• 12th May 2011 • Review by Jonathan Capps •
I’ll admit something here, I was already writing this review in my head a week before I saw the episode. It was unavoidable. I was all ready to waffle on about how these stand alone episodes are feeling increasingly out of place in a series relying more and more on complex story arcs. I was resenting the mere existence of this episode before I’d seen anything beyond the trailer and I worry it coloured my fairly luke warm reception. What I did get, though, were a few more plus points than I was expecting. But not enough.
It’s worth restating here just how significant TiA/TDotM have been. In two episodes, Stephen Moffat gave the show the biggest kick up the arse it’s had since 2005. It’s arguably even bigger. What I was left with was a very different view of what I want Doctor Who to be, and I was thinking radically. Fuck individual episodes. If it doesn’t directly contribute to the overall arc then throw it away. In fact, sod it, get Moffat to write every single episode and reduce the size of the series if need be. I’m tired of sags, dips and ‘ok’ episodes, I want every single episode to be better than the one that it follows.
Of course, I realised most of that is bobbins of the highest order. Yes, Moffat has changed the nature of the overall series arc, and made it far more prominent, important and high stakes at the same time, but this is still Doctor Who. We still need isolated episodes. Jumping into the unknown and arriving in a rich and interesting setting. What TCofBS does is break up the flow well, and gets us back to the core values of Doctor Who. The Doctor turns up, wrestles for authority with someone, wins them round and leaves them as a better person (and every now and then with a new spaceship to fly around, for some reason), a companion is in mortal danger and in the end everything is tied into a neatish bow and we’re ready for next week.
However, this episode’s problem was that, in the main, so it was so fucking boring. No remarkable performances for the guest cast and a bizarre Lily Cole guest star role that brings into sharp focus the fact that she possesses the face of an alien. What was interesting though was the revelation that old Nurse Alien Face’s stranded ship existed in a different dimension to the real world, accessed through reflective surfaces (and just how many plot holes did that little revelation bring up?). A nice development on its own, but when you consider the overall arc, it starts to look this episode has a prupose to serve after all. Amy’s on-off pregnancy and and various other dimensional fuckery from the premiere are clearly leading towards a similar explanation (but, I assume, with a much greater scale), and TCofBS does a nice job of easing in this idea to the audience, while at the same time probably provding the story’s nicest plot development. In the end, Moffat’s arc has blessed this mediocre episode with a mutually beneficial dusting of sparkle, even though it ended up not being quite enough.
I no longer think that Doctor Who should be streamlined, with episodes like this thrown to the side. They’re clearly important, but they can also be done much, much better than this. Last year, Amy’s Choice – one of the only episodes not to directly tie into the overall arc – was one of the best episodes the show has ever had. It was written by a sit-com writer who’d failed to make any significiant splashes on TV since the 90s. I think the difference is down to proper use of the characters. In AC every single one of our main trio is examined, tested and, in the end, validated. In TCofBS they’re just there, jumping about a bit. Amy’s slightly out of control, Rory almost fucking dies AGAIN and The Doctor is about as bog standard as a character played by one of the greatest actors to inhabit the role can be. It’s good, but it isn’t remarkable, and it’s certainly not doing nearly as many interesting things as it could. Simon Nye and (to a certain extent) Richard Curtis made relatively standalone episodes seem effortlessly interesting and individual. Even The Fucking Lodger did a better job of justifying its place in the series by confidently and skillfully doing its own thing.
At the end of the day, The Curse of the Black Spot needed something so much more than “OMG, PIRATES” to lift above its status as a boilerplate episode and convenient seed for a story element that will be more important to the proper episodes that will follow.
I have a feeling that Neil Gaiman is about to school Stephen Thompson on this matter quite comprehensibly.