Doctor Who, Eleven For Eleven: The Curse of the Black Spot

“What’s this do?”

“That does very, very complicated; that does sophisticated; that does woo, amazing; and that does whiz-bang far-too-technical-to-explain.”

Despite some nods towards the season-long arc — one quirky moment during the course of the story and some flashbacks and callbacks in the episode’s epilogue — this week gives us a romp of a breather in the form of that old standby wherein the Doctor picks up a distress call and decides to investigate. “The Curse of the Black Spot” is such an old school slice of Doctor Who that I half-expected Tom Baker to turn up halfway through with Romana and K9 by his side, and indeed there are moments where Matt Smith cranks up the eccentricity to the levels of Baker and his thousand mile stare. Alas, he has to do that sort of heavy lifting because it’s the sort of Who-by-numbers that would feel more at home today in a tie-in novel or audiobook.11. Last week I asked for a badass dual-wielding River Song action figure. This week I’m going to ask for Amy Pond in her pirate hat and coat with a sword. Really, Amy fighting the pirate crew was the high point of the episode, and I betcha kids and fanboys alike would love to have a five-inch sword-wielding Karen Gillen for their collections.

10. I am now seriously beginning to think I was right when I said that the Doctor shorting out the psychic paper in “A Christmas Carol” appears to have been permanent. Mind you, I doubt even showing whatever phony credentials the psychic paper would offer would provide any protection from this crew. All the better for the running time, since the story’s so straightforward once it gets rolling that it really needed the padding that came from putting the Doctor on the plank and threatening to keep Amy around for the sort of reasons a pirate crew would keep a lovely redhead around.

9. The Doctor’s constant fielding of theories that make sense but wind up wrong both brings to mind the way science really works, theories changing as you get new information, and the way Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor would constantly be belittled by Romana, since everyone gets on the Doctor’s case for not getting his theories right the first time. Sure, it’s life or death, but nobody’s perfect …

8. There were a couple of shots where the captain’s son, in his yellowish brown shirt and with his shaggy haircut, eerily reminded me of the Fifth Doctor’s ill-fated companion Adric. I didn’t hate the captain’s son, but I didn’t really care about him either. I’d say the same for most of the guest cast. They’re a lot of caricatures, not characters — greedy, disloyal cartoon pirates. The only characters with any real weight behind them, beyond the regulars, were the captain and his son, and that’s got a lot more do with the performances than anything in the script.

7. So, to sum up, paper-thin characters trapped on a ship, running around back and forth to pad out the story while the Doctor exposits with all his knowledge of time, space, and the future, trying to convince the silly people that the supernatural baddie probably isn’t a supernatural baddie. Meanwhile, said baddie knocks off the guest cast one-by-one. This easily could have been filmed as a Patrick Troughton story, except that in the days of Troughton the baddie would have actually been killing everyone — and boy, wasn’t that quite a leap of faith the Doctor made when he told the captain and Amy that the siren would save Rory? Mind you, the minute the siren “killed” the captain’s son, I became reasonably sure the crew were teleported, not killed. In that moment it became terribly obvious. Modern Who rarely kills kids.

6. Rory and Amy’s relationship has been beautifully played so far this season, even with last week’s oh-please-don’t-start-the-triangle-again moment. I would quibble, though, with placing Rory in extended mortal jeopardy again after we saw him die twice last year. I would also quibble with holding that beat after Amy stops with the CPR for quite so long.

5. Lily Cole is a bewitchingly pretty girl, and she put in quite the strong performance in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. It’s a crying shame that this story gives her little to do beyond looking all soft and etherial and occasionally freaking out with some CG help. The big reveal at the end, that she’s Robert Picardo on Star Trek Voyager in a much prettier package, is the usual clever supernatural-explained-with-science bit that Doctor Who has traded in for years, but it’s such a damned simple explanation. No real bad guy, no real conflict, just another confused …

4. … hang on, wait a second here! I know what this is! This is “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances” only with pirates instead of the London Blitz! Distress call leads to malfunctioning alien medical equipment that doesn’t quite get how to fix people. Because the baddie turns out to be medical equipment, as Christopher Eccleston so famously said with a tremendous grin, “EVERYBODY LIVES!” Oh sure, a lot of the particulars are different, since the two stories are wearing different historial drag; likewise, “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances” comprise a bona fide Doctor Who classic, while this is probably going to live on as “that one where Amy gets to dress up like a pirate and swing a sword for a bit.” Also, no Captain Jack Harkness to be found here. More’s the pity.

3. Hang on, will someone explain why Rory and the black pirate got giddy the moment the black spot appeared? Was that supposed to be something like a nitrous oxide reaction? Is that what they were going for? I’d have to watch the episode again to be sure, but it seemed to be played inconsistently.

2. As pat an ending as it is, seeing the crew of the pirate ship all in the captain’s cabin of the spaceship at the end brought a smile. A shame the next thought I had was, “Okay, so now what are they going to DO?” When Jenny took off at the end of “The Doctor’s Daughter,” it was obvious that she was going to go off and have crazy adventures in a spin-off that we’d never see. What’s a bunch of ARR, PIRATES! going to do out in a cosmos they scarcely understand?

1. Eyepatch Lady. Seriously, what’s up with her? She’s starting to freak me out.

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One thought on “Doctor Who, Eleven For Eleven: The Curse of the Black Spot

  1. Point #4> You know, I was thinking this might be the first episode since “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances” where nobody died, but I hadn’t noticed how closely it paralleled that story until you pointed it out!

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