Okay, honestly, I thought this episode was boring. It had a lot of potential—it’s always fun to throw genre-savvy time travelers into Western situations (see “Frontierland” in Supernatural). But the story sort of fell flat for me.
I was concerned through the first half of the episode that the Doctor was acting out of character toward Doctor Jex. I feel like usually he would have more compassion toward someone who has walked the same path he did, but instead he was angry and hateful and, well, merciless. It eventually comes out that this hatred is more toward himself than toward Jex, as the Doctor sees himself reflected in Jex, but we haven’t seen a Doctor this vengeful and unforgiving since the beginning of Nine’s run.
This seemingly-out-of-character behavior is explained to us, not in the show, but in a commercial break featuring a sneak peek into the Doctor’s mindset care of Matt Smith himself. Because Amy and Rory have become part-time companions, he says, the Doctor has been on his own a lot and when he’s on his own he thinks too much about his own failures and gets harder and more melancholy.
This should not need to be explained to me by an actor out of character. This should be obvious in the show itself. This exchange is the only thing we get (and hey: Amy doesn’t even know who the Master is):
The Doctor: We could end this right now. We could save everyone right now!
Amy: This is not how we roll, and you know it. What’s happened to you, Doctor? When did killing someone become an option?
The Doctor: Jex has to answer for his crimes.
Amy: And what then? Are you going to hunt down everyone who’s made a gun or a bullet or a bomb?
The Doctor: But they keep coming back, don’t you see? Every time I negotiate, I try to understand. Well not today. No, today I honor the victims first. His, The Master’s, the Daleks’. All the people that died because of my mercy!
Amy: See this is what happens when you travel alone for too long. Well listen to me, Doctor, we can’t be like him. We have to be better than him.
The Doctor: Amelia Pond. Fine. Fine! We think of something else. But frankly, I’m betting on the Gunslinger.
And this? This isn’t the Doctor getting jaded and melancholy, anyway. This is the Doctor getting lazy. He dances away from a fleet of Daleks, leaving them to do their thing; he blows up Solomon without any regret; and he would rather just kill some sinner than try to save everyone. And I hate to keep saying that Tennant did it better, but look at the ridiculously desperate eleventh hour situation that forced Ten into taking up a gun. The End of Time, the Time War coming back, Rassilon himself ready to fuck up the entire universe for his own ends. Eleven picks up a gun in a throwaway midseason episode to menace a random guy, with the implication that the gun is essentially pointed at his own head because Jex is like the Doctor blah blah blah. Argh.
And Amy and Rory, sweethearts: you can’t have it both ways. You don’t get to both berate the Doctor for traveling alone all the time now, and also bow out of adventures. At the end of the last two episodes, the Doctor had just gotten his groove back, and right as he was about to spirit the Ponds away to somewhere exciting, they were like “No, thanks, we’d really rather go be normal.” That’s fine. But they don’t get to have it both ways, (you don’t get to yell at the Doctor for being alone and then also leave him alone all the time) and it looks like this is going to come to a head in the next episode.
As an aside, Amy and Rory were really… unnecessary in this episode. Rory especially, which is sad because I love Rory. And Amy was just there to balance out the Doctor in that scene. And for that bit about motherhood that annoyed me, about her eyes being kind and sad and yet having a ferocity to them. The Doctor has all that too, and yes, he was a father and a grandfather, but these traits are never defined for him in terms of his fatherhood.
And, of course, let’s spare a second for the throwaway line about the trans* horse. Dear writers (Toby Whithouse wrote this episode, but as showrunner Moffat is ultimately responsible for letting it in): A jokey line about the horse being transgendered does not really do anything positive for representation in the trans* community, and if the Doctor really respected Susan the horse’s life choices, he’d have referred to said horse with female pronouns. I know it wouldn’t have been funny that way, but hey, how about not making a joke out of trans* people.
Hope springs eternal, and maybe next week will be better. My fingers are crossed.