Inconsequential, thy name is ‘The Curse Of The Black Spot’.
If ever a stand alone episode has suffered from the excessive momentum of its predecessors this was it. Whatever followed the massive cliffhanger from last week was always going to be a little bit of a let down, so instead of explaining anything, we’re just moving on. All those questions that we have are to be put to one side for a little bit as we get a lighter, less ongoing-plot heavy episode instead.
This is very much Doctor Who by the numbers. That’s not to say it’s a bad episode. It’s a pretty good episode, with one or two really good ideas, and an intriguing narrative. It’s just that it was exactly what you might expect from Doctor Who. There was no effort made to make it more than your standard Doctor Who, no twists, just your monster of the week time again! There’s pirates, and a mermaid, and a spaceship and everything. This is totally what Doctor Who is all about.
It’s as if there was a need to drop the whole complicated storyline and give the audience a chance to rest up for a week. Admittedly these last few weeks have been complicated – a lot of stuff has happened, and there have been fears amongst fans about whether the general audience can sustain its interest. After all it’s hard to keep up with an ongoing series that asks its audience to pay attention to every moment of the episode.
So instead we get an episode where we can switch off and not pay attention to what’s going on for a time. We got some pirates, and that was nice. Lily Cole was good as the siren/ mermaid/ psycho nurse.
The main problem was that this episode seemed to be channelling other, earlier (better) episodes. The entire culmination being a transformative medical practice gone awry was a little too ‘The Doctor Dances’, whilst the whole idea of a ship still trying to function with a dead crew was straight out of ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’*. There’s a sense that the best bits of this are the bits we’ve already seen in previous series, and the plot that got us between these moments was just there to fill the time.
A father-son plotline is usually a hokey one and there was no attempt to steer clear of this, so we got an even hokier sub plot of his impending illness – like Tiny Tim got accidentally dropped into Walk The Line**. It seems weird that in an episode where you’d knowingly reference the fact that piracy is a bad thing you would dump the revived pirate crew on a spaceship and let them loose. The questionable morality of the Doctor continues unabated. Lets hope they don’t just choose to rape and pillage their way across the cosmos, safe in the knowledge that thanks to the life support system all their wounds will be fixed up. When your sympathetic new character is said to have “gunned down a thousand innocent men” it’s hard to feel justice has been done when they get a reward at the end.
We’re meant to feel that Captain Avery is a good man who made bad choices, a man who is redeemed by his son’s innocence. Yet we never see that; when given the opportunity he knowingly keeps the treasure rather than give it up. Yes, he loses his son, and yes, he’s certainly more sad than threatening but when the life of your son depends on throwing away a crown and you don’t anyway it’s hard to feel too sorry for the man.
There were some good bits. Amy swinging from the rigging and fighting off the pirates looked painful in the preview, but the actual explanation for why those pirates were actually avoiding fighting back against her at all was actually good. The use of the sticks and rope as weapons was a nice touch. The whole thing felt very Pirates of the Caribbean, which isn’t a bad thing.
In fact the most obvious comparison that can be drawn is to Sherlock Holmes, hardly surprising considering Stephen Thompson last wrote an episode of Sherlock for Moffat. The deductive reasoning employed by the Doctor was lovely, as was the fact that he had to revise the theories that he’d formed as more evidence became available. This is the kind of Doctor that’s far more enjoyable than one who knows everything already and I’d like to see a lot more of this.
I think a lot of the fan criticism of how the Doctor is no longer as useful as he was is less about the character and more about a conscious drift away from the Messiah-like figure of the RTD era Doctor who would show up, know everything, save the day and leave. This Doctor struggles, gets it wrong, rarely seems aware of anything but once they have the facts can actually work out what to do next. The need for a weekly Deus Ex Sonic Machina to resolve whatever problem existed has largely been ignored.
I really enjoyed the dead rat things piloting the ship, and the way the Sirens transformation seemed to echo a move back towards the shape she may have had when administering to them, with her face pinching and fangs lengthening. Subtle effects work, but really good.
My main complaint was that as soon as the child was disintegrated it was obvious that the Siren wasn’t going to have killed them. That final taboo of killing the child is unbreakable – there was no way that he’s dead which rather removes the threat to the cast. This was triumphantly demonstrated by Rory’s return from the dead again. At this point it’s getting ridiculous and I’m amazed that Rory even bothers to leave the TARDIS. If this is a point that will be picked up on later, and there’s actually a reason why he dies and returns so often all well and good but as it stands he’s beginning to exist in the same state of peril that marked Kim Bauer in 24.
We get little more towards the unpregnancy storyline here – Amy is still in flux, and the eyepatched woman makes a reappearance but we haven’t learnt anything new here, so lets just plunge straight into conjecture and speculation:
Some of the talk recently has been about the TARDIS and its contrariness, disappearing and reappearing midway through the episode. What I simply took as a way to write the TARDIS out so as to keep the plot going is by some people being taken as evidence that the TARDIS is operating autonomously. So What If… the TARDIS has impregnated Amy with some kind of time baby, for some reason.
* When does an episode go from referencing another to being a derivative plot suck? Maybe it’s that these were plot points, not plot moments that were torn wholesale from earlier episodes.
** Walk The Line being the go to film for Daddy issues, obviously.