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“The Curse of the Black Spot” Review (VERY MINOR SPOILERS)

After the grandiose and often confusing two-part opening to the new series of Doctor Who, I was absolutely looking forward to “The Curse of the Black Spot,” not simply because it looked like a bit of fun, but because I’m always excited to see The Doctor & Co. go places we haven’t seen before (at least not for a super long time).  For all the fun and promise of the prequel and trailer, and having a decent premise, the episode itself felt strangely underwhelming.


The pirate ship setting was a good one, though clearly a ploy to capitalize on the worldwide love of pirates, and the setup was very strong; a small group of people in the middle of nowhere being picked off one by one by a monster.  It harkens back to one of my favorite stories from the classic era, “Horror of Fang Rock,” wherein a small lighthouse island is besieged by a shape-shifting alien. The concept of the Siren, or sailors succumbing to the Siren’s song, has perpetuated in myths throughout history, so including it was a no-brainer.  I’d also like to point out how pleased I was we didn’t see a Kraken.  I’ve had it up to here with Krakens.

The performances were good. Matt Smith’s got this weird twitchy thing now that he didn’t have in the earlier parts of series 5 but he’s sort of, I guess, sprightly; he titters about.  It’s interesting. Anyway, he was good.  Arthur Darvill got to do a bit of comic stuff, which he does very nicely, though I’m getting a little annoyed with Rory becoming the Kenny of Doctor Who. Is it possible that we could not pretend that he dies anymore? All tension is lost when you’ve seen it four times already. Karen Gillan got to do her patented “I’m-a-hot-tough-girl-ooh-aren’t-you-all-impressed” thing, which I also enjoyed.  She’s definitely grown as an actress since the last series, and I thought she was good then. She does a lot more with subtle facial expressions now.  Toward the end of the episode, when the Doctor gets something gross on his hands (you know what it is) and he has a hissy about it, he wipes it on Amy’s pirate coat and she gives a very funny, underplayed look that conveyed both her disgust at what he’s done and her total expectation of him doing something like that.

The supporting cast was, unfortunately, a little thin.  With the exception of Hugh Bonneville as the pirate captain, who was quite good, the other members of the cast were largely forgettable; granted, they didn’t have much in the way of characters to play, but were really just Spot-fodder.  Oscar Lloyd, who played young Toby (there’s always a Toby, isn’t there?), and Lily Cole, who played the Siren, were okay. The only other character who could have been halfway interesting was the ship’s first mate, who strangely disappears halfway through the episode. One minute he’s there with a spot on his hand, the next he’s gone and we never saw what happened to him. That, friends, is called “poor editing.”

The direction, by new director to the series Jeremy Webb, was passable.  It’s definitely hard to follow up five episodes in a row of Toby Haynes, so I give credit to Webb for doing as good a job as he did.  The ship set itself was very nice and the costumes, designed by legendary costume designer Barbara Kidd, who designed for the Pertwee, Baker, and Davison eras, were exceptional.  I wonder how long the meeting was when they decided to put Amy in a pirate outfit as quickly as possible. Maybe 30 seconds?

The script, by Stephen Thompson, uses all of the typical pirate movie tropes, including the plank, stowaways, mutinies, treasure, storms, people going overboard, beards… were there any eye patches? Oh yeah… Regardless, Thompson throws all the piratey stuff at us and then throws the Doctor in the middle of that. I think it’s important for the pseudo-historical episodes that the audience be familiar with the surroundings so that the Doctor’s not trying to explain the supernatural as well as the circumstantial.  However, we get to the point where we can predict all of the characters’ actions. It does take away some of the tension when you go, “Oh, this guy’s going to mutiny now. Yep, there he goes, mutinying away.” The thing I sometimes object to with Doctor Who is that everything always has to be explained by aliens or alien spacecraft.  I understand it’s a sci-fi show, and I have no problem with the threats always being alien-based, but it seems too often lately they have to go aboard a new spaceship.

So the Silurians were the indigenous people on Earth, the Silence have been around for millions of years, and all manner of random aliens in sophisticated vehicles are at various places on the planet at any given moment?  We can’t possibly be that interesting, or near anything that important.  How self-centered are we that we think if aliens existed, and probably they do somewhere, that they’d look at us and go, “yep, that’s where I’m-a goin’!” At any rate, it’s much easier to believe a lone alien or small group of them crash or get stranded, but huge ships can’t be all over the place all the time; they’d start fighting each other, or at least bumping into each other. That’s an episode I’d like to see: one where there’s the actual alien threat, but throughout, we see them getting in the way of all the other alien mini-threats that are happening all the time. So not only does the Doctor have to stop the big menace, but he has to placate and subdue a bunch of other, just-visiting aliens who act like hotel guests getting bad service.  Someone get the Moff Man on the horn and pitch that idea to him. I can have it written in like a week.

Back to the matter at hand, “The Curse of the Black Spot” felt very much like a diversion, probably purposely so.  The original plan, from what I understand, was to have Mark Gatiss’ episode third, but likely his is heavier and they needed a lighter one, so Gatiss’ was moved to episode nine, which will air in the fall, and they had to commission and shoot Thompson’s episode toward the end of the shooting schedule and stick it in.  As such, it kind of felt like a distraction.  It certainly was not a bad episode, in fact I even enjoyed watching it on second viewing, but it was kind of just a bit of fluff to hold us over until next week when we get to see Neil Gaiman’s episode, something I’ve been looking forward to for two years now.

And now, the trailer and two clips for episode 4, “The Doctor’s Wife.”

Can’t wait for next week!
-Kanderson feels a bit spotty
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26 comments

  • @Phil:

    I don’t think it was necessarily that Amy was that effective with the cutlass, the pirates just weren’t really fighting back because if she even scratched them, The Siren would get them. She got Rory by accident, if i’m not mistaken lol I think if it had been a real fight, she’d have been in trouble, girl power or no. :D

  • I figured the pirate thing was to coincide with the the tv commercials coming out now for the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie. One thing I wanted to know was where did Amy learn how to use a cutlass so effectively? I don’t like when characters can just do action movie things for no apparent reason. There was a little too much “girl power” going on in that scene for me. I like seeing women kick butt as much as the next guy, but don’t just throw in there when it doesn’t even make sense. On a positive note, when the siren got angry and did her red face when they were on her alien ship, she looked damned creepy in that shot. That was nicely done

    I still liked the episode though, but it’s not one we’ll talk about as time goes on

  • @Kenny Porter – – I must admit YOUR script idea seems a much better use of dimensional interaction. DW always seems to work better when they brush up against history just enough to give you a real sense of the DW universe being credible. I would have loved to have seen your idea make it to the screen! cheers.

  • Another great review. I’m not ashamed to say I went back after the first 2 episodes of the series and watched Silence in the library and cried a bit during River’s scenes. I can’t wait to watch River’s storyline backwards…

    Back to The Black Spot, I was hoping for the Vashta Nerada to be the black spot… I’m still content with the episode, but I’m hoping they show up again.

  • @Kyle:
    Great review, but I do have three answers for you on your ‘why would so many races be interested in us’ theory.

    Number 1 – Two words: Doctor Who. So many races have been defeated by the doctor to protect the earth that word has to have gotten out that this place is special. Why not have a go at it? See if you can beat the doctor.

    Number 2 – I’m willing to bet that since Douglas Adams once worked on Doctor who back during the Tom Baker years, there is probably a little crossover going on. The intergalactic highway that the earth was demolished for is actually quite accident prone (They don’t have stop lights in the right place) So aliens keep crashing here and try to destroy us. Or some similar reason why aliens keep crashing here.

    Number 3 (and my prefered one)- If any of you remember the show Mystery Science Theater 3000, I ask you to look to the opening theme song …. Ahem… “If you wonder how Mike eats and breathes and other science facts. Repeat to yourself its just a show, I should really just relax.”

    We’re not the center of the universe but the Who-niverse has a ton of aliens and they just don’t know how to drive without crashing onto some planet.

  • I definitely groaned when they ‘killed’ Rory again, I hope that’s done with. I can never stay mad for long though, the trailer with him being so excited about getting mail suckered me back in, he’s like an adorable little kid

    On a side note for any Doctor Who nerds in NYC, there is a bar in Brooklyn now with a TARDIS for a bathroom (it’s bigger on the inside too!), and the owner has a sonic screwdriver… It’s possible that I may have almost wet myself when I walked into a random bar (Way Station) and had a TARDIS staring at me. It felt wrong to not let other Doctor Who fans know about it – sorry if this isn’t the best forum on here to share the awesome find.

  • author

    @Stacey

    Oh yes, I imagine starting with this season would be quite confusing. To understand the River Song saga, you should watch:
    Series 4: episodes 8 & 9 (Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead)
    Series 5: episodes 4 & 5 (Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone) and episodes 12 & 13 (The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang)

    Really, you should just watch all of Series 5 because it’s the first to have the Eleventh Doctor, Amy, and Rory. Hopefully, after all of that, you’ll be up to speed.

  • Kyle,

    Thanks for the explanation – I am still a little confused but will be sure to watch the episodes you mention to get a better handle on it. I also need to go back and watch past seasons (especially the ones with the current cast of characters). I found the first episodes of this season to be really interesting but was sure I was missing a lot.

    Stacey

  • author

    @Stacey

    The explanation is as follows:
    When the Doctor first met River Song (in S4, Eps 8 & 9), she already knew all about him and had traveled with him several times, from HER point of view. Each time the Doctor meets her subsequently, it’s earlier in her life but later in his. Ergo, to HER in the future he’ll not remember her, but to us watching (which is the Doctor’s POV), we’ve already seen that. Does that make sense?

  • Hello,

    I have a DW question as I am new to the series and not sure if I understand the “rules”. In the first episode of this season River Song stated that she and the Doctor are traveling in different directions so at some point he won’t remember her. I understand that every time he regenerates he goes into a younger body but wouldn’t his memories have to stay intact? How else would he know that he is the Doctor and build on the past information he has gathered. Doesn’t he need the knowledge from past lives so he doesn’t start from scratch each time? If he keeps forgetting as he goes, won’t there be a point when he doesn’t even know how the Tardis works? So why will he eventually forget River Song?

    Again, maybe there is a logical explanation and I just don’t know it.

    Thanks.

  • Of all the highly unlikeliness that transpired in that episode… I think the CPR thing got me the most. Not that Rory could talk, and then if they took him off life support, he’d be back to drowning, somehow… I think it’s alien technology and we can somehow wank that away. It was that Amy HAD to be the one to do the CPR. Possibly for her story arc and for her character… YES. But from a very practical standpoint–the Doctor is VERY old. He has to have picked up CPR SOMEWHERE along the way. He can’t help? Not even remind Amy to pinch Rory’s nose? Even if he wanted Amy to do it, or Amy “had” to do it for some reason… why did he look so devastated when it appeared that she had failed? Like, he just sits there biting his nails, while she does all the work. Like I said, I just find that… unlikely. The other stuff I can wank away.

    But Amy’s coat. I need that coat in my life. RIGHT NOW. Right now, I tell you.

  • The part of this episode that I enjoyed was the second apperance of the steel eye patch lady looking through a slot in the bulkhead of the ship and talking to Amy. I’m starting to wonder if this entire season will be a dream of Amy’s.

  • Great review. I always trawl the internet for reviews after each episode, and this is one of the best.

    Although – one point, the 1st mate disappearing act: bad editing or something slipped in for later? Remember the ‘Jacket’ last series…

  • Depending on what Gaiman’s episode is like, I think this episode will be forgotten pretty quickly to be honest. Nothing bad but not amazing or anything.

  • I would suck at writing reviews for Doctor Who. Mostly because no matter how bad an episode may have been, I can never find fault until someone else has pointed it out. I think I have permanent rose-colored glasses for the Doctor. The actors, directors, writing staff, even the SFX dept can do no wrong. It is a good place to be when I am so jaded by dang near everything else in this world.

    Never-the-less, I enjoy reading your reviews, for they do point out strengths that slip by as easily the weaknesses. When “they” can do no wrong, it is equally difficult to see the bits that really stand out.

    So thank you for helping me see the Doctor without my pink brainy specs every week.

  • That whole first mate thing bugged me the entire time. He locks himself in the storeroom with Amy and Rory then poof he’s gone. Only to be back at the end.

    I hope they stop messing with Rory soon, but he seems to be an old man next episode, so I doubt they will.

  • I felt the same way, the episode and direction felt a little flatter on this one. It was still a fun episode, and I got really excited when I saw the strange woman with the eye patch in the wall again, but it just didn’t have the power or urgency that the last couple of episodes had.

    I guess I was also a little bummed because I’m a creative writing major and I wrote a spec episode of “Doctor Who” that had almost the exact same premise, but it was aboard the Edmund Fitzgerald. There were still two ships occupying the same space, but at different times in a time storm, so both crews were mistaking each other as ghosts. The storm was eventually what ripped the hull in half and sunk the ship, and the minds of the Fitzgerald crew were saved, while the bodies of the ship on the other side were kept in tact. So The Doctor combines the two of them, saving at least the crew of the Fitzgerald, who then become star shippers in their new bodies.

    I guess it just means that I could have written for the show if the right people had seen it.

    I’m VERY excited for the next episode though.

  • When my Who-loving friends ask what I thought of this episode, I’m just going to point to this review and say, “There!” Which is what I did for the last two episodes as well. This episode felt very Who-formulaic, which can be fine, and the actors and dialogue can often rise above the material, but Who has moved so far beyond the formula, this felt like a step back, in a way. Having said that, my eight-year-old daughter loved it!