Doctor Who series 6 blog: The Curse of the Black Spot
A 17th century pirate ship is being haunted by a beautiful creature that is marking the crew for death if they shed a single drop of blood. Will the Doctor, Rory and Amy solve the mystery of the curse before they too are taken by the Siren?
What's right with it?
This swashbuckling, pirate flavoured episode sees a move away from the bigger mysteries of this series, which is welcome as it allows the viewer to sit back and just enjoy the episode.
After two adventures brimming with unanswered questions and a jumpy timeline it's a refreshing change to come away from an episode and not have one's head reeling and instead the satisfaction of having watched a thrilling, self-contained adventure. And what a fun ride it was.
Writer Stephen Thompson delivered a script full of witty one liners, the Doctor poking fun at the pirate crew's stereotypical guffawing being a particular highlight. Also special mention to Rory, giddy from the Siren's song: 'Look at all these brilliant Pirates ... Look at all their brilliant beards!' Lovely stuff.
Jokes aside, the plot itself was a clever one. A spaceship trapped in the same time-space coordinates as Avery's ship with the Siren being its rogue medical program which is trying to save the injured or ill nicely subverts the expectation that it is an evil foe. Less bad, more a really misguided version of NHS Direct made flesh. Wearing an evening gown.
Lily Cole may have been suitably eerie as the Siren, but the guest star gong this week was well and truly stolen by Hugh Bonneville. A lesser actor could have been tempted to make Captain Avery a camp caricature, but Bonneville gave him a warmth and sensitivity beneath all the piratey bluster and was all the more believable for it.
Aside from getting good performances from all the cast, director Jeremy Webb created a strong atmosphere of creepy isolation on the Fancy in marked contrast to the cold sterility of the spacecraft - the sick bay of which I felt was a nice visual nod to the 1978 film Coma with all the patients suspended from the ceiling.
One last mention for the isolated references to the ongoing plots - they were very well handled and almost defined what we should be looking out for. The lady with the silver eye patch who is following Amy, the Doctor's death and the pregnancy are all mysteries which are not going away and I personally can't wait for them to be solved.
What's wrong with it?
Despite being an enjoyable episode there were a few missteps along the way.
Why did the spacecraft get locked on to Avery's ship? Did it crash or did its occupants intentionally pilot it there? And where did the Boatswain go after he got marked by the spot? One minute he was locked in the ship's magazine with Rory, Amy and Toby and the next he just vanishes from the story. Whoops, a bit of poor editing there methinks. And why did Amy dress up as a pirate to try and rescue the Doctor and Rory? I mean grab a sword and rush on deck to save my best mate and husband from certain death yes, but to change for the occasion?! It makes Amy look a bit, well, silly. It's as if she's not really taking life or death situations seriously. Fortunately for Rory she resists the urge to lark about while performing CPR on him at the episode's climax. While on the subject, I really hope Rory isn't going to become the sacrificial lamb that he became last year. He seemed to die every few episodes! So please take note production team, be nice to Rory lest poor Arthur Darvill gets a complex about not being wanted.
This episode follows a pretty classic Who format. Group of isolated people are being menaced by a dangerous thing, thing starts to pick them off one by one, the Doctor and his friends then show up and start offering solutions.
There are good examples of this throughout the show's run but given the historical and aquatic theme of this episode, 1977's The Horror of Fang Rock would be a good serial to revisit at this point.
The fourth Doctor and his friend Leela arrive at the lighthouse of Fang Rock in the early 20th century, where the occupants think the beast of local legend is responsible for a number of unexplained deaths. The Doctor is not convinced and suspects the menace to have a less supernatural origin and, worryingly, a more human form. Once again we see the Doctor offer a rational explanation for events as opposed to the superstitious alternative. However unlike the events we have seen this week on board the Fancy, the death toll on Fang Rock was much higher with only the Doctor and Leela surviving to tell the tale.
The bottom line
A good, solid adventure that provides respite from the head scratching complexities of the series two-part opener with a hefty dash of timber shivering fun, an eerie but sympathetic foe and a few touching moments for good measure. A bag of gold sovereigns to all involved. Next week's episode looks awesome as well. Going by the trailer Suranne Jones will be ramping up the arch-ometer as Idris, someone who could possibly turn out to be The Doctor's Wife ...