We sails under the colours of spoiler freedom, me hearties!
Question - Why are pirates so cool? Answers - Because they just aaaaaarrrrrrr!
Look, it was either that refuge from the Old Jokes Home or an obscene one about a parrot. Though the former does have the advantage of illuminatin’ the nature of scurvy buccaneers sailin’ the seven seas o’ fiction...
Basically pirates are always good fun and frankly there’s just not enough eye patches, cutlasses and walkin’ the plank about these days! I’d have though that the dubloons raked in by that House o’ Mouse trilogy, might have sparked up a new adaptation of Treasure Island or a remake of Captain Blood!
So then instant plunder in the treasure chest for this particular episode of Doctor Who. Overall The Curse of the Black Spot was jolly good fun, a light weight stand alone adventure as I expected. Lovely old galleon, a decent cast of sea dogs commanded by the engaging Captain Avery, played well by Hugh Bonneville, a deliciously beautiful but creepy adversary in the shape of the Siren (Lilly Cole), a Jim Hawkins aged stowaway, a splice o’ swash buckling and all washed down with some plot twists and turns.
So then a lovely little high seas classic then? Well, sadly no. It was entertaining enough but I can’t shake the feeling that it didn’t quite hit the mark. Not a bad episode per se, but at the same time, for me it ran aground on the sandbanks just off the shore of Average rather steerin’ a clear course to Treasure Island.
Writer Stephen Thompson is perhaps best known to viewers in TV Land, for penning The Blind Banker, the second episode of the Moffat/Gatiss helmed Sherlock which graced our screen last summer. However personally I felt that it was the weakest adventure for the modern day incarnation of the Master Detective in that series, and it would seem that The Curse of the Black Spot shares the same flaws as The Blind Banker - namely that the plotting tried to be clever and cunning but came across as fairly linear, and despite trying hard to hit all the right notes somehow just didn't generate the thrills and atmosphere you’d expect from the classic tropes both these tales are built upon.
Now I’d stress that this episode was by no means a disaster and there was a lot of fun to had from Mr Thompson’s script. The story clipped along nicely with plenty of drama between the action. The dialogue had plenty of sparkle, some fun verbal jousting and showed a good ear for period speech without over egging the pudding with lots of cod ye olde worlde thee-ing and thou-ing. And there were some fun and interesting wrinkles to the plot too; the sort of SF twists that are very in keeping with the traditions and feel of Doctor Who adventures past.
All quite entertain as it’s going along but after the credits had rolled I started nitpicking, which is never a good sign. But on reflection (yo ho ho, see what I did there) though individually, the scenes are fine, I think it was the way they were orchestrated together that led to the feeling that The Curse of the Black Spot was fluffing its siren song; missing the correct notes and not hitting the beats quite right.
In short, I liked it but really considering it was Doctor Who doing pirates, one of my great boyhood passions, I really thought I’d have loved this one. Quite possibly I’m being overly picky and certainly coming on the heels of a brace of very strong episodes isn't helping it’s case. Then again, if you weren't as onboard with the opening tale as I was, then maybe you’ll find that The Curse of the Black Spot is more your cup o’grog Cap’n!
Here be the spoils o'plunder!
Right me hearties, I takes it that ye land lubbers have now seen this tale o’the high seas by now, either that, else ye don’t give a tinkers’ cuss about secrets reveal’d! So then, despite the difficulties that beset a man trying to type while doing the piratically patent Keith o’ Stones stagger, let’s scrape the barnacles of this story’s arse!
Aside from this adventure not quite having the right rhythm to the rise and fall of its plotting, where I’m really deducting marks from MR Thompson is that although as I mentioned on the above decks that this tale had some good twists in its tail, the problem is he plundered them! These be stolen goods m’lud!
The concept of an automated computer avatar preying on passersby we saw in The Lodger, and grabbing folk through space-time portals and not understanding what it’s supposed to do we saw in The Girl In The Fireplace, the twist that said folk weren't killed by teleported elsewhere is from Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways, and as for Rory dying and coming back, well we've had before in Amy’s Choice not to mention last season’s finale.
Now while I appreciated the dramatic development of seeing that Amy and Rory are a solid couple, and nicely burying the potential for a tedious love triangle in the TARDIS, did we really have to see Rory skirt Davy Jones’ Locker? Blimey, give the guy a break please - he’s back and forth beneath the Grim Reaper’s scythe like a bloody limbo dancer!
Evidently Mr Thompson has studied the form and shape of a good Doctor Who tale but unfortunately I could tell which stories in new Who he’d looked most closely at. Again, I might be being overly critical, but spotting these borrowings in tandem with the slightly off story rhythm gave me the impression of a script cobbled together rather than carefully crafted. And this impression was compounded by the fact that some plot points don't really hold up when you start to think about them - for example, surely it would be impossible to get rid of ALL reflective surfaces - humans eyes in particular! And surely would even an addled medical program have to put people in stasis just for a nick on the hand?
And the epilogue which gave us a flashback of the Doctor’s death and the virtual replay of TARDIS scanner pregnancy confusion of last week’s coda felt a little lazy. However I suspect this was tacked on as apparently originally this episode was scheduled to the ninth episode - the breather in the early phase of the autumn half of the season. And in fairness, we did see that the fluctuation on the scanner between Amy being pregnant or not was growing alarmingly more rapid. And taking this in conjunction with Amy’s flash of the Doctor dying, it does set up nicely the fact that the secret the Doctor is keeping is mirrored by the knowledge his companions must keep huhs hush. Rather apt considering the reflections theme of this tale!
It’s little touches like this and the other highlights such as the Black Spot being a skin sample, Amy going fully pirate and swinging about with a cutlass, plus the striking Siren imagery, that make me inclined to forgive the niggles incurred by the afore-mentioned recycled plot points and logical gaps.
So again I say good but not as great as I’d hoped. And let’s get some perspective here, there’s nothing here that makes you want to claw your eyes out with a gaff hook - farting Slitheen and paving slab blowjob gags I’m looking at you!
JIM MOON, 8th May 2011