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The Ben Browder News Blog

Thoughts, analysis, and reviews of the work of Ben Browder
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Doctor Who: A Town Called Mercy — Series 7, Episode 3


When I was a child, my favourite story was about a man who lived forever, but whose eyes were heavy with the weight of all he'd seen. A man who fell from the stars. 

A Town Called Mercy is a wonderful episode of Doctor Who and part of the reason is that Ben brought verisimilitude to his role of the world-weary but extremely competent sheriff.


Ben Browder tells the story of how he was offered the role of Isaac, The Sheriff of Mercy in 2012 during the prime Spring audition season when actors are selected for the Autumn television pilots and guest starring roles. It was not the time to fly off to Almeria, Spain and do a Western. On the other hand, his kids were huge Doctor Who fans and he also was enough of a fan to have received a TARDIS toy from Russell T. Davies which he treasured and had sitting on his desk. Isaac was an extremely sympathetic character and as the only American in a cast and crew of Brits, Ben relished taking on an American icon, the Western lawman. Shooting in Almeria, Spain on the same sets where classic John Ford westerns such as Rio Bravo were shot was quite an experience. Ben says that tourists were all over the place and that one day he was coming out of the saloon dressed in his costume and surprised these Spanish or European visitors who took him for a stuntman. He didn't know who was more scared, him or them. 

The episode of Doctor Who takes place at a critical period in the Doctor's third reincarnation since the show's reboot in 2005 where Matt Smith as The Doctor is in a dark place and can even pull a gun to get what he wants. Amy and Rory are his consciences as he comes face to face with another alien doctor who could be himself at an earlier stage. Isaac is protecting this alien named Jex because he says that everyone deserves a second chance. The year is about 1870 and Isaac is grateful to Jex for electrifying the town as well as curing a cholera epidemic. The only problem is that a new alien, besides our Doctor and companions has come to town; an enormous vengeful cyborg. It turns out that Jex is like Doctor Mengle of Nazi fame who created an army of super soldiers by forcing people into extreme surgeries that grafted weapons to their bodies and left them no longer able to exist in polite society when the war that was being fought was over. He, in fact, was a war criminal hiding out because he knew that this creature was gunning for him. The Gunslinger, as the cyborg was called, had laid siege to the town, killing anyone who stepped out of a boundary surrounding it made up of sticks and stones. So, Isaac has a dual job, protecting his town from the Gunslinger and protecting Jex from the townspeople. 

Ben played Isaac as a world-weary lawman who seemed to have seen too much horror in his life and welcomed the opportunity to provide peace to his town through the efforts of this alien man. He didn't care what the alien doctor had done in his past life. Isaac must have been a veteran of the Civil War (which he mentions during his introduction to our Doctor and his explanation of why he protects his doctor) and seen too much killing and bloodshed. He does not welcome The Doctor's propensity for chaos. Yet, he volunteers to try and negotiate with the Gunslinger bringing Rory along to act as a diversion so The Doctor can find Jex' spaceship and possibly turn off the Gunslinger. 

Isaac is brave and resourceful and Ben's physicality plays well against the desert along with his ability to lighten up the rather sad episode with side cracks about their mission and discussions with the equally caustic Rory. They definitely do not stop the Gunslinger and actually signal to the creature that Jex has been left unprotected in town when The Doctor reaches and opens the spaceship and plays back Jex' diary learning the depths of depravity Jex had performed in creating those super soldiers and exactly who the Gunslinger was, namely the last of his kind just as Jex was the last of the creators. A showdown was in the offing and The Doctor's guilt in his own culpability in destroying Gallifrey to end the Time War definitely colored his anger at what Jex had done. Isaac stood in the way of both the Gunslinger and The Doctor and lost his life protecting when he jumped in front of our Doctor and took a shot from the Gunslinger meant for him. Ben tends to die with dramatic flare and this death was no different. He often tells the awful story that he thought he was acting up a storm when he heard Matt Smith sniffling but in fact, he fell with such force that his cowboy boot clipped Matt's thigh causing him to bleed (which he was terribly apologetic about). 

Isaac's death and a speech by Rory about the negative changes in The Doctor's usually gentle approach to solving problems provided the impetus for The Doctor to take on the job of Sheriff and solve the siege. What's interesting is that there are ambiguities throughout this episode in that no bad guy was truly fully bad nor were the good guys without sin. This conflict of morals forms the solution to the episode and helps us understand what's going on with The Doctor and his deep guilt and anger at himself. In the end, Jex commits suicide by stopping his ship from exploding until it is airborne, thus saving the Town of Mercy as well as letting the Gunslinger live. The Gunslinger is a lawman of sorts and because he has no purpose anymore and has been programmed to serve, he ends up spending his days protecting the Town called Mercy for many generations. 


Smith had praise for guest actors Ben Browder, who he said "[made] a good cowboy" with "that great drawl", and Adrian Scarborough, who he said "steals the whole episode." Browder was offered the role and gladly accepted; he was aware of the show as his children had watched it, and he also wanted to do a western. Whithouse was "thrilled" with Browder's performance, as it was how he imagined the character.

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We are a fan site completely unaffiliated with Ben Browder or his management. We created the website to augment our fan page on Facebook, Ben Browder News, as a place where you can read the reviews, opinions, and news published for the past few years as well as gain access to the other wonderful websites concerning the career of Ben Browder. The editors of Ben Browder News wish to thank our fellow fans for their talent and creativity and we hope we are adding to the accumulated information supporting Ben's amazing acting, writing, directing and producing career.

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