Why I like Merdeen
Merdeen is the captain of the Immortal’s guards in the U.K. Habitat of the Canadian Goose (um…seriously don’t ask). He’s played by Tom Chadbon, whom you may recall as the most excellent Detective Inspector Duggan. Now, on the mysterious planet of Ravalox, he polices an subterranean community of survivors, under the absolute rule of the sinister Immortal. He maintains the police state, oversees periodic “cullings”, and, just for good measure, dresses all in black. He has, in short, all the trappings of a corrupt mini-boss.
And so, of course, he turns out to be a good guy. Merdeen plays a dangerous game, helping those due to be culled to escape to the surface, there to join the Tribe of the Free. But he cannot afford to be wholly good. He must keep up the appearance of absolute loyalty, while slowly planting seeds of doubt in the minds of his men. It’s a very fine line, and he walks it adeptly, but utterly ruthlessly. And it seems that he walks it alone. There’s no resistance movement or conspiracy - there’s just Merdeen, saving those he can, and enacting his own slow but deliberate rebellion.
[Note Merdeen’s hand over his microphone as he talks to Balazar]
Of course he gets caught. It is narratively inevitable. His second in command and protoge, Grell, starts to get suspicious of him, wondering if all the cullings were in fact carried out, and questioning his true motives in hunting the Doctor. In this Grell shows remarkable perspicacity, even extrapolating (correctly) Merdeen’s philosophical perspective on the Immortal. And so, when Merdeen insists on splitting up, so as to encounter the Doctor alone, Grell follows along behind. Things, it seems, will not end well for Merdeen.
And so Merdeen shoots him.
It’s a moment both unexpected and surprisingly dark. Merdeen’s tragic demise at the hands of his own men seems assured (and, in fact, there have been several instances of the same basic trope across the series). But this time it is turned on its head. And then we learn that Grell is a man he hand-selected to be his protoge and had spent years slowly converting to his cause. But when has to shoot him to save the Doctor, he does so without hesitation. It tears him up, but it also strengthens his resolve: “We weren’t meant to live like this. We were meant to be free!”
Merdeen is a character who constantly surprises. Every time you start to figure him out, he turns out to be something quite different. He is intelligent, but ruthlessly devoted to his cause; dark, but not gratuitously so. His goodness does not interfere with his practicality. And against all odds (largely because of the above), he lives out the episode and survives to see his dream become a success.