Saturday, 7 May 2011

'DOCTOR WHO' 6.3 – "The Curse Of The Black Spot"

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Quite literally calmer seas for Doctor Who after its tempestuous two-part premiere, as the TARDIS appears aboard a 17th-century pirate ship that's fallen foul of a becalmed ocean. To make matters worse, Captain Avery (Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville) and his shipmates are also under siege from an ethereal Siren (Lily Cole), a turquoise apparition who's summoned whenever someone draws blood and receives her a black spot on their palm, meaning they're marked for death...

The prospect of an episode set aboard a pirate ship was an encouraging one, and there's no doubt "The Curse Of The Black Spot" was a spirited adventure, despite the ship being marooned so as not to stretch a BBC budget. Written by Steve Thompson (who also scripted the maligned "The Blind Banker" installment of Sherlock last year), the episode contained enough forward-momentum to ensure it never dragged its heels too much, and I was pleasantly surprised by the direction the story took in its final act. What was in danger of becoming a rather thin story involving an entity that evaporated poor unfortunates, if she's allowed to spring forth from reflections, took a welcome step into more elaborate territory that involved an inter-dimensional spaceship and the reveal that the incorporeal Siren was in fact a holographic physician trying to carryout orders after the death of its own crew.

I'm sure there will be fans gnashing their teeth over the fact this episode didn't continue any of the many dangling threads from last week, but those people clearly don't understand how television works -- especially shows like Doctor Who, that are fundamentally built around standalone adventures. Besides, there were enough nods to series 6's story arc to pacify most people: Amy (Karen Gillan) being awoken by an hallucination of the Eye Patch Lady (Frances Barber) on the wooden hull of the ship, calming her with the words "you're doing fine, just stay calm" (is Amy dreaming all of this?); Rory (Arthur Darvill) and Amy sharing a look when The Doctor (Matt Smith) mentioned the inevitability of death (unaware they know he'll be dead in 200 years); and a denouement that saw The Doctor again contemplating the ambivalent pregnancy scan the TARDIS has performed on his redheaded companion. There was no progression, just reiteration, but at least it's now clearer that the Eye Patch Lady has a very important connection to this year's storyline. And perhaps this episode's exploration of a multiple-universe (for the benefit of those who missed that Cyberman two-parter?) is another hint that the explanation for The Doctor's death could be that we saw his counterpart from another reality?

Back to this episode itself, and "The Curse Of The Black Spot" was nothing but a well-meaning romp, apparently written by someone who's digested many of the show's general tropes and delivered what was ultimately a very old-fashioned, typical episode of Doctor Who. The TARDIS lands in a historical location, The Doctor and his friends are mistaken for enemies by the locals, they prove themselves useful in explaining a threat so are allowed to stay, and eventually discover that the extra-terrestrial menace is just misunderstood. There was plenty for kid's to enjoy, in a story that was definitely easier to understand than the premiere, so I'm sure plenty of adults were sighing with relief to be given a story they could wrap their brains around... that still managed to push the imagination a little. I particularly liked how Avery and his crew became "space pirates" by the end, perhaps as a nod to Blake's Seven given their number?

The actual subplot for Captain Avery, a seafarer who made some bad life choices and was forced to become a pirate at the cost of a good relationship with his family, wasn't really very satisfying. It felt like something the script knew it had to involve, otherwise the week's guest star wouldn't accept such a thin role. Bonneville tried gallantry to give his character some shading, but nobody's attention was focused on him with the impressive visual of model-turned-actress Lily Cole screaming at seamen like a banshee. Or Amy Pond slashing the air with a cutlass.

Overall, "The Curse Of The Black Spot" wasn't the thrilling, swashbuckling spectacle I'd have liked, or even a particularly memorable adventure, but it was an enjoyable enough hour with fun ideas swirling around. But I'm pretty sure it was scheduled between the ambitious two-parter opener and next week's Neil Gaiman fanboy treat, to as to do the least damage to the flow of this series.


  • Any more theories to throw onto the fire regarding the questions posed by last week's episodes, now seen through the prism of this episode? I wasn't taking the "dream" theories very seriously, but that felt more plausible here after the scene with the Eye Patch Lady. But who's dreaming? Amy? Her alleged daughter? Or is someone being asked to recall events, which is what we're seeing? Have their memories been taken by The Silence?
  • How many times is Rory going to apparently die on this show?
written by Steve Thompson / directed by Jeremy Webb / 7 May 2011 / BBC1

Next time...