by Catriona Mills

Live-blogging Doctor Who Season Six: "The Curse of the Black Spot"

Posted 14 May 2011 in by Catriona

Here I am, in a little side dimension in which Doctor Who doesn’t clash with the second semi-final of Eurovision. You can’t say I’m not a dedicated live-blogger.

In this side dimension, it’s a bit cold and my back really, really hurts. I don’t dare take muscle relaxants, lest the live-blogging degenerate into unfocused gibberish. (I do aim for focused gibberish.) But I’m here, and the episode is here, and my back pain is here, so let’s see if they can all play nicely together, shall we?

I’ll be honest: I’m inclined to dislike this one just on the basis of its title. It seems as though it’s intended to be funny without actually being, you know, very funny.

We open on a misty ocean, with swarthy pirate types rowing towards a ship. They’re not thrilled, and Kenny from Press Gang asks what’s wrong. A man’s wounded, apparently.

They wake Captain Hugh Bonneville.

The captain checks the sailor’s hand, seeing a slight scratch.

He tells the sailor he’s a dead man, just like all the others. And we hear a woman’s voice singing ethereally. The sailor says he can escape, but instead he just disappears into a scream and some off-cuts from the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack.

The sailors whine about being shark bait, before the Doctor leaps out of a hatch.

DOCTOR: Yo ho ho! Or does nobody actually say that?


The TARDIS is below decks: the Doctor claims that his sensors picked up a ship in distress.

Kenny thinks they’re spirits, and the captain doesn’t seem convinced by the Doctor’s modern gibberish. He thinks they’re stowaways, since the ship’s been becalmed for eight days.

KENNY: What do we do with them?
CAPTAIN: Oh, I think they deserve our hospitality.

That means walking the plank.

The sailors all roar with laughter.

DOCTOR: I think doing that laugh must be in the job description. Can you do the laugh? Great! Grab yourself a parrot. Welcome aboard!

They take the doxy (that would be Amy) below decks, over Rory’s faint protests that “She’s not a doxy, all right?” And the Doctor’s ready to walk the plank, after asking the sailors to do the laugh again.

Amy, below decks, find some cutlasses and a truly awesome coat.

She shows back up deck just as the Doctor is rambling about the small number of crew members.

The captain says a sword could kill them all, and they do seem quite terrified of it. Mind, Amy’s surprisingly good with it.

She manages to slice one of the pirates in passing.

PIRATE: You have killed me.
AMY: No way. It’s just a cut!

That’s good, because Rory’s got a cut as well. And now he has a black spot on his palm, too.

Apparently, the ocean-borne demon can smell the blood, and now she’ll rise from the depths and take Rory and the other pirate.

But the song has an unusual effect, and Rory’s gone all soggy and sentimental, telling Amy that she should dress as a pirate more often.

RORY: Everything is totally brilliant, isn’t it? Look at these brilliant pirates. Look at their brilliant beards!

And then there’s a strange glowing patch on the waters, and the siren rises from the depths, singing (or maybe bringing the music with her).

NICK: I’m sure you could see her knickers at one point there.

Amy holds Rory back, but they just let the pirate walk forwards, touch the siren’s hand, and burst into a puff of dust.

Amy tells the siren that Rory’s spoken for; the siren turns red and fierce, and throws Amy across the deck. And they all flee below deck.

The Doctor raves about Freud and his comfy sofa for a bit before someone is fortuitously bitten by a leech, which distracts everyone. The Doctor says they’re safe from the siren here, before she appears in front of them.

They retreat even further, behind another door. The Doctor says that she’s using the water as a portal, so the captain says that they should retreat to the magazine: since the powder’s kept there, the place is bone dry.

The key to the magazine has gone, but the door is open. Someone else is hiding there.

The door’s barricaded behind them, just in time for them to hear a suspicious coughing from an empty barrel. It’s a small boy, who turns out to be the captain’s son.

The captain says that the boy’s mother will be searching for him, but it’s all right: she’s dead.

This bit I find confusing. The captain recognises this boy as his son, but the boy is talking as though he’s never seen his father, as though he doesn’t know anything but what his mother’s told him. So, if he hasn’t seen his father since he was a toddler (the boy was a toddler, not the father: stupid pronouns), would the father immediately recognise him? And if that’s a stupid question, how would the boy know where to find his father, since this man is clearly not—as the boy’s mother claimed—an honourable man and a navy officer?

Never mind all that. Let’s get back to the killing.

The boy keeps coughing. I’m sure that’s not important to the narrative.

The captain says it’s too dangerous for the boy to stay, but he’s already been marked by the black spot, so that’s all right. The boy hasn’t bled, but he does have a fever. She’s coming for all the sick and injured.

The Doctor says that they can all leave in the TARDIS, just before the boy opens a barrel of water and the siren sticks her hand out.

Leaving the boy and others behind, the captain and the Doctor head out to find the TARDIS, to get them all away.

DOCTOR: We’ve all got to go sometimes. There are worse ways than having your face gnawed off by a dodgy mermaid.

The captain copes quite well with the weirdness of the TARDIS, before Amy nags Rory a bit.

Kenny and the other pirate decide to leave the magazine, while elsewhere the Doctor explains the TARDIS’s workings.

TOBY: He told you to wait, you dog. He’s your captain.

Kenny tells Toby that his father is a pirate, which is maybe a bit mean, but then Toby did call him a dog. He also tells Toby that his father has gunned down a thousand innocent men.

The TARDIS is becalmed.

DOCTOR: You had to gloat, didn’t you?

Toby stops Kenny from leaving by slicing his hand open with a cutlass.

Oh my god: you killed Kenny! You bastard!

(I had to. You understand, right?)

Seriously, that’s pretty cold for a ten-year-old boy. Even a seventeenth-century ten-year-old boy. He really takes this chain of command thing seriously, does Toby.

In the TARDIS, the Doctor can’t get a lock on the plane. And then the TARDIS throws a complete fit.

Elsewhere, Kenny is furious, but recognises that he can’t really shoot them, not with all the powder around, and he can’t leave. But Mulligan, the last pirate, can and does leave.

The Doctor can’t bring the TARDIS under control. She’s about to dematerialise, so the Doctor gives the order to abandon ship. The TARDIS disappears in a familiar green haze with a sick wheeze.

They dash back to the magazine, meeting Mulligan on the way. He has the supplies, but the captain is more worried about his treasure and gives chase. Hiding, Mulligan burns his hand on a lamp. Up pops the siren: bang goes Mulligan. But there’s no water in that room. So how did she get in?

DOCTOR: I was wrong. Please ignore all my theories up to this point.

Apparently, she’s coming in through reflections. So this seems a good time for Toby to polish the medal his father left him.

The Doctor and the captain rush back to the magazine, to warn Amy, Rory, and Toby.

Wait. Where’s Kenny? Did an entire pirate just disappear?

The Doctor smashes everything reflective that he can find, and tries to throw the captain’s treasure overboard. Luckily, the captain seems to listen to reason, and heads off to grab the crown.

A breeze comes up, rippling the surface of the ocean.

Seriously, Kenny’s completely disappeared. How did they lose an entire pirate? Did the siren grab him off-camera? Wouldn’t someone mention that to the captain?

Now Toby says that there’s been no word from his father for three years—presumably, that’s when he turned pirate. But that doesn’t mean that’s the last time he was home. That bothers me.

Amy, dreaming (or not), sees the woman with the eye-patch again, who tells her that she’s doing fine, and to stay calm.

On deck, the Doctor and the captain talk about their experiences as captains. The Doctor’s a bit nosy about how the captain turned pirate, but the captain’s a reticent man.

Where’s Kenny? Does anyone care?

A storm comes up, with what seems like surprising suddenness to me—and I live in a sub-tropical city. The captain demands everyone climb up into the rigging so they can cut loose the sail. Or furl it. Or something nautical. I remember reading somewhere that you cut sails loose in a storm so the ship doesn’t capsize. But then aren’t you short a sail? Maybe you only cut them loose in an emergency?

Note to all: don’t get stuck with me on a sailing ship in a storm. You’ll all die.

CAPTAIN: Heave ho, you bilge rats.
RORY: “Rats” is all I heard.

Toby grabs the captain’s coat … and out rolls the crown. That’s not ideal.

And sure enough, the siren pops out of the crown and draws Toby towards her. He touches her hand and explodes into dust. Amy holds Rory, to keep him from the siren.

The Doctor lambasts the captain for his greed, but Rory’s knocked overboard when the sails (or mast or something nautical) swings round.

Amy wants to leap in, but the Doctor says that Rory can only be saved by the siren, and releases her from the barrel.

DOCTOR: That thing isn’t just a ravenous hunter. It’s intelligent. We can reason with it. And maybe, just maybe, they’re still alive somewhere.

But why would you think that? There’s been no reason to think that, given her past behaviour.

So they all prick their fingers.

Now that’s an insane leap of faith, right there.

Also? Where’s Kenny? How do you lose a pirate?

Seemingly, they’re in an alternative dimension, which overlaps with the captain’s ship. But didn’t the captain say that the siren had been preying on other ships? Were they all becalmed in the same spot, then? Or was that just myth and this is reality?

This episode confuses me. And are we doing the corner-of-the-eye/world-in-the-mirror schtick again?

This alternative ship is the one that was sending the distress call. And there’s some humour about mucus that I’m not transcribing.

In a mysterious room full of floating beds, they find all their loved ones.

AMY: Rory!

The pirates are there, too. And there’s Kenny! Hey, we found Kenny!

That’s one giant flaw in the editing, right there.

Hiding and looking at the siren as she wanders among the beds, the Doctor decides that her song is an anaesthetic, by which she puts the patients into stasis.

And at this point, Nick guesses what’s going on.

Yes, she’s an emergency medical hologram, just like in Voyager. She won’t let them take the patients out of the sick bay, but apparently her programming is intelligent enough that she can recognise Amy’s prior claim on Rory. Do they have marriage on her planet? How would she understand marriage just from watching a bunch of seventeenth-century pirates? Were they marrying one another to pass the time?

Actually, how did she model herself on an attractive human woman when all she’s come across are pirates? (There’s no one else in the sickbay but the pirates, apparently.)

Never mind that.

They can’t move Rory, because he’s at the point of death, what with the drowning and all. So he has to stay, or Amy has to learn how to do CPR well enough to save her sort-of-drowning-on-dry-land husband once they unlock him.

The Doctor, meanwhile, wants to send the ship back into space, to stop the siren getting to dry land and forcibly healing everyone. (Shades of “The Empty Child”/“The Doctor Dances” now.)

The captain decides to stay with his son, whom the Doctor quickly diagnoses with typhoid fever. And the Doctor and Amy drag Rory into the TARDIS, where they perform CPR on him for roughly twenty years before giving up. But that’s all right: maybe because he used to be an Auton, Rory can be saved by the power of love alone. Remember how that worked in the Winston Churchill episode?

Now, why is this episode reminding me of the Winston Churchill episode, I wonder?

Anyway, he’s alive.

The captain and Toby sail the ship through space, supported by a pirate crew, including Kenny the Amazing Disappearing Pirate.

NICK: Yes, let’s give a bunch of pirates a spaceship.

Amy and Rory head off to bed, while the Doctor checks a scan of Amy’s appearing/disappearing pregnancy and wonders what she’s got herself into this time.

Next time: Neil Gaiman! Neil Gaiman! Neil Gaiman!

Share your thoughts [13]


Drew wrote at May 14, 01:22 pm

It reminded you of the Churchill episode because it was also teh third episode in the season and it was crap. Yes they lost a pirate, and yes, there was absolutely no basis for beliving that injuring themselves was the way to save themselves and rejoin their comrades/family/Tardis. Very silly episode story-wise. How do these things get through?


Catriona wrote at May 14, 09:59 pm

Yes, that was the conclusion I came to myself, Drew. This was a very, very bad episode. Pirates and the Doctor who really should have worked out better than this.

I can understand a script I don’t like going through, but I am really, really surprised at the scale of that editing error. I mean, it’s not just a whole pirate: he was second in command, apparently, and the only pirate other than the captain to have any kind of personality. How on earth didn’t they notice leaving him on the cutting-room floor?


Drew wrote at May 14, 11:16 pm

no doubt his unexplained fate will be revealed with an extra scene in the dvd box set, let’s hope so anyway. Still doesn’t excuse the ending.


richard wrote at May 14, 11:19 pm

To me, the incidental OMG they killed Kenny was less annoying than the deliberate OMG they killed Rory. What, again?

Other than that: let’s call it 12-episode season and never speak of this again.


Wendy wrote at May 14, 11:52 pm

I fast forwarded through some of this…. :-( On the upside that meant I could watch Tony Martin chatting with Catherine Tate and still be in bed before midnight.


Catriona wrote at May 15, 12:32 am

I concur with all of the above (except that I didn’t watch Catherine Tate on Tony Martin’s show).

Drew, it’s not so much the unexplained fate that bothers me, it’s the fact that there really wasn’t any narrative excuse for forgetting about him. If he’d run off with Mulligan? Fine, if weird. But he seemed convinced that he had to stay in the magazine, so how could the siren kill him without also taking Toby and Rory? So it’s not just a continuity error the size of Scotland, it’s also stupid plotting. Stupid, stupid plotting.

I know I promised never to speak of this again, but really.


Catriona wrote at May 15, 12:37 am

Oh, and one more rant. How does the captain convince her to release all the other pirates to his care? Sure, she might recognise the genetic relationship between him and Toby, but the others? When she wouldn’t release Rory without quite a bit of convincing and crying?


richard wrote at May 15, 03:18 am

Once the ship accepts the captain as The Captain, it follows that the EMH virtual doctor would recognise his responsibility for the crew. I’m being generous here.

Also, could Tony Martin shut up just a little bit?


Tim wrote at May 15, 03:36 am

Plot holes, dull directing/editing, and general boredom aside, I thought this episode also felt too stagey in that they didn’t make good use of the ship set.

The CPR scene was trite, but Karen Gillan gave it a much better performance than it deserved.

> I can understand a script I don’t like going through, but I am really, really surprised at the scale of that editing error.

I’ve gathered from some net comments that Moffat does less rewriting/editing of other writers’ scripts than Davies did. Catriona or Nick, can you shed light on that?

> How does the captain convince her to release all the other pirates to his care?

Perhaps they wearing jewellery too, and the siren recognises same-sex group marriages.


Catriona wrote at May 15, 03:37 am

That’s a point: I hadn’t thought of that. Of course, it raises the question of how they convince the ship to accept the captain as captain, and also how they manage to train him to fly a spaceship in the first place, and also whether the EMH actually believed that the ship’s captain had any authority over her patients. But it is a good point.


Catriona wrote at May 15, 03:40 am

Ha, Tim! That would explain how she knew what marriage was just from watching pirates. I never knew the seventeenth century was so progressive.

Adding to the staginess of the episode, I got the impression all the way through that the episode only made any sense whatsoever if the Doctor already knew how it was going to end. It felt as though it were written by someone who never, ever forgot for a moment how it was going to end, and didn’t let us forget either.


Nick wrote at May 15, 10:59 pm

Tim, that’s my understanding, yes. Moffat seems to direct the original writer to perform the rewrites rather than taking it on himself, but RTD never rewrote other creator’s scripts (Matthew Graham, Steven Moffat, etc).

My conclusion about this story is that Thompson figured out how to write Doctor Who by watching Moffat episodes – most of the plot twists and interesting images are straight out of The Empty Child and The Girl in the Fireplace. Not a bad writer to steal from, but if you lack Moffat’s gift for structure and dialogue you get something that’s pretty lifeless on screen.

Really though, Doctor Who on a pirate ship with an actor of Hugh Bonneville’s class should have been a lot livelier.


Catriona wrote at May 15, 11:03 pm

And, let’s face it, RTD should have re-written that Matthew Graham script. Graham is a good writer, and I’m quite excited about his episode this time around. But “Fear Her” was a bad mis-step.

Comment Form

All comments are moderated and moderation includes a non-spoiler policy based on Australian television scheduling.

Textile help (Advice on using Textile to format your comments)
(if you do not want your details filled in when you return)



Monthly Archive