DVD Extras (box sets only) include:
Well, this one fits the mold of the backyard-alien-of-the-week routine that often gets overdone too often on this show, but at least this time the concept has a bit of a twist thrown on top with it being set out at sea on a ship. With pirates. And Amy gets an enjoyable bit of swashbuckling to do. The writing is nicely polished, building a good mystery and tying almost everything up neatly in the end, and it actually works even better on subsequent viewing. This time around, the formula seems worth it.
Doctor Who doesn't really do pirates and sailors as often as you'd think it might. The closest we've come to this seems to be stories like "The Smugglers" (story no. 28), which I liked, and "The Highlanders" (story no. 31), which I didn't care for until the final episode. Later years focus more on sci-fi twists than the actual sailing aspects, particularly in "The Pirate Planet" (story no. 99). Even though "Enlightenment" (story no. 128) had all the sailing motifs, it was really doing its own excellent thing. "The Curse of the Black Spot" is a nice return to basics.
We get some good characters here in Captain Henry Avery and his young son, but I think the short one-episode format is partly to blame for not giving any of the other guest characters making up this ship's crew enough time to properly define themselves and get the audience to invest in them. Each time we think we might get to know something about one of them, he gets taken out of the story, and it usually feels too early. Sad. In the end, the rest of the crew all seem to be one bland homogenous character.
The TARDIS gets unusual handling in its appearances in this story, but all the right stuff is there to let us discover the vehicle all over again through Captain Avery's eyes, which works wonderfully. And if we only get to see one trick-dissolve effect, they did pick the right one to show us. The Doctor here seems to think it's a new behaviour for the TARDIS to abandon him, but we've seen similar in "The Android Invasion" (story no. 83).
One of the best aspects of this story is the way it escalates its way onto the alien's ship for a good deal of the story, a nice move all-too-often overlooked these days. It reminds me of "The Stones of Blood" (story no. 100) - one of my favourites. I found the set design here to be quite exciting actually, which I haven't been able to say for a long time - and I think we have to acknowledge that the show has recently changed its designer. The classic show thrived on changing its designer for every story, which was great for variety. I think it is best not to let any designer have a monopoly on a show like this, if we want to be convinced that we travel everywhere in it.
Indeed, though I found early portions of the story to be a bit too run-of-the-mill in many places, the last act on the alien ship is the part that captivated me and made it all worthwhile. I like that the Doctor's chief role is to solve the mystery and lead the other characters, while he has to step back at the end and let them each perform their own "final fix" for their part of the plot under his guidance. Nicely done.
By the stars...Writer Steve Thompson put in some nice bits about the star Sirius, the object outside of our solar system that appears brightest to us in our skies, and a common tool for navigation. The visual effects people sadly don't seem to be quite as educated when showing it though, neglecting to give us the accurate view of the sky that the script calls for. At the very least, just North-East of Sirius, we should see the lopsided X-shape of the bright stars of the Orion constellation, arguably the most easily identifiable configuration in the heavens. What we get on screen is another homogenous mess. Sad. But at least the information in the script is on form.
The story generally has a really good feel-good ending, which makes quite a turn from where it seemed headed earlier. One of the grand, dialogueless understated scenes sees Avery and crew flying the ship towards a binary star. I suppose we are to infer that this is Sirius, which is grand icing on the cake, to see that Avery got there in a bigger way than ever before. Visual effects are a bit undereducated once again though - as Sirius A should be much larger than Sirius B, and spaced far enough apart to allow inner planets to orbit each separate star, while outer ones orbit them both. I almost didn't recognize the place at first. Of course, they could possibly have gone somewhere else, but considering the storyline, not likely. This is almost as good as getting an alien planet setting, so the tale earns some extra points with me again.
This story has become available on DVD and Blu-ray.
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Note: The full season sets contain commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and other extras. The smaller volumes feature little more than the plain episodes.
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