Forget your Thunderbirds cast reunions in the saloon bar, and The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon. This is a real Doctor Who Western. It’s an idea that’s been around for some time (there’s an audio and a novel set in similar surroundings featuring the 11th Doctor, let alone others for his predecessors), but the BBC has gone to town for this.
Toby Whithouse’s story isn’t afraid to show its roots: The Terminator, Westworld, and all manner of Spaghetti Westerns are referenced, and one of the better running gags comes from Back to the Future Part III (which we’ve seen in the trailer already). Murray Gold’s score has some lovely nods to the music of Enrico Morricone. Saul Metzstein’s direction emphasises the desolate nature of the surroundings, and there are some lovely audio and visual tricks that sell the nature of the Gunslinger and his relationship with the community.
But once again it’s the emotion of the script that makes this work, and frankly, the dilemma which the Doctor and his friends find themselves dealing with didn’t need this background. The death of Solomon in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship surprised some people; it’s a taster to what’s coming in this episode, as Matt Smith shows a Doctor who really doesn’t know what he’s going to do next. The anger on view in A Good Man Goes to War is nothing to what we see here.
And we see that little Amelia Pond really has grown up. The scenes between Karen Gillan and Smith are as good as any they’ve shown us to date, and not only have resonance within the episode, but also for the ongoing Pond arc. Rory fans may feel a little disappointed but his contributions are all vital.
Guest stars Ben Browder and Adrian Scarborough are both in fine form, and you almost wish this was a two-parter simply so you can see more of both of them in action.
Verdict: One of the strongest seasons for some time continues its fine form. 8/10