The Curse of the Black Spot
Captain Avery: Wheel. Telescope. Astrolabe. Compass. A ship’s a ship.
Production Code: 2.9. (Footnote ).
Doctor Who Season: S32 (Ep3).
Story Number: 215.
Any Doctor Who story floats on an ocean of past and future Doctor Who stories…
This particular “ship”-story is nested inside a larger Doctor Who narrative, the season-serial, a concept discussed in the review of Day of the Moon. (By the way – this review this week talks of the production process of this story and the way the first six stories of this ten-story season have been shuffled, which means there are some obvious conclusions drawn – nothing major, very mild plot details indeed – about the plot of the first six stories consisting of nine episodes. Choose to read on in the knowledge that will be mentioned!)
There’s an immediate contrast between this and the previous two episodes with the pre-credits, in that instead of a lengthy (for a pre-credits!) mini-adventure for the TARDIS team, there’s a brief setting of the scene – of the stranded ship (a scene-setting which is also a magnification of the Prequel for the story). At the end of the previous story the Doctor posed the choice they had: concern themselves with the mystery of the spacesuit-girl; more adventures. They’ve plumped for more adventures, helped by the fact the effect of the Silence quite probably Amy can’t even remember the fact the girl seems to be her child.
It’s certainly an adventure for Amy, and there’s an air of her fulfilling her own Pirate Fantasy as she twirls her cutlass to save the Doctor and Rory, oblivious to what the pirates are really frightened of. What they are fearing is the arrival of the Siren – Lily Cole transformed by some simple but hugely effective FX into a spectral bewitching presence.
So far, with the all the plank-walking, these “Black Spots”, the swordfights, there’s a lot of “Pirate Story” boxes being ticked and it’s good if insubstantial stuff. The “emotional throughline” though is introduced with ANOTHER staple of “Pirate Stories”, that of the stowaway, it’s the Jim Hawkins. of the story. He has a cough – and a Black Spot too – so there’s two people, Rory and now Toby that the two Captains of the two ships (Captain Avery and the Doctor) are trying to keep safe.
The obvious solution to the problem – take everyone offship in the TARDIS – is foiled by the Blue Box mysteriously not quite latching onto its own “ocean”, (the plane of existence the Doctor explains), and Vworping away in a stuttering manner, sans the two Captains. Just before this though the Doctor fails to faze the other Captain – “Wheel. Telescope. Astrolabe. Compass. A ship’s a ship” is a wonderful line from Avery. It speaks of the universality of human experience, (not that the Doctor’s human: though he does speak of “our planet” about the Earth).
BLOOD AND TREASURE
The Siren-medallion plays a symbolic role in this story – at the start it was used by Avery to keep the treasure safe behind a locked door (wrapped round the door handles), now he’s transferred the same medallion to his son, as he strives with the Doctor to find a way to keep the other seafarers safe.
The Doctor deduces this keeping everyone safe from the Siren will mean chucking the shiny shiny treasure overboard (he keeps altering his view of what’s actually going on to fit the facts, a very Doctorish thing to do).
Meanwhile, the room with Amy and Rory and Toby provides a kind of “locked room mystery” (a concept that Moffat and fellow Sherlock scribe, Stephen Thompson, the writer of this story must be familiar with). The Boatswain barricades the door from the inside of the room – he’s obviously keen to stay with the other three after receiving the Black Spot. It’s obvious that the Siren hasn’t been to the room quite yet as the Doctor and Avery make their way through the barricade and de-shine the medallion.
So how did the Boatswain leave this room? He’s not there when the Doctor arrives. It’s a mystery. (He is with the others at the end though.)
Moffat’s Doctor Who prompts the viewer (well, if the viewer is a Doctor Who fan) to ponder whether this is actually an incredibly clever “continuity error”. But is it another Doctor-with-jacket in the forest (Flesh and Stone) or another Rory’s badge from The Eleventh Hour?
Before the third act, on the alien ship, begins – the Doctor berates Avery for valuing the treasure above his son, but before that there’s a scene in which the Doctor is trying to convince Avery he could be father material. It’s an amazing scene which is the core of the story really, which manages to fit in the themes of the story – AND QUITE POSSIBLY THE THEMES OF THE WHOLE SEASON – while foreshadowing the emotional crescendo at the end of the story. Some of the dialogue:
“It’s not one star, it’s two. The Dog Star. Sirius, binary system.”
“I use it to navigate the oceans.”
And the end of the scene, after Avery avers he wouldn’t be a great father…
“People stared at it for centuries and never knew. Things can suddenly, change, when you’re least expecting.”
The “twist” that the Siren is really a medical program (like a certain other story, one penned by Moffat) was hardly unguessable, though the plot twist isn’t what make this final act so great, it’s more the lyrical quality it has.
The “two universes” idea chimes with Amy’s Choice (once again, just two stories into the season that’s twice) and Amy’s alternating pregnancy. The notion that Rory is effectively alive in this universe, but effectively dead in the other also echoes Amy’s Choice (though Amy revives him in that universe, the regular one, from near-death).
After Amy saves Rory there’s the “topper” of that particular emotional crescendo as Avery sails his new ship off into the space of the new universe.
There’s some marvelously understated acting from Hugh Bonneville, as the flickering emotions across Captain Avery’s face suggest he’s contemplating what the Doctor told him earlier about how things can change (he could be a good father). This idea’s emphasised by a binary star system, perhaps this universe’s version of the Dog Star, appearing on his ship’s viewport.
I also like this scene as with the “five pirates” the Doctor mentioned plus the vanished one from the pre-credits plus Toby, it’s “Avery’s 7”, like Blake’s 7 (though of course there’s dozen of other pirates – will they remain pirates in this universe? – and the “ship’s computer” the Siren should perhaps be counted too).
CODA AND STORY ARCS
Here’s the part of the review in which the Production Code of “2.9” is discussed – the start of the review warned vague plot details of the nine eps would be deduced. Moffat has mentioned in Doctor Who Magazine how the first nine episodes had to be shuffled between script and broadcast stages – number nine is now number three (this one), and four now nine, with the original number three now broadcast in the fourth episode slot. (Clear?)
Knowledge of this unfortunately gave the aura of not-a-big-event to this episode, if it was an interchangeable as that – that does seem slightly absurd though considering the traditional format of Doctor Who but it does show how we now view Moffat Doctor Who. Also we can guess the status quo of the TARDIS team trio is at least unchanged until episode number 10 of this 13-episode season.
Schrödinger’s pregnancy-scan and Eye Patch Lady kept the arcs chugging along though (however they did feel a little bolted-on).
I will add that I thought this story hugely reminiscent of Warriors’ Gate (with Toby as the K-9 who could only be kept alive in one universe).
What IS Romana up to these days?
The next story looks interesting…
Footnotes (and links)
The review is titled “Doctor Who 2.3…” as it’s Ep3 of the second season of the narrative of the Doctor and Amy – however, the Production Code is actually 2.9.
Jim Hawkins of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. (Link for book.)
Rory’s badge from that story had a production error on it which gave a confusing date which led to much speculation until Moffat said it was just a mere regular error.