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5 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 825: A Town Called Mercy

Dear diary,

I seem to be saying it over and over again (which, really, translates to ‘I seem to be rediscovering over and over again’) just how much the 21st century series expands in size as the years go on. It’s been particularly noticeable of late, what with all the attention being turned over to Rose in the wake of the 10th anniversary week, but when you look at an episode like this one next to an episode like that, it’s amazing to think that such little time passed between them. The 2005 series looked massive in scale compared to the stuff that had come before it (the ‘classic’ series evolved massively over time, but it largely shared a very similar overall look, give or take the few seismic shifts you experience when moving from 1969/70 or 1979/80), but this episode, for example, is in a whole new league. Quite simply by this point in time the series really is producing a Hollywood film every week and on a budget which was - I think - actually down from 2005!

The split in Series Seven hugely benefits these opening five episodes, which feature the snowcapped mountains of the Dalek Asylum, the Wild West as depicted here, and scenes filmed in New York for the Pond’s farewell adventure. Quite simply, the programme has never had a visual style as broad as this, and I don’t think it’s really managed to achieve it again since, even though it’s continued to alter and expand its scope in different areas. It means that these Series Seven-A episodes really highlight that wonderful ability of Doctor Who to be different every week. The tone of the programme shifts hugely across this batch of episodes, and it’s almost as though the programme is returning from that big nine-month break in transmission by reminding you just how wild, and brilliant, and - frankly - sexy it can be.

For me, the location filming (actually, the overall design of this entire serial, if I’m honest - it’s telling that I often can’t tell here where location ends and studio begins) has to be the real highlight of this one. The story itself is alright, I suppose, but I can’t really claim that it’s grabbed my attention in the same way that the headline Dinosaurs on a Spaceship did. Once again, this is an excursus in creating a bit of a blockbuster, and it’s got everything I’d expect to have in a Western. I’m not by any stretch of the imagination an expert in the genre, but I’m versed enough in simple popular culture to know some of the key features (and of course the Doctor was going to end up Sheriff). Frankly, the only thing missing is a homage to The Ballard of the Last Chance Saloon

A few days before reaching this block of stories, I was pointed towards a theory online that the episodes from The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe to The Angels Take Manhattan are happening in reverse order for the Doctor, compared to the Ponds. The idea - in a nutshell - is that Amy’s letter in the Angels story, telling him to go back to her as a little girl, gives him the idea to work his way back through their time stream, and enjoy as many adventures with them as he can, knowing that he’ll not be able to see them again once they’ve reached New York. I’ve been watching with this in mind up until now, but I think I’m actually just finding it more distracting than anything. The idea sounded quite good on paper, but I’m finding lots f little things which seem to contradict it while I’m going through. Today’s episode is the only time that something seemingly more concrete crops up - there’s reference to an adventure with Henry the Eighth which won’t take place until the next episode, but I think that’s easily chalked up to them visiting that time period twice…

 

 
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