Saturday, 7 May 2011

Doctor Who: The Curse of the Black Spot

Under The Spotlight

Doctor Who: The Curse of the Black Spot
Airdate: May 7th 2011. UK. BBC1

Warning: Avast there me lovelies. There be spoilers laying in these uncharted waters! I mean it... the "twists" were so obvious that I need to highlight them to criticise them. Sorry!

Okay... that wasn’t too terrible. A bit obvious and full of holes but certainly not a bad episode. And I think the edges of Moffet’s game plan are just beginning to sail into view in this episode.

So okay, we have a disappearing or possibly dead pirate who has been taken by “the demon” in the pre-credits section which culminates with The Doctor, Amy and Rory ascending from the bowels of the ship and facing the remaining pirate crew of a vessel that has been stranded in a still ocean for many days with a "demonic" entity which has been slowly picking off the crew. “Yo ho ho!” says The Doctor... “Or do pirates not really say that” (or some such, I can’t remember the exact line and I can’t be bothered to consult the modern oracle of miss it and it’s gone truth and knowledge known as the i-player - so sue me!). Anyway... what I’m trying to say here is... not a bad opening and so cue the music and credits (wish they’d get rid of those awful lightning strikes and the dumb ass re-arrangement of the intro to the Ron Grainer theme though).

This is actually quite a classic piece of Doctor Who storytelling as people are picked off one by one while The Doctor is figuring out how to put things right. I’m thinking of stories like The Moonbase now (novelised as Doctor Who and the Cybermen) which have common themes of plague hiding a malevolent force which, in the case of tonights story, is actually benign... but if you’d have been paying attention to the early parts of the episode you would already know that.

That is to say...

When the first pirate marked for death alongside Rory by being “plagued” with a black spot went to the “demonic” singing siren (played by Lily Cole who was so wonderful in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) and was instantly vapourised, supposedly, I reckon at least half the audience (and certainly me) was thinking “oh... nothing left behind... some kind of teleportation device then?" And of course, that’s exactly what this turned out to be... The pirates interpretation of events was that when one of them was even slightly cut, a demon could smell the blood and take them away. But the explanation - oh wait! Please! Don’t be reading any further if you havent seen it yet... watch the damn thing and work it out for yourself, it’s not exactly a hard one this week... but please come back and read the rest of this review.

Now where was I? Oh, yeah. In reality this was nothing but a lonely equivalent of the holographic sick-bay doctor from Star Trek Voyager from a similarly stranded (crewless... they all died) ship occupying the exact same place in a different dimension and teleporting any injured crewmen to the other ship for treatment. Now the teleportation and lack of hostility on the part of the “siren” in this episode were all easily worked out in the first 10 minutes or so... so that’s not good.

But I tell you what was good! Amy Pond in pirate coat and hat swinging a cutlass and swinging from a rope. That was cool. Nice to see some good old buckling of the swashes in a regular, modern TV show for once.., even if it was quite brief. And come to think of it... I don’t remember having seen any old timey non-space style pirates in Doctor Who before... I’m sure there must have been occurrences, I just can’t remember any off hand... I’m sure somebody on Twitter will let me know about it though.

And did I mention that we’re beginning to see more of Moffet’s plan coming to fruition? Well I think what’s going on here, structurally at any rate, is that... well, as you may or may not know, this years series of Doctor Who is being split into two parts to give it... um... more exposure over the year. Now the cynic in me says that this is just part one of the BBC game plan to ultimately reduce the number of Doctor Who episodes per year to six or seven due to... well... not wanting to pay so much for it. At the first sniff of that I’m sure a gazillion fans will forcefully voice their displeasure at that outcome. I still haven’t forgiven them for the final year of Tennant’s reign as The Doctor being cut to five specials... especially when those last two episodes were pretty much the weakest episodes of the previous five years. Quick note to the BBC... if you want to increase the exposure of Doctor Who and not have the “fans” wait so long between series breaks... make each series 24 episodes long! You know... like in the old days?

I can’t help but notice they’re releasing a boxed set of just the first half of the season this year... hmmm.... it’s almost like they want to jack up the price slightly and make us buy the new series in two halfs for much more money. No... that can’t be right... I’m way too cynical here methinks.

Anyway, where was I... again? Oh yeah... so look, Moffet knows he’s producing a season of two halves now so what we’ve actually got now is two different recurring story threads coming in to haunt us... and that’s not including (or very well and probably is including, actually) the River Song stuff.

So we have The Doctors death which is alluded to very blatantly and on numerous times in this episode... that’s one thread. And we have that “dreamlike” woman with the eyepatch checking in on Amy again and then winking back out of existence who I predicted would be back from last week's review... it’s like the whole series is taking place in Amy’s head and none of it is real (or is real but now she’s in a coma reliving it)... I hope not because that really would be a letdown, Anyway... so we’ve got these two threads and they’re possibly linked but we have two season finales that I can see... so I’m wondering now if one of these threads will be resolved in four weeks time (or seem to be) and the other part will be picked up as a final solution endgame which will link in both these little dangling carrots and possibly tie in River Song’s past at the same time. Quite possible... in fact highly probable... but I know I’m kinda getting a little tired of this kind of plotting now. It’s like the writers are trying to pander to the expectations stoked from last years series by summoning up the same kind of, admittedly effective, ingredients again like modern Hollywood sequels to successful films tend to do. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it is a noble mentality to have... but possibly not when that same approach straight-jackets you in to a particular type of storytelling and creativity goes out the window a little bit.

Another bad thing was a terrible mistake in the continuity... or so it seems anyway. At one point a little boy cuts a pirate and leaves him open to “The Curse of the Black Spot”. The Doctor and the pirate captain then go off to have their own little adventure (where they kind of lose the TARDIS) and when they reunite with the others the specific pirate seems to have dropped out of continuity completely. Just winked out of existence without any help from the siren/surgeon who is inadvertently terrorising the crew of the ship. Now I’d like to think that this wasn’t a terrible continuity blunder that the producers and director created by cutting out an explanatory scene and which they hoped the audience wouldn’t notice. Maybe these continuity blunders are going to be a regular thing, say, and the extra people are “visitors” to Amy’s brain while she lays in some sort of coma? But I worry about that because, honestly, I think they just may be absolutely shoddy continuity errors on the part of a time cut or, worse, a censorship issue. Time will tell I guess.

Now this may seem like a very critical review of this episode but, honestly, it’s really not meant to be. It’s actually quite a fun and entertaining episode and, despite any possible faults, was a lot of an easier and relaxing watch than, say, last weeks episode. And with more delights to look forward too by all accounts. I believe next weeks episode has been penned by the great fantasy writer Neil Gaiman... so I’m looking forward to that one quite a bit, I must say. I’m expecting it to be quite fairytale-like but, you know, fairly dark... which is not a bad thing to aspire to when you’re writing one of the great British Science Fiction characters of all time I guess. There are worse approaches you can take... I just hope we don’t see some of them occurring this season.

Fingers crossed, eh?

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