by Paul Kelly
Another family-friendly romp this week. If I'm honest, I was expecting Rory and Amy's final stories to focus more on them. Considering they only have two episodes left, they were badly underused tonight. The story could quite easily have done without them and aired as part of next year's line-up. (With Jenna-Louise Coleman as companion.) Not that it was a dud: it was a typically solid, dependable, Toby Whithouse effort. It just didn't have the shock factor of "Asylum of the Daleks", or the fun of "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship". It did, however, have a horse called Susan.
I suppose my main complaint is that I didn't feel the story did the setting justice. This is supposed to be the Wild West, for goodness sakes! The scenery was perfect (if at times sparsely populated), the Doctor's conversation with the gender-challenged Susan, cackle-worthy, and Kahler-Jex's moral dilemma was, on the whole, well told and compelling. But you don't go on location to America – well, Spain (because that's where the Wild West is, apparently) – and then tell a decidedly average story. Even more serious, you don't get Ben Browder on the show, and then kill him off half way through the episode. Who made that decision? Toby, I guess. Well, boo, Toby! Boo, I say!
It's odd, because initially, this episode felt slightly sub-par to me. Not a terrible episode – thankfully, we haven't had a real stinker since 'Victory of the Daleks' – but it felt uneven, unremarkable, and, quite frankly, a little uninspired. After a second watch, however, I was forced to revise my opinion. It was actually quite decent. Although Kahler-Jex's moral quandary was rather bluntly explained and exposition heavy, it did bring up some interesting ethical issues relating to justice and conscience. Awful things are done in times of war. The Doctor knows this better than anyone – he did, after all, cause the near-extinction of both the Time Lords and the Daleks. (Although for a dwindling bunch, they do keep turning up with depressing regularity.)
But being likened to Kahler-Jex was clearly enough to get the Doctor's dander up: whether because he found it an unfair comparison, or because it cut too close to home, I'm guessing the latter. He even started wafting a gun about, which inspired Amy to do the same, ending in a lovely scene where the Doctor was unceremoniously told off. Although Rory and Amy are there every week from our perspective, the Doctor's mostly travelling alone these days, and as per usual, without a constant moral guide, his tendency to 'go off on one' is starting to become manifest. Amy's speech about them having to be better than their enemies proved the perfect antidote to the Doctor's ire. No Racnoss meltdowns this season. At least not yet. There's still time.
Sadly, Amy and Rory really do feel like passengers this year. That's not a fault of the show, it's the natural progression of their characters. Despite comments to the contrary, the Doctor is weaning them off him. Their relationship feels different now. They don't feel like the family unit they once did. Amy even refused to go off adventuring with him: proof positive that, despite still worrying about the Doctor, life outside of the TARDIS is starting to take priority. Would Amy have been concerned what her friends might think a season ago? The odd thing is, the Doctor didn't even seem put out by it. Evidence too that's he's starting to move on. Perhaps it's time to go off in search of a former Dalek-shaped lady.
Whether the numerous Wild West clichés and tips of the hat to various Westerns enhanced the episode or hindered it, they're pretty much par for the course in an episode of this ilk. I liked that the Gunslinger turned out to be the hero rather than the villain, though poor Andrew Brooke was given some stinking dialogue at times. ("I will find you, if I have to tear this universe apart.") And I ain't American (although I did try an 'ain't' there instead of an 'am not', and gave myself quite the thrill), but some of those accents were surely terrible? The opening/closing narration in particular sounded particularly dodgy -- although, to be fair, a few years ago I did laugh at Stephen Moyer's real accent, deeming it completely fake -- only to find out that's how he actually talks. So what do I know?
And a brief high five to Matt Smith. His acting tonight (and pretty much every night) is the glue which holds an average episode like this together. I keep saying 'average', but this was by no means a turkey. Sure, it had a few feathers, and one of those wobbly rubber things on the top of its head, but it ultimately entertained. Were my expectations too high? Possibly. But I don't hate stand-alones. Some of my favourite episodes have been stand-alone. They just need to be really well written, and this one didn't catch my imagination as much as say "The Girl in the Fireplace" or "School Reunion". I'd recommend anyone who didn't like it watch it again. It really does improve on second viewing.
Bits and Pieces:
-- I don't usually comment on Murray Gold's music, and when I do, I usually preface it with "I don't usually comment on Murray Gold's music", just so you know I'm going to, you know, comment on Murray Gold's music, but it jumped out and hit me in the face several times tonight... and not in a good way.
-- Shame we didn't get to see more of Ben Browder. I loved him playing Isaac. Unfortunately, his character didn't really have time to endear himself to us, so his death was pretty much forgettable. Nice 'tache though.
-- I always smile when they give a weird stranger who's only just walked into town a position of authority: and the whole town is completely fine with it. It's totally realistic.
-- That moment where the Doctor ordered tea in the saloon -- with the bag still in!
-- Kahler-Jex really needs to learn about data encryption. All those compromising files and video footage just sat there in his ship? Nightmare!
-- Rumour has it this was the first Wild West inspired episode since 'The Gunfighters'. Let's hope it gets higher audience appreciation scores.... if they even still do those.
Doctor: “Anachronistic electricity, keep out signs, aggressive stares, has someone been peeking at my Christmas list?”
Doctor: “He shoots people's hats?”
Amy: “I think it was a warning shot.”
Doctor: “Ah, no. Yes, I see. Hmmm?”
Doctor: “The Kahler! They can build a spaceship out of Tupperware and moss.”
Doctor: “That's what happens when people get toast crumbs on the console.”
The Preacher: “He's called Joshua. It's from the bible. It means the deliverer.”
Doctor: “No, he isn't.”
The Preacher: “What?”
Doctor: “I speak horse. He's called Susan and he wants you to respect his life choices.”
Isaac: "Everyone who isn't an American, drop your gun."
Doctor: “You committed an atrocity and chose this as your punishment. Don't get me wrong: good choice. Civilised hours, lots of adulation, nice weather. But, justice doesn't work like that. You don't get to decide how your debt is paid!"