This isn’t the first time that the Doctor has encountered pirates. ‘The Smugglers’ and ‘The Highlanders’ had prominent sea dogs and one can’t forget the aptly named audio adventure ‘Doctor Who and the Pirates’ which had the distinction of being part musical. I was interested to see what Thompson would do with them.
At the end of their last ordeal the Doctor indicated that he wanted to take his companions on a fun adventure, forgetting about the dangling loose ends. He certainly is in a light hearted mood upon his arrival on the cursed pirate ship.
One suspects that he would have been disappointed if he hadn’t been made to walk the plank. Ignoring the obvious danger he and his companions are in the Doctor is delighted with everything, from the pirates cackling to a demon that gives you advanced notice that its coming to kill you.
Counter balancing this is a strong performance from Hugh Bonneville as Captain Avery. While his crew might be little more than pirate stereotypes Captain Avery exudes the aura of a good man who has fallen far. He has watched his crew dwindle, one by one, and he knows that their only hope of salvation is the return of the wind to their sails. Something he has no control over.
This is the first Doctor Who story that Stephen Thompson has written but anyone who saw the episode he wrote for the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ series produced by Moffat it is easy to see that their writing style are very similar, in a good way.
Thompson has followed Moffat’s habit of creating rules in his stories. Just as you don’t blink in the presence of Weeping Angels or look away when confronted with the Silence in this story you have to stay away from reflective surfaces and don’t get hurt, not even a scratch.
It is easy to imagine that these rules are handy guides for children duplicating the Doctor’s adventures in play grounds across the land. It is simple and evocative, creating tension out of ordinary objects.
The Doctor has always been a man of science and part of that is creating theories. As new evidence presents itself you amend or abandon the theory, until you hopefully come to the correct conclusion.
The point being that the Doctor doesn’t have to be right first time. This episode uses this to its advantage by having the Doctor initially think that it is water that is acting as a portal for the Siren to emerge.
Working on this theory Amy and Rory think they’re perfectly safe in the Magazine room. By the time the Doctor realises he’s wrong Captain Avery’s stowaway son Toby is polishing a medallion. Characters who we thought were protected are now nothing of the sort.
The need to eliminate all reflections makes the treasure horde on the ship a curse. It is Captain Avery’s greed that condemns his son, as the golden crown he refused to dispose of allows the Siren to appear. It would seem this character flaw is the root cause of his fall from grace.
Amy and Rory are given plenty to do in this story, with Rory marked for death and Amy given the chance to do a bit of swashbuckling. Amy did seem surprisingly proficient with a blade but this makes sense in retrospect when you know that her opponents can’t afford to be injured at all.
The Doctor seems remarkably unconcerned when Rory gets the black spot. One wonders just how much the Doctor had already worked out about what the Siren was doing or whether he was just confident in his own abilities to stop the curse.
It is almost becoming a character trait of Rory that he is doomed. We still think that Amy and the Doctor are going to end up being together. It is almost inevitable that the only obstacle to that, Rory, is going to be removed at some point.
Thanks to the fine acting from Arthur Darvill we don’t want that to happen. He’s just too likeable. Reliable as always he puts in an amusing performance when the Siren places him under her spell, acting like a fool.
With Amy being the one in peril last week it was nice to see the roles reversed and have her playing the protective wife. We even had her feelings being hurt when Rory claimed the Siren was the most beautiful thing he’d seen.
Speaking of which the Siren was an effective threat but had little depth. Considering what we eventually learned about her it makes sense she wasn’t a character. The Siren was just a harbinger of death, appearing to claim her next victim.
As such it is difficult to fault Lily Cole’s performance.Anyone who has seen her ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’ will know that she is a good actress but I think it is fair to say that she was chosen to play the Siren for her appearance. Her looks are suitably exotic and otherworldly, much in the same way that Matt Smith has a distinctive look.
The third act was reminiscent of ‘Amy’s Choice’. Rory is apparently dead so the Doctor suggests that maybe the Siren isn’t killing her victims at all. At this point there is no evidence to suggest this to be true and when the Doctor has them all prick their fingers he could be condemning them all to death.
Does the Doctor know that he doesn’t die this day?
The scene immediately following this even has them waking up on the floor of a spaceship. I half expected the Dream Lord to make an appearance, revealing the whole thing had been an illusion.
The late introduction of the science fiction aspect of the space ship and the rogue holographic doctor handily explain all the apparent supernatural goings on while still introducing fantastical elements such as overlapping universes with reflections acting as a bridge between realities.
Just as with Moffat, Thompson has chosen to give us a ‘everybody lives!’ ending. The revelation that the Siren was just teleporting people away is easy to anticipate given that no bodies were left behind and a similar deception was used in ‘Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways.’
I thought the rows of bodies, suspended at the point they were taken was an interesting visual. It was creepy that Rory would ‘drown’ if taken off the life support and had to talk Amy through how to save him.
With only a few minutes left of the episode I think Thompson did well to give the impression that Amy’s CPR had failed. Thanks to ‘Cold Blood’ it wouldn’t be the first time that Rory died suddenly at the end of an episode.
All turns out well in the end and we even have the pirates going off to explore the universe in a spaceship. This was nicely foreshadowed with Captain Avery easily understanding the function of the TARDIS console as a ship is a ship.
The fact that they are now presumably in a new dimension (E-Space?) could lead to some interesting complications. Best not to think to hard about whether there are any supplies on board and how long it will be before they reach a planet that is habitable for humans. Still, it has the makings of a spin off series that could be quite enjoyable.
The only nod to the on going plot lines of this season were the brief appearance of the eye patch lady (who does sound as if she is talking to Amy as if she was her psychiatrist or midwife) and the recap at the end in the TARDIS where we are reminded that the Doctor is going to die and that Amy is/isn’t pregnant.
These elements were relatively unintrusive and just served to reassure us that those plots will be dealt with over the course of this season.
All in all ‘Curse of the Black Spot’ was a strong episode, acting as a nice change of pace but not just filling time between the epic two part opening and the much anticipated Neil Gaiman penned episode next week ‘The Doctor’s Wife’.