REVIEW: Doctor Who - "The Curse of the Black Spot"


Doctor Who offered viewers a return to the familiar show format last night in the third episode of series six, “The Curse of the Black Spot”. While the episode did not have the dramatic global consequences of the first two episodes of this series (Silence domination for the win!), it was still a rollicking adventure with some unexpected twists. As with my previous reviews, this one will be as spoiler-free as possible – Read on to find out what I thought about the episode, including my ranking out of four stars!

I wasn’t surprised that the scope of the show narrowed a bit in “The Curse of the Black Spot”: episodes like “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon” are expensive to produce. Nevertheless, we got a fun pirate-themed entry last night, with the Doctor, Amy and Rory finding themselves aboard a becalmed pirate vessel captained by Henry Avery (Hugh Bonneville). We soon find out that the ship is being “haunted” by a ghostly siren who seeks out injured or ill sailors. When she appears, the sailors are drawn to her singing and are vaporized as soon as they touch her.

What I really liked about this episode was that it was structured like a murder mystery: there were clues about the siren’s identity hidden all around the ship, and the Doctor was in fine form running about and forming theories. Each time the Doctor thought that he had sorted it out, the show had the audience convinced that the Doctor was right - only to have the discovery of another clue force the Doctor to start over. There were some fun bits between the Doctor and Captain Avery, too: Avery was doubtful that the Doctor really was the captain of a ship (the TARDIS), and the two characters humorously bickered through much of the episode.

The idea to have injured or sick sailors marked for death by a black spot was intriguing, and the connection to the “gift of the black spot” pirate mutiny tradition was pretty clear. It was one of the many “clues” the Doctor had to interpret to figure out what the siren really was. When the Doctor finally did catch on, it was a classic Doctor Who solution: a universe inside a universe! (If you haven’t seen the episode and are totally confused, you’ll understand when you see it). One thing that sort of confused me was how the Doctor piloted out of the second universe - that part was a glossed over at the end, but I didn’t really care. If I wanted everything explained, I wouldn’t be watching Doctor Who.

The ending with the pirates reminded me of something I appreciate about this show: it’s not afraid to avoid a “status quo” ending. By that I mean the characters the Doctor helps are not necessarily restored to their previous lives; indeed, they are irrevocably changed. Some shows, like The CW’s Smallville, often introduce a problem or a villain, the hero rushes in to save the day, and everything goes back the normal. In Doctor Who, the people he saves frequently end up in different time periods or entirely different dimensions, but it usually winds up benefiting them.

Specifically, I’m thinking of the series five episode “Cold Blood”, where the two human scientists introduced in the previous episode are left in the centre of the earth with the Silurians, to wait in cryo-stasis until the Silurians are able to rise to the surface and share the planet with the humans.  Instead of simply bringing the scientists back to surface with him (thereby setting them back in their previous lives as if nothing happened), the Doctor encourages them to stay and help the Silurians.

This narrative choice shows that the writers of Doctor Who want the Doctor’s presence to have lasting consequences on the lives of the people he encounters - he is not simply someone who swoops in and sets everything back the way it was (no offense to Smallville, though – that show can be fun when it doesn’t follow formula).

There was a brief reference to the pregnancy subplot in this episode (I’m not afraid to talk about that part, because if you haven’t seen “Day of the Moon” yet, why are you reading this review?). It was basically a reiteration of last week’s “confused scanner” bit, so I think it might be a while before we get a definite answer to that or the reveal of the little girl from last week, too. I still think her identity won’t be as simple as it seems – if this episode is any indication, the writers are not about to do the expected on this show.

“The Curse of the Black Spot” gets three stars out of four for being an entertaining third episode that couldn’t quite match the epic precedent set by the previous two episodes. Still, the episode proved that the writers are not afraid to try the unexpected, and I think it does a good job keeping the momentum of the series going into the next episode, which (from last night’s trailer) looks pretty epic!

I’m excited to bring you a bonus feature in today’s review – a collaboration with blogger/editor/fangirl extraordinaire Sandra Mills. Check out her tumblr page for a second opinion on this episode, and to see what else she has to offer on her site. If you like Doctor Who, you’ll probably have some things in common with Sandra. Also, Sandra will be the guest writer of an upcoming post here on Professionally Incoherent, which could be up as early as tomorrow. She’ll be talking about the wonders of tumblr, so stay tuned for that!