The Curse of the Black Spot reviewed


Some pirates, some curse

Good grief, but I'm getting tired of finding fault, but there really isn't much good to to say about the third episode of Steven Moffat's second series in control of the TARDIS.

"The Curse of the Black Spot" is a fairly generic, back-in-time adventure featuring a mythical monster that (of course) is anything but supernatural. Or should have been.

In truth, it's quite a lot less than a generic episode. It makes "The Unquiet Dead", "Tooth and Claw" or "The Fires of Pompeii" (never mind the superior "The Shakespeare Code") seem almost brilliant by comparison.

Avast ye scurvy dogs! There be no sense, nor continuity in this week's episode! (But be on yer guard fer spoilers and the sound of one man cursing! Aaarggh! Or rather, Aauuggghh!)

No sense, no continuity

My notes assure me that "The Curse of the Black Spot" starts off pretty well.

We open with an atmospheric scene of a longboat approaching a becalmed and befogged 17th century sailing ship. On board, the captain declares a sailor doomed; he has scratched his finger. Moments later, an etheral song is heard above-deck, the sailor up, screams off-stage, and is gone.

The small crew follows, but finds nothing, not even blood. Well, nothing but the the Doctor, flanked by Rory and Amy. The Doctor's "Yo! Ho ho!" as unamusing to the pirates as it was awkwardly embarrassing to this viewer.

In no mood for jokes or stowaways, the pirates soon have the Doctor walking the plank, Rory to follow. Sent below decks, Amy happens upon both a tricorne and a cutlass, and swings into swash-buckling action in time to save both.

To her credit, Karen Gillan more or less pulls off this unlikely bit of business, even if I have a hard time imagining that Amelia Pond has ever found the time (never mind the physical strength) to wield a cutlass.

Still, six or seven minutes on, we're still in "this might work out as a bit of a lark" territory.

But the six-minute mark is the high point. From here on in, it's one nonsensical bit after another.

Just off the top of my head,

  • Where'd all the drinking water go? There are only a half-dozen crew members left aboard — have they been dumping the drinking water over-board for laughs?
  • Speaking of that missing crew, why is it that at the end of the episode we only see the half dozen we did at the start?
  • The stowaway's identity (yes, there's a stowaway) isn't credible: if the Captain had been so long at sea that he didn't realize his wife had died months before, how did his son find his way on board so recently? And,
  • if the Captain's son did find the ship, it must have been obvious even to a father-idolizing boy he wasn't sneaking aboard one of the British Navy's ships-of-the-line.
  • Around the 24 minute mark we get the big reveal that the siren's way in isn't water, but any reflecting surface. A mirror, polished metal, very still water. Yet, except for the opening scene, the sea in this episode is never mirror-calm (see screen-cap at right).
  • Rory's near death (surprise! Rory dies (but not really) again!). Even inside the TARDIS, with all its Time Lord tech (not to mention the Doctor himself), we are supposed to be on the edge of our collective seats while Amy performs CPR then, unaccountably, gives up — only to see Rory cough himself back to life all on his own.
  • Oh yeah. And somehow our 17th century pirates have no problem switching gears to run an (alien!) starship. (More on that last, anon.)

Excuse me a moment while I shake my fist at the clouds and cry, "MofffffAAAATTTTT!"

Where's the show-runner? For that matter, where's the continuity editor or even the guy who goes for coffee? This episode is so badly plotted, it's like what I imagine bad fan-fic is like.

Sorry. But I feel like I'm going to go hoarse complaining that Moffat spends all his time on the big picture, but none at all on such "unimportant" matters as character or plot, or common god damned sense.

Good fantasy, as with good science fiction, requires — once the fantastic rules have been set in place — that the rules be respected.

This time out, we are expected to believe that the Doctor just hands the keys of an alien starship to a blood-thirsty ("I've seen your father gun down a thousand innocent men") 17th century pirate the way an indulgent father might toss the car-keys to his slightly wayward son.

That the Doctor does set this murderer free to roam the galaxy in search of interstellar plunder is as unlikely in terms of the established character as it is unlikely that same 17th century pirate could pilot that alien starship in the first place.

Spread the word!

Um, comment.

Tsk, if you made an effort you would realise the rest of the crew are standing just out of shot. I think we're meant to feel the Captain has Learnt His Lesson and is therefore responsible enough to be trusted with an alien vessel of unknown origin or capabilities. Wasn't as offensive as last week's, more sort of bland (the episode as a whole). I've learnt to keep my expectations low.

I'm trying not to think about the CPR (along with everyone else who knows CPR probably). I am willing to grant the episode some leeway re: murdering people as the pirate is clearly exaggerating ("a thousand" sounds like hyperbole to me). There is bound to have been some unpleasantness though, in the normal course of being a pirate. Of course the most logical outcome of a 17th century pirate crew flying a starship into the unknown is the lot of them dying horribly and soon, rather than surviving to harm others. I'm not sure that logical goes very far with this episode, though.

Re: Um, comment.

think we're meant to feel the Captain has Learnt His Lesson and is therefore responsible enough to be trusted with an alien vessel of unknown origin or capabilities.

Well sure, you're welcome to think so. But I for one am tired of being forced to make stuff up in order to explain the writers' lapses. Sexism and general amorality aside, what I'm most offended by from Moffat's time at the helm is the constant assaults upon my intelligence.

Your own comments in the second paragraph only serve to support my point. These stories aren't being thought through, as if Moffat doesn't think the "kiddies" will care. Which I find weird, because he is equally clearly spending a whole lot of time constructing grand, clue-laden arcs which, even if that sort of thing doesn't much interest me personally (and it doesn't), I admit certainly is carefully thought about and constructed.

I didn't give a shit about the whole jacket Doctor/no jacket Doctor, but people who like puzzles had a grand time with it and I'll admit it was very clever and well done. So why doesn't he pay as much (or even some) attention to the rest of the story-teller's craft?

Oh, I quite agree. Filling in

Oh, I quite agree. Filling in details is supposed to be imaginative fun, not a desperate attempt to hold the story together.

I like puzzles well enough, but I feel it can take over the whole experience of a show. Viewers are too busy figuring out the clues for later to enjoy what they're watching now.

You and I seldom agree on

You and I seldom agree on which episodes are good and which episodes are shite (I still love me some space whale stories), but I'm in complete agreement here. So full of holes that it's a wonder it didn't sink by the halfway point. Why is the Doctor standing by like a helpless ninny while Amy performs CPR? He has never performed CPR in his entire 900-odd years of existence? Given that the Doctor and Rory are about to walk the plank, why does Amy stop to put on a pirate outfit? The Doctor can't handle a case of typhoid fever?

If they'd played it for the lulz, I would have accepted the aforementioned plotholes, but there are a metric fuckton of pirate-related jokes that they could have made, and they settled on like three.

Re: You and I seldom agree on

You and I seldom agree on which episodes are good and which episodes are shite...

I know, it's weird; you otherwise have almost impeccable taste.


I forgave "Amy" the pause for costume change because Gillan managed to pull the rest of the silleness off with such (surprising) aplomb. But otherwise, an insult to one's intelligence is an insult, is an insult, is an insult.

Dear Mr. Moffat: Your fetish

Dear Mr. Moffat:

Your fetish about visual perception has officially been run into the ground, especially after you just used it LAST WEEK. Not to mention HELLO WEEPING ANGELS.

Also, the whole dimensional portal ship-within-a-ship thing was already done in "Girl In The Fireplace". Please remember that your audience is a bunch of obsessive nerds who remember every moment of every episode, so please stop recycling your own eps.

Thank you,


P.S. The TARDIS has a medical bay. Kthxbye

P.P.S. Leeches only live in fresh water. Maybe the pirates were dumping the water barrels on the floor so that's where the leeches come from?

So *that's* what happened!

Please remember that your audience is a bunch of obsessive nerds who remember every moment of every episode, so please stop recycling your own eps.

It's probably worth keeping in mind that the vast majority of Who's audience is not (or so I believe) "a bunch of obsessive nerds", but rather casual viewers who look upon the show as an entertaining hour on Saturday night and nothing much more. The blogosphere is loud and certainly nit-picky, but almost certainly isn't representative of the majority.

P.P.S. Leeches only live in fresh water. Maybe the pirates were dumping the water barrels on the floor so that's where the leeches come from?

That would explain why five pirates on a ship built for 25 or 50 would have run so short of water, wouldn't it?

Yes, they might be casual

Yes, they might be casual viewers, but that still doesn't excuse the recycling of the same trope that was just used last week. He's the showrunner and head writer and should be aware of that kind of thing.

Re: Yes, they might be casual

Oh, I agree entirely. Moffat's lack of respect for the material grows more incontrovertible just about every time out.

Filler is probably being kind

I can see the Doctor allowing the Pirate captain to go free- I think the idea is to give him another chance.

However its quite hard to drown when the water's been taken out of your lungs- which is what the Siren did (or at least should have done.) The fact that there doesn't seem to be any decent AI operating was bloody annoying too- surely if you've got a holographic medical assistant you need to be able to communicate with it. So the Tardis communication thingie should have worked.

But Amy with a cutlass was fun. Pity it didn't last. (Oh, and it sorta works as a prequel for the 1st Doctor episode "The Smugglers", where everyone is running about looking for Captain Avery's treasure).

Except it doesn't quite work

Except it doesn't quite work as a prequel for "The Smugglers", because Avery's treasure ends up at the bottom of the sea rather than in a crypt in Cornwall.

Maybe he had some more

Maybe he had some more elsewhere. Given the rest of the problems with the episode actually meshing properly with one of the adventures where there are no surviving episodes isn't entirely surprising.

The One Avery Limit

Even before this episode aired, Miles and Wood, in 'About Time 2', were saying that the Avery of 'The Smugglers' had so little in common with the historical Avery that he was best explained as a different pirate of the same name. So I'm not sure all the blame for not meshing can be placed on TCotBS.

Re: Filler Is Probably Being Kind

It seemed like the siren couldn't *heal* as much as just put the injured and sick into stasis, kind of like the Pandorica did to Amy. She was still mostly dead those 2,000 years, and if she had been taken out before little living Amy got there, she would have been dead. Rory was still drowned,still had water in his lungs, he was just "on pause" so to speak. Course, having a medical bay that can only put people in stasis, not heal them is bloody useful *sarcasm*
Though, maybe she was meant to put people in stasis just until the living doctor of the alien ship got there?


The Pandorica was designed as a prison and keeping the prisoner in stasis was just incidental. The siren is supposed to part of a medical unit.

Have a cold? Stasis. Dying of the plague? Stasis. Pricked you finger? Stasis, dammit!

Re: Filler is probably being kind

I think the idea is to give him another chance.

Agreed. And I'd be fine with that. The Doctor's not a cop, no reason to interfere with the timeline, he likes to give second chances, etc, etc. (Now that I've Wiki'd I do like the reference to First.)

As for Amy, I rewound a time or two and I think Gillan might have done the stunt-work herself. If so, an extra bravo. Pity about everything else, though.

Consequence ...

And so the Admiralty would have ended up with a report of yet another mysterious deserted ship on their hands. All hands apparently having abandoned a perfectly intact ship, having left all their treasure behind.

At least Moffatt didn't set the adventure aboard the Mary Celeste.

Oh. He didn't think of that? Funny. He seemed to have dredged up every other cliche.

"Please state the nature of the medical emergency."

Galling episode.

Re: Consequence ...

Moffat might have thought of the Mary Celeste but (as I vaguely recalled, and which Wikipedia confirmed) the Daleks got there first in a First Doctor Adventure.

"Galling" is nevertheless a very apt word for it.