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Doctor Who XXXII.3: The Curse of the Black Spot

May 7th, 2011 (11:54 pm)

Reports that the pirate captain in The Curse of the Black Spot was called Avery intrigued me firstly because this was the name of the captain whose treasure is being sought in The Smugglers, and secondly because it dawned on me that Henry Avery was a historical figure. Further (brief) investigations suggest that The Curse of the Black Spot drew on a particular source or set of sources, as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, published in 2004, used Henry Avery as the definitive form of his name. The ODNB's predecessor, the Dictionary of National Biography, included 'John Avery', a name now probably most easily treated as belonging to a fictionalisation; but a heavily referenced Wikipedia article, relying substantially on works published since the ODNB appeared, now calls the pirate 'Henry Every', and suggests that may of the lacunae in the life of Avery/Every featured in the traditional account have been filled by research. Consequently while this Doctor Who story features a historical celebrity, albeit a more obscure one than has become usual, it's a view of the celebrity which is dependent on an account already superseded. This is perhaps appropriate given the dependence of earlier historians on fictional/legendary accounts of Avery's career, and the self-conscious presentation in latterday Doctor Who of historical figures as constructs based on their popular and folkloric reputations. Indeed, the first minute or so of the Doctor's encounter with the pirate crew is entirely geared towards making fun of, and thus confirming these stereotypes.

This episode has divided the commentariat, with well-argued responses finding much right and wrong with it. I found it enjoyable but very light, an adventure designed to provide more straightforward thrills after the brain-folding excitement of the first two episodes. Its strength was in legerdemain, the energy of the performances helping the vessel stay afloat above the absences of explanation (I wasn't clear why the tissue sampling left an enduring black spot, unless it was because the sample was in the other time zone) or unlikelihoods such as Toby being able to conceal himself aboard his father's ship for so long. The episode demonstrated that the current production regime is more willing to present variety of tone and content between episodes than its predecessor often was, though the uniformity of tone was often exaggerated by critics.

Steve Thompson's first script for Doctor Who showed him to be an adherent of the repeated Moffat meme. Rory was lost to Amy again, briefly. Amy's arc of maturation from her first series was resurrected as she took responsibility for Rory's recovery; but surely 'You've seen them do CPR in films loads of times' is not sensible advice for a dying nurse to give.

ETA 1641 BST 08-05-2011: More thoughts in the comments, of course; and the idea of reflections being gateways is straight out of Warriors' Gate, or at least its source Jean Cocteau's Orphée, which might be more appropriate given that the pirates are left enjoying an afterlife or sorts.

Comments

Posted by: nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 07:43 am (UTC)
Master

I found it enjoyable but very light,

Me too - good straightforward fun. I bet the child contingent loved it.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 11:36 am (UTC)

We noticed that people being 'dead' after a single cut was very reminiscent of children's games. Amy was 'empowered' by dressing up as a pirate - joining the game, in other words.

Posted by: helflaed (helflaed)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 12:01 pm (UTC)

Mine did. They both refused to watch the second episode because it was so scary. This is the first time it has happened, and I think it mght be a bit too far.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 12:15 pm (UTC)

As a child, I often refused to watch Doctor Who because it was scary, or watched from the stairs...

Posted by: Delia (chainmailmaiden)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 11:32 am (UTC)
Mail

I was particularly appalled by their portrayal of CPR, it was completely wrong and not at all helpful if it makes people think that doing it that way and then stopping will result in someone coming round as if nothing has happened.

Plus I thought that surely the Doctor must have picked up how to do CPR over the years and since he hangs around with humans so much, that he might even have a defibrillator in the TARDIS or be able to rig something up to work as one.

I felt the story was wrapped up too quickly and so to me seemed unsatisfying. I think that's a recurrent problem with the way they do the stories now, doing a complete one in 1 or 2 episodes rather than 4 or 6 like in the old days.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 11:48 am (UTC)
MattKarenPlain

This Doctor is quietly very manipulative. He won't do anything he doesn't want to do; he's still making decisions for people though less obtrusively than the Tennant Doctor did. So he effectively banishes Henry Avery from his own universe through moral blackmail, and insists that only Amy can revive Rory. In the latter case, he can get away with it because Amy and Rory share a guilty foreknowledge which they don't think the Doctor knows.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 09:51 pm (UTC)
Me

I thought there was a precedent in the Doctor refusing to peform the amputation in The Seeds of Doom. Still, some explanation would have been good. Maybe he just didn't want to kiss Rory...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 10:31 pm (UTC)
Tom

I'd forgotten about The Seeds of Doom precedent. As for Rory, maybe there is still a lingering aftertaste of plastic (on my mind as it's clear from yesterday that some people are confused as to whether he still is or not).

Posted by: helflaed (helflaed)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 12:03 pm (UTC)

Me too. I've only had the basic traiing in first aid, but even I noticed how wrong it was. Just reading a decent manual should have been enough, let alone asking the Red Cross or St John Ambulance for input.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 12:21 pm (UTC)

I suppose it's another example of this episode returning to the 'children's game' format; this was a 'play' version of CPR. Might it have been more dramatic to present a more realistic one?

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 03:09 pm (UTC)

I expect the Doctor to make a counter-revelation regarding his death at some point in the series.

The 'universes nested inside one another' presumably alluded to the series arc, with the Amy we see existing in two universes, and in the one of/in which she is not conscious ('she's still dreaming') she is pregnant and being tended to by the Eyepatch Lady.

I didn't mention earlier the paralleling of the Doctor and Avery as captains, playing on the notion that the viewer may have as little knowledge of how a sailing ship works as they have of a time/space vehicle. I enjoyed that up to a point, though it really didn't have anywhere to go. The 'alien bogies' bit seemed to me to be a crude pitch to the audience to say that this episode was the child-friendly one.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 03:58 pm (UTC)

OOps, I seem to have accidentally deleted the message you were replying to.
Here it is again, for the record
"Might it have been more dramatic to present a more realistic [portrayal of CPR]?

I think so.
This was distracting and a bit silly. It irritated me, even though I only have ER as reference (i.e. effectively what Rory suggests as teaching material...why...?).

Although putting everything on the child's play level may sort of make sense of it.

I was also a bit cross with the Doctor for not helping (I'm sure he could have!), but I wonder if he has some knowledge of their future (just as they have of his) and knows it won't be necessary (in wgich case, it might be better emotionally for Amy to achieve the rescue by herself).
Then again, remembering the weaknesses in Thompson's Sherlock episode, maybe it was just ropy writing..."

Posted by: ooxc (ooxc)
Posted at: May 10th, 2011 12:04 am (UTC)

Um - I was a wimpish sort of child who would probably have vomited over that. As it was, i felt slightly nauseous, and looked away when I watched the repeat - but a young friend laughed boisterously.
Um again - what about the 1960s theory that laughter should be regarded as a symptom or alleviation(or both) of pain?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 10th, 2011 12:05 am (UTC)

I would have disliked the alien bogies line too as a child - but today's children are acculturated to such stuff at an early age.

Posted by: ooxc (ooxc)
Posted at: May 10th, 2011 01:20 am (UTC)

I've posted elsewhere - can't remember where - that I'm wondering about the 1967.1969 reference - we're told (Rory) that the caretaker/janitor is all mixed up , and that the Silents do that to you (Eleven) but how if he isn't mixed up? Suppose that the orphanage is some kind of gateway./focus/turning point, so that the cartetaker/Amy/Eyepatch lady can be alternating between 1967 and 1969?
I also want to know whether it's really the case, as Amy says, that Eleven calls her Amelia as a reprimand? Might she be mistaken about that, and might there be some other reason that she is sometimes called Amy, sometimes Amelai, and sometimes Pond (or Ponds - "Come on, Ponds" (when Amy is with Amelia or with Rory).

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 10th, 2011 12:05 pm (UTC)

We don't know what the Silence's relationship with time is, but if they are building a TARDIS they certainly want to have one... interesting.

Posted by: ooxc (ooxc)
Posted at: May 10th, 2011 12:46 pm (UTC)

um - except that Eleven says that they never construct anything for themselves - so (unless he's mistaken) either the project is doomed (we're all doomed!), or they've got someone else building it for them, or they've stolen it from somebody who might still enter, possibly dressed as a bear, to reclaim it

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 10th, 2011 12:49 pm (UTC)

Good point! I'd missed the full import of that line...

Posted by: helflaed (helflaed)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 04:12 pm (UTC)

Doing it properly would have made a slight difference- Amy should have tilted his head back so that his tongue was not blocking his airway, should have been doing the compressions faster (some people use "Nelly the Elephant" or the Archer's theme tune to get the right rhythm) and sould have done more compressions to breaths.

Even allowing for the need to keep the scene short, she could have at least tilted the head and done the compressions at the right speed.

Posted by: Susan (lil_shepherd)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 11:59 am (UTC)
River

I thought that the writer and production team were so caught up in their "Ohh, pirates!" excitement that they completely forgot about making any sense.

I was one of those people who really disliked this episode, with its massive plot holes, people doing things because the writer needed them to do them rather than because of character and circumstance, and general sense of don't care.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 12:12 pm (UTC)

There was potentially a more cerebral realisation of the story in there, but this isn't the route the team chose to go down. It was very much a throwback to the 'children's play' episodes of the RTD era, which I liked for what they were but which I tend not to revisit.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 03:52 pm (UTC)
dunwich

...it dawned on me that Henry Avery was a historical figure.

If that is who he is, they might *just* about get away with haveing steering wheel on the ship as well :-)
Apparently the earliest ship thought to have had a wheel, fitted late in its life was HMS Stirling Castle, lost in 1703 (i.e. earlier than I had originally thought).
Then again, this would have been cutting-edge technology and probably not expected on a pirate ship, unless very recently captured ;-)

And yes, I am only having some fun with this...
The ship used for filming on was build in 1929.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 04:03 pm (UTC)

They didn't reveal that the ship was only eighty-two years old in Confidential! So much for it being 'a real pirate ship'. Then again, there are enough of those off the coast of Somalia.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 04:15 pm (UTC)
dunwich

To be fair, it gets tweaked for historical settings by a specialist company and has "played" ships of various periods in films/television before :-)

The real pirate ships off Africa are more Spooks territory I guess... ;-)/:-(

(Haven't seen Confidential yet.)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 04:20 pm (UTC)

So I saw, though they seem yet to have added Doctor Who to their credits... and Spooks is a different level of fantasy.

Posted by: widsidh (widsidh)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 04:25 pm (UTC)
b5

So it is, with the disadvantage of not being able to time-travel back to the 17th century, and the advantage (?) of not having to be child-friendly ;-)

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 09:55 pm (UTC)
Me

So much for it being 'a real pirate ship'. Then again, there are enough of those off the coast of Somalia.

Suggesting a rather different type of story, perhaps by Eric Saward and featuring lots of machine guns and death...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 10:34 pm (UTC)
Davison Clock

I dread to think what Eric Saward would have made of this story's premise!

Posted by: sharaz_jek (sharaz_jek)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 04:24 pm (UTC)

The thing that most annoyed me (besides the most competent stowaway in the universe and the amazing disappearing pirate) was how they just glossed over Captain Avery being a murderous pirate and expect us to forgive him just because he cares about his son. The ending was like Lady Christina de Souza only far far worse.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 04:33 pm (UTC)

I'm less bothered by the disappearance of the Boatswain than many people (Lee Ross subsumed into a character as usual) as I just assumed he was caught by the Siren offscreen, in an encounter with something reflective that we didn't see. I thought the Doctor's contempt for Avery's way of life was clear, though direct confrontation with it was at the very least sidestepped to keep the episode light. Christina de Souza is just let go by the Doctor; the pirates are in a form of exile and Avery has been redeemed in a sense by love, so I was less disturbed by this case than I was by the former.

Posted by: sharaz_jek (sharaz_jek)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 05:06 pm (UTC)

I'm less bothered by the disappearance of the Boatswain than many people (Lee Ross subsumed into a character as usual) as I just assumed he was caught by the Siren offscreen, in an encounter with something reflective that we didn't see.

If I remember correctly, he was last seen panicking and re-barricading the powder room door. Next time we see that room, he's gone but Rory and the boy are still there.

Avery has been redeemed in a sense by love

Has he? He shows no sign of having changed in any way.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 07:16 pm (UTC)

I think he has been changed - he's less bloodthirsty and shows he has learned to empathise through finding a like mind in the Doctor, who has found different solutions to comparable problems.

Posted by: sharaz_jek (sharaz_jek)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 08:11 pm (UTC)

The problem is that the script doesn't give him a chance to demonstrate any bloodthirst or lack thereof - they have him attempt to kill the Doctor and Rory (while keeping Amy belowdecks for unspecified other purposes) but after the Doctor ingratiates himself there's no one he can really threaten, and when he sees the siren in the medical bay his immediate reaction is still to shoot at her.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 10:52 pm (UTC)

I think that the bloodthirst and brutality are clearly alluded to early on; the change is effected by the appearance and then loss of Toby and then the realisation that keeping his son safe and alive is more important than the gold he has lost.

Posted by: sharaz_jek (sharaz_jek)
Posted at: May 9th, 2011 12:59 am (UTC)

But the appearance of Toby doesn't bring about any change in his character, it just reveals to the audience a facet that was previously unknown. And his finally coming to the realisation that his son is more important than gold just moves him up to "minimum parenting standard", it doesn't mean he's feeling any remorse for being a murderous pirate.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 9th, 2011 12:04 pm (UTC)

In this level of story - the 'children's play' one - revealing a new facet has the same value as a change of character. The dimensions to the character themselves are not many. What's important is how well they are played, and Hugh Bonneville inhabited Avery with absolute integrity. The way he played the scene where he realises how important his son was to him - and after all, if there is no family for the gold to support, what was he doing it for? - was symptomatic of a deeper change. You are right though that there is nothing in the dialogue itself to support my interpretation.

Posted by: ooxc (ooxc)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 06:54 pm (UTC)
angst

Pirates always have a black spot - it's just that RLS got the wrong idea about where and what it was

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 07:00 pm (UTC)

I know what a black spot represented in Hogarth...

Posted by: ooxc (ooxc)
Posted at: May 9th, 2011 06:21 am (UTC)
angst

That's why it's a "family show" = the allusions work simultaneously for Ibsen admirers and pirate-lovers, whether RLS or film fans
Then there are the leaks. I really really want to know how and why it happened that I got accused of spoiling *with this icon) , months after I asked tenthrose to make me a Scream/Tardis icon, and months before we saw even a hint of the Silent/s' form - and isn't it delicious that the Munch screamer and the Silents have no mouth?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 9th, 2011 12:06 pm (UTC)

Indeed - fears of spoilers, taken to extremes, would terminate all fan creativity.

Posted by: ooxc (ooxc)
Posted at: May 9th, 2011 05:16 pm (UTC)

Indeed! I enjoy three speculations: tenthrose is a Who scriptwriter, who said "hey that is an idea" when i asked for the icon: that I have a psychic hotline to the scriptwriters: that the reviewer who said that the image was based on the Munch Scream had seen my icon: that Munch was illustrating a "silent scream" reference that i don't know about, but the scriptwriters did
Place in order of preference, and state which might include which other possibilities?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 9th, 2011 05:28 pm (UTC)

Ah, the Alternative Vote! Fandom is always ready to ignore coincidence for the adrenalin of conspiracy...

Posted by: ooxc (ooxc)
Posted at: May 10th, 2011 12:09 am (UTC)

This is getting exciting! Tenthrose has looked into my LJ - where I crossposted these comments - to say that, yes, she is a writer - and that other online jokes she's been involved in will appear in the reappearance of the Weeping Angels!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 10th, 2011 01:07 am (UTC)

I wait with bated breath!

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 09:49 pm (UTC)
Me

About Time 2 argues that the Avery of The Smugglers is a different Avery to the 'real' one, though the usual About Time 2 caveats apply.

the pirates are left enjoying an afterlife or sorts.

I was reminded of the end of Ghost Light, with the explorer Redvers loosed on the universe.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 8th, 2011 11:00 pm (UTC)
Hartnell words

I think that Brian Hayles probably intended the Avery of The Smugglers to be the historical Avery, although much more is now known about him. It's entirely possible that the Hayles and Thompson versions are different, I suppose, though they can probably be reconciled.

I'd not thought of the Ghost Light parallel either, though it's a real one. There are echoes of Terminus too, in the abandoned craft with skeletal crew (though why do they write in the Latin alphabet?) and in the technologically-supported continuing existence of Toby, roughly analogous to Terminus's Vanir.

Posted by: sharaz_jek (sharaz_jek)
Posted at: May 9th, 2011 01:01 am (UTC)

though why do they write in the Latin alphabet?

The End of the World and The Impossible Planet establish that if the TARDIS knows a language, her crew and passengers read it in their language (so apparently she knows whatever they speak in the alternate universe).

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 9th, 2011 12:07 pm (UTC)
MattKarenPlain

That's a point - though I've seen it suggested that the initials might be a pointer to future story content, as the line about nested universes probably is.

Posted by: pingback_bot (pingback_bot)
Posted at: May 18th, 2011 09:39 pm (UTC)
New Who 6.3: <i>The Curse of the Black Spot</i>

User strange_complex referenced to your post from New Who 6.3: The Curse of the Black Spot saying: [...] without the pirate costume - so pedants be damned. Elsewhere, provides some very helpful notes [...]