Curse of the Black Spot

Or: Curse of the Third Episode. Okay, maybe two seasons isn’t enough to set up a curse, but this has a lot in common with “Victory of the Daleks.” Both are weaker stories following two strong season openers. Both are too rushed to build up any real suspense leading up to the twist. Both attempt to distract us from the thin story by tugging at our heartstrings. And both seem designed as launchpads: “Victory” for a new bootylicious race of Daleks, and “Curse” for Captain Whatsisface and his newly spacefaring crew. I’d be amazed if we didn’t see this ship again, most likely when someone needs to be saved from certain death. Hey, it wouldn’t be the worst deus ex machina this series has given us.

Full disclosure: I hate pirate stories. I don’t know why, and as far as I can remember I always have. Pirates of the Caribbean was just tolerable, thanks largely to Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush and a pretty well-constructed story, but it turns out the latter was the crucial element, and the sequels lacked it. To its credit, “Curse” doesn’t try to make pirates out to be glamorous yet cuddly anti-establishment rogues who just wanna be free, man. To its detriment, “Curse” is so bland that we can’t really be sure they’re pirates until we’re told.

The first half hour or so is almost entirely asinine. There are some excruciatingly bad jokes on the Doctor’s part, some ludicrous business with Amy and a sword that’s only marginally plausible given the premise, and a rather stupid move with the TARDIS that I still don’t understand, except that it filled the plot hole. The heartstring-tugging is nice and not too heavy-handed, but how could it be when no one has any discernible personality and the overall tone is reminiscent of a Scooby-Doo episode?

Hey, wait a minute…pirates, a hot redhead, a male lead with questionable taste in neckwear, their stoner-eyed comic relief companion, a dangerous medallion, and a glowing green ghost? This whole thing is a Scooby-Doo episode!

Anyway, I did like the twist when the glowing green ghost’s mask came off, though I must say I couldn’t help thinking of another television SF holographic character with a similarly lousy bedside manner. I was really beginning to think we wouldn’t get a decent explanation. Then again, it’s the same twist as in “The Lodger” (except that the victims don’t die in this one) and “The Beast Below” (except that here it’s the Doctor, not Amy, who figures out that the scary creature is actually benevolent). The Moffat era sees a lot of threats that turn out to be just misunderstood, which I actually think is a pretty progressive story structure (compared to the xenophobic/technophobic invasion story, for example), but how many times can you trot it out?

I suppose at least there’s this nice translation from despair on the high seas, a doomed and broken family, and superstitious horror to hope, unity, and scientific adventure. Fear of the water, the deep unknown, turns out actually to be fear of one’s own reflection, so that’s all symbolic and stuff. Unfortunately I just didn’t find it that entertaining, and even on the first viewing it didn’t hold my attention. The second wasn’t much better, and the pirate ship set looked just as fake, which is unfortunate because I think it’s probably real.

Next week: “I’ve got mail” and it says that joke was dated 12 years ago. Not a good sign.