Follow TV Tropes


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

Go To
Another hat for the collection?

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

Original air date: May 7, 2011

Production code: 2.9

The one where Rory dies on a pirate ship. And gets better. Yet again.

Also, the one where Captain Henry Avery returns after a really Long Bus Trip.

Written by Steve Thompson.

The TARDIS is marooned onboard 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 the 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 skeptical 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.

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 dematerialise. "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 hoard... 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.

Amy sees the Eyepatch Lady again. It's through a hatch in a wall, but there's no hatch in the wall.

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 dimensions, 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-fashioned swashbuckling!
  • Arc Words: In the website prequel: "Marooned in a silent ocean..."
  • Artistic Licence – 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 he can be forgive him for just blindly guessing.
  • Artistic Licence – History: In a Cut Scene, Avery explains to Toby that he started out attacking Spanish ships in the name of the King, and is only an outlaw for doing the same thing without official sanction. The historic Avery served in the Royal Navy while Britain and Spain were both part of the Grand Alliance against France, and turned to piracy when a Spanish port failed to deliver the ship's letters of marque.
  • Artistic Licence – 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.
  • Auto-Doc: The Siren turns out to be a medical program seeking out the injured and the sick.
  • The Atoner: Played with. When faced with the disdain and feelings of betrayal from his young son, Captain Avery is not exactly proud of his decision to abandon his wife and son for a life of lawlessness, thievery and mutiny as a pirate, especially when his greed and reluctance to give up the last of his bounty unwittingly gets Toby captured by the Siren. Ultimately, Avery decides to give up his career as a pirate and his old life on Earth, so he can remain with Toby in space and raise his son while the Siren attempts to heal him of his Typhoid fever. Of course, the fact that Avery's crew accompanies him on his journey into the stars, and Toby seems to have accepted being the son of a pirate, implies that he might not be entirely done with his roguish ways.
  • Badass Longcoat: Amy acquires one early in the episode. Rory thinks she looks "brilliant", and Amy does as well.
  • Big Bad: The Siren, although as it turns out, it simply can't tell the difference between a minor injury and a life-threatening one.
  • 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 spacecraft, 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 preexisting resentment about his father never coming back to see his mother before she died. By the end, he accepts that his father is a flawed man that still has virtues as well.
  • Character Development:
    • Captain Avery is a former navyman who became a tough and ruthless, cutthroat pirate after he mutinied, abandoning his wife and son for a life of lawlessness on the seas. Avery's arc over the course of the episode is regaining some of his former nobility, tapping into his paternal instincts and wrestling with his guilt and greed so he can become the father his son deserves; seemingly forced to choose between his life as a pirate and Toby, when he's already burned too many bridges to ever be a normal father. He ultimately gets to have both, as he, his son and his crew take to the stars in the end to explore the great unknown onboard the Siren's ship. He also grows from treating the Doctor with extreme hostility to viewing him as a trusted friend and a fellow captain, softening towards the time lord over the course of their adventure.
    • Toby starts the episode having a naive, one-dimensional world-view, typical of a young boy who's been sheltered from the world before now by his mother. He believes his father (who he hasn't seen in years) is a great, honorable navyman and that pirates are evil monsters. Learning his father is a criminal who abandoned his family for gold pretty much destroys Toby's view of the former and complicates his beliefs about the latter. When Avery's leftover greed gets him nabbed by the Siren, Toby is about ready to write his father off as a lost cause, but Avery risking his life to rescue him and choosing to accompany him into space for the rest of his life convinces Toby to give him another chance. By the end of the episode, Toby's hero worship of his father has been broken down and rebuilt into something more realistic, and he seems to have accepted that while pirates are outlaws, they're also still people, since he seems to have integrated into Avery's crew and even helps them aid the Doctor in "A Good Man Goes To War".
  • Chekhov's Skill: A ship is a ship; that's why Avery can pilot the spaceship at the end. Just point him at the "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.
  • 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. 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:
    Avery: This is the treasure of the Mogul of India.
    The Doctor: 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.
  • Dwindling Party: The episode appears to be following this pattern with the Siren picking off the cast one by one. The subversion comes when it's revealed they're all safe in another dimension.
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing: Toby's hero worship of his father figure is steadily broken down over the course of the episode, as he becomes aware of the man's uglier faults and is eventually almost killed because of them. However, with Avery resolving to change his ways, the boy's relationship with his distant father is eventually rebuilt into something far more realistic and genuine. The Doctor and Amy will have their own ugly period of Trauma Conga Lines and disillusionment later in the season ("A Good Man Goes To War", "The Girl Who Waited", "The God Complex"), where the Doctor is confronted with the worst parts of himself and Amy's starry-eyed view of her Raggedy Man is chipped away and eventually replaced with a far more healthy and realistic view of her imaginary friend, allowing their relationship to noticeably improve in the future.
    • Amy wields a cutlass to fend off the pirates and protect her boys from walking the plank. While she's quite rubbish at using it, she highly enjoyed the experience. A home-made sword would become Amy's weapon of choice when she's left to fend for herself for years in "The Girl Who Waited".
  • 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 swordfighting classes, and it wouldn't matter if she did, since the Siren will "curse" those with the smallest of cuts anyway, so the pirates don't even bother risking fighting back, they just dodge out the way.
  • Friendly Pirate: Henry Avery, despite being a pirate who was driven by greed, he loves his son and his wife. He was devastated to hear about his wife's passing and cast his treasure to keep his son safe, although he tried to keep one piece. He also becomes one of the Doctor's allies who he calls for to assist in the "Battle of Demon's Run".
  • Good Colours, Evil Colours: 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.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Captain Avery starts as a minor antagonist early in the episode, threatening to make the Doctor and his fellow stowaways walk the plank and continually threatening the Doctor with his flintlock. But with the implacable threat of the Siren looming over Avery's crew and son, as well as the Doctor's companions, the two captains put aside their differences and join forces for the rest of the adventure. By the end of the episode, they've become friends, to the point where Avery worries about the Doctor's "crew" and the Doctor calls upon the Captain's help later in "A Good Man Goes To War".
  • 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.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The real Henry Avery was, well, a pirate. He spent some time working as a slave trader kidnapping West Africans to sell in the Americas, and the capture of the Ganj-i-Sawai treasure ship was followed by a week of torturing, murdering and raping everyone onboard.
  • Ill-Timed Sneeze: The Doctor's sneeze causes the Siren to notice him, prepare a fireball, 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.
  • Little Stowaway: Toby's mother's dead, so he's stowed away on his father's ship.
  • Lovable Rogue: What Captain Avery, and to a lesser extent his crew, become in the second half of the episode, courtesy of character development. This trope is fully in play the next time we see the pirates in "A Good Man Goes To War".
  • Love Redeems: Captain Avery's persistent love and concern for Toby, as well as the Doctor's friendship and encouragement, gradually make him a better man and pirate than he was before.
  • Magic Mirror: The Siren can emerge from any sufficiently reflective surface, be it water or gold.
  • Manly Facial Hair: Captain Avery and most of his men sport thick, bushy seadog beards, befitting a crew of grizzled, tough bandits. Rory, while stupefied by the Siren, says he wants to grow his own "brilliant" beard like the pirates.
  • Master Swordswoman: 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.
  • Mind Screw: The Eyepatch Lady shows up peeking at Amy through a nonexistent window again.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Captain Avery ignores the Doctor's warning to toss out the last of his stolen bounty, which allows the Siren to manifest and capture Toby. As far as anyone knows at the time, she seemingly kills him. Avery is horrified and incredibly guilt-ridden afterwards.
  • Nautical Knockout: This happens to Rory and he goes into the drink. The Siren has to fish him out or he'll drown.
  • Nightmare Face: Lily Cole, playing the Siren, is a perfectly attractive young lady, but when said Siren gets angry? Not so much.
  • Non-Actor Vehicle: Lily Cole doesn't have a great deal to do as the Siren except waft around and glare at people. She never even gets a proper line.
  • Phrase Catcher: The Doctor cuts Avery off when he's about to say "Bigger on the inside" because there's no time.
  • Papa Wolf: It takes him a while to get his priorities straight, but by the last act, Captain Avery is willing to risk his life several times to rescue Toby, as well as leave his old life behind on Earth forever so the Siren can tend to Toby.
  • 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 Episode: 90% of the episode takes place on a ship used by pirates to haul a cargo of treasure.
  • Pirate Girl: Amy dresses like one after she takes up a pirate's sword.
  • Pirate Song: This pirate-themed episode features a pirate-themed remix of "I Am the Doctor" called "All For One".
  • Pirates: Set on a pirate ship with pirate booty and the Jolly Roger!
  • Projected Man: The Siren is a hologram.
  • Reflective Teleportation: The "Siren" that haunts and kidnaps the pirates seemingly appears wherever there is still water, but is later realized to be able to materialize wherever there is a sufficiently large reflective surface. The pirates' collection of treasure also qualifies.
  • 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 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 "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 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.
  • 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 peeved when a hypnotised Rory says the Siren is the most beautiful thing he's ever seen.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • Truth in Television: Captain Avery is identifiable as a real-life 17th-century pirate. Henry Every was also known as "Long Ben" Avery, and his pirate career is defined by two key facts: In 1695, he committed the largest theft in history by capturing a Mogul treasure ship, and afterward, he vanished, never being arrested.
  • Universal Driver's Licence: 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.
  • Winds Of Change: "The Curse of the Black Spot". Avery's ship has been becalmed and stuck for days. A sudden wind tells them that the situation is about to change. Rory is knocked overboard, and Amy, The Doctor, and Avery decide to unleash The Siren in an effort to save him and then stick themselves to learn the truth of what's going on.
  • 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 healing Rory, and Amy just gave him a jumpstart.