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New Series Episode 95:
A Town Called Mercy

Plot

The Doctor, Amy and Rory arrive in Mercy, a frontier town in the Old West being terrorised by a murderous cyborg. The cyborg is searching for Kahler-Jex, an alien surgeon who took refuge in Mercy after his spaceship crashed in the desert nearby. The townsfolk -- led by their marshal, Isaac -- are determined to safeguard Kahler-Jex, but supplies and morale are beginning to run low. And, as the Doctor uncovers the sordid history between Kahler-Jex and the cyborg, he begins to realise that, sometimes, the line between victim and monster is very blurry indeed.

Production

During the 1960s, a popular movie sub-genre was the “Spaghetti Western”: low-budget films set in the United States during the Wild West era, but typically made by Italian directors in Spain and Italy. The most acclaimed Spaghetti Westerns were a trio of movies directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood as the “Man With No Name” -- A Fistful Of Dollars (1964), For A Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966). Leone had shot the trilogy in the Tabernas Desert, located in the Spanish province of Almería. Wild West-style towns and forts had been built for Leone's productions, and these were subsequently maintained as theme parks called Oasys (or “Mini Hollywood”) and Fort Bravo (or “Texas Hollywood”).

By 2012, filming outside the United Kingdom had virtually become an annual tradition for Doctor Who. Since 2007, cast and crew had travelled to New York; Rome, Italy; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Trogir, Croatia; and most recently Utah and Arizona for The Impossible Astronaut / Day Of The Moon. For Season Thirty-Three, it was decided to take the Doctor Who team to Almería, and to write a story with a Western setting, executive producer Steven Moffat turned to Toby Whithouse. Whithouse had most recently contributed the previous year's The God Complex, and while he had no prior experience writing Westerns, he was fan of Sergio Leone's work. He also admired Deadwood, a mature take on the Western setting which had premiered on the HBO channel in 2004. For his Doctor Who story, Whithouse sought to balance the classic tropes of the genre with the moral complexity of modern Westerns.

An early version saw the cyborg killed off partway through the story

During the fall of 2011, Whithouse began writing a script which became known as “The Gunslinger”. The eponymous character was initially a robot, but quickly became a cyborg (called Kahler-Tec, then modified slightly to Kahler-Tek) because Whithouse felt this offered greater emotional depth. An early version saw the cyborg killed off partway through the story, which then focussed on the true villain of the piece, Kahler-Jex. This approach was soon inverted, with Kahler-Jex shot to death by Isaac's mad father George, and the drama of the final act generated by the cyborg seeking to punish the town that had deprived him of his revenge. This version of “The Gunslinger” culminated in the Doctor confronting Kahler-Tec with the projected image of a woman named Kahler-San, who wore the same pendant as the cyborg. Although Kahler-Tec saw through the deception, it was enough to convince him to halt his assault on the people of Mercy.

While happy with the early stages of “The Gunslinger”, Moffat felt that Whithouse's script started to run out of steam following the death of Kahler-Jex. It was agreed that preserving both Kahler-Jex and Kahler-Tek through to the climax would give Whithouse more space to explore the moral grey areas of his scenario. Moffat was also eager to push the notion of the Doctor becoming a less sympathetic figure when deprived of regular travelling companions; as such, it would be the Time Lord, rather than Rory, who would argue for Kahler-Jex to be turned over to the cyborg. Furthermore, this prompted the Doctor being placed in the uncomfortable position of serving as marshal, and Whithouse found inspiration in the novel and movie To Kill A Mockingbird -- in which an upright Southern lawyer confronts a lynch mob which has come to kill his black client -- as he conceived the Doctor's confrontation with the townsfolk outside the jail.

Ben Browder (Isaac) was best known for the cult favourites Farscape and Stargate SG-1

“The Gunslinger” was paired with Dinosaurs On A Spaceship to form the first production block for Season Thirty-Three, under director Saul Metzstein. As Isaac, he secured the services of American actor Ben Browder, best known as the star of two science-fiction series: the cult favourite Farscape, as well as the latter of seasons of Stargate SG-1. Although born in Tennessee and raised in North Carolina, Browder had attended the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, and was married to British actress Francesca Buller. As such, he was well aware of Doctor Who, and thrilled to have the chance to appear in the show.

Shortly before the start of recording, the story's title became “Mercy”. This better reflected the tone of Whithouse's script, while also avoiding comparisons with the 1982 Stephen King novel The Gunslinger, which had inaugurated the horror author's popular Dark Tower series. Then, on March 6th, 2012 the majority of the cast and crew needed for the Spanish location shoot flew out of Heathrow to Madrid, and from there proceeded to Almería.

Filming began on March 7th, which was the only day spent at Oasys. Its Fort Apache area provided the exterior of the marshal's office, while scenes inside Kahler-Jex's spaceship were also recorded. From March 8th to 14th (omitting only the 11th) Metzstein's venue was the Fort Bravo park, where the majority of the episode was shot. The final day in Spain was the 15th, when a ravine between Oasys and Fort Bravo served as a variety of locations along the outskirts of Mercy. This left only the scenes in the marshal's office, which recorded back in the UK at Upper Boat Studios between March 19th and 21st.

Editing eliminated a haunting beautiful melody which emanated from Kahler-Tek

In editing, the story's title became the more expansive A Town Called Mercy, echoing western films such as A Man Called Horse and A Man Called Sledge. Otherwise, the major change made to the episode was the elimination of a hauntingly beautiful melody which emanated from Kahler-Tek, typically presaging his arrival. Originally, Kahler-Jex eventually revealed that this was music he played during the torturous operation which created a cyborg, in order to drown out the subject's screams. As with the other four episodes which formed the first part of Season Thirty-Three, A Town Called Mercy was given a uniquely stylised version of the Doctor Who logo; this appeared to be made of wood, and was shot through with bullet holes.

During 2011, efforts had been made to broaden the footprint of Doctor Who by trailing select episodes with specially-filmed prequels, released online a week or so before the corresponding story was broadcast. For 2012, it was decided to experiment with alternative approaches to this kind of additional content. On August 3rd, Neill Gorton of Millennium FX directed a prequel for A Town Called Mercy, with recording taking place at the new Doctor Who studio home of Roath Lock. Entitled The Making Of The Gunslinger, this piece depicted the transformation of Kahler-Tek into a cyborg under the supervision of Kahler-Jex. However, rather than being released for free online, the prequel was instead offered for sale via iTunes, beginning the day after A Town Called Mercy was transmitted. This followed a pattern already established by the prequel for the season premiere, Asylum Of The Daleks.

Sources
  • Doctor Who News.
  • Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition #33, Spring 2013, “A Town Called Mercy” by Andrew Pixley, Panini UK Ltd.

Original Transmission
Date 15th Sep 2012
Time 7.35pm
Duration 44'18"
Viewers (more) 8.4m (7th)
· BBC1/HD 8.4m
· iPlayer 1.3m
Appreciation 85%


Cast
The Doctor
Matt Smith
Amy Pond
Karen Gillan
Rory Williams
Arthur Darvill
(more)
The Gunslinger
Andrew Brooke
Kahler-Jex
Adrian Scarborough
Kahler-Mas
Dominic Kemp
Sadie
Joanne McQuinn
The Preacher
Byrd Wilkins
Abraham
Garrick Hagon
Isaac
Ben Browder
Dockery
Sean Benedict
Walter
Rob Cavazos


Crew
Written by
Toby Whithouse
Directed by
Saul Metzstein
Produced by
Marcus Wilson
(more)

Stunt Coordinator
Gordon Seed
Stunt Performer
Will Willoughby
First Assistant Director
Nick Brown
Second Assistant Director
James DeHaviland
Third Assistant Director
Heddi-Joy Taylor-Welch
Assistant Director
Danielle Richards
Location Manager
Iwan Roberts
Unit Manager
Geraint Williams
Production Manager
Phillipa Cole
Production Manager (Spain)
Pere Agullo
Production Coordinator
Claire Hildred
Asst Production Coordinator
Gabriella Ricci
Production Secretary
Sandra Cosfeld
Production Assistants
Rachel Vipond
Samantha Price
Asst Production Accountant
Rhys Evans
Script Supervisor
Lindsay Grant
Camera Operator
Joe Russell
Focus Pullers
Steve Rees
James Scott
Grip
Gary Norman
Camera Assistants
Meg de Koning
Sam Smithard
Cai Thompson
Assistant Grip
Owen Charnley
Sound Maintenance Engineers
Jeff Welch
Chris Goding
Gaffer
Mark Hutchings
Best Boy
Stephen Slocombe
Electricians
Bob Milton
Gareth Sheldon
Alan Tippetts
Supervising Art Director
Paul Spriggs
Set Decorator
Adrian Anscombe
Production Buyer
Charlie Lynam
Art Director
Amy Pickwoad
Assistant Art Director
Richard Hardy
Art Department Coordinator
Donna Shakesheff
Prop Master
Paul Smith
Prop Chargehand
Bernie Davies
Set Dresser
Jayne Davies
Prop Hand
Austin J Curtis
Standby Props
Phill Shellard
Helen Atherton
Dressing Props
Mike Elkins
Ian Griffin
Tom Belton
Graphic Artist
Christina Tom
Graphic Designer
Chris J Lees
Petty Cash Buyer
Helen O'Leary
Standby Carpenter
Will Pope
Standby Rigger
Bryan Griffiths
Props Makers
Penny Howarth
Alan Hardy
Jamie Thomas
Props Driver
Gareth Fox
Construction Manager
Terry Horle
Construction Chargehand
Dean Tucker
Assistant Costume Designer
Fraser Purfit
Costume Supervisor
Carly Griffith
Costume Assistants
Katarina Cappellazzi
Gemma Evans
Make-Up Artists
Sara Angharad
Vivienne Simpson
Allison Sing
Casting Associate
Alice Purser
Assistant Editor
Becky Trotman
VFX Editor
Joel Skinner
Dubbing Mixer
Tim Ricketts
ADR Editor
Matthew Cox
Dialogue Editor
Darran Clement
Sound Effects Editor
Paul Jefferies
Foley Editor
Jamie Talbutt
Graphics
Peter Anderson Studio
Online Editor
Matt Mullins
Colourist
Gareth Spensley
With Thanks to
The BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Conducted and Orchestrated by
Ben Foster
Mixed by
Jake Jackson
Recorded by
Gerry O'Riordan
Original Theme Music
Ron Grainer
Casting Director
Andy Pryor CDG
Production Executive
Julie Scott
Post Production Supervisor
Nerys Davies
Production Accountant
Jeff Dunn
Sound Recordist
Deian Llŷr Humphreys
Costume Designer
Howard Burden
Make-Up Designer
Barbara Southcott
Music
Murray Gold
Visual Effects
Space Digital
Special Effects
Real SFX
Prosthetics
Millennium FX
Editor
Tim Porter
Production Designer
Michael Pickwoad
Director Of Photography
Stephan Pehrsson
Script Producer
Denise Paul
Line Producer
Diana Barton
Executive Producers
Steven Moffat
Caroline Skinner


Working Titles
The Gunslinger
Mercy

Updated 17th August 2014