Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find our spoiler-free review here.
6.3 The Curse Of The Black Spot
Well, that was an episode of ignoring the elephant in the room. I used to hate it when Lost gave us a massive, intriguing cliffhanger, and then sauntered off to other less interesting stuff for a few weeks before coming back to resolve it. Sadly, that’s just what Doctor Who has done with The Curse Of The Black Spot.
At the end of last week’s Day Of The Moon, a young girl suddenly started regenerating. The credits rolled in the midst of said process, and so I, and I suspect many of you, were hoping to get some clue as to what happened next.
Nothing. Not a jot. Not a whisper. In fairness, none of the Doctor, Amy or Rory were around when she started regenerating, so there’s little reason to argue that she’s in their immediate narrative path. But it’s a big chip that’s being tucked in the back pocket of the show, and I’m keen not to have to wait months to see what happens there.
Instead, the big tip of the hat to the underlying serial elements of the show was the repeat of Amy’s pregnancy test. She’s still pregnant. And she still isn’t pregnant. But we knew that already.
What we got instead, then, was a standalone episode. There’s a good argument, to be fair, for putting a standalone episode here, given that we’ve had two rampaging episodes of Doctor Who world-changing stature. But The Curse Of The Black Spot was a bit of a tepid adventure, all said and done. It occasionally offered moments of real interest and intrigue, but ultimately, I can’t help feeling it squandered the opportunity for a fun, 45-minute, knockabout pirate romp.
As it turned out, it was the episode of the proverbial two halves (er, three thirds, if you count the Tardis-based epilogue). There was the material on the pirate ship, with the entertaining Hugh Bonneville as Avery. Then there was the stuff in the hospital on the other ship. Neither, really, held together brilliantly well.
Let’s do the positives, though. I thought the manifestation of the Siren was terrific, with CGI Lily Cole’s transformation from temptress of sorts to red, Ood-alike anger making me jump upright in my seat. It was brilliantly done. The production values, too, you just can’t argue with. Through the roof, as always, and stretching every penny of the episode’s budget.
And then there were the human moments that worked really very well. Appreciating we’ve been through the is-Rory-dying routine before, here it served a very real purpose. The episode held the moment long enough for it to work, and for a second there, I was convinced that Rory might actually be gone. Not to be, but the consequence is that there’s a tight marriage, finally, to be seen between him and Amy. I felt that much of the episode was bringing them together.
It also seemed to be destabilising the Doctor further. It was a slightly muddled Doctor we got this time, proving to be wrong more often than usual, and not for the first time this series, struggling to be in control. I wonder if there’s subtle, long-game work going on here, as the Doctor becomes decreasingly certain of things.
I also liked little details, as always. That the black spots were skin grafts to test. The moments with, effectively, two captains comparing notes. And the spooky part where Amy saw the woman from the last episode at the door. What does “You’re doing fine, just stay calm” mean? And just who is the strange woman? Is she a midwife helping Amy give birth, we wonder? There was something to chew on right there.
While you’re pondering that, though, it’s probably time to talk about the assorted problems. For aside from one or two logic gaps (surely shattered glass doesn’t instantly lose the power to reflect?) the episode wasn’t that spooky, wasn’t that funny, and wasn’t that strong.
The pirate ship elements could have played more on the claustrophobia and fear of the sailors, but I never really got much of a sense of that. Instead, shoehorned into the midst was a clunky and a little too obvious story of a father and son that felt a bit box-ticky. The aforementioned Bonneville did his damnedest to sell it (and his scenes chatting captain to captain to the Doctor were grand), with some success. But it didn’t fit very comfortably. In fact, only when the Siren appeared did the on-ship moments come together.
The other ship? Well, it was a nice story device, and it tied everything together, but again, it felt a bit like half a story. Where it worked was in bringing Rory and Amy together, and the idea that the Siren was actually a doctor was good. But mashed up all together, the story never fully gelled.
It was a frustrating episode, and it’s easy to be harsh on it because of what it wasn’t, rather than what it was. However, even as a straight standalone, I can’t see many arguing that this was Who at its best. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that it feels like a big missed opportunity. That if the show was taking us away from the massive storylines of last week, it could have served up a delicious romp on the high seas. But it didn’t, choosing to go the other way, and not altogether successfully.
I still enjoyed it, as I enjoy watching Doctor Who each and every week. But this one was rarely in danger of matching the incredibly high standards the show has set itself over the past year.
Over to Neil Gaiman next week, then…
Read our review of episode 2, Day Of The Moon, here.