Doctor Who Recap (series 6, episode 3): The Curse of the Black Spot
In this week’s self contained adventure, The Doctor and his companions board a haunted pirate ship. In spite of this premise, the term “adventure” might be hyperbolic.
Doctor Who is a show with many faces. Many fans would prefer to disassociate themselves with several of them, I’d think; most reviews I read open with a disclaimer. The epic space opera, which the show tends toward at the beginning and end of ever season (but, especially the end), is not the face that fans are ashamed of. Rather, it is the sillier episodes filling the middle of every season that inspire the halfheartedness. ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’ lies somewhere between the rousing science fiction adventures and ridiculous storybook romps, the latter of which often has more in common with typical children’s programming than the high concept romance of Who at its peak, and I’d not be so harsh as to leave today’s episode in the company of riff raff. But to call it “good” might be a bit too charitable.
If the viewer is interested in science fiction which touts speculative feasibility, I question their choice to watch Doctor Who in the first place. That said, this episode is totally nonsensical. There’s suspension of disbelief, and then there’s the malfunctioning medical program from an alternate universe commuting through mirrors to kidnap injured pirates. Just a scratch will do, though. I suppose her programming is advanced enough to calculate such complex interdimensional maneuvers, but not to recognize the absolute lunacy of her actions. The protagonists are also guilty of logical error on more than one occasion within the episode, but for the sake of my sanity, I’ll not try to catalogue all of them.
Matt Smith is a good actor. He consistently delivers dialogue that would make a lesser man look and sound like a clown. An awkward one, at that. All that are cast as The Doctor must possess this same knack for delivery (some might argue there are exceptions, but let’s not go down that road). The role necessitates it. As such, he handles the below-par writing of the episode admirably, but unfortunately cannot overcome certain problems in the writing. When handled well, the Eleventh Doctor’s goofiness can be his best quality; and when a writer doesn’t quite nail it, he comes of as smug, constantly winking at audience. Moffat intended that he would have the eccentric playfulness of your grandfather, not the perpetual espresso-high of his predecessor. He’s also clumsy and absentminded, but never incompetent. The Curse of the Black Spot gets all of this backwards.
Instead, Eleven stumbles along, relying primarily on luck. The Doctor’s always left certain things to chance, and occasionally miscalculates or even loses control of a situation, but he should never merely be surviving. That’s what he’s doing here; surviving, and just hoping that the situation works it all out. No, instead, he should be planning and solving, always on the edge of a solution. When he’s just flailing about, pointing his Sonic Screwdriver at anything remotely suspicious (the capabilities of which, are still unknown; it functions primarily on plot convenience), I can’t help but feel that his heroic credentials come into question. Is this the dashing rogue that could take on the cosmic apocalypse with nothing but his wits and a few trusty household items, or not?
Beyond displaying fencing skills of questionable origin, Amy doesn’t get to do much here. She necessitates Rory in a scene so cliched it nearly descended into self-parody, and worries a bit about the actual plot (the plot of the season, that is, the one that actually matters), but is otherwise a non entity. Rory, himself, drifts between comic relief and damsel in distress, still not doing a whole lot to justify his presence. I’d like a little more indication that he has more of a reason to tag along than his marital status (does he even want to be there?), and Moffat’s hinted elsewhere that he’s still struggling with the repressed memories of the centuries he spent as “The Last Centurion”. I’d like to see more of that, and less demeaning plots that don’t know what to do with him.
There’s a minuscule B-plot involving the captain of the pirate ship that serves as the primary backdrop, and his stowaway son. They’re given minimal background, and occasionally trade expository dialogue with The Doctor, but again, are fueled primarily by plot convenience. I’m again forced to think that the episode just didn’t know what to do with the pirate crew. There’s a moment near the end where they fly a spaceship to safety, which I sort of liked, in spite of some truly frustrating implications (though, I said I wouldn’t talk about that). Ultimately, though, the framing mechanism was too confused to make the episode any better than mediocre. Not the worst story the New Series has told, but I’ve honestly come to expect better.
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