Doctor Who: The Curse of the Black Spot
(1 episode, s06e03, 2011)
Yo ho ho… or does nobody actually say that?
Captain Henry Avery writes in his journal onboard the seagoing vessel Fancy. The ship has been stranded for eight days due to a lack of wind, so all they can do is wait for the wind to return. Unfortunately, they are tasked by an enemy who comes from the still ocean and takes members of the fearful crew. Captain Avery feels an evil presence watching him and longs for the wind to return, but he fears that they are all doomed to die.
The Curse of the Black Spot
On a bleak ocean, sailors quietly return to their ship. A man with a minor cut is taken to Captain Henry Avery, who declares that the man is doomed based on the black spot on his palm. As a song rises outside the captain’s cabin, the doomed man is sent out. He screams and vanishes.
When the crew investigate, noting that the disappearance is the same as all the others, they discover some stowaways: The Doctor, Amy, and Rory. They picked up a distress call from the Fancy, but decide to dispose of the new arrivals. After all, this ship has been stranded in the doldrums for eight days.
Amy is sent below while Rory and the Doctor are prepared to walk the plank. Amy finds a sword and basic pirate garb which she uses to come to the rescue. A battle ensues and Amy nicks one of the crewmen. The captain explains that one drop of blood marks a man for death as Rory tries to catch a wayward sword and gets injured.
The song rises again and Rory begins to act strangely. The ocean glows as a spectral woman rises from the water and glides across the deck. He song beckons the wounded crewman, but when he touches the woman he disintegrates. Amy tries to stop her from taking Rory and is blasted across the deck, and everyone takes refuge below decks.
The captain calls the being a siren, declaring the Fancy to be cursed. Another crewman is injured, this time by a leech, and the siren manifests and takes the crewman. The Doctor analyzes the remains with his sonic screwdriver and concludes that the siren travels by using water as a portal.
The survivors takes refuge in the gunroom, away from the water, where they discover another stowaway. This one is the captain’s son, who wanted to join the crew and be a sailor like his father. Toby also has the black spot despite not being injured, but he is ill. The captain drapes his protective medallion around Toby’s neck and sets off with the Doctor to visit the TARDIS.
The remaining crewman decide to mutiny. In the process, they reveal their true nature as pirates to Toby. Toby demands that they stay loyal to Captain Avery, wounding the boatswain in the process. Mulligan, the other rebellious sailor, takes off on his own.
In the TARDIS, things go awry and the time capsule ends up taking off on its own, shrouded in a similar light as the siren’s portals. The Doctor and the captain encounter Mulligan during their escape. Mulligan burns his hand and is taken by the siren, but there is no water in the room. The Doctor determines that water is not the key, but treasure is. Specifically, the reflection on polished metal.
The Doctor and the captain rush back to the gunroom to retrieve the medallion. The Doctor then sets to breaking every reflective surface on the ship, including throwing the treasure overboard. Everyone hides out in the gunroom to wait out the doldrums.
Captain Avery and Toby have a heart to heart discussion while Amy has another vision of the mysterious woman with the eyepatch. The captain joins the Doctor on deck for a muse. The Doctor then returns to the cabin where Amy almost breaks the news of her visions but is interrupted by a sudden storm.
While the group prepares to get underway, Toby inadvertently sends the remaining treasure to the deck. The reflection summons the siren which then takes Toby. In the confusion, Rory falls overboard and the Doctor deliberately releases the siren to take him. The Doctor then persuades the captain, Amy, and Rory to prick their fingers and summon the siren. In short order, they all vanish.
They awaken on the deck of an alien spacecraft. It is trapped in a temporal rift intersecting with the Fancy. The reflections are the portals bridging the two vessels, and the alien spacecraft was the source of the distress call. The trio explores the ship and determine that the crew was killed by human bacteria. They discover the taken crewmen, Rory, and the TARDIS in the sickbay. The humans are all attached to life support systems and are being monitored by the siren. The Doctor figures out that the siren is a virtual doctor that has been looking after the injured.
Amy pleads with the program to release Rory and the intelligence signs him over to her care. Unfortunately, this leaves Rory in a precarious position. If he doesn’t leave, he will spend eternity on the ship, but if he goes with Amy he will die from drowning. The Doctor tells Avery that the same holds true for Toby. The boy has typhoid fever and will die within months of leaving the ship.
Rory tells Amy how to perform CPR, which she uses to resuscitate him after disconnecting him from the machines. Meanwhile, Captain Avery decides to take command of the spacecraft and look after his son and crew among the stars.
The TARDIS flies through the vortex. Amy and Rory go to bed after their harrowing adventure. The Doctor still puzzles over Amy’s medical scan.
Is she pregnant or is she not?
On the one hand, this story reaches back to the origins of the franchise. Back in The Smugglers, Captain Samuel Pike and a band of former Fancy crewmen were searching for Captain Avery’s treasure when they encountered the First Doctor. The humorous part is the coincidence of it all. Episode writer Steve Thompson had no idea of the character’s history. He merely looked through his son’s book about pirates, found the story of the real-world Henry Avery, and went to work.
The episode is also notable for its low body count. In fact, none of the guest roles were killed off and there was no real villain of the story. I also enjoyed the War of the Worlds twist with the ship being stranded because the crew was killed by exposure to human microbes. Science fiction doesn’t use that plot device very often even though it should be a real concern between alien biomes.
There’s another nod to the classic era in this story, specifically Inferno and the green mark that preceded mutation.
It was quite fun to see Hugh Bonneville in a different role than what I’m used to from him (Downton Abbey, Paddington, and Tomorrow Never Dies, specifically) and while I thought that I recognized Lily Cole, the only thing on her IMDb profile that I’ve seen is Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
On the other hand, the story itself was not particularly engaging. While the frantic storytelling nature worked well in the previous story, it felt like it was merely connecting the dots because the pacing just wasn’t right for a monster thriller. Worse, the ending in the TARDIS felt tacked on, giving the story the impression of a filler episode. A good part of that may be due to moving this episode and The Doctor’s Wife (next up) from the season’s back half, a decision that was made before this episode’s production was completed in order to serve the mid-season finale.
Which is really a shame because the atmosphere was otherwise perfect for a monster thriller with the claustrophobic nature of being trapped in a sailing ship’s tight quarters and on dead calm waters in the dead of night. Add that to the true magic of the narrative, which evolved from suspense to wonder upon the revelation of the alien ship.
I just wish that the pacing hadn’t killed it.
Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Wife
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.