Mr. Harvey Sees a Spot on "Doctor Who"

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Series 6 Episode 3
“The Curse of the Black Spot”

Taking a break from the darkness and sense of impending doom of the first two episodes of this season, “The Curse of the Black Spot” gives us a (mostly) self contained episode, and a much lighter tone. While I certainly have enjoyed the darker feel of the season so far, this much more traditional episode is a nice contrast.

Spoiler Free. Ish.

Following a distress call, the Doctor, Amy and Rory find themselves aboard a pirate ship stranded in a becalmed sea, and threatened by a mysterious and deadly “Siren” which has been picking off the pirate crew one by one. It seems that the slightest cut will call the creature and the lack of wind has left Captain Avery and his crew trapped in a increasingly desperate state of mind. The sudden arrival of the TARDIS crew does nothing to ease this and swiftly we find Rory and Amy prisoner and the Doctor forced to walk the plank. When Amy grabs a sword and tries to save the Doctor, the pirates do everything they can not to be cut, but in the chaos Rory is, and the titular Black Spot appears on his hand.

Captain Avery reveals that this has happened to the majority of his crew, and the Spot is the sign that the Siren will come, which it quickly does, it’s song causing it’s victims to be drawn to it and their doom. While it takes one of the wounded crew, the Doctor and Amy are able to drag Rory away and the two crews combine as Avery and the Doctor must work together to find a way to save their respective crews. Throw in a vanishing TARDIS (“It’s been towed.”), a Doctor who theorizes from the available facts and is repeatedly wrong, stowaways and stolen treasure, and we have a very fun episode that is full of great performances and fun, and yet…

The GOOD:

It’s actually nice to see the Doctor be wrong quite a bit in this episode. We’ve seen a lot in the last few years of the Doctor who isn’t ever wrong. Sure, we know he’s the smartest guy in the room (most of the time), but he’s not omnipotent, and it’s good to see that, and that he knows that. Here he constantly is updating his theories and while he gets there in the end, there are plenty of missteps along the way. His constant back and forth with Avery is fun too, as two men who are used to being obeyed in situations of crisis find themselves battling for control of the situation.

Amy gets a nice action bit here, dressing up as a pirate and wielding a cutlass against multiple opponents, and credit to Karen Gillan (who trained to use the sword and performed some of her own stunts) that she makes it look both new to her and effective against the pirates. Her hero moment really comes at the end of the episode though, and while it is, mmmm, something a bit predictable, it still works.

Rory gets to be both victim and hero here, and more and more his addition to the regular cast is proven to be a really good thing. His love for Amy might be the reason he first walked through the TARDIS doors, but more and more we are seeing someone who would be a good Companion even without being Mr. Pond. Hugh Bonneville’s Captain Avery is a treat. Commanding and wryly funny, his portrayal of a good man led astray by greed, but trying to do the right thing in the end is excellent. His reactions to the TARDIS, the true nature of the Siren and one stowaway in particular give Bonneville some good opportunities to give what could have been a caricature some depth.

Oscar Lloyd’s Toby is the next in a continuing line of solid child actors on the show, brave and out of his depth. His determination to find his father and the way it forces Avery to confront his choices are handled extremely well by both actors. Actress and model Lily Cole makes for a lovely and eerie Siren, and manages to convey a lot of character with no dialogue aside from song and screams. She’s particularly effective in the moments when the Siren’s true nature is revealed. The other pirates all have a chance to have nice character moments, kept easy by having the crew reduced by Siren attacks. The overall production design is top notch (with one particular exception) from costumes to the ship itself, easily on par with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films if not on the same scale.

The BAD:

Ok, there is a medical procedure that simply doesn’t work the way it’s portrayed here, and is used in a particularly cliched manner, and a character NOT doing something to help in a out-of-character manner that jarred. And a moment where the Doctor reacts to the TARDIS acting oddly that seems driven only by story requirements. The Siren’s attacks are very inconsistent… paced more by storytelling than by logic. And the production design of the OTHER ship in the story, which looks like they ran out of money after doing the excellent work on the pirate ship and the costumes. Ultimately these are minor things, but they do stand out.

Neither good nor bad, this episode was originally meant to be broadcast in the second half of the season and moved forward. This makes the reappearance of Amy’s is she/isn’t she pregnancy scan from the previous episode seem a little redundant, and it’s clear some of the big questions this season has raised are not going be answered anytime soon.

Definitely lighter in tone than the preceding two episodes, “The Curse of the Black Spot” serves well as a stand alone episode and is full of good supporting characters and fun piratey stuff. As we wait for the Neil Gaiman penned “The Doctor’s Wife” next week, it’ll certainly do.

Spoilers!

We have little here from the larger season arc, aside from the Amy pregnancy question and a brief nod to the Doctor’s impending death, although we do have a return of the mysterious one eyed woman, again appearing to Amy. This time she seems to be speaking directly to her, telling her everything is going to be fine. It’ll be very interesting to see who she turns out to be.

The big reveal here is the nature of the Siren. Far from being a murderous mystical being, she’s the interface to an alien ship’s automated sickbay. Faced with the death of her crew, she takes wounded and sick humans and keeps them alive, her song being targeted harmonics serving as a form of anesthesia. In a nice bit, it’s clear that she has no idea how to cure them, since she was designed to serve a different species. Here is where the production design complaint comes in as well, with the alien sickbay being decent but the alien ship as a whole being really bland, especially compared to the aliens themselves and the pirate ship.

The appearance of Captain Avery is a nice pseudo-historical touch, with the historical pirate he’s based on vanishing from history in the same year this story is set. With his son Toby stowing away and targeted by the Siren for his typhoid fever, Avery chooses to captain the alien ship to keep his son alive. It’s a nice pulp image: the reformed? pirates sailing though space.

Of course we had Rory also marked by the Siren, but before she could take him, he falls overboard and drowns. Kept alive by the Siren, the only way to save him is to let him drown and and then revive him. Here we have the medical procedure I mentioned before, with Amy performing CPR to save him. Once again we have the film and tv inability to show how CPR really works and what it’s for, but worse, we have the Doctor standing by as Amy struggles to save Rory. In the TARDIS. Really not sure what happened here aside from going for the dramatic scene, because it beggars belief that the Doctor wouldn’t have a way to save someone from drowning and his own sickbay in the TARDIS. It is nice to see Rory tell Amy that he knows she’ll save him, because he knows she’ll never give up.

So again, while not adding much to the larger story, “The Curse of Black Spot” is certainly a fun, entertaining romp through the pirate genre… the Doctor even going a little bit Jack Sparrow a couple of times and briefly gaining a hat. It’s fun.

And a preview for the next episode:

 

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Timothy Harvey

Timothy Harvey is a Kansas City based writer, director, actor and editor, with a passion for film noir movies. He was the art director for the horror film "American Maniacs", and serves on the board of directors for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City and the Kansas City Film Commission.

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