It seemed like it was going to be a nice respite from the high-stakes Moffstraganza that were the last five episodes of Doctor Who. I thought a standalone, rollicking pirate tale would be just what the, erm, doctor ordered. And then I saw “The Curse of the Black Spot,” and started comparing it with “The Web Planet.” And “The Web Planet” was winning, if only because I was so bored I fell asleep while watching it, whereas I had the misfortune of watching “The Curse of the Black Spot” in its entirety.
Dear Doctor Who,
Thanks for hurting my soul and ruining what was otherwise a lovely Sunday morning.
The Doctor, Amy, and Rory wind up on a pirate ship captained by the famed pirate, Henry Avery (who is also referenced in the First Doctor story, “The Smugglers,” in which Avery is dead and his treasure is being pursued. I wonder if he lost that treasure whilst flying a spaceship?!), and suffering what seems like a disturbing curse. The ship can’t sail, and if any of the crew suffers the slightest injury—a cut, a cold—a mysterious creature they call a siren comes for them, draws them with her song, and makes them go poof and disappear. Apparently, she also makes injured TARDISes disappear. It’s up to The Doctor and Amy (Rory, of course, gets injured and almost dies, thus making him the Kenny of Doctor Who—“They killed Rory! YOU BASTARDS!”) to help Captain Avery (Hugh Bonneville) and his crew stop this siren from killing any more men, and to get the ship moving again.
The concept of the story—a stopped pirate ship and a siren—is a good one, and one that could have led to any number of storytelling possibilities, but Stephen Thompson’s script executed them poorly, as if he’s never watched an episode of Doctor Who, and as if he didn’t care about fleshing out the new characters he introduced into this world.
First, his plot requires everyone to be a moron for it to work, and so we’re subjected to The Doctor at his most ineffectual, the blandest Amy ever, and a useless Rory. For example, the siren comes for the injured, but when Rory gets hurt, Amy can just hold him back until the siren leaves. So, um, why didn’t The Doctor or the rest of the crew see that and hold back the other injured pirates? They allow three men to die without even trying. Then there’s Amy, who yells at Rory for not coming to her rescue, then inexplicably decides that she can wield a sword to save herself (and of course, she has to put on the outfit, too, because why not?), then is completely blasé about being informed that nicking one of the sailors cost him his life.
Meanwhile, The Doctor spends most of the episode making bad jokes, then making a huge leap based on no evidence, and risking his own life, as well as Amy’s and Captain Avery’s in the process. Also, it’s ridiculous that The Doctor would assume that an “intelligent” medical program would care at all about Amy and Rory’s marriage or her wedding ring, and I have to wonder if he would have come to that conclusion if the siren weren’t a cute girl. Because as we all know, girls love wedding rings. Oh, and The Doctor lets a group of 17th century pirates fly a spaceship. He’s totally okay with that. And apparently he knows nothing about things like CPR. Too busy flying the TARDIS to have ever learned how to get one of his human companions breathing again, I suppose.
And let’s talk about that excruciating CPR scene, shall we? The implausibility of them being able to get Rory out of the hospital and to the TARDIS in time for CPR to even work; the incorrect CPR that Amy performs; The Doctor just... standing there; the prolonged “suspense” of whether Rory is dead before he gasped back to life in a really awkward moment, which was followed by an unnecessary reminder that Amy and Rory know when The Doctor is going to die. Thanks for hitting us over the head, everyone.
Thompson writes Captain Avery’s son, Toby (Oscar Lloyd), in a way that seemed antithetical to Doctor Who. He has this child knowingly kill someone when he cuts the sailor who plans to take the ship, and it was an uncomfortable moment. That harsh choice could have been made interesting if it were used to later give Captain Avery something to shake him up and help him realize that his son needs a father to teach him right from wrong, but that never happened. Toby just inexplicably is willing to kill, then just as inexplicably helpless—like when the jeweled crown falls out of the captain’s coat, and he makes no move to, I don’t know, throw it overboard (neither does The Doctor or Captain Avery).
Lastly, let’s talk about the siren (Lily Cole). While I understand that sci-fi stories often seek to show that the things people see as “magic” are actually based in something concrete, a rollicking pirate story would rollick a whole lot more if there were something a bit more sentient and a bit less tech-based behind the danger being faced. The siren as a medical program sucks any remaining mystery and magic out of the story, and telling us nothing about the aliens who owned the spaceship except that they are now dead just highlights how lacking in emotion this story is.
Director Jeremy Webb seeks to fill in the emotional blanks left by the script, but ends up just making everything overwrought. All the actors seemed to be phoning in their performances this episode, the obvious dialogue making it impossible to bring any nuance or subtlety to their characters. The one good moment in the episode is the reappearance of Silver Eye, who made her first appearance in “Day of the Moon.” We still don’t know what she has to do with Amy, and it’s intriguing as hell, but here it was drowned out by so much bad.
“The Curse of the Black Spot” is television writing at its most lazy, and I’m surprised that Steven Moffat let this episode go, leading me to believe he lost some kind of bet. As it is, I feel like this episode is destined to be the “Spock’s Brain” of New Doctor Who, the bad episode you make people watch if only to appreciate how good the rest of the show is.
Next week, NEIL GAIMAN’S EPISODE, which I’m sure will cleanse our palates and remind us what good writing is. Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9PM ET on BBC America.
Also, why would a medical program lure people with song...? DAMMIT!
Teresa Jusino thinks she should be allowed to write a Doctor Who episode if this Stephen Thompson guy gets to. Her “feminist brown person” take on pop culture has been featured on websites like ChinaShopMag.com, PinkRaygun.com, Newsarama, and PopMatters.com. Her fiction has appeared in the sci-fi literary magazine, Crossed Genres; she is the editor of Beginning of Line, the Caprica fan fiction site; and her essay “Why Joss is More Important Than His ‘Verse” is included in Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon By the Women Who Love Them, which is on sale now wherever books are sold! Get Twitterpated with Teresa, or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.