After a somewhat mind-bending couple of episodes which left not a few people bemused, The Curse of the Black Spot took the viewer into more traditional territory.
Indeed the wheeling out of pirates and the enclosed setting (in this case a ship) under a form of siege from something alien had more than a few echoes of the programme from 1966-68 – not least in having a pirate Captain Avery, the second of that name to feature in the Doctor Who universe after the deceased one whose treasure was being sought in William Hartnell’s penultimate story The Smugglers. Given the plot denouement here, clearly not the same one though!
However, for a pirate ship to work it needs more than just a decent ship set, and crewing it with the least competent bunch of pirates this side of Captain Pugwash’s Black Pig did little for this episode’s believability.
Nor did it help casting Hugh Bonneville as Captain Avery, fine actor though he may be, as he just didn’t come across as a ruthless, greedy killer despite what his crew claimed of him, particularly once he found his son on board.
Had the crew been nastier it would also have led more potency to the perceived threat from the Siren (Lily Cole doing a decent enough job of silently wafting around all over the place, although she’s had enough practice by now in all probability). The Siren was the best-realised thing about the episode, and when it’s effectively a special effect that’s the best thing about it, only slightly ahead of Karen Gillan looking very fetching in a pirate outfit, then you know the episode’s in trouble.
And then there was the saccharine ending, which strained credulity to the limit – just how were the pirate crew revived given the struggles with Rory (with a CPR sequence which would have those trained in it throwing their hands up in horror)?
And how on earth can a 17th-century ship’s captain pilot an alien vessel with no apparent training?
Doctor Who can only work when the audience can suspend its disbelief in the fantastical goings-on on screen. With the realisation of this episode leaving one far short of being able to do so (one pirate even vanished and nobody even so much as commented on it, for example) it is left fatally doomed as a result.