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22 March 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 811: The Curse of the Black Spot

Dear diary,

Oh, Curse of the Black Spot. What did you ever do to rankle fandom, so? In that Doctor Who Magazine poll last summer, you were ranked number 227 out of 241 (with only two other Eleventh Doctor tales below you), and when you were first shown on TV, I remember everyone complaining about the massive dip in quality between the opening two-parter and this story.

But you know what, I love you, Curse of the Black Spot. Well, no, perhaps not. ‘Love’ is a very strong word, and it implies certain attachments and commitments that I’m not sure I’m willing to make. But, still, I certainly like you a lot. As much as many other episodes of Doctor Who. You’re certainly stronger than some of the tales I’ve sat through on this marathon, and actually I’ve rather enjoyed you tonight!

What’s not to love! It’s Doctor Who meets the Pirates, and it seems somehow perfectly fitting that the Eleventh Doctor should be the one to engage in such an adventure, as his child-like glee is simply right for turning up on a pirate ship. Actually, it’s the Doctor who really makes this episode for me - I don’t think I’ve ever been more enamoured with Matt Smith’s incarnation than I have been here today. Everything seems to come together to create the perfect example of what i think of as being the Eleventh Doctor: he finds glee in the threat of the adventure. He gets things wrong. He quips. He twirls, and dances, and is generally quite frenetic. It all simply works.

The thing I really enjoy is the fact that he gets things wrong. Three times in this episode, a theory that he’s put forward is shattered, and he’s forced to tell people to ignore everything he’s suggested so far. It helps to enhance the threat of what could otherwise be a rather mundane story, and it means that when you stumble into a new situation (such as arriving on the moored alien spaceship), it genuinely takes you by surprise.

I’m also rather keen on the look of this episode. It’s become almost traditional for me in the last month or so to comment that all historical stories have been ruined for me by how good The Shakespeare Code looked, but this one manages to buck the trend, because it looks just as good as that one did! Has there ever been a Doctor Who story with more night shooting on location (off the top of my head, only perhaps the Empty Child two-parter could tie for it)? The ship looks great, and even though I know they shot it right at the side of the docks, i never for a moment was less than convinced we could be out in the middle of the ocean somewhere.

The only big downside, for me, is the disappearance of one of the pirate crew. He threatens to leave, so the captain’s son cuts him to ensure that he’s just as helpless as the rest of them. Great. Fine. Got all that. But then… he’s gone! Hah! Vanished, and never even mentioned again. I presume that the Siren came and took him at some point, but you’d think that the others might have mentioned that at some point. To be fair, on first broadcast I didn’t notice a thing. Couldn’t have told you that anyone vanished between scenes, and it wasn’t until someone pointed it out online afterwards that I was even vaguely aware. Now I know, though, it sticks out like a sore thumb, and it’s a very big letdown in an episode I’ve otherwise really enjoyed.


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