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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albeit a more obscure one than has become usual, it's a view of the celebrity which is dependent on an account already superseded.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)

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

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

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

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

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

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

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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)

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

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 [...]