I was expecting a humorous, over the top, action filled Western featuring aliens and a robotic gun-slinger and while there were moments of humour ('Tea – the strong stuff', Amy's ineptitude with a gun, Susan the trans horse [Although I feel I need to point something out to the Doctor – he says to respect her lifestyle choices and then uses a gender other than the one she's identified as to describe her]) there was also far more ethical debate than we've had in the two slightly pantomime-esque previous episodes.
The Doctor crossing a line (both figuratively and literally – the rocks and stone boundary seemed to exist only to create a physical metaphor for The Doctor to step over) by pulling a gun on Jex (the other doctor) and marching him to his death shows a darker side of the Doctor. Tennant's Doctor said no second chances, Smith isn't even giving people one now. Moffatt said there wasn't an arc this year, but as the fans know - he lies.
It was really interesting to see an episode with no clear-cut bad guys – just shades of grey. Jex was a flawed man, one who had done terrible things for the greater good and the Gunslinger just wanted revenge for being turned into a monster. This is not something you usually see in family shows, and shows that Doctor Who has something for everyone.
However, as I mentioned at the start of the review this episode also had many flaws. It never satisfactorily explains why the Gunslinger doesn't just teleport into town and shoot Jex, or why The Doctor doesn't just use the TARDIS to save the day.
It is also a very traditional Western - the plot goes exactly where you'd expect if you've ever watched a Western. I knew the Gunslinger would end up as the Sheriff about 5 minutes into the epsisode. Ben Browder, playing the marshall, was also criminally underused – he's a fantastic actor with a great sci-fi pedigree behind him (if you haven't watched Farscape go do that now!) and I felt they could have got far more use out of him than they did. To my mind it felt a bit like stunt casting to improve the US viewing figures (not that they need to as it turns out – the series is getting some of the best viewing figures BBC America has ever had).
The biggest flaw in the episode, however, is that it fails the Bechedel test! Other than Amy (who is really on form in this episode) there is only one female speaking character (two if you include the narrator) and she only has one line. This left a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth, but may just be a problem with the Western genre as women do not feature heavily in traditional westerns. It didn't help that she also looked too much like River for my liking, and so I was holding her to a higher standard than I would an ordinary extra.
Lastly, have you noticed the credits change each week? The Doctor Who title was wooden this week, reflecting the western theme, whereas last week it was lizard skin like and in the first episode it was Dalek armour coating styled. A nice little touch that many people apparently have overlooked.