The Orange Couch, Doctor Who, Episode 3: “A Town Called Mercy”
SNIFFLE. I’ll admit, I teared up a bit watching Saturday’s Doctor Who, both times we watched it. This season, the show really seems to be reaching out to younger viewers—spelling themes out explicitly, having character names reference their narrative purpose, animals and a shit load of Daleks—but they’re not sacrificing older audience members to do so. Last night was a template for how to make a show that appeals to everyone from age 4 to 94, starting with not assuming that the kid portion of the audience is incapable of processing complex emotions or morally complex characters.
As we mention in the video, “A Town Called Mercy” is a return to the well of mythologizing American history, which is a strange choice indeed for a BBC show, but something that has been done in the Moffat years to great effect. The two-part opener of season 6 managed to bring a sense of awe to the moon landings that’s been lost in the many retellings of the story, for instance. And in this, the best parts of the Western felt fresh and alive, and the audience is really made to feel the moral dilemmas that crop up in the aftermath of war or in a situation where people are struggling to survive. Good acting all around helped, too.
So, I doubt many Whovians out there are unaware that the Ponds are not long for the show. I was glad, then, to have a piece analyzing the role their storyline has played in the Doctor Who universe published in The American Prospect before they go. In the piece, I take on feminist critiques of the show as limiting Amy Pond to her domestic roles as wife and mother. I don’t think the show actually does that, but it is true that wife-and-mother have been the bigger chunk of Amy’s character, and Rory—who we mock on The Orange Couch—is a pretty classic Nice Guy® wish fulfillment character. (Nerdy dudes are not well served by having one of their favorite shows tell them that scoring the hot chick is a matter of glomming onto her, no matter how uninterested she seems, and wearing her down through acts of devotion until she’s basically obliged to have you.) But outside of that, I have enjoyed, and this is hard for me to say, a storyline about family and domesticity and yes, even babies. It helps that the baby was whisked away shortly after birth and came back a full-grown and badass adult; if it could work that way in real life, I could be amendable to kids. The writers found a way to do the baby thing without the subsequent crashing-boring-I-want-my-old-show back thing.
More importantly, I think the family story—and to get the full extent of my argument for why the Ponds are the Doctor’s family, read the article—really helps drive home the complex themes of loneliness and longing for others that have been the backbone of this show. Winning people over with razzle-dazzle is easy for the Doctor, but unconditional love of the sort that’s associated with families is another ball of wax. He got a dose of what that looks like when Amy called him out, with love, in this episode. And he saw some of the drawbacks, too. After all, most of us love our parents, but we don’t really want to go traveling with them. It seems some hard choices are ahead for the Doctor and the Ponds. And it all brings how an uncomfortable truth, which is that people often create families as a bulwark against loneliness and then find that it doesn’t always work the way we’d hope.
What did you think of the episode? Where do you think the next two episodes are headed? And how great is it that the last episode before the break is in New York?