Recap: Doctor Who S32 E3 "The Curse of the Black Spot"

Another hat for the collection?

"Yo-ho-ho!... Or does nobody actually say that?"
The Doctor

Written by Steve Thompson.
The TARDIS is marooned on-board a 17th-century pirate ship, whose crew is being attacked by a shiny green Lily Cole.

The night is clear, the sea is calm, and one very nervous pirate, after slipping in the bilge water and cutting his finger, has a very black spot on his hand. His state of mind is worsened after captain himself says that he's a dead man. Then the singing starts. A certain someone is on her way.

McGrath's not going down without a fight. He grabs a pistol and charges out on deck to try and escape, and the others take the precaution of locking the door behind him. There's a scream and then silence, and when the others come out onto the deck, there's no trace of McGrath, just like all the others. This does nothing for the mental well-being of the remaining crew, but the captain holds hope that the wind will change and they'll be able to escape. Suddenly, there's a banging from below decks... It's the Doctor, Amy and Rory.

Captain Avery is understandably sceptical that the TARDIS crew picked up a distress call from them, since the pirates sent no signal and none of them has the faintest idea what a "sensor" is. Avery quickly gets fed up of all the Doctor's technobabble in trying to explain how the three got there in a blue box. Instead, he pulls a gun on them. He settles on the more simple solution — they're stowaways. What shall we do with them?

The Doctor is forced to walk the plank, with Rory getting a go next. Amy, as the "doxy", will be put to work below decks. Rory protests that Amy is not a doxy, which doesn't help. Once the pirates are done Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard, Amy immediately jumps back out again with a nice sword and a "brilliant" pirate captain outfit. Also, the Doctor has noticed that five pirates is a very small crew for such a large ship.

The pirates are rather reluctant to take Amy on. She manages to nick the hand of one of them and the wounded pirate realises that he's dead now. One cut is all that it takes, as the black spot appears on Amy's victim. Then Rory fumbles a sword catch and now he's got a mark too. They are next on the menu for the siren that lurks in these waters. Poor guy just can't win.

A melodic voice pipes up again, which really doesn't help the situation. Avery says to stop up their ears to block out the Siren's hypnotic song. Before Rory can finish being dismissive of that last statement, he falls under her spell. Then... starts acting like he's high. According to Avery, this is normal for the Siren's victims.

Green and glowing and beautiful, the Siren makes quick work of the enthralled pirate, who vanishes in a cloud of... something. Now it's Rory's turn, and he seems to be quite looking forward to it. Amy is not, and makes it clear that Rory is taken already. The Siren responds by turning red and showing lots of teeth.

Once they're all "safely" in the hold, Amy proceeds to ask just what the hell that was. It's a Siren and she's been preying on these waters for years, and she's been picking off the wounded crew one by one, attracted to blood. She's like a shark....a green singing shark in an evening gown. Once again the Doctor babbles, once again Avery pulls out the gun. One of the pirates gets bitten by a leech in the water, which causes a mass shuffle to dry ground.

The Siren gets into the hold anyway, and takes the leech victim. At least the Doctor gains a nice hat. Once they're safer, the Doctor surmises that she's using water like a portal. Where on a ship in the middle of the ocean can you find somewhere with no water? The powder magazine. The Doctor tells Avery not to be threatened by the fact that he's got a hat now.

Amy sees the eye patch lady again. It's through a hatch in a wall, but there's no hatch in the wall.

When they get there, the key to the door is missing from its ring, and the door is already unlocked. Somebody else had the same idea, and that somebody is currently hiding in a barrel.

"Gotcha — what are you doing here, boy?"

The boy is in fact Avery's son, Toby, whose mother has died. He's under the impression that Avery is a celebrated naval officer, and he stowed away on the ship so he can join his fabled dad's crew. Which Avery isn't too happy about, to say the least. The boy also has a nasty cough and... the black spot. He doesn't have any cuts, though. The theory about the Siren being attracted to blood is out the window; instead she focuses on the wounded and sick. Humans being as weak and fragile as they are, it's only a matter of time before they all damage themselves in some way and become her prey. All the more reason to get out of here. The Doctor and Avery have another little test of wills and the gun comes out again (Freud would say he's compensating). Toby, meanwhile, feels thirsty, and since there's a barrel of water, he lifts the lid to get a drink — and the Siren's arm comes out. The Doctor forces the lid back down on it.

Avery leaves Toby his good luck medallion, and Amy reminds the Doctor to be careful about getting scratched or something. The Doctor and Avery, now on a mutual footing, get to the TARDIS without any mishaps, though it's a near thing. Avery is quite delighted by the TARDIS and quickly figures out how some of the controls work, because hey, a ship's a ship, no matter the type.

Back in the barricaded cabin, the remaining pirates aren't too keen on babysitting Toby, and make to leave with the ship's row boat. Toby isn't happy about that, since they're disobeying their captain. The pirates rain on his parade and inform him exactly what Avery really does for a living; "We sail under a black flag, the Jolly Roger". Poor Toby. Still, he's not about to let them leave, and unwittingly condemns one of them when he slices his hand with a sword. His friend promptly takes the keys and makes off, and much as the afflicted man would like to shoot Toby, he really can't, since they're in a powder room and all. All they can do is re-barricade the door.

Back on the TARDIS there are some navigational problems, as the ship can't lock onto the plane they're currently in for some reason. The ocean's involved in some way. Then the TARDIS starts having a tantrum, everything's acting up, and she's about to de-materialise. "ABANDON SHIP!"

The TARDIS is gone.

On their way back to the others, they're waylaid by Mulligan, complete with guns. It's a mutiny. He's got the last of the supplies, but Avery's more concerned about his treasure. A chase ensues, ending with Mulligan locked in a little room, lighting a candle — and burning his fingers. The Siren's song starts, but she's not here for the two outside the room. The problem is, since there's no water in there, how did she get in?

The answer is, quite literally, in Avery's hands. Reflections are the gateway, not just water. Where does one find lots of reflections but in the polished metal of a treasure horde... And in a shiny medallion Avery left around his son's neck.

For a change, they get there in time and the Doctor fogs up the medallion with some heavy breathing. Now they've got to get rid of all the reflections and that means dumping all this treasure in the sea. Avery isn't too happy about that, but for Toby's sake agrees. Now they play the waiting game, until the sea roughens up again.

The Doctor and Avery can go up on deck, and they do so and have a chat about things like travelling and companions and how Avery doesn't think he's a good father and can't go back to what he was before. Cheerful stuff. The Doctor is a healthy proponent of the belief that everything can change.

The night wears on, and the Doctor gets the distinct impression that someone's watching him. Then a thunderstorm starts. Time to man the sails, which is pretty hard considering how few of them there are. It turns out that Avery didn't throw out all of the treasure, since there is one crown left and thus a way for the Siren to get through. Get through she does, and takes Toby before the Doctor can chuck the thing overboard. Once he does, he's none too pleased with Avery. How much does that treasure mean to him, that he could let it destroy his life so? His rant gets cut off when Rory falls overboard. Guy just can't get a break.

He's drowning. If they go in after him, they'll drown too. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. The Doctor decides to Take a Third Option and releases the Siren, thinking that maybe they can reason with it, since it's clearly intelligent and not just a ravenous hunter. They prick their fingers. The black spots emerge, and so does the Siren.

They wake up on the bridge of an alien ship. Basically, the pirate ship and the alien ship exist on the same plane, but in two different universes, and all the reflective surfaces are where the barrier between the worlds is thin enough to slip through. Everyone who "died" is lying in the sickbay. The Siren is a medical hologram left on autopilot; the black spots are tissue samples. However, since he is dying anyway, letting Toby escape would only harm him.

Rory would also drown if removed from the machine. However, he gives Amy instructions on how to perform CPR, and agrees to let them drag him to the TARDIS and revive him again. Our heroes leave the alien ship in the hands of the pirates, where Toby, hooked up to the machine forever, can travel the stars with them.

Back on the TARDIS, Schrödinger's Pregnancy is still going on, and the Doctor is very worried. He keeps it a secret from the others while Amy and Rory continue to angst about the Doctor's impending death.


  • Action Girl: Amy takes up a sword for some old fashion swashbuckling!
  • Arc Words: In the website prequel: "Marooned in a silent ocean..."
  • Artistic License – Biology: The Doctor refers to whatever contagion killed the spaceship's crew as bacteria and a virus in the same sentence. He doesn't exactly know what it was, so we can forgive him for just blindly guessing. Ignore all his theories.
  • Artistic License – Linguistics: At one point, a pirate says that he's not going to mollycoddle the boy. Thing is, the word "mollycoddle" wasn't around in this time period. (Then again, TARDIS translation circuit...)
  • Autodoc: The Siren turns out to be a medical program seeking out the injuried and the sick.
  • Badass Beard: Rory, while stupefied by the Siren, says he wants to grow his own "brilliant" beard like the pirates.
  • Badass Longcoat: Amy acquires one early in the episode. Rory thinks she looks "brilliant" and Amy does as well.
  • Black Spot: The Siren leaves a black mark on the hands of those she "curses". Turns out it's a tissue sample, not a death note, and the "victims" are taken to the sick bay of a space craft, not killed.
  • Bottle Episode: After the excesses of the Utah-based opening two-parter, this is a much smaller affair, with only a couple of sets, few extras and not much in the way of fancy CGI.
  • Breather Episode: After the duo beginning the new series, and before the terror that follows.
  • Broken Pedestal: Toby is devastated when he finds out his father is a pirate, although it is shown that he already has pre-existing resentment about his father never coming back to see his mother before she died.
  • Chekhov's Skill: A ship is a ship; that's why Avery can pilot the spaceship at the end. Just point him at the Atom Accelerator/Steering Wheel.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The Siren. Green means everything's fine, nothing to worry about. Red means be very afraid, or be more hygienic.
  • Compensating for Something: The pirate's guns, according to the Doctor (and Freud).
  • Comically Missing the Point: Despite the fact there is no possible way to do so given the situation, the Doctor is less concerned about walking the plank and more concerned that the pirates aren't doing enough evil laughing as he walks the plank.
  • Continuity Nod:
  • Cool Old Guy: Avery. He even takes the TARDIS and space-time travel in stride.
  • CPR (Clean, Pretty, Reliable): CPR is used to save Rory's life after he's removed from the sick bay. Rory, who was otherwise occupied and unable to assist the patient himself, said he would talk Amy through it before and pointed out that she's seen CPR performed in films. Worst nurse ever, or Genre Savvy? As for "clean", there isn't actually any water in his lungs so no vomit.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The Doctor gets in some good snark when the pirate captain protests the dumping of his treasure:
    Henry: This is the treasure of the Mogul of India.
    Eleven: Oh good, for a moment there I thought it was yours.
  • Disney Death: A twofer! Rory goes over board and drowns but the Siren puts him in stasis to save him. Then the Doctor and Amy unplug him so they can resuscitate him, and it looks like they've failed for a few seconds.
  • Dissimile:
    • According to the Doctor, the Siren is like a shark, in a dress, and singing, and green; a green singing shark in an evening gown.
    • He describes a multi-dimensional scenario to Amy in great detail, then tells her it's something not much like that at all.
  • Everybody Lives: All of the Siren's "victims" were actually teleported to a sick bay in a ship in another dimension. Even the boy with typhoid fever gets to live.
  • Evil Laugh: The crew indulge in this while the Doctor's walking the plank. He wonders if it's part of the job description.
  • Fourth Wall Psych: During a cut directly in front of the Doctor, who is in fact looking right at the camera, we get this:
    The Doctor: Feels like something's out there... staring straight at me.
    • Turns out later that what he detected was one of the portals between the pirate ship and the alien ship.
  • Flynning: Justified; Amy hasn't taken any sword-fighting classes, and it wouldn't matter if she did, since the Siren will "curse" those with the smallest of cuts anyway.
  • Genre Savvy: The Doctor while walking the plank wonders why the pirates aren't doing more evil laughing and why there are only five of them on such a big ship.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: When the Siren is happy and doing her "job", she looks like a beautiful glowing young woman, lit in green. As soon as someone interferes, she turns red and demonic.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Captain Henry Avery. In reality, he did indeed serve with the Royal Navy and become a notorious pirate, before abruptly vanishing from the historical record in 1696. They even mention him stealing the treasure of the Mughal of India, a feat which made Avery the richest pirate in the world. Now we know what happened to him and that treasure.
  • Implausible Fencing Powers: Amy is shown as being pretty deft with a sword, enough to hold off four dedicated pirates. It's justified in that said pirates are actually more terrified of the Siren than her, as getting even so much as a nick puts you in her sights.
  • Magic Mirror: The Siren can emerge from any sufficiently reflective surface, be it water or gold.
  • Mind Screw: Eye patch lady note  shows up peeking through a non-existent window again.
  • Nautical Knockout: This happens to Rory and he goes into the drink. The Siren has to fish him out or he'll drown.
  • Nice Hat: The Doctor continues his Running Gag of picking up hats. This time, it's a tricorn pirate hat. Amy and Captain Avery also get them.
  • Nightmare Face: Lily Cole, playing the Siren, is a perfectly attractive young lady, but when said Siren gets angry? Not so much.
  • Phrase Catcher: The Doctor cuts Avery off when he's about to say "Bigger on the inside" because there's no time for that right now.
  • Pirate Booty: Justified!— the historical Henry Avery really did capture a haul of gold and jewels (worth about US$400 million in modern money).
  • Pirate Girl: Amy dresses like one after she takes up a pirate sword
  • Pirates: Set on a pirate ship with pirate booty and the jolly rogger!
  • Projected Man: The Siren is a hologram.
  • Running Gag:
    • The Doctor is once more enthused by the prospect of a new hat.
    • Avery is amazed at how the TARDIS is bigger on the inside.
    • In this episode specifically:
      The Doctor: Ignore all my previous theories!
  • Shout-Out:
    • The title is one to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, while the Siren is similar to the mermaids from On Stranger Tides. There are also several POTC shout-outs in the incidental music, particularly when the pirates are sailing off into the distance at the end.
    • The "black spot" as a warning of imminent doom is a reference to Treasure Island. The black spot may also be a reference to the spot Jack Sparrow gets on his hand in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.
    • The storyline of a son refusing to believe that his missing father was in fact a pirate and not a law-abiding man recalls Will Turner and his father Bootstrap Bill from Pirates of the Caribbean.
    • The Siren is a virtual doctor similar to the EMH in Star Trek: Voyager.
  • Sirens Are Mermaids: This is one of the least mermaid-like sirens around (no tail for one thing), although the Doctor calls it a mermaid in passing at one point.
  • Sneeze of Doom: The Doctor's sneeze causes the Siren to notice him and come after him instead of Avery. Though it ends up being a inversion, as the Siren's reaction to his sneeze helps him to figure out her true nature as the ship's doctor.
  • Space Pirates: The crew becomes one at the end with the Siren's vessel.
  • Stealth Pun: What's the first sign that emergency medical help is on its way? The sound of a siren!
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Amy's convinced she was a great pirate, despite the fact she was only a threat because a slight scratch would send the Siren after someone. She also gets pissed off when a hypnotised Rory says the Siren is the most beautiful thing he's ever seen.
  • Technobabble: The Doctor tries to avoid technical terms when he explains the TARDIS controls because Avery has trouble with "sensor". Instead he uses sound effects.
  • Tempting Fate: "No curse is getting through three solid inches of timber." No points on guessing what happens next.
  • Troperiffic: According to Word of God, you simply can't do a pirate story without using every single pirate trope there is, such as Walk the Plank, Pirate Girl, Pirate Booty and so on. Although, no-one says "Yo-ho-ho" any more.
  • Universal Driver's License: A particularly egregious example where a captain from the age of sail goes on to pilot an alien space vessel. A ship's a ship, after all.
  • Unusual User Interface: To sign the consent form, place your hand in the golden ring.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: There were a quite a few pirates that just... vanish without explanation, such as the one Toby stabs. That particular pirate vanished from a tiny locked room, no less. Though as all the pirates are on the spaceship at the end of the episode, he was presumably zapped away off-screen at some point.
  • Worst Aid: It's highly unlikely CPR alone would rescue somebody who almost drowned. On top of that, whatever Amy is doing doesn't even resemble proper CPR, and it was explained to her by a nurse! Presumably, the Siren did the bulk of the work.