I suspect that this episode is going to be The Lodger, or Victory of the Daleks (interestingly, the third episode of last series), or similar when the series is said and done. It’s a good episode, certainly. But it’s hardly to get particularly enthused about it. Ultimately the failings of the Curse of the Black Spot are by and large the fault of outside sources.
For one thing, I’m a history nerd. One of the areas of history which interests me most of all is piracy. I’ve done loads of reading and have spent four years now hunting down the most authentic copy of A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates* possible. And this episode deals with the greatest pirate to ever have lived. The man who was referred to as King of the Pirates – for good reason. Henry Avery. Most of the historical discrepancies in the story I’m willing to forgive because hey, it’s entertainment. I still wish Avery had been given a straight-up old fashioned historical, but that’s a minor gripe. Where I do exceedingly take issue, however, is the prequel to thisepisode, which was posted on the Beeb’s site and has since been copied places.
The prequel sets the story in 1699, THREE YEARS after Henry Avery disappeared. Also, going by the prequel and the episode, they’re still aboard the Fancy, which had been abandoned in the Bahamas by that point, and it suggests no one of the 113-man crew is left to be caught by the English (okay, only 12 were ever found), which means the greatest feat ever pulled off by Henry Avery never happens in the Whoniverse. Specifically, when Avery reached Britain and departed from his crewmen, he told each and every one of them he was going to a different place, and never the place where he would actually be, so that if any of them were ever captured the English would never find him. To this day no one knows where Avery went.
Beyond my historical gripes with it though, I think the absolute largest problem facing this episode is that it’s essentially filler. It’s a known fact that it has been moved from the autumn half of the series to this slot, and the trouble with NuWho is it bigs up event episodes to the point that anything that isn’t or in some way doesn’t significantly tie into the event episode feels lost in the sea of events. And any episode which can be moved so freely is almost certainly not the most important thing in the scheme of things. With the Moff at the helm, you can never be sure, but it certainly feels that way. Indeed, the only trappings of the overall arc are another appearance of the woman who is currently credited as the Eyepatch Lady (I know more, but shan’t spoil), Future!Eleven’s death, and Amy’s Schrödinger’s womb, as the good people of twitter have nicknamed it.
It’s also known that airing in this slot originally was going to be Neil Gaiman’s episode. An episode which has been pumped up both for the content it contains, and because it’s Neil Gaiman writing it. Any episode wedged between Moffat’s two-part opener and any episode written by Neil Gaiman is bound to feel a bit lost. Had this been airing in the autumn, when it was originally meant to, or even just this upcoming Saturday, when The Doctor’s Wife is now airing, it would probably feel less stale.
All in all, though, The Curse of the Black Spot is a good episode of Doctor Who. Matt Smith is, as usual, excellent as the Doctor. Karen Gillan continues to do well as Amy, even if she isn’t strictly the best actress out there. Arthur Darvill still carries on making Rory my favourite NuWho companion, even if, as others have pointed out, his penchant for death and near-death is beginning to get a wee bit tiresome. The incidental guest cast, as well, does their job well, though perhaps not quite as much so. Special mention must go to Hugh Bonneville, who easily turned in the best performance of the cast, though. (Incidentally,this is Bonneville’s second appearance in Doctor Who)
Unfortunately, though, this reminds me of another problem with the Curse of the Black Spot, and one that is the fault of its own writing. For all its nice touches and little hints, ultimately there isn’t much depth to Whoniverse’s Henry Avery beyond that which Bonneville’s acting suggests. For a Navyman turned pirate with a wife and son, trapped in a calm sea and crew stalked by a siren, there’s not quite much to him.
Ultimately, as I keep repeating, this is a good episode. Like the majority of filler episodes it does its job well but probably won’t stand long in the memory. If you just sit down and enjoy it for all its trappings, there’s definitely fun to be had here. And there are certainly worse filler episodes (Boom Town, Fear Her). Unfortunately, by being filler, it leaves us waiting. Last episode ends with the Doctor deciding not to investigate the little girl, which is a frequent and somewhat annoying thing NuWho does. Annoying because, well, it makes no sense, but also annoying because, as fans, we want to find out about the girl RIGHT NOW. The Curse of the Black Spot never really offers anything towards the greater arc, nothing apparent at least (we’ll see come the end of the series), but it does still offer a nice adventure.
Next week: Neil Gaiman, Michael Sheen, Time Lords(?), oh my!
(Also, for those who paid attention to the series trailer, this episode is almost certainly going to contain the epic exchange of: "Fear me, I've killed hundreds of Time Lords." "Fear me, I've killed them all.")
*Pick it up if you have the chance. It’s where a lot of our pirate knowledge comes from. We’ve since learned a lot of things in it have been made up, but it’s still the primary source. It’s also where the term Jolly Roger comes from (protip: the Jolly Roger isn’t the flag; it’s the symbol on the flag. The flag is called a blackjack). It’s where the myth of pirates burying treasure comes from. So on and so forth.