Review of The Curse of the Black Spot
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.
I have to admit, I like a good pirate story as much as the next Deppophile, and what genre doesn't get better when you add Doctor Who? Well, maybe a pirate story...
I'm not saying there was anything wrong with Black Spot, but it was a rather run-of-the-mill, overall unremarkable kind of episode. It was a classic romp - nice and fluffy - something to cleanse the palate between that meaty season-opener and the much-anticipated Gaiman-penned episode coming up next. I've read that it was originally intended to be aired in the episode 10 slot, and I can see that working; there's clearly no major story arc here. There are, of course, a few nods at what has come before (e.g., a flashback to the Doctor's death) and a few hints at things yet to come, like another appearance of Creepy Eyepatch Lady (CEL).
You have to wonder what the CEL signifies. I think her lines are our biggest clue. When we first saw her in Day of the Moon, she said something about someone "just dreaming." We can interpret that as we may, meaning The Little Girl, Amy, or someone completely different. My latest hypothesis, based on her comments in Black Spot ("It's done. You're doing fine. Just stay calm."), is that she's speaking of (and to) Amy. Might Amy not be undergoing some medical procedure (e.g., insemination with Time Lord DNA), and her current adventures are her subconscious or other-dimensional experiences during said procedure? I admit that's pretty out there, but it could fit the (admittedly sparse) data.
That one incident is really the only obvious long-game tidbit, however. Most of the episode involves Amy enjoying her roleplaying perhaps a bit too much. (The Doctor, on the other hand, demonstrates that - contrary to previous evidence - he can't pull off any hat they put on him. Fez? Oh, yeah! Top hat? Absolutely! Stetson? Yessiree! Tricorn? ~crickets chirp~) It's light and fanciful and doesn't feel particularly dangerous - as I said, just a little palate cleanser.
There were a couple of things that irritated - or just confused - me. To start, what happened to the final pirate? By the time they all crowd into the magazine and find young Toby, there are only Captain Avery and two of his crewmen left. One (DeFlorres?) gets sliced by Toby and begins to barricade the door after his shipmate Mulligan flees. Mulligan is taken by the Siren, but when Avery and the Doctor get back to the magazine, there's no sign of the other man. Rory, Amy, and Toby are sitting around moping, and not another word is said about him. Continuity error?
I'm also confused about why the TARDIS would get "taken" by the Siren (or her ship). Is the TARDIS ailing? Was there some sort of let's-layer-as-many-ships-as-possible-into-this-space field pulling it through? I suppose it's possible that's yet another "stay tuned" moment, but I'd almost rather it's just a poorly explained minor plot point.
The other bits that bugged me were the way the Doctor reacted to the crew of that other ship. He claimed that they died due to "human bacteria ... a virus, from our planet." Wait, whut? Our planet? Since when does the Doctor claim Earth as his own along with humans? Then he compounds the problem by getting all squicked out by "alien bogeys." Yes, Eleven can be silly and childlike, but it is very un-Doctorish to find another species icky. (And again - who's the alien here? Did this writer miss a Post-It somewhere? "Note: the Doctor is not human")
Finally, the über-nerdly astrophysicist in me cannot let those final couple of images of Sirius pass withouth comment. Given that the Doctor has commented on Sirius earlier, we are led to assume Captain Avery is piloting the ship toward that system, shown in its binary glory for us to see the two members clearly. Except for the fact that Sirius B is a white dwarf to Sirius A's main sequence type A star, meaning that Sirius B is only about 1% the size (or about 0.1% the brightness) of its larger companion... It offended my astronomical sensibilities that they were shown nearly the same size. (This is a case where a little knowledge really screws up one's enjoyment of "color" in an episode.)
Enough griping, though - I really did find a lot to like. There was that one little warning ~bong~ of the Cloister Bell when the TARDIS was "becalmed," the excellently constructed skulls of the dead alien crew, Karen Gillan's obvious relish when wielding a sword, and some of the Doctor's descriptions of the Siren ("a green, singing shark in an evening gown"). More than anything else, though, I loved the resuscitation of Rory (not the mechanics of it, which I didn't find particularly convincing, but what it represented). Not only does his training as a nurse finally have a real effect on some part of the plot (however minor and/or contrived), but we also get to see - something even longer overdue - actual evidence that Amy really, truly loves Rory.
As always, the things that irritate a person tend to jar her out of a story's flow, especially if it's not particularly gripping in the first place. Black Spot was certainly "good enough" - I don't think anyone's going to be calling it this series' Fear Her - but neither is it the next Best Episode Ever. By the time the end of the series rolls around, it's likely to have become a hazy memory. Like a sorbet, though enjoyable enough, it is not what people remember when they think about the meal.
Coming up: Srsly, the Ood? I was all psyched for Gaiman's episode until that last image...