Sunday, 8 May 2011

Doctor Who: The Curse of the Black Spot

Doctor: 'Ignore all my previous theories.'

Tonight's episode was a serviceable, if lightweight, yarn which saw the Doctor, Amy and Rory take to the high seas, swash some buckles, and wade through just about every pirate cliché in the book. There was a mutiny, a stowaway, a storm, mad pirate laughter, some booty (of the non-arse variety), and more pirate lingo than you could shake a stick at. The only thing missing was a parrot. Add to the mix a spaceship, a sick bay, and a virtual doctor, and you've pretty much got your plot. It's just a shame tonight's episode followed on from last week's mind-bending WTF-a-rama. Comparatively, it felt a little ordinary.

In many respects this felt like a lost episode from the Russell T. Davies era. The concept was big, there was lots of frenetic action and loud music, all nicely capped off with a pseudo-emotional crisis which, unfortunately, never quite hit the mark. The opening two episodes of the season have faced stiff criticism this past week. Some have deemed them too complicated, others have been dissatisfied with the general lack of answers, and some have gone as far as calling for a return to the show's classic roots: lauding accessible story-lines, universal appeal, and high-action content over the show's, currently, more abstruse adventures. Of course, they use the term classic in reference to Russell T. Davies' tenure, rather than the Barry Letts or Philip Hinchcliffe era (which makes me feel old), but you get my drift, for some people, Doctor Who will always be about aimless running around, the Doctor saying 'brilliant', and amusing farting aliens. Not that there's any shame in that (apart from it being utterly fucking shameful.)

So tonight's story should have gone some way towards appeasing the naysayers. Apart from the occasional burst of techno-babble, this was pretty much a standard Who-by-numbers. The plot itself I quite enjoyed. Granted, it wasn't the most original story out there—having much in common with the 'The Doctor Dances', with its alien technology designed to aid humanity somehow running amok theme, and Michael Crichton's Coma, with its suspended sick beds—but it did have its moments. I dare say, had I been ten, I'd have loved it. (Whilst simultaneously crapping my pants at the spooky Avatar Lady.)

Of course, with the Doctor about to walk the plank, and Rory in mortal danger, one had to wonder at the timing and practicality of Amy's sudden costume change. Not that I'm complaining with the result—anything which ends in Amy kicking arse in a pirate hat, pirate coat and red tights, is fine by me—but it did take some suspending my disbelief to swallow her sudden proficiency with a cutlass. How she managed to best a ship full of professional pirates (albeit the most affable pirates ever to sail the seas), with no training whatsoever, I'll never know. But, I digress... it made for an entertaining, if somewhat contrived, spectacle.

Did any of us really believe that Rory would stay dead? Despite the swelling music, swelling seas and swelling bosoms (I made that last part up), there was never any real sense of him being in danger. I'm not sure Rory's cut out for a life aboard the TARDIS—he can't seem to stop getting killed. How many times is that now? Twice? Three times? No wonder he's getting a reputation as the Kenny of the show. Him putting his trust in Amy was a wonderful character moment—what a pity she threw in the towel after just five breaths. If Doctor Corday had been there, I'm pretty sure she'd have given him at least 20 minutes of hefty lip-locking action. So much for never giving up. I confess, I was mildly touched by Amy's grief at Rory's non-passing—it's just a shame it felt so manufactured. I didn't believe for one second that he'd die. Of course, I didn't believe he'd die the first time, either. Or the second.

As much as I love Hugh Bonneville, I'm not sure he was the best choice to play Captain Avery. Despite the claims of his crew, he never really convinced as a ruthless pirate captain. Maybe I love Bonneville's portrayal of Robert Crawley (Downton Abbey) too much to believe that he could ever be evil. He's just too cuddly. I was also a little puzzled by the morality tale. Why would a life of murder and piracy be rewarded with a new ship (which he could miraculously pilot, because, you know, if you can steer a ship you can steer anything, including a TARDIS!) and a resuscitated crew? Wasn't it his deceit which got them into trouble in the first place?

Despite the story feeling a little familiar, I thought the cast did a fine job with the script. Lily Cole (despite not talking) looked seriously other-worldy (and at times freakishly sinister), as the ship's slightly unpredictable virtual Doctor. The CGI looked a bit shaky at times, but not detrimentally so. Similarly, the Doctor was at his wise-cracking, semi-high on Smarties best. I dare say Matt Smith could recite names from a telephone book and make it entertaining. He adds so much through his body language and facial expressions, it's impossible not to be entranced by his performance.

I wonder how much of this episode was throw away. Frances Barber made another brief, and frankly, bizarre cameo as freaky eye-patch lady, but what of the multiple dimensions story-line—will it have any future significance with regards the Doctor's death? Could it have been an alt-universe version of the Doctor who died? I doubt it, but if there's anything to be learned from 'Flesh and Stone' (where I rather foolishly dismissed the Doctor's missing jacket as a continuity error), it's that, sometimes, things are there (or aren't there) for a reason. 'Nuff said.

Other Thoughts:

—I'm not sure the water in the barrel would have been still enough, particularly with the rocking of the boat and rain, to reflect anything.

—Looks like the Ood are back next week.

—Some of you (and by that I mean 'hardly any of you') might remember Lee Ross (who played Boatswain) from Steven Moffat's earlier show Press Gang. He also played Paul in The Catherine Tate Show. So Doctor Who connections all over the place.

—Does broken glass lose its ability to reflect? No? Sheer nonsense then, really.

—The episode title is pretty close to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl? The fourth film of the franchise—On Stranger Tides—opens in ten days. Coincidence? Probably.

—Stephen Thompson also wrote Sherlock episode 'The Blind Baker'.

—Loved the alien snot moment—as, I'm sure, did every ten year old boy in the country.

—Who guessed the Doctor and Co. would be behind the door? Everyone in the whole world? Alrighty then.

—Pirates in space? They're just going to loot everything, aren't they?

—Amy's still pregnant. Except she's not. Except she is.


Doctor: 'Ever met Freud? No? Comfy sofa!'

Doctor: 'We've all got to go sometime. There are worse ways than having your face snogged off by a dodgy mermaid.'

Doctor: 'Let me stop you there... bigger on the inside.'

Avery: 'I'm confused.'
Doctor: 'Yeah, well it's a big club. We should get T Shirts.'

Doctor: 'Oh, look"!'
Amy: 'What is it?'
Doctor: 'Sneeze! Alien bogies.'

Pirate: 'This is more magic, Captain. I believe they're spirits. How else would they find their way below decks.'
Doctor: 'Well, I would say 'multi-dimensional engineering' -- but seeing as you had a problem with 'sensors', I won't go there.'

Pirate: 'We are all cursed if we stay aboard, Sir.'
Doctor: 'It's not a 'curse'. Curse means 'game over'. Curse means we are helpless. We are not helpless.'

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