes, I know the episodes have been conceived as stand-alone stories but they’re connected): It’s interesting to note that Amy once again said that she and Rory should be getting back home after the episode and noting how they’ve been aging every time they go and travel with the doctor. It seems to me that while time passes very slowly for The Doctor, Amy and Rory are still aging as normal. There was no clue as to how much time had passed between the end of last week and the start of this episode. It will be interesting to see how much time lapses yet again between now and next Saturday.
Image Credits: BBC, Vulture.com