Written by Steven Thompson
Directed by Jeremy Webb
The Doctor and his assistants arrive on the ship of pirate Captain Henry Avery, a ship that is being menaced by a Siren who marks her prey with a black spot.
If my perusing of the internet is correct, it would seem that at one point the follow-up to The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon was to be Neil Gaiman’s episode. This would have made quite a bit of sense as Gaiman’s episode is highly anticipated due primarily to the much-hyped mystery of Idris’ identity. Thus, it makes more sense to maintain the momentum of the bold and cocky series opener with Gaiman’s story than with an episode that is rather pedestrian in comparison. Ultimately, it just doesn’t seem fair to The Curse of the Black Spot. Granted, it was probably going to be lost wherever it was placed in the series, but this particular placement doesn’t do it any favors.
That said, I found this episode to be a nice space to breathe after the rushing around in the previous story. Sure, there was a lot of rushing around in this one, but the settings were fewer and the fact that much of the story took place on the pirate ship really made the episode feel as if the scope was much smaller. Given the virtually intimate feel of this story (compared to the bombast of the previous), I’m quite interested to see how the BBC America ratings progress from here. FLASH! BAM! in episodes one and two. Then we scale it back a bit for this third episode. But don’t go away, America! We have Neil Gaiman next week. Perhaps that is the real reason for slotting this story here. It might keep the American (fanboy)s watching because we are dangling the carrot of Neil Gaiman and Idris.
As I said, a nice, relaxing story after the Moffat Madness. We return to the pseudo-historical format, which means there will be aliens menacing the pirates or, in the case of this episode, alien technology menacing the pirates. Kudos to Steve Thompson for going with a hopeful “menace” rather than a malicious one. This was possibly the least predictable element of the episode, but still well within the bounds of the pseudo-historical rulebook. That said, as decent as the episode is, there are a few problems.
Is it just me, or did one of the pirates disappear from the armory? Toby cut one, forcing him to stay, but we don’t see him again until the end of the episode. Did Thompson forget about him? Did the director and editor not catch this? Was a scene cut? I hate to say it but this took me out of the story for a few minutes. Even as the ship was being buffeted by the storm, I was straining to see if there was just one more pirate in the background rather than feel excitement and anxiety over whether our characters could escape The Siren. Sadly, there wasn’t a lurking pirate. He was forgotten. Maybe he was a Silent.
Second problem, dramatic-tension CPR scenes are becoming quite the cliche. As near as I can tell, the only way to make them work properly is to make them a character moment. The Curse of the Black Spot certainly sets this up. Why should Amy, rather than The Doctor, resuscitate Rory? Because Rory trusts that Amy not give up whereas The Doctor might. However, when the time actually comes to resuscitate him, she does give up. One of the more effective ways to treat this scenario was in the first season of LOST when our hero Jack must resuscitate Charlie, a character who’s heart had stopped. The scene is very tense and continues way longer than expected, and this is with a character who we hadn’t seen die already in the show (unlike Rory). Even when Kate pulls Jack away, he cannot give up, and continues to pound on Charlie’s chest. In the end, Charlie is revived (sorry for the spoiler, but it’s hardly the most revealing spoiler for LOST). For Jack, this was a character moment, illustrating in action that he is a man that cannot give up, he commits to actions even when they appear foolish. In The Curse of the Black Spot, it seems rather contradictory that Rory would place his faith in Amy’s stubbornness, only to have Amy prove that faith misplaced. I don’t believe the scene was played properly and that the tension was entirely gratuitous.
Another issue: why was the Siren not able to save the crew of her ship? Had she not yet been activated? As near as I can tell, and it doesn’t seem this was explicitly stated in the episode, the crew died of an Earth virus before the Siren started gathering humans. Thus, she didn’t have any information to work with. Perhaps if she had started gathering humans first, she could have saved the crew. I think this was implicit in the episode, but I’m not entirely sure. I’m going with it, however, because it makes sense to me.
In discussing this episode with my wife, she expressed her joy to see how all the characters have settled into compelling and interesting people, how their interactions are fun and enjoyable to watch. All the characters have done this except for The Doctor, who she finds less interesting and, quite frankly, less Doctor-ish. And I agree with her. While she didn’t entirely buy Matt Smith’s performance in series five, she did enjoy it. But this series, we both feel that he seems off. For me, it is hard to not be reminded of the Lawrence Miles assertion of Matt Smith as Jar-Jar Binks when you see The Doctor making an icky-face when he realizes he has alien “boogies” on his hand. But I also wonder if Matt Smith has made a decision regarding how he is playing The Doctor this series due in part to the opening episode and the death of The Doctor. The Doctor we met that was 1100 years old seemed more like The Doctor from where we left him in series five: older, more mature, and just a bit tired. But that is not The Doctor that we have now. The Doctor we are watching is two hundred years younger, and in order to convey that, Smith has rightly had to dial-back his performance a bit, make The Doctor a little more innocent. And yet, I think he may have gone too far. The Doctor seems to have regressed a bit too far, to a point prior to The Pandorica Opens, and possibly to a point prior to The Beast Below. I think he is playing The Doctor much too innocent, quirky, and wacky. So, is it a deficiency with Smith, with the director of this episode, or with Moffat? Who is dictating the performance more?
But enough criticism. I enjoyed viewing this episode. It was a nice break from last week. I’m just a bit sad that this episode will most-likely be forgotten in the rush and hype from the “bigger” episodes this series. It probably won’t stand out because it is perfectly average.