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Published on May 8th, 2011 | by Greig Byrne

The Curse of the Black Spot

After the high-octane drama of the trail-blazing opener, Whovians will bring a weight of expectation to the first standalone episode of the series, Pirate’s tale “The Curse of the Black Spot”.

The story makes a break from the events of The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon to send the TARDIS, investigating a distress call, into the bowels of a stricken pirate ship.

An atmospheric start sees a terrified crew blighted by a sea-fairing legend of yore, the Siren.  A sexy Ginger that descends upon any crewman with the slightest injury, lulls them into a febrile, hormone-festooned fever (perhaps not dissimilar to how one imagines real life) then knackers them out of existence with the slightest dainty touch.

Upon arrival the Doctor swings into action, not least because Rory gets himself a nasty cut, instantly making him a prime target.  The clutz.  A series of clashes and frights ensue as the masters of both vessels do their best to figure out what do about the threat of the verdant spectral demon.

A pirate ship proves fertile ground for some quality Who-banter, me hearties.  However we’re gratefully spared any tired writing like ‘Me Hearties’ or lazy utterances of  “Arrr”.  Though we are treated to a plank-walking Doctor and an unlikely but effective sword-wielding Pond.

Arrr.

Despite the fast-paced and claustrophobic plot I was left feeling I wasn’t quite watching the same Doctor that I enjoyed in Astronaut and Moon.

He wasn’t in control nor as commanding a presence; too often a passenger until the all-important moment of realisation, which itself was abrupt.

As such the performance from Hugh Bonneville, playing Captain Henry Avery, was key.  Charismatic with his substantial ‘beardyness’, we’re given characterisation of a man torn between his latent nobility and his corruption in the pursuit of wealth, a schism highlighted by his vulnerable stowaway son.

Indeed the amiable pairing of the Captain and the Doctor wasn’t without charm as it engendered two travellers on their own high seas with their own adventures, committed to those they are responsible for, whether they be a ragtag collection of unwashed pirates or a misfit married British couple.

Doctor Who: Curse of the Black SpotThe rapid-fire thrills and spills made for a decent watch however without much mention of the series mythology I fear The Curse of the Black Spot will be received as a filler, with fans keeping an eye on next week’s episode, The Doctor’s Wife by sci-fi legend Neil Gaiman.

Another grating point for the Who faithful may be the show’s perennial redshirt, Rory, facing death.  Again.  I shan’t spoil the outcome except to say he lives.

C’mon!  The guy was erased from space/time then had an extended stint (roughly two millenia) as an ancient Roman toy soldier yet still pops up weekly.  This wimp’s as tough as nails.

The weak turning point came from the Doctor, who suddenly decided that the Siren was intelligent and could be reasoned with.  The subsequent reveal, that the Siren was actually an EMH from a spaceship lodged unseen within in the pirate ship (given an inter-dimensional rift) who was just doing her doctor’s rounds was, well, pushing the boat out a bit far?

The thrust of this plot has actually been seen before, taking a sizeable nod from “The Doctor Dances,” an Eccleston-era Moff-written episode that saw all the apparently doomed victims of an unseen WWII antagonist saved: “Just this once, everybody lives!”

If not entirely ship-shape, the episode leaves plenty to enjoy:

  • The Siren, played by supermodel Lily Cole, sees the ‘Dr Who Hot Redhead Counter’ clock up again, a subject on which Kasterborous has some authority.
  • Arrr.
  • The Doctor’s sartorial sensibilities; undaunted in the midst of a deadly panic he saw fit to don a freshly-available pirate’s hat, for apparently nothing more than the effect.
  • “Alien Bogies!”,  a low-brow Doctor line for the ages.
  • Also, it’s always reassuring to see the Sonic Screwdriver work on a 17th century slide-bolt.

Maintaining a little of the series mythology, Amy is again given a fleeting glimpse of the eye-patched lady through the sliding hatch in her dreams.  One gets the feeling that Amy’s under observation, undergoing a dastardly medical procedure; some clue as to the fate of her on/off pregnancy?  Hell even the TARDIS can’t tell if she’s up the duff.

The only other mention was a flashback to the Doctor’s death in Utah, foreboding from Pond.

However perhaps The Curse of the Black Spot proves that Doctor Who doesn’t need to be so heavily-laden to be an enjoyable easy-going watch.

Arrr.

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3 Responses to The Curse of the Black Spot

  1. 23skidoo says:

    I’m still not sold on the Doctor Dances comparison. Just because “everybody lives” that doesn’t make them cut from the same cloth. Indeed, while Doctor Dances came close to pushing the infamous “Big Red Reset Button” made infamous by Star Trek Voyager (whose critics pretty much coined that phrase), the pirates aren’t left status quo as they can’t return to earth.

    And speaking of Voyager, I did enjoy the fact we for once had an EMH that actually behaved the way a computer-controlled avatar would be expected to behave. Yeah, the consent form bit was a bit eye-rolly, but really no more silly than Jon Pertwee invoking Venusian karate or whatever.

    I didn’t mind the “Rory almost dying” bit that much, but let’s have him save Amy next time. Matt Smith’s acting when Rory was saved was remarkable, though, even though I do have to puzzle as to why the Doctor – who despite not being a medical Doctor surely knows how to give mouth to mouth – didn’t just jump in there. Maybe because of eye-patch lady this was something Amy had to do herself?

    And speaking of EPL (the CSM of the series!) I’m surprised Amy didn’t make a bigger effort to tell the Doctor about her. Then again, maybe she’s been trying – remember the question she wanted to ask the Doctor at the start of the Comic Relief special?

  2. January Lost says:

    Absolutely stellar review! I agree with many points… though I’m ashamed to say that for as much as I’d have liked to, I just couldn’t pull away with as much positivity.

    As mentioned, two strong previous episodes that felt very on par with what I’ve always wanted for this series… to come to this. I actually felt a bit cheated.

    Rory’s death scene pretty much Siren’d away any hope I had of respecting this episode or it’s inherent writing. I’m certain the reviwer here would have written a million times better the story and scripting.

    This was indeed the very first time in the entirety of the new series where I actually did NOT feel excited to be watching Who. Because I love it so much, you can understand this disappoint felt to me tenfold.

    From the very opening lines from the Doctor, to the blatant loopholes in the plot, to the poor character depictions—I was entirely let down. If I have to dig for some things good to say about this episode, I can come up with 1) humorous banter in the TARDIS between two captains. 2) A toddler would have adored this episode! 3) the visual aesthetic was phenomenal.

    After that… eh. Definitely looking forward to the next episode. Much thanks to the writer of the article. Where I may have lost some Who-love whilst watching, reading the review post-torture will at least leave me feeling slightly more light-hearted about it in retrospect.

  3. Rick says:

    Every season has a clunker and this place holder, this silly, poorly written out take of an episode will hopefully be the low point which all other eps this season will soar above. And hopefully Steven Thompson will no longer be writing for the show. this would have been a mediocre episode for the worst seasons of the classic series. Moffat must have some plan about making the third episode a lame one after this and Victory of the Daleks. I just don’t understand how this even hits the screens.

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