Bad news. If you’re looking for The Curse Of The Black Spot to pick up precisely where Day Of The Moon ended, then you’re out of luck. Meanwhile, if you’re hoping for instant clues as to just what rug Steven Moffat has pulled by having a small girl regenerating before your eyes? Well, we can’t and won’t tell.
What we will say is this: genuinely giving nothing away, The Curse Of The Black Spot, aside from a few threads, is more of a standalone episode that we suspect many would have wanted. Ourselves included.
Put that aside, though, and the ingredients are here for a solid Doctor Who yarn. The episode opens in the middle of the sea, as a group of sailors find themselves stranded, where they’ve been stuck for the best part of eight days.
A bigger problem, though, is that a black spot is appearing on the hands of some, a precursor to them being picked off, one by one. What is the black spot? Who is doing the picking? All questions dealt with in good time. But just in time for the opening credits to roll, up pop the Doctor, Amy and Rory with a bit of “yo ho ho”. And from there, the story begins in earnest (which is where we stop talking about the plot, in line with the spoiler-free nature of this review!)
We go through a few Doctor Who motions here, which the show has got very good at developing short hand work for to belt us through. The most obvious example, but it’s not the only one, is the inevitable labelling of the Doctor and his companions as stowaways. It has to happen for the story to make sense, but both writer and viewer, I suspect, are keen for that bit to be sorted as quickly as possible. Which, to be fair, it is.
For a good chunk of the episode, though, there’s still an air of the familiar. The confined set of the ship gives us people running around the boat, shouting out loud instructions, and a few angry sailors. These are all fun enough, but it does feel – for want of a better phrase – that the show is treading water. There’s also a real opportunity for some of the quality humour we had in the first two episodes (which were darker in tone, arguably), but it’s not picked up on, and that’s a pity.
Still, The Curse Of The Black Spot is an episode that gets more impressive whenever Lily Cole turns up, and when focusing more on the human relationships. Plus, if one of the themes this series is that the Doctor is struggling to be as effective as he usually is, then The Curse Of The Black Spot does little to swim away from that.
But writer Stephen Thompson (who penned the impressive second episode of Sherlock last year) has been dealt a really very tricky hand here, and there’s little way around it. He’s followed two of the most talked about episodes of Doctor Who in some time, and while the Doctor and a bit of swashbuckling sounds like a fun enough way to while away 45 minutes, it’s a little bit frustrating, and doesn’t quite gel as well as you might hope.
The episode, for me anyway, never really sparks that well, and while it’s perfectly entertaining, it’s comfortably the third most interesting instalment of series 6 to date.
It’s better than most drama you get at Saturday teatime, but Doctor Who has set itself ridiculously high standards of late, and The Curse Of The Black Spot can’t match them. It’s decent, certainly, and the production values are great. But it won’t be an episode long remembered.
Our spoiler-filled review will be live once The Curse Of The Black Spot has aired on Saturday 7th May.