For better or worse, it is impossible to think about The Curse of the Black Spot without thinking of a certain film...which also involved pirates...and which has as its subtitle The Curse of the Black Pearl (emphasis mine). It is basically insulting to the audience watching The Curse of the Black Spot to think that their minds wouldn't go to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The first film (Pirates of the Caribbean: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK Pearl--again emphasis mine) was one of the most successful films in a series, one that created an iconic character in Captain Jack Sparrow, and which launched (no pun intended) a new franchise. Granted, it's a lousy franchise, but that's neither here nor there.
With The Curse of the Black Spot, we have certain questions. Were they trying to make a spoof of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies? Were they trying to cash in on the popularity of the franchise? Were they trying to make a Doctor Who story that would be a great source of parody? I don't know whether the answer is yes to all of them, but The Curse of the Black Spot appears to be going for all three.
Aboard a pirate ship, the crew has been menaced by a strange creature: a siren/mermaid who is killing off the members one by one. The mere hint of blood is enough to draw her attention, and before they are exterminated, they have a black spot on the palm of their hands. Into this situation comes the Doctor (Matt Smith) and his Companions, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and her husband, Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill). Just before the Doctor is forced to walk the plank, Amy (in full pirate garb) comes to the rescue. In the battle, one of the crew receives a cut, as does Rory. Now both have the black spot, and the Siren (Lily Cole) takes the crewman while Rory is saved by the Doctor and Amy (none too pleased that her husband referred to the Siren as 'the most beautiful thing (he'd) ever seen'.
Down below, Captain Avery (Hugh Bonneville) makes a shocking discovery: his son Toby (Oscar Lloyd) has stowed away on his Dad's ship. The Doctor at first believes the Siren can enter any place if it has water, but then realizes it is really by any reflection...including that of Captain Avery's treasure. Amy makes her own discovery: the mysterious Eye-Patch Lady that popped out in Day of the Moon Parts 1 & 2 pops out here too. The Doctor urges Captain Avery to dump his treasure into the sea. They encounter a storm, and when Toby (who's been coughing up a storm of his own) goes on deck to bring his father's coat, a crown falls out of it. With the reflection of the crown, the Siren pops out and kills Toby. While the Doctor is angry at Avery's greed, there is little time to reprimand him: Rory has fallen overboard and will drown. In desperation, he gets Amy and the Captain to prick their fingers and have the Siren take them.
They discover they are not dead, but instead on a spaceship that is occupying the same space as the pirate ship. Here, the crew is being kept alive by the Siren, who is really a healer. Among them are Toby and Rory (odd that the names rhyme). The Siren thinks Amy is a threat, but is convinced that as his wife, she can care for him. Of course, disconnecting him from his life support will cause Rory to drown, but he has faith Amy will bring him back. The crew of the pirate ship is left to pilot the spaceship (with the original crew dead) and aboard the TARDIS, Amy at first thinks Rory's dead, but in the end, she does bring him back.
How strange that The Curse of the Black Spot is such a weak and uninteresting story. The main problem with it is that even for an episode an hour long everything moves so fast that we can never stop to get to know any of the characters. For example, Captain Avery's son is named Toby, but to be honest I don't remember how we learned this information. I don't even recall hearing Captain Avery's name. The relationship between father and son is suppose to be where we get the emotional core of The Curse of the Black Spot, but since we don't know anything about Toby or Captain Avery we don't have any real investment in seeing them be brought together. Truth be told, if we eliminated the Toby plot point (or tinkered with it by making him older and already a member of his crew) would it have altered the story any? I think not. The efforts by Steve Thompson at heart-tugging with the father/son business didn't work.
Of course, that wasn't the only thing that didn't work in Curse of the Black Spot. There appears to be attempts at comedy that just ended up being annoying. Amy dressed as a pirate may have pleased certain elements of the fanbase, but was it really necessary for her to have that get-up? I would have thought simply menacing the Captain with a sword would have been enough. Expanding a bit further with the swordplay, twice when they were brandished it almost looked like they were going for a 3-D look to where you expected them to pop out at you.
I also wasn't buying the twist in The Curse of the Black Spot where we end up on a spaceship. I don't think it was necessarily a cheat but it does seem a rather easy way to explain what the Siren really is. (I realize it sounds strange to say a spaceship is "an easy way to explain" anything, but this being Doctor Who it actually doesn't sound too odd). When we discover the true identity of the Siren, all I could think of was how similar it was to The Empty Child Parts 1 & 2. I don't think Thompson was attempting to duplicate the same situation in his first Doctor Who story, but it is a puzzle why producer Marcus Wilson didn't think anyone would think the situations were nearly identical.
I digress to state that when Rory tells Amy that as a nurse, he can guide her in helping him survive, I actually started laughing. Not because that in and of itself is funny, but because it brought to mind the Citizen Kane of Star Trek: The Original Series episodes: Spock's Brain. In that classic, Spock's brain has been stolen by a bevvy of beautiful aliens. Somehow, Spock is able to direct McCoy on how to install Spock's brain back into his head. To me, having Rory give Amy instructions on how to bring him back to life borders on Spock's Brain territory.
To go further into this bit of trivia, I make a bold prediction: whenever The Eleventh Doctor is spoofed, one point of parody will be in killing off Rory. The Curse of the Black Spot marks the THIRD time Rory dies (after Amy's Choice and Cold Blood Part 2: Cold Blood). You can't build up emotional interest if you keep killing off a Companion and then bringing him back. Honestly, STOP KILLING OFF RORY EVERY TIME YOU WANT TO BUILD UP DANGER FOR A COMPANION. It's now becoming a running joke--to where we should be thankful they didn't name him Kenny. As a joke, I might right a Doctor Who story of my own. The title:
RORY DIES AGAIN
Come to think of it, they've already killed The Doctor, they've already killed Rory (repeatedly), why not kill someone that actually deserves to die (I'm talking to you, Dr. Song). Why not kill the Legendary Legend of Legendness (as I lovingly call our dear River)? The fact that poor Mr. Williams gets bumped off for the third time (or at the very least, appears to kick the bucket thrice) is just one issue of contention.
For the first time in the Eleventh Doctor's tenure, I think Smith was just annoying as the Doctor. I've been a champion of his for a while, but here, his goofy demeanor, his quirkiness in his movements and delivery, his Doctor's near-total inability to be serious (or at least take things with some degree of seriousness--except to lecture someone about how greed killed his child) are now appearing to make the Doctor a borderline moron (or at least quite childish in how he sees the universe). Everything for Smith appears to go at supersonic speed, and after two seasons/series, it would be nice if he would slow down just once.
The menace of the Siren had possibilities, but once we see what she actually is, one not only flashes back to The Empty Child Parts 1 & 2 but also thinks, oh--not really a menace after all. I also go into the music, which also appeared to pay 'homage' to Pirates of the Caribbean because it sounded to my ears very much like music from the films. Finally, the Eye-Patch Lady. First, I've always hated story arcs in the revived Doctor Who, especially ones that appear to be rammed into every story of a series whether they fit or not. From Bad Wolf to that damn crack in time, I have never understood what it is about the new Doctor Who that makes the producers obsess about having arcs.
If I'm wrong, please correct me, but I can think of only two instances in classic Doctor Who where we were treated to series/seasons that tied one story to another: The Key to Time and The Trial of A Time Lord series. If memory serves correct, the adventures in Doctor Who once did not need to be connected: I don't think Inside the Spaceship was connected to The Aztecs or connected to The Space Museum or to The Time Meddler or to The Tenth Planet (I use the First Doctor as an example). Each story was pretty much independent of the other (there were the Peladon Tales--however, all those were the exception). Now we have these arcs, with the Eye-Patch Lady serving as this series/season's. I thought as soon as she popped in and out that basically, she is controlling Amy's moments (and by extension, the Doctor's). I digress to say I hope she turns out to be The Rani...just because. I do wish they would go back to making adventures independent of each other, but there it is.
This isn't to say that The Curse of the Black Spot doesn't have some good things in it. Jeremy Webb's directing captured some beautiful moments when the ship was still: the fog and stillness was quite effective in setting a mood (and the cinematography was especially beautiful). Bonneville was not recognizable as Captain Avery, and he gave a good performance, being able to be both menacing and tender.
However, those positives were drowned (no pun intended) with a story that wasn't interesting (because we never got to know the characters all that well) with a villain that didn't pan out, and with one of the Companions being made to look redundant. It brings to mind something I remember from the parody of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy of all things. For those who don't remember the reality show, the premise was that five gay men could remake a straight man into a better man. The Fab Five (their name, not mine) were experts on food, grooming, decorating, fashion, and culture. The nickname of the "Culture Vulture" was "Useless". I'm beginning to think Rory Williams (and The Curse of the Black Spot) may be filling that slot.