The ambitious two-parter that opened Doctor Who‘s sixth season was met with an outpouring of acclaim from some, and a troublesome medley of confusion, disappointment and other assorted backlash from others. In the last two weeks, more than a few have asked if executive producer/head writer/overlord Steven Moffat is venturing too far from the beaten path of previous stories, if he’s making the show too scary or too complex or even just too weird. “Curse of the Black Spot” may not silence all of those outcries, but it definitely delivers something many of the show’s faithful fans have been waiting for since before the fifth season ended: an old fashioned standalone Doctor adventure with period costumes, monsters and lots of laughs.
WARNING: Plot details ahead. Not quite spoilers, but depending on how much you like to stay in the dark, you might want to be careful.
The big hullabaloo of “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon” has ended (for now), and The Doctor (Matt Smith), Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) are back to pleasantly ambling through time and space. In “The Curse of the Black Spot,” they find themselves on a pirate ship in the midst of dark murky waters. Beleaguered Captain Avery (BBC veteran Hugh Bonneville) has a problem of supernatural origin. Whenever any of his sailors receive the slightest wound, even so much as a cut on their finger, a black circle appears on their palm and a mysterious, siren-like woman emerges from the water to take them away. The sailors vanish without a trace, and the rest are left to live in fear of even the smallest injury.
The rest is predictable Doctor Who adventure setup. The pirates are suspicious at first, then Avery begins to trust The Doctor and the dash to figure out what’s behind all the mystery begins. The basic structure might be predictable, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.
If you don’t count the Christmas special, “Curse of the Black Spot” is the first straightforward Doctor Who “monster of the week” style story since “The Lodger” aired last June, and even if it isn’t among the most inventive of standalone stories, writer Steve Thompson (Sherlock) makes sure it’s a satisfying ride. The episode packs its share of satisfying twists and turns, and some of that classic Doctor Who interplay between science fiction and paranormal.
Still, the feeling comes across that if the cast weren’t so much fun to watch, this might be a mundane story. Smith seems to revel in not having to deal with universe-shattering consequences for a change, and Darvill once again plays the victim hilariously. Bonneville brings a surprisingly strong presence to the episode as well, going toe to toe with Smith’s jittery, fast-talking Doctor in every scene.
“The Curse of the Black Spot” isn’t anything revolutionary, but it is the kind of Doctor Who story that made most of us all fall in love with the show in the first place. There’s trouble, The Doctor shows up, The Doctor deals with the trouble, we laugh, we gasp, we go to bed happy. Moffat is promising even more ambitious storytelling ahead, but episodes like this have their own charm.