After comparing Doctor Who‘s “Day of the Moon” to The X-Files last week, this week’s episode of Doctor Who, the piratical “Curse of the Black Spot,” continues the X-Files vibe, though not in a good way and not in the way you’d expect.
If Doctor Who‘s opener “The Impossible Astronaut”/”Day of the Moon” were Steven Moffat’s equivalent of a Chris Carter/Frank Spotnitz X-Files mythology episode, “Curse of the Black Spot” was the equivalent of an X-Files mid-season stand-alone runaround.
The dangling questions of last week — Is Amy pregnant? Does the Doctor know about his impending death? Who was the strange woman Amy saw in the orphanage? Who is the little girl that began to regenerate in 1969? — are shoved aside for a tale of a 17th-century pirate ship becalmed on the high seas, beset by a Siren who takes the crew one by one.
Does it work?
Like an X-Files stand-alone, “Curse of the Black Spot” is occasionally engaging but largely forgettable.
The guest cast is headed by Hugh Bonneville (Mr. Bennet from Lost in Austen, the Earl of Grantham from Downton Abbey) as the pirate captain and Lily Cole (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) as the Siren; Bonneville turns in an energetic performance, and Cole is given nothing to do except for emoting and glowing.
The Doctor’s efforts to understand the mechanism that summoned the Siren were interesting and somewhat amusing, but they also felt like sub-Sherlock-ian deductions. Unsurprising, perhaps, as “Black Spot”‘s writer Stephen Thompson wrote “The Blind Banker” for Moffat’s Sherlock last year.
The third and final act, which reveals the scientific explanation behind everything and what the Siren really is, owes a great deal to Star Trek: Voyager, particularly the episode “Deadlock.”
Two of the dangling questions — the mysterious woman and the uncertain pregnancy — get brief mentions, much like the recurring crack last season or the constant “Bad Wolf” mentions years ago, but these two elements don’t contribute to the story in any significant fashion. “Black Spot,” I should note, was intended for the autumn season of Doctor Who, and then moved forward to “lighten up” the darkness of the spring season. Months from now fandom will look back upon it and say, “Oh, it was the calm moment in the first half of the season before the shit hit the fan.”
There are some nice pieces on the board, but none of it adds up to anything significant. “Curse of the Black Spot” doesn’t try to do anything special, it doesn’t do anything important, and it’s instantly forgettable, much like any mid-season stand-alone X-Files episode. If the episode had one redeeming value, it’s that it reminded me of my long unvoiced wish to write a Doctor Who novel set during the Age of Fighting Sail.
In short, “Curse of the Black Spot” might easily be the low point of Moffat’s tenure in charge of Doctor Who.