Spoiler Level: Low, because I really can’t be bothered to spend much time discussing this one.
When you go around evangelizing for an underrated genre show like Doctor Who, telling all your friends Oh my god, oh my god, you have to be watching this incredible show, you live in dread of one unfortunate, uncontrollable confluence of events: someone actually listens to your advice, and tunes in for the first time, and happens to catch a weak-assed episode like “The Curse of the Black Spot.”
So, on the off chance that any of you happened to watch Doctor Who for the first time ever this week, based on my repeated recommendations, let me just get this out of the way:
Yes, it sucked. I’m sorry. Please believe me when I tell you that the show gets much better than this.
(In the interest of full-disclosure, and at the risk of scaring people away, I should probably mention that, once it a while, it also gets much worse. In Doctor Who, as in many things—mountain climbing, drug addiction, bi-polar disorder—the highs are very high, but the lows are a real bitch. This was far from the worst episode of Doctor Who ever, or even of new Doctor Who, but it’s probably the worst episode since Messrs. Moffat and Smith took over last year. Congratulations, “Victory of the Daleks,” you’ve been bumped from the bottom spot. How proud you must be.)
Honestly, I don’t have a lot of energy to spend on this thing: “The Curse of the Black Spot” (written by Steve Thompson) isn’t even going to be fun to crap all over. It’s not horrible, it’s just not much of anything at all. It’s a filler episode, a budget-controlling episode, a go-do-this-while-we’re-over-here-working-on-the-ones-that-matter episode. Our intrepid heroes arrive on a pirate ship, captained by Henry Avery (Hugh Bonneville), whose crew is being picked off one by one by a glowing green Siren (Lily Cole). Every time one of the crew is injured, with even the smallest cut, a black spot appears on the wounded man’s hand, signaling that he’s about to be taken by the Chartreuse Chanteuse.
As I said last week (in the Department of Being Careful What You Wish For)—this setup, on paper, should have been a welcome return to the classic Doctor Who formula: a self-contained story, a ship in distress, a small crew being picked off one by one, a mystery to solve. (Plus, any combination of “Doctor Who” with “pirate ship” should, by all rights, have been far more fun than this.)
However, this one just never gets going. The pirates (except for Hugh Bonneville as the Captain) have no personalities or distinguishing characteristics, so I not only didn’t care if they lived or died, I didn’t even notice. A sub-plot with the Captain’s stowaway son goes nowhere interesting, and the supposed redemption it leads to is both unearned and unconvincing. I was relieved to get a third-act twist that provided some non-magical explanation for the Siren’s actions, but it turned out to be a variation on an explanation Doctor Who has used at least three times in the past five years (in “The Doctor Dances,” “Girl in the Fireplace,” and “The Lodger.”) Oh yeah, and Rory dies—again—and is brought back—again—for the third time in one year.
Matt Smith—God bless him—works extra hard to try to make this muddle more enjoyable, and he does manage to squeeze a few laughs out of the script, but it’s uphill work. (I predict that his repeated instructions to “Ignore all my previous theories!” will be the only take-away from this episode; I expect to see that on t-shirts any time now.)
Ah, screw it. It’s really not worth talking about. (Even Karen Gillan in a pirate costume failed to arouse my interest—as did another quick appearance by Big Nurse Eyepatch, who could quickly grow tiresome.) “The Curse of the Black Spot” is a minor-league script that should have been one of the non-canonical Doctor Who novels, comics, or audio plays, but it should never have made it to the Show. Let’s pretend it didn’t happen. I’ll save my energy for next week’s long-awaited Neil Gaiman-scripted episode, and in the meantime I think I’ll go watch 1977’s “Horror of Fang Rock” to remember what this kind of Doctor Who story done well looks like.