Ethos Education

Doctor Who: A Town Called Mercy: How can competing rights be reconciled when crimes have been committed, so that everyone gets justice?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understand the concepts of justice and injustice.
  • Awareness of Christian teaching about judgement, forgiveness and punishment.
  • Understanding the concept of human rights.
  • Consideration of society’s obligation to protect its weaker members.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon a number of fictitious cases of conflicting rights.
  • Reflect on the need to balance the rights of criminals with the rights of their victims in seeking justice.
  • Understand the Christian concept of atonement.
  • Analyse Bible passages to determine what they suggest about guilt and punishment.
  • Analyse Bible passages to determine how Christians see punishment, justice and forgiveness being combined with each other.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a newspaper report on the events from the episode of Doctor Who used in this lesson.


Please note, this lesson has been written to be used in conjunction with another of our lessons Doctor Who: A Town Called Mercy: Which crimes, if any, are so great that they warrant the death of the perpetrator? Either lesson will work on their own, but they will be most effective if this lesson is used before the latter. Our other lesson featuring this episode of Doctor Who is on an unrelated part of our syllabus.

Give out the Conflicting Rights worksheet. Ask the students to discuss whose rights should be upheld in each of the conflicts described:

Granny Sleepeasy vs Party Paul.

Granny Sleepeasy likes an early night and a nice quiet street; Party Paul has just moved in next door and loves nothing more than throwing a party. How can they reconcile their differences?

Politician Pam vs Racist Ron.

Pam, whose grandparents come from Pakistan, is standing for election to the local council. Ron is a voter in her district and doesn’t want to be represented by a non-white councillor. Whose rights should take precedence?

Journalist Jon vs Musician Martha.

Jon is a newspaper reporter who has discovered that Martha used to date another famous person before either of them were famous. Martha doesn’t want her private life to become public knowledge. Does Jon have a right to publish his discovery, or does Martha have a right to privacy?

Explain that in this lesson you are going to be thinking about another case of conflicting rights and thinking about how that case helps you to think through issues of justice.


Introduce the clip from the Doctor Who episode A Town Called Mercy which you can find on Doctor Who, series 7 part 1 (BBC DVD 2012, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online. Explain that the Doctor (Matt Smith) and his companions are in a Wild West town (called Mercy), and have discovered that an alien cyborg – referred to as ‘the Gunslinger’ – wants to kill the town’s doctor, an alien who arrived there some years previously and has since become something of a town hero. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the dilemma that sees the Doctor and Amy (Karen Gillan) on opposing sides of an argument, and the reasons for their difference of opinion.

  • Start time:       0.18.52 (beginning of chapter 6 of the DVD)
  • End time:         0.24.07
  • Clip length:      5 minutes and 15 seconds

The clip starts with Kahler Jex saying, ‘It was stupid of me, I realise that now.’ It ends with the Doctor saying, ‘Fine, fine. But frankly, I’m betting on the Gunslinger.’

Is it possible to honour the victims at the same time as respecting the rights of criminals and people accused of crime? Ask the students whether or not the Doctor is right that Jex has to answer for his crimes. Is Amy right that handing him over to be killed by a vigilante cyborg with a grievance isn’t the right way to do that? How can the Doctor reconcile the rights of Kahler Jex and also the rights of his victims, including the cyborg gunslinger? Remind the students of the following quote from the Doctor (you might want to explain for non-Doctor Who fans that the Master and the Daleks are two long-running and frequently reoccurring foes of the Doctor):

‘Every time I negotiate, I try to understand. Well, not today, no. Today I honour the victims first. His, the Master’s, the Daleks’, all the people who died because of my mercy.’

You might also want to tell the students about an earlier scene where the Gunslinger tells the Doctor, ‘When he starts killing your people, we can use your justice.’

(Optional) You could add a diversion to the lesson and ask the students what difference it would make to the scenario in the clip if the Gunslinger was acting on a legitimate legal basis, as an officer of the law rather than a self-appointed vigilante bent on revenge. Draw out that Amy’s problem with handing Jex over seems to be that his rights are ignored in such a situation. If there was a suitable court that could provide a fair hearing for him and then impose a suitable sentence, Amy would probably not defend Jex so ardently.

Explain to the class that atonement is an important concept in Christian theology. The Bible has lots to say about paying the price for wrongdoing and about being at one with God. Christians believe that God has high standards: he is opposed to lawlessness, and he demands justice and fairness. Christians also believe that nobody can meet God’s standard of perfection. Ask students to look up the following Bible passages and to write a paraphrase or summary of each of them. This activity can be done individually, or working in pairs or small groups. The passages are James 2:10-11 and Romans 3:23. It might be helpful to ask students to keep the page of the Romans passage, as they will be returning to it later in the lesson.

Allow students to feed their answers back to the class and draw out that the Bible teaches that everyone falls short of God’s standards, and therefore faces punishment.

Pose these questions to the class:

  • How can a God who wants justice and has declared everyone to be guilty tell someone they are forgiven, and free from any punishment?
  • Does this seem fair?
  • Does it seem just?
  • Has God just swept all the wrong things people do under the carpet and pretended they didn’t happen?

Now, again working individually or in pairs or small groups, ask the students to read Romans 3:23-25 (a continuation of the verse they have already looked at) and Colossians 2:13-14. Ask the students to compare these verses with the ones they looked at in the previous exercise and to summarise the new passages.

Draw out from the students that Christians believe that God is able to forgive because someone else takes the punishment. Christians believe Jesus is a substitute, an innocent person taking the place of a guilty person. Jesus’ execution shows God punishing Jesus in the place of others. They believe that this allows God to maintain his requirement of justice for wrong-doing, while also showing mercy to imperfect people.


Ask the students to synthesise learning by writing a newspaper account of the events in Mercy. They should include interview quotes from both Jex and the Gunslinger, as well as other townspeople with a variety of views. The article should offer analysis of the conflict of rights and an understanding of a Christian attempt to reconcile that conflict.


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