Review: Doctor Who 6.03: The Curse of the Black Spot

By Heather S. Vina

[spoilers up through 6.07]

Written By: Stephen Thompson

Recap: The episode opens on 17th-century Earth, on a pirate ship. The crew report back to the Captain (Hugh Bonneville) that one of the men has been injured – a cut on his hand – and that they aren’t sure if he will survive. Considering he’s walking, he seems like he’s in good health so far. In fact, the cut on his finger is small, just a bit larger than a bad papercut. The Captain looks at it and tells the man that he’s a “dead man, same as all the others.” He then grabs the man’s palm and we see that he has a mark in the center, a black circle. The man is freaked out, and even more so when he and the others start hearing a woman singing a haunting song. The marked man foolishly runs up on deck with a gun, ignoring the shouts of a mate, telling him not to be foolish: “the Siren is upon us!” The Captain and the other men lock themselves in the office. All you can hear is the man screaming, as the Siren takes him.

After it’s over, the men check out the bridge. The Captain finds the marked man’s abandoned gun and remarks that it’s the same as the others, “no sign of a struggle, no bones or blood.” One of the men fears that they will all end up that way, seeing as how they are stuck there. There’s a banging on the hatch leading below and the men cautiously open it up, only to be greeted by a gleeful Doctor, with Rory and Amy.

It’s time for a pirate adventure!

Credits.

The Captain is interrogating the Doctor, who is having a difficult time explaining how he, Rory and Amy are on their ship, without using words a 17th-century man wouldn’t understand, like ‘sensors’ and ‘multi dimensional engineering’. He finally ends with the fact that they’re sailors, just like them, but the Captain isn’t quite buying that, as he pulls out his gun. The Captain decides what to do with the stowaways…make them walk the plank!

I love the Doctor’s excitement over the pirate thing. It fades a little as he’s forced out onto the plank, but it’s still adorable. And a sidenote about the actors playing the crew: One of them is actor Lee Ross, who was on a British show I used to love called “Press Gang“. He played Kenny Phillips.

The Captain explains that they only have one barrel of water left, so there are not enough rations to supply the TARDIS crew, as well. He decides that Amy should stay to work in the galley, but Rory and the Doctor have to go. One of the men forces Amy down the hold, where she manages to get her hands on a sword and a pirate jacket. Not to mention, a pirate hat. I think the Doctor’s love of hats is wearing off on her.

The Doctor remarks on the fact that there appear to be only 5 crew members left, which is too few for a ship of that size, right before Amy jumps out with her sword to save the day. Amy battles with a few of them, but they are all deathly afraid of getting wounded, thus hampering their fighting skills. Still, she makes good use of the sword. When did Amy learn how to sword fight? It always amuses me to see the Doctor kind of useless in physical confrontations, with his companions saving the day. Three was the biggest of them at physical confrontation, as he seemed to know some form of Aikido or Judo. Six was a bit of a bruiser, occasionally, but that mostly seemed to be because Colin Baker was a big guy. But mostly, the Doctor is not a fighter. Usually, his companions do the fighting bit for him!

Amy fends off the pirates, but one of them ends up with a cut on his hand. The TARDIS gang is confused when he treats this small injury as a death sentence. The Captain explains that “one drop of blood” and “she” rises up out of the ocean. One of the men grabs for Amy, causing her to fling the sword. When Rory tries to catch it, he ends up with a cut, too. Immediately, a black spot appears on his palm and the Captain explains that he’s been “marked for death” by a demon.

As the Siren’s song begins again, Rory and the other wounded man fall under her spell, appearing almost intoxicated. The Siren (Lily Cole) appears on deck, a young woman in a glowing green light, and reaches out her hand. Amy holds Rory back, because he wants to go to the Siren, but no one holds back the other wounded man. As soon as his hand touches her, he disappears in a flash of black light. Amy confronts the Siren when she reaches for Rory, claiming that he is “spoken for”. The Siren changes from calm and green, to scary and red, and blasts Amy across the deck. Everyone starts moving, and runs belowdecks.

Down below, the Captain explains that she’s been haunting them since they were becalmed and is picking off the wounded. He believes that they’re cursed, but the Doctor discards that idea. The Captain wants to use the TARDIS to escape, but before he can convince the Doctor – at the end of his gun – of that plan, one of the men is bitten by a leech. He’s now marked for death, as well. The Siren appears belowdecks. Despite efforts to hold him back, the wounded man touches her and disappears, as well.

The others run and lock themselves in another room. There, the Doctor theorizes that the Siren is using the water as a portal to appear. He tells them that they need to find a place free of water. Amy reminds him that they’re in the ocean, but the Captain suggests the armory, where it’s deliberately kept dry to keep the gunpowder safe. The door is open and the Doctor realizes that someone has been sleeping in there. The Captain is shocked when he finds a young boy hiding in one of the barrels. It’s his son, Toby (Oscar Lloyd).

The Captain talks with his son and sadly discovers that his wife has died the previous winter. She had told Toby amazing things about his “honourable” father, who is a Captain in the Navy, so he came to join his father’s crew. The Captain doesn’t want Toby there, but it’s too late. Toby’s already been marked by the Siren. The Doctor theorizes that the Siren doesn’t just come for the wounded, but for the sick, as well. He suggests that they all get to the TARDIS so he can get them all away, when the Siren suddenly appears in a barrel of water. The Doctor manages to get the lid on and the Siren disappears.

The Captain and the Doctor head off for the TARDIS, while the others barricade themselves in the armory. The Captain, surprisingly, adjusts quickly to the shock of the TARDIS being “bigger on the inside than on the outside”, and even manages to figure out the controls somewhat. As he tells the Doctor, “A ship’s a ship.” Unfortunately, the Doctor’s ship is “becalmed”, just like the Captain’s ship, and the Doctor can’t get the TARDIS moving. Suddenly, the TARDIS starts reacting badly, trying to take off on her own. The Doctor hustles the Captain out of there, claiming that the TARDIS could dematerialize to anywhere. Once they’re out, the TARDIS does just that, leaving the Doctor looking distraught.

In the armory, the two crewmembers decide to take off, unwilling to follow their Captain’s orders to “stay with the boy.” When Toby tells them that his dad is a naval captain and they’re honourbound to follow his orders, the First Mate reveals that the Captain’s not a navy captain but a pirate. Toby is upset, but still tries to stop the men from leaving, cutting the First Mate’s hand with a cutlass. The First Mate is marked now. The other crewmember takes off and Amy sarcastically reminds the First Mate that there’s no “honour among pirates.” The First Mate starts barricading the door back up.

On their way back to the armory, the Doctor and the Captain run into Mulligan, the crewmember who took off. The Doctor wants to go after him because he has the last of the supplies and the Captain wants to go after him because he’s trying to steal his treasure, so they chase him to the treasure room. Alas, Mulligan locks himself inside. Even worse for him, he burns himself on a match trying to see in the room. The Siren immediately comes for him and Mulligan is a goner.

The Captain points out to the Doctor that there was no water for the Siren to come out of in the treasure room. The Doctor realizes that she’s not coming from water, but from reflective surfaces, such as water or the polished metal from the treasure. The Captain freaks out, because he gave his son his metal mermaid medallion for good luck before he left, and the boy is wearing it.

The Doctor and the Captain rush back to the armory, but luckily, Amy, Rory, and Toby are still okay. The Doctor grabs the medallion and throws it out the window, and then proceeds to destroy all of the windows and mirrors in the Captain’s office. He goes to throw out the treasure, but the Captain objects. Reluctantly, the Captain lets the Doctor throw everything out, but hides away a crown. They inform the others that they have to stay below, riding out the calm sea, until they can leave.

During the night, the Captain and Toby have a sad conversation, with Toby expressing his disappointment over his dad becoming a pirate. And while Amy is trying to sleep, she has a vision of the woman with the eye patch – Madame Kovarian (Frances Barber) – telling her, “It’s fine. You’re doing fine. Just stay calm.”

On deck, the Doctor and Captain have a heart-to-heart. The Doctor tells the Captain that he’s been traveling a long time, but the “greatest adventure” is having someone to travel with. The Captain tells him that he will be taking Toby back, as he can’t travel with him, and then dodges the Doctor’s question as to why he became a pirate. The Doctor gently tells him that things can change in an instant.

Amy finds the Doctor in the Captain’s office and tries to talk to him, but he’s distracted by the feeling that someone is watching them. Suddenly, the ship starts to list to one side. A storm hits and everyone gathers on deck to keep the ship afloat. Toby accidentally finds the crown in his dad’s coat and the Siren is released. She takes Toby, but then disappears when the Doctor flings the crown overboard. The Doctor is furious with the Captain and realizes that this is why he became a pirate: for the treasure.

Unfortunately, Rory ends up getting knocked overboard and doesn’t resurface from the tumultuous water. The Doctor quickly brings the Siren back to take Rory, telling the Captain and Amy that he thinks she is intelligent. If they can reason with her, maybe they can get the others back. They all agree to prick their fingers and allow the Siren to take them, so that they can try and save their families.

The Doctor, the Captain and Amy wake up on the deck of another ship, a spaceship. Through the windows of the ship, they can see the deck of the pirate ship. The Doctor realizes that it’s been trapped in a temporal rift. The Doctor explains that both ships are trapped in the same place but on different planes: All of the reflections somehow became gateways between those two planes.

“Ever look into a mirror and feel like you’re seeing a whole new world? Only this time, it’s not an illusion.”

As they’re exploring the ship, Amy realizes that the distress signal the spaceship is giving out was the signal that the TARDIS picked up. That was the ship that they were called to save. On their way to the flight deck, they find a dead crewman and then the Captain dead at the controls. The Doctor explains to Amy that human bacteria traveled from the portal to their ship and killed the crew.

The three continue exploring and find a sickbay, where all of the missing people are laid out on slabs, still alive, but unconscious. The Doctor scans them and realizes that the Siren is keeping them alive. The black spot from their palm was a tissue sample. An alarm sounds, announcing the imminent arrival of the Siren, so they hide. They watch as the Siren puts a waking Rory back under and the Doctor realizes that the song she sings is a kind of anesthetic.

It takes the Captain trying to shoot the Siren and the Doctor sneezing, and the Siren burning the handkerchief he used, for the Doctor to realize the truth: The Siren is part of the automated sickbay of the ship. She wasn’t trying to hurt or kill anyone; she was trying to save everyone who was injured and sick. He explains that she’s keeping her patients alive, but she doesn’t quite know how to heal them and she strenuously objects to anyone removing them.

Between the Doctor’s efforts and Amy’s emotional words, they manage to convey to the Siren that Amy is Rory’s wife. Amy “agrees” to take full responsibility for him. Once they do, the Siren disappears and the Doctor and Amy are allowed to get near Rory.

Unfortunately, Rory is still in a state of drowning. If they turn off the machines, he can’t breathe. Rory wakes up and they tell him his options: Stay in the ship forever, or come out of the machine and possibly die. Rory tells Amy that he’s a nurse. He can explain to her how she can save him; she just has to give him CPR.

The Doctor talks with the Captain and explains to him that Toby has typhoid fever. It will only be a matter of time before he dies if he returns to Earth. The Doctor is going to send the ship back into space and the Captain volunteers to go with it, so that his son can live.

Amy agrees to Rory’s plan. Between her and the Doctor, they disconnect Rory and bring him into the TARDIS. It’s touch and go, but Amy manages to bring Rory back with CPR.

The spaceship takes off, with the Captain at the helm and Toby happily sitting next to him. The crew are all awake.

Back on the TARDIS, Amy and Rory are having a nice moment on their way to bed, reliving Amy’s pirate days. She wishes the Doctor a good night, but is concerned when he calls her “Amelia”. She points out that he only calls her that when he’s worried about her. He tells her that he always worries about her. She flashes back to watching him be killed by the astronaut and then tells him, “Mutual.” Rory whispers to her that she can’t tell the Doctor about his future. Amy admits that she knows, but she’s not very happy about it. They leave the Doctor alone. He is worriedly looking at his display, which is the pregnancy scan of Amy that flips between negative and positive. “Oh, Amelia,” he says.

Next Week: The Doctor’s Wife

Review: This episode wasn’t heavy on the mythology of the season, despite the flash that Amy had of the eye-patch woman, and the end scene in the TARDIS. It was a standalone episode, focused more on the adventure than on anything else. That seems to be Steven Moffat’s season MO: have two emotional, mythology-laden episodes to open the season and then a lighter third episode. However, unlike season five’s “The Victory of the Daleks”, which was pretty bad, this episode actually works in a fun, spooky and entertaining way.

I quite liked Hugh Bonneville as the Captain. I could see that life had been hard for this man and he was making the best out of it that he could, even if he wasn’t making the good choices. I liked how his relationship with his son grew, how in the end, he was more focused on making a good life for his boy than anything. I wonder how they will all survive out in space? Will the Siren eventually learn to communicate with them, so that she can help them navigate in this new universe? Somehow, they got her to allow Toby and the crew to get up and about, though we never know how.

Something that really resonated with me was listening to Toby and his dad talk so matter-of-factly about the reality of their lives with a father and husband as a sailor. History was my major in college, but thinking on how humans communicated in the past still strikes me with how harsh it could be. There were no phones, no planes, no Twitter or Facebook, no internet, no post offices. No way to communicate quickly and easily with loved ones and no forms of transportation that would get you places quickly. If you moved far away from your family, chances were that you wouldn’t see them again. If your husband went off to sea, chances were that you wouldn’t see him for years, would rarely hear from him, and wouldn’t know if he were dead or alive for long stretches at a time. If you were on the sea, you wouldn’t know what was happening with your family, if they were alive or dead, well or in trouble. That’s just a fairly frightening thought to me, and makes me even happier for modern devices that let me know that the people I love are safe and sound!

I’m really enjoying Rory and Amy as husband and wife. I’m glad that the show had Amy make a commitment to Rory that she doesn’t seem to regret. Last season, I was kind of dreading the idea of another triangle in the TARDIS with Eleven/Amy/Rory, à la the Ten/Rose/Mickey fiasco. But thankfully, Moffat has managed to retain Amy’s intense devotion and loyalty to the Doctor, while still showing that she’s in love with and committed to Rory as her husband. I’m glad, because I really wasn’t looking forward to watching Amy treat Rory as shabbily and immaturely as Rose treated Mickey over and over again.

I liked the twist of the Siren being an automated doctor who didn’t know how to heal humans, but did her best to save them anyway. It’s always nice when the show does a little twist like that, where there are no villains, just beings with good intentions. I wish the Doctor had told us who the aliens from the ship were. I didn’t recognize them.

Loved the Doctor’s gleeful excitement over pirates and being on a pirate ship! And it was much fun watching Amy dress up like a pirate and sword fight, all to protect her men. Not sure where she learned to sword fight, but it was fun!

One of my favourite parts was the Doctor’s ecstatic reaction to seeing the TARDIS again, after it had previously dematerialized in front of him. When the Doctor, Amy and the Captain walk onto the hospital floor, they each see their loved one and run to them: Amy to Rory, the Captain to Toby, and the Doctor to the TARDIS. It was quite sweet!

Overall, this was an entertaining and fun episode, and I quite enjoyed it. I get something a little bit more to bite on in the mythology episodes, but these little side trips are a nice and relaxing departure from some of the more heavy themes of the season.

Quotes:

The Doctor: Yo ho ho! [silence] Or does no one actually say that?
Captain: We made no signal.
The Doctor: Our sensors picked you up. Ship in distress.
Captain: ‘Sensors’?
The Doctor: Yes. Okay, problem word, 17th century. My ship automatically…uh…noticed…ish…your ship was having some bother.
Captain: That big blue crate?
First Mate: That is more magic, Captain. I believe they’re spirits. How else would they have found their way belowdecks?
The Doctor: Well. I want to say ‘multidimensional engineering’, but since you had a problem with sensors, I won’t go there.

The Doctor: We’re sailors, same as you! Except for the gun thing. And the beardiness.

The Doctor: Very efficient! I mean, if something is going to kill ya, it’s nice that it drops you a note to remind you.
First Mate: Like a shark. A shark can smell blood.
The Doctor: Okay, just like a shark in a dress and singing. And green! A green, singing shark in an evening gown!

The Doctor [to the Captain, who has just pulled out his gun again]:
And the gun’s back. You’re big on the guns. Freud would say you’re compensating. Have you met Freud? No.

The Doctor: Humans. Second-rate, damage too easily. It’s only a matter of time before everyone gets bruised….

The Doctor: It’s not a curse. ‘Curse’ means ‘game over’, curse means we’re helpless. We are not helpless!

The Doctor [to the Captain]: I’ve traveled far, like you. Space can be very lonely. And the greatest adventure is having someone share it with you.

The Doctor: Ever look into a mirror and feel like you’re seeing a whole new world? Only this time, it’s not an illusion.

The Captain: Toby!
Amy: Rory!
The Doctor: The TARDIS!

You can watch this episode, and the rest of season six of Doctor Who, on Amazon.com.

About Heather S. Vina

Heather's been a fan of science fiction since she was five years old and developed a crush on Captain Kirk, while watching reruns of Star Trek: The Original Series. A huge Anglophile, she loves reading and watching (and mocking!) TV, but hasn't figured out a way to make a living doing either, yet. But she lives in hope!

Heather S. VinaReview: Doctor Who 6.03: The Curse of the Black Spot