Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Generic Pirate Episode For Doctor Who: "The Curse Of The Black Spot"

The Good: Special effects, Early humor, Acting is as good as the writing
The Bad: No real character development, Dull plot, Poor writing
The Basics: "The Curse Of The Black Spot" makes a pirate episode for Doctor Who . . . which is pretty much the same as any other episode of Doctor Who with a creature that appears at first to be supernatural.

One of the interesting aspects of Doctor Who is that, as an episodic work that can go anywhere in time and space, the show has license to go anywhere it wants and it can do so fairly organically. So, if the show wants to do a circus episode, it can; if it wants to go to an underwater city next week, there it goes. Given the infinite potential range of Doctor Who, it is almost a surprise that it took the show so long to get to a pirate episode since it returned to television in 2005. The pirate episode is "The Curse Of The Black Spot" and while it might initially appear to be a divergence from Doctor Who, it does not take long before it falls into the very standard Doctor Who formula.

In other words, and there are no spoilers here, while there is initially something that appears supernatural, it turns out to be something alien. Anyone who has watched any five episodes of Doctor Who that have a creepy artifact or an apparent supernatural creature like a ghost, will recognize this as the formula. "The Curse Of The Black Spot" follows that formula very closely.

Opening with a rowboat full of pirates returning to their ship, the returning pirate is alarmed to learn that one of his crew was wounded. The wounded pirate has a black mark on his hand and almost immediately after the captain sees the mark, the song of the siren begins and the wounded pirate suddenly disappears. The Doctor, Amy and Rory appear in the ship and Captain Avery decides they must be stowaways. While The Doctor and Rory are threatened with walking the plank, Amy gets a sword and holds the five pirates at bay. When Amy cuts one of the pirates very minorly, a black spot appears on his hand and Rory is similarly wounded and marked. When The Siren begins singing, Rory gets wacky . . . and then the Siren appears to drag the two wounded men away. Amy manages to save Rory, but the other pirate dies.

After another pirate is killed, the survivors move to the armory because The Doctor realizes that the Siren can transport out of any water source and the magazine is the driest place on the ship. Inside the armory, Captain Avery discovers his own son has stown away. With his son so marked, Captain Avery and The Doctor set out to retrieve the TARDIS. While they are in the TARDIS, the other pirates mutiny against Avery to try to save themselves. But after the TARDIS disappears on its own, The Doctor realizes that the Siren can burst out of any reflective surface to kill. With only their wits, The Doctor and his friends must try to survive.

"The Curse Of The Black Spot" has The Doctor playing ridiculous right away and the humor starts very organically and cutely. But as the situation turns increasingly horrific, The Doctor's humor becomes terribly forced. What is far more irksome is the fact that The Doctor shows no care when Rory is marked for death. His jokes about death fall particularly flat when Rory is in mortal peril and he continues to act casual about it.

Karen Gillan is given a poor part to play in "The Curse Of The Black Spot." Amy seems more upset that the brainwashed Rory found the Siren attractive than she does by his imminent death. The problem is in the writing, but Gillan is unable to make the jokes land or the concern about something so trivial seem at all reasonable.

Hugh Bonneville makes Captain Avery into a credible captain and a reasonably well-rounded pirate. When Avery has to dump all his loot overboard, there is a moment when Bonneville uses his eyes to emote the moral dilemma going on in his character's mind where he weighs the crown vs. his son's life. It's a compelling moment and an exception to the rule of the episode.

Lily Cole plays the Siren and her job is basically to look as good as she does in the episode. She succeeds. The disappearing TARDIS feels very contrived in "The Curse Of The Black Spot" and the serialized element in the episode - Amy seeing the mysterious woman with the eye patch, who tries to reassure Amy, but ends up alarming her - stands out appropriately.

"The Curse Of The Black Spot" is more contrived and formulaic than it is ever engaging or impressive.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season of Matt Smith as The Doctor here!

For other works with Lily Cole, please visit my reviews of:
The Zero Theorem
Snow White And The Huntsman
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus


See how this episode stacks up against other episodes and seasons of Doctor Who by visiting my Doctor Who Review Index Page where the reviews are organized from best to worst!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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