Aired 7 May 2011
Following the intriguing cliffhanger showing the young girl regenerating at the end of ‘Day of the Moon,’ Doctor Who takes events in a different direction entirely, electing to save that resolution until another time. What is presented here in ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’ is very much a standalone tale, bringing pirates into the fray for one of the surprisingly few times in the programme’s history.
The setup for the story is quite good as crewmembers of the ship are taken- seemingly to their deaths- by a Siren when they become injured or hurt and a black circle manifests on them. An old seafaring vessel is hardly the safest of places, and so seeing the fear and trepidation in the brave sailors’ eyes and movements is quite telling. The entire crew, even as they disappear at a rapid rate, is played quite well, but Hugh Bonneville as Captain Avery is a true standout. Quite rightly given the plot, though, the entire episode hinges on its Siren, and fortunately the luminescent CGI version of Lily Allen is hauntingly effective. The set and production values, as always, are extremely high as well, easily making the ship and sea realistic settings for these fantastic events.
During the last series Rory had a brush with death thanks to the Silurians, and he has another one here as the Siren takes him. Although it’s expected that the taken men are not actually dead, this still proves to be a very effective moment and once again shows just how strong the affection and bond between Rory and Amy is when all cards are on the table.
There is an intrinsic tension claustrophobia built into events here, partially due to the isolated setting that the pirate ship affords, but also due to the fact that any reflective surface- even standing water- is capable to becoming an entry point for the Siren. Even as the men are unwilling to accept death and attempt to avoid the Siren and her alluring song, this obstacle further complicates matters. Unfortunately, when the Siren or the fear she instills is not present, the elements on the ship don’t mesh completely perfectly. Again, Bonneville is superb as the Captain, but even his dramatic emotion cannot elevate the father-son aspect that seems to be included as more of an afterthought. However, his discussions with the Doctor as two captains are certainly highlight moments.
With Doctor Who, an unexplained phenomenon usually can be explained as alien interference or technology, and both of those prove to be the case here as well. The revelation that the Siren actually serves as a medic of sorts aboard an alien ship helps to tie the plot together, and it most definitely toys with expectations well, but even this aspect seems quite underexplored. The time on this alternate ship is over just as quickly as it beings and, aside from bringing Amy and Rory even closer together, it just doesn’t deliver on its full potential.
Following the immensely strong opening two-parter, ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’ was always going to face a monumental challenge. Standalone episodes are a necessity for shows like Doctor Who, as too much of a serial nature would prove detrimental to the sense of randomness his adventures allow. Even still, despite very strong production values and performances alongside some exciting action sequences, this seems like a tale of two parts that aren’t completely in sync. There are some fascinating concepts in play, and certainly the inclusion of pirates has the potential for greatness, but this has to be qualified as a letdown no matter its placement in the series.