Doctor Who Series 6 Episode 3 review: The Curse of the Black Spot

Posted: 14 May 2011 in television
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“Yo Ho Ho!!!”…Or does nobody actually say that?

Doctor Who - The Curse of the Black Spot

The opening 2 parter that was The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon was always going to be a hard act to follow. It’s totally understandable that the production team decided to slot in a more straightforward “standalone” tale after the complexity of Steven Moffat’s epic. Unfortunately The Curse of the Black Spot fell far short of it’s potential.

The brief for the script was clearly: “pirates” – and to include as many of the cliches as possible. Treasure, sword fights, mutinies, stowaways, walking-the-plank – all there but the narrative holding everything together was sorely lacking. Writer Stephen Thompson was responsible for The Blind Banker the middle episode of the first series of Sherlock. As that was a story I didn’t click with at all I was a little concerned when I saw he’d been assigned to this story. Unfortunately the fears proved justified.

Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill are incapable of giving bad performances, but they need to be given far better material to work with. Whilst it was refreshing to see a Doctor that was not 3 steps ahead of everyone else and changing his theories as he went along, and who could fail to sit up a little straighter when Amy started swashing her buckle in the pirate outfit, can Rory stop getting killed??? It’s becoming a bit of a cliche now and if the character is killed off properly at any point the audience will sit there for week after week expecting him to pop up once more.

Gravely disappointed that the Siren turned out to be a medical hologram and not the “stuff of legend”. Yes Lily Cole looked far better than the Emergency Medical Hologram from Star Trek: Voyager but why was she dressed in that floaty outfit rather than medical scrubs? In fact why did she need to be dressed at all if “it” is not real (I suppose one answer would be that it’s a family programme).

The entire story had a “base-under-siege” feel to it that was so prolific throughout many of the Patrick Troughton stories in the 1960s and therein lies part of the problem with The Curse of the Black Spot. It’s a story that could have been produced in any era of the programme. Granted the production values would have not been anywhere near as good, certainly no night filming on a genuine ship, but the team of the Eleventh Doctor/Amy/Rory could have easily been replaced with the Second Doctor/Victoria/Jamie or the Fifth Doctor/Tegan/Turlough in a 4 part studio bound adventure without much detriment to the story – and the alien sick bay could have been done quite effectively in BBC Television Centre in the 1980s.

On the plus side (yes there is one) Hugh Bonneville was absolutely terrific as Captain Avery. Bonneville is another actor incapable of giving a bad performance and is able to lift any production several notches with his presence. Check out Bonekickers and every scene he’s in to see the difference he can make.

After gushing over the opening of this series it’s not easy to be harsh about the next adventure but to be an honest critic of a series you have to acknowledge that not everything produced under its banner is the greatest piece of television laid before an audience. Perhaps more than any other series “Doctor Who” is capable of producing material than ranges from the absolutely classic to the totally dire. For every The Talons of Weng-Chiang and Blink there is a The Twin Dilemma or Love & Monsters to counter it.

It’s important to celebrate the brilliant and throw the hands up in defeat when the naff graces the screen (any fan from the 1980s will tell you how much hand raising went on in that era). Thankfully for Matt Smith’s Doctor the brilliant currently far outweighs the naff. I suspect with Neil Gaiman’s The Doctor’s Wife the tally for the season will be upped to 3 brilliant episodes and 1 ok episode. But I stand ready to consume humble pie if it doesn’t.


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