Thursday, 9 June 2011

Doctor Who: The Curse of the Black Spot

“What kind of rubbish pirates are you?”

Phew. A more normal, less arc-heavy episode. That means less typing for me.

I was only aware of Steve Thompson for his slightly disappointing middle episode of Sherlock with the possibly dodgy ethnic stereotypes. I thought this script was ok, but pretty ho-hum on the whole. Still, the whole thing certainly looks great and this is a good point in the season for a bit of untaxing fun.

So… pirates. Night-time. The TARDIS crew accused of being stowaway. It all feels a bit Enlightenment, innit? And Matt Smith’s more than a bit Troughton in his facial acting just before the titles.

So, we have a pirate ship. We have lots of fog. We have Hugh Bonneville, of whom I’d better say nothing. We have Lily Cole as a siren who takes people who suffer the slightest injury, with the black spot foretelling their certain fate. And you have to love the fact that we waste no time at all in getting the Doctor to walk the plank while Amy gets a rather cool cutlass fight. Never mind that the Doctor is in imminent danger of dying (with her husband almost certainly next; of course she’s going to stop and put those piratey clothes on. It’s set piece vs. plot logic, and that’s a fight that’s always going to end one way.

We start getting some actual plot once Rory gets scratches and sees the black spot appear; suddenly, someone we actually care about is in danger. Any Amy seems decidedly miffed at his obvious temptation by this other woman, but of course, unlike Random Pirate Bloke, he isn’t disintegrated. After all, this is Rory. It’s not as if he dies all the time or anything.

From this point on, random redshirt pirates are gradually whittled down by the siren, with only the Doctor and his mates, Captain Avery, and Avery’s stowaway son Toby, are immune. We see more evidence of this Doctor’s “Ignore all my previous theories” thing in this episode than any other during the first two-thirds of this episode. There’s some good stuff, though. I love this Doctor’s thing for hats, another thing about him that reminds me of early “I would like a hat like that” Troughton (“Worried because I’m wearing a hat now?”). It’s all very dangerous, and in a relatively arc-lite episode we get a distinctly arc-related reaction from Amy to the Doctor’s “We’ve all got to go sometime.”

RTD once said in an interview, in DWM I think, that scenes in which people are introduced to the TARDIS are great, and enormous fun. The Doctor allowing notorious pirate Henry Avery into his Ship may be a bit Peter Davison Years, but it certainly proves the truth of this. His blasé reaction is well hilarious (Wheel. Telescope. Astrolabe. Compass. A ship’s a ship”).

Meanwhile, in the magazine, Avery Junior is threatening some mutineers with a cutlass. To this user of subtitles, this scene proves two things: the redshirts are definitely all doomed; and Red Bee Media Ltd don’t know how to spell “blackguard”. Tut tut.

It seems that the ships of both Avery and the Doctor are becalmed. If we conveniently ignore the stated fact that Avery has murdered thousands of innocent people, I think we’re supposed to see some sort of parallel between them.

The arc interposes yet again as the Eyepatch Lady from last episode appears to Amy and informs her that “It’s fine. You’re doing fine. Just stay calm.” At this point I shall do as I did in my review for last episode and pretend that I haven’t seen A Good Man Goes to War yet. It’s less complicated that way.

After some comic relief with Avery barking orders to Amy and Rory which sound as though they’ve come straight out of one of Patrick O’Brian’s splendid Aubrey / Maturin novels (“What we really need is some sort of phrase book”), Rory goes overboard. He’s going to drown.

Suddenly the Doctor seems to make a not-quite-convincing intuitive leap, and firstly releases the siren to get Rory, and then insists that Amy, Avery and himself succumb too. I can see why Amy would do this (as per Amy’s Choice) and Avery (his son has been taken), but the Doctor seems to be taking a crazy risk.

It turns out that the siren is just some sort of computer avatar space doctor thing from a “ghost ship”, piloted by now-dead aliens, in a parallel universe (which seems quite accessible; not exactly consistent with what we were told in the RTD years) and that no one has actually died (very, very consistent with Moffat’s scripts in the RTD era). We end with Rory nearly dying (again!) and Avery and his crew being trapped aboard the ship, fated to travel the stars…

We end with a reminder that “Schrödinger” is still a good name for a baby…

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