After the tumultuous events of Series 6’s opening two-parter comes the more traditional “onesy” – and an historical episode at that! Pirates are the order of the day for Team TARDIS as they find themselves aboard a doomed ship…
Following the recent pattern of a trip back in time early during a series (‘Victory Of The Daleks’, ‘Fires Of Pompeii’, ‘The Shakespeare Code’, ‘Tooth & Claw’ and ‘The Unquiet Dead’ all featured within the first three episodes), ‘The Curse Of The Black Spot’ has an old-school Who feel about it throughout, evoking classics like ‘Enlightenment’ and ‘The Stones Of Blood’.
Beautifully shot and, as we’ve come to expect from new production designer Michael Pickwoad, incredibly rich visually, the episode’s action kicks off from the get-go in a pacey opening act as the Siren, played by Lily Cole, removes crew members marked with the titular black spot one-by-one.
New to Doctor Who, writer Stephen Thompson (who scribed the wonderful “middle” episode of last year’s Sherlock) has bravely tried to cram in Pirates Of The Caribbean style action, along with an emotional back bone and sci-fi Tricorne to top it all off, with a generous sprinkling of jokes throughout.
To be frank, forty-five minutes is simply not enough for what they set out to do and ‘…Black Spot’ is a good example of too-much-too-fast on nu-Who – especially as the dragged out denouement (a scene which many fans will be yawning at, shouting “Not again!?!” at their screens) takes up so much screen time, and to little effect. The latter third of the story also evokes, rather too obviously, ‘Terminus’ and ‘The Doctor Dances’ in terms of narrative.
This shift in focus is also mirrored in the performances, which don’t really get a chance to bed in. Hugh Bonneville is the very definition of stout in his portrayal of Captain Avery (a knowing nod to 1966’s ‘The Smugglers’, featuring The First Doctor). Bonners, so brilliant in BBC Four’s recent Twenty Twelve, looks and acts the part perfectly; and you’ll be wondering just how great it would have been had he continued to travel with The Doctor in space and time.
Sadly the rest of the cast don’t fare so well, with Matt Smith delivering a rather lightweight show – full of laughter, tugging at the giggle-gland, but nothing more. The threat, such that it is, never really feels that threatening. Arthur Darvill, the veritable Mr Pond, gets a lot to play with and his declaration of his fondness for beards will raise a smile but, again, the tone belies the menace.
The production, however, is top notch: from the location and the costumes to the cinematic set pieces and the grand score from Murray Gold. For those keeping up with such trivial matters as “plot arcs”, the ongoing issues in the TARDIS, such as the future Doctor’s death in ‘The Impossible Astronaut’ and Amy’s possible pregnancy, are addressed along with the intriguing appearance of… oh, I’ve said too much.
‘The Curse Of The Black Spot’ is enjoyable for the most part, but the pacing jars, feeling somewhat disjointed – it’s essentially almost three stories stuck together (action, emotional core and sci-fi). The last ten minutes could really have been rendered in less than five, which would have given more to the front end of the story, allowing for more fun and engagement with the characters and the threat of the Siren.
After such an engrossing launch to the series, Episode 3 figuratively applies the breaks and, whilst not poor, feels like a wasted opportunity.
Airs at 6.15pm on Saturday 7th May 2011 on BBC One.