Sunday, May 8, 2011

Curse of the Black Spot

[2011, Season 32 / Series 6, Episode 4]

To continue my comparison of Moffat's Who to the Hinchcliffe/Holmes-era, Curse of the Black Spot fits in very nicely as the second story of the second season of the reign.  Like Season 13's Planet of Evil, Curse of the Black Spot isn't bad, with good atmosphere and performances keeping things highly watchable, but it isn't quite good, and is understandably forgotten in between Zygons and Pyramids of Mars.  Still, hopefully, like Planet of Evil, it's just a temporary lapse, and we'll be back to brilliance next week.  After all, next week is Neil Gaiman.  If I was a girl and not a totally masculine straight guy, that would elicit one hell of a fangirl squee.

Oh, what the hell.  SQUEEEEEE!

(Nobody saw me do that, right?)

... so, Curse of the Black Spot.  It opens with some beautiful shots of a ship in dark, misty waters; spectacular atmosphere and setting from the very beginning, and it holds through to the end.

Unfortunately, the story is a little stuck.  It doesn't really have enough time in 45 minutes to fully develop the characters and setting to make for a truly involving episode or to have any real emotional impact, but there's also not really enough happening plotwise even for 45 minutes.  At 90 minutes, it would have had to come up with an actual plot, with structure and build-up and stuff. (at least, you'd hope it would.  I suppose it could have ended up like Terminus. *shiver*) Outside of Captain Avery and the regulars, character development is nil.  The Captain's kid shows personality and isn't annoying - points to actor Oscar Lloyd - but his relationship with his father, which is the heart of the episode, is thrown out in a very obvious monologue and never really develops further until near the end.  There's a good moment during the storm that shows how strong this could have been, and the ending does work, but only just.

It also doesn't really have the time to deal with the basic dramatic sides of the story.  In particular, both Amy and Toby are directly responsible for the siren taking one of the pirates, but nobody says anything or notices or cares.  There's a lot of drama in that notion, but no time for consequences!  It's Torchwood all over again, if Torchwood had characters who weren't terrible human beings in every conceivable way and stories with good ideas buried underneath, so I guess not like Torchwood at all, but very Chris Chibnall in the whole lack of consequences thing.

On the other hand, there's this scene with Amy and a sword and a pirate hat.

And the CPR finale has no real intensity or suspense.  These scenes are pretty ordinary, and it's rare that they actually develop genuine tension as to whether or not the character will survive, given that the action itself is pretty basic.  The only example of this sort of scene working that jumps right to mind is James Cameron's The Abyss, which dragged it out so long and made it so visceral and intense and such a crucial character moment that it really was a powerful sequence.  Here, it's just... the ending.

As for the regulars, there's nothing astonishing here - Eleven is generally Elevenish.

Pictured: Elevenishness.

Amy is gorgeous, brave, and doesn't always think things through.

Again, Amy, sword, pirate hat.

Rory really loves Amy and gets killed and resurrected (uh... spoiler).

But, like Sarah Jane and Four in Planet of Evil (or, to take a three-person crew, Two, Jamie, and Zoe), they're such a wonderful team, have so much chemistry, and are so well played that they carry even a weak, uninvolving story and making it extremely watchable and even fun at times.

I could put up pictures of this scene all day.

The other element that works well is Captain Avery.  He's the only guest character with any development, and even that isn't too much, but Hugh Bonneville plays every moment to the hilt.  His exchanges with the Doctor probably weren't too much on the page, but Smith and Bonneville make them shine.

Ultimately, the resolution to the story is fairly interesting.  The monster, played by the trio of Lily Cole, Murray Gold, and Special Effects (of whom Cole comes off best, because she just kinda looks like a beautiful but distant sirenish ghost/mermaid thing anyway; Gold's music is effective, but his theme for the creature's singing gets a little repetitive; and the special effects are fine when she isn't hovering, awful when she is), turns out to be something unexpected and intriguing.  Not necessarily a thing that makes sense, but an intriguing thing that doesn't make sense.

More importantly, the band of pirates becomes a band of Space Pirates, and what's more awesome than Space Pirates? (Answer: Harrison Ford as a Space Pirate) With any luck, they'll turn up again.  And with more luck, they'll actually get a little development that time.

The seasonal arc stuff works really well.  Still fascinating, still mysterious, still maddening.

As usual, it's nice between crazy, insane epics to have a fluffy, lighthearted piece like this.  It would just be great if it was a good piece of fluff.  You know, something scary and compelling and memorable that isn't already escaping my memory.  As it is, it's okay, but it's just filler to get to Gaiman.


* * ½

  • I do like the Doctor's "Ignore my previous theories!" running joke.  It's not just a funny joke, but it's really well used, given good variations, and gives the Doctor and Amy both some nice character moments.
  • Best bit: the Doctor telling the pirates to laugh more when they force him to walk the plank.
  • So... plot holes.  This is Doctor Who, and there are always plot holes.  Caves of Androzani probably has plot holes.  So how much I care generally depends on how much I loved the episode.  So given that I kind of enjoyed this but didn't care too much, they bugged me a little.  If the Siren enters through reflections, why doesn't she get in through the shiny sword the kid brandishes?  Why does she sing?  Why does she have such terrible bedside manner?  Why does she take the TARDIS?  How does she take the TARDIS?  Lily Cole is pretty, but make her green and evil-looking and it doesn't paper over things the way it sorta would if she looked like she did in, say, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
  • Good as everyone else is, Arthur Darvill pretty much steals the show, again, something he's astoundingly good at, considering he has to steal it from the brilliant Matt Smith and the beguiling Karen Gillan both of whom have way more material tham him and pulls it off pretty regularly.  Seriously, how does he do that?  If there wasn't a half century of stories before this, they could probably just go ahead and rename the show Nurse Rory Williams and not get too many complaints.  And again, he's stealing it from Matt Smith playing the Doctor.  How is that possible?


  1. Agree with you about Rory.

    I genunely loved this episode (I'm not going to squee all over you now) but you raise valid points. The TARDIS. How did I not think about where the TARDIS went? Maybe I should knock off half a star.

    But only half, mind you.

  2. I can see why you loved it. It definitely has all the right elements to be awesome. I might not have been a huge fan, but I totally get it.

    And as for changing your rating, as I say, in my opinion, plot holes don't matter too much if you love the story enough. If it moves you and makes you laugh and the holes didn't take away from the power and entertainment, why take away points for it?

  3. Maybe I missed something in Pandora he came back as a nesteen(sp )
    A plastic Roman with his memories and waited thousands of years guarding Amy so.... how can he be cut or dround.

  4. When the Universe was rebooted at the end of "The Big Bang", he came back as fully human again.

    Thanks for reading!