(SPOILER WARNING: The following is an in-depth critical analysis. If you haven’t seen this episode yet, you may want to before reading this review)
Steven Moffat, Chris Chibnall and Stephen Thompson. The unholy Trinity of bad Who writers, as I usually refer to them. Everything they write is almost always guaranteed to be terrible. Occasionally the stars will align and Moffat or Chibnall will occasionally write something that’s barely watchable, but that has yet to happen with Thompson. Out of all the stuff I’ve seen of his, I’ve yet to come across anything that is even remotely tolerable.
With this in mind, let’s talk about The Bollocks Of The Black Spot.
Things start of reasonably well. A pirate ship stranded in the ocean, Hugh Bonneville darkly telling one of his pirate crew that they’re going to die from a paper cut before a luminous green Lily Cole whisks the guy away. I’m even prepared to stomach all the swashbuckling silliness from the Doctor and co. I knew going into this that this was probably going to depict a more romanticised version of piracy and while all the cliches and sword fights and walking the plank stuff were all a bit cringeworthy, it’s a family show and I’m sure the kids enjoyed it, so I’ll keep quiet.
Things get more serious when Rory is accidentally injured and the Siren starts to chase them around the ship, but then everything goes hideously wrong.
Let’s start with the Siren and how she’s supposed to fucking work. She’s using water like a portal. Okay. Makes sense. But then they bizarrely add that it’s only calm water. But… the sea isn’t calm. It’s never calm. At least not to the extent they’re talking. We even see a shot of it rippling away like mad. How is she able to come out of the sea? Then it turns out it’s not water, but reflections, which makes even less sense. What was reflecting below decks where the leeches were? Surely not that muddy water everyone was stomping around in. When the rain and wind picks up toward the end, how is the Siren able to emerge? Why do the pirates have a random barrel of water in the gunpowder room? How does smashing a mirror stop it from reflecting? Why does that kid start polishing that medallion for no reason other than to introduce some artificial tension into the proceedings?
Oh yeah. The kid is awful. In fact all the characters are awful. Most of them are just one note stereotypes, and Captain Avery doesn’t make any sodding sense whatsoever. One minute he’s this nice gentleman with a slightly unhealthy treasure obsession, but otherwise a reasonable guy, and the next he’s this ruthless, cold blooded murderer who has butchered thousands of people. Well, which is he? He can’t be both at once. Pick one and go with it. This isn’t moral complexity. This is utterly inconsistent characterisation.
The tone is all over the shop too. The way the episode shifts from swashbuckling fun to doom and gloom is incredibly jarring. The Doctor and Avery are constantly flip flopping between being adversarial to being all chummy with each other (and I’m amazed the Doctor would even contemplate bonding with Avery considering the whole killing for gold thing). And after trying (and failing) to get us to feel sympathy for the coughing kid, he then suddenly and deliberately marks for death a pirate who’s not threatening him. Okay he’s committing mutiny, but he’s not trying to kill anyone. Why would the kid do something so dark? (Also, where does that pirate go? In one of the most egregious continuity errors ever, the pirate just disappears from the episode completely with no explanation, only to then suddenly show up again at the end. Where did he go?)
It also doesn’t help that in order to let this convoluted plot squeak by, Thompson has to make the Doctor do idiotic things. For example, when the TARDIS decides to dematerialise by itself… and the Doctor gets out.
Or toward the end when Rory gets knocked off the ship by bad writing, the Doctor, after spending all this time explaining how dangerous the Siren is, suddenly decides that the Siren is the only one that can rescue them.
From there the whole thing just turns into utter nonsense. Two spaceships from two universes in once place. Huh? Aliens killed by human bacteria/virus. (which is it Doctor?) The Siren is revealed to be a virtual doctor, which is just plain daft. How does getting a paper cut constitute a serious injury worthy of the Siren’s attention. What use is a virtual doctor that can’t touch patients until they come to her? And her first instinct upon seeing the Doctor sneeze is to try and incinerate him?
Then Captain Avery, having killed God knows how many people in pursuit of material wealth, gets a free spaceship so he can continue killing and stealing and raping (sorry kids, but it’s true) across the cosmos. What a wonderful world!
And just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse, Rory fucking dies again. Because that’s totally not a gimmick that’s being overused.
So knowing full well Rory isn’t going to die, we have to sit through five minutes of Amy pathetically pumping his chest, fulfilling Rory’s promise to never give up just before she gives up. But it’s okay. Rory miraculously comes back from the dead anyway. She tried though, that’s the main thing.
I wasn’t expecting much. Just a nice pirate adventure would have done. Instead The Curse Of The Black Spot is just complete and utter senseless rubbish from start to finish. Send it down to Davy Jones’ locker and make Stephen Thompson walk the plank. Yo, ho, ho and… whatever. Just fuck off.
The Curse of the Black Spot >>The TARDIS is marooned onboard a 17th century pirate ship whose crew is being attacked by a mysterious and beautiful sea creature. Becalmed and beset by cabin fever, the pirates have numerous superstitious explanations for the Siren’s appearance. The Eleventh Doctor has other ideas, but as his theories are disproved and every plan of escape is thwarted, he must work to win the trust of the implacable Captain Henry Avery and uncover the truth behind the pirates’ supernatural fears — and he must work quickly, for some of his friends have already fallen under the Siren’s spell.