By C. Robert Dimitri | TV | May 9, 2011 |
By C. Robert Dimitri | TV | May 9, 2011 |
“Yo ho ho! Oh, does nobody actually say that?”
A pirate ship with a dwindling crew sits inert in a becalmed section of the ocean. We discover they are dwindling because as they have been sitting with empty sails for several days, what appears to be a supernatural demon siren apparently has been killing them one by one. When a person receives the slightest injury, a telltale black spot appears on the palm of the hand (a homage to Robert Louis Stevenson), and he or she is then drawn to the siren’s song before vanishing without a trace.
In response to a distress call, the TARDIS appears onboard to the confusion of the ship’s captain and his mates. The Doctor tries to assuage their fears, but the captain names them stowaways and sends The Doctor out onto that trusty plot device that is the pirate ship plank. “Doxy” Amy is sent into the hold, as she will not be too much of a drain on their limited supplies. She reemerges brandishing a cutlass and wearing a pirate hat. She disarms the captain of his pistol; these pirates are very skittish around a blade, as they know the slightest cut will bring the siren for them.
In a riff on exactly what you would expect a duel aboard the deck of a pirate ship to be (complete with Amy swinging on the rigging’s ropes from one end of the ship to the other), Amy delivers a mere scratch to one of the crew, and Rory accidentally cuts himself while trying to catch her sword during the melee. Black spots appear on both the palms of the wounded, and the green-glowing siren (played by fashion model Lily Cole, whom you might remember from another fantastical tale involving an atypical “doctor,” Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus) shows up to disintegrate the wounded pirate with a touch.
Rory is rendered silly and bewitched by the song as well, but Amy puts herself between the creature and Rory to keep him safe. The siren responds by shifting to an enraged red glow and blasting Amy backward with a scream. The remaining members of the crew, The Doctor, Amy, and Rory manage to take cover below deck in the gunpowder room, the only dry place on the ship free of water, which would seem to be the siren’s point of entry.
Inside they find the captain’s stowaway son Toby, forced to leave home when his mother died and hoping to join the crew of his honorable father, whose true status as a pirate is unknown to him. Toby is racked with typhoid fever and has a black spot of his own, thus revealing that sickness as well as injury draws the attention of the siren.
The Doctor and the captain make their way back across the ship to the TARDIS, while Amy, Rory, Toby, and the two remaining members of the pirate crew remain behind. The captain responds to the reality and interior of the TARDIS with much more immediate aplomb than I would expect from a person of that era, but sudden malfunctions keep them from making use of it, and they successfully flee back onto the pirate ship just as the TARDIS is spirited away in the siren’s green light.
The two remaining members of the crew turn on Amy, Rory, and Toby, as they think that the captain has gone soft in asking them to look after the ailing boy. Ensuing confrontations produce situations in which the siren spirits them away as well. The Doctor discovers that it is not water that is the source of the siren; she emerges from clear reflections, like those found in still water, mirrors, or pirate’s treasure. The Doctor tells the captain to throw all treasure overboard, but the captain hoards a golden bejeweled crown for himself.
A storm hits, and the ocean waters are finally stirred, making the ship deck safe for those with a black spot. In the chaos, the crown comes loose, and the siren appears to disintegrate Toby. Rory falls overboard and is surely drowning. Rather than let Amy dive in after him for a futile rescue attempt, The Doctor plays a hunch and reveals the polished crown again to release the siren so that she can snatch him from the water. Then The Doctor, Amy, and the captain all cut their own fingers to allow the siren to take them, in the hopes of finding and rescuing Rory and Toby.
The siren’s touch transports them to a spaceship that is inter-dimensionally overlapping the same space as the pirate ship and is thus stuck. It was this ship’s distress call that had summoned the TARDIS. They find a dead crew and windows that provide views back to their own universe at corresponding places on the pirate ship.
They also find a hospital on the ship containing Rory, Toby, and the pirate crew. They lie unconscious preserved in a sort of stasis, and the siren keeps watch over them. The Doctor realizes that the siren is not trying to harm them; she is trying to keep them safe. After her crew died, this automated physician for the spaceship had no patients left, and she looked across the dimensional doorway to find new wounded who need her help. Her song serves as anesthesia for her patients. She resists letting the three of them touch her patients, but Amy convinces her to release Rory based on spousal approval. (An electronic consent form consists of inserting your hand into a blob of light as a form of signature.)
Unhooking Toby and Rory from the machinery and taking them away from this setting raises dual dilemmas. Toby cannot go back to Earth and survive, for the typhoid will quickly claim him. Rory was in the midst of drowning, so he will need CPR to save his life. The Doctor and Amy take Rory back to the TARDIS, where Amy successfully revives him as The Doctor watches. Toby, his father the pirate captain, and the rest of the pirate crew opt to explore the universe in the alien spacecraft, which makes for a rather goofy resolution that seems potentially ill-fated under serious analysis.
The episode ends with a reminder of the season’s larger arc: Amy worries about The Doctor’s future inevitable death that she witnessed, and The Doctor once again uses the TARDIS scanner to indicate that Amy’s pregnancy both does and does not exist.
I like that word “becalmed.” Unfortunately, its use was a top highlight in one of the weaker episodes in recent Doctor Who history and my least favorite of the Matt Smith era. Admittedly, I entered this episode with skepticism, as I am not particularly a fan of pop culture pirates. In spite of that, I kept an open mind, and I wanted to enjoy the story as a light romp.
The stand-alone nature and lack of answers to the season opener’s mysteries in the Steve-Thompson-penned story did not bother me; we know we will not be receiving major resolution within Moffat’s mythos until we have a Moffat-written episode. Perhaps the light tone of it did work against it, though, when juxtaposed with the heavier themes that are looming, particularly when the script failed to be fun or humorous enough compared to earlier stand-alone offerings. Other Doctor Who writers have a tough act to follow when trying to match the speed and wit Moffat’s dialogue.
The story was somewhat predictable. Perhaps this owes to shades of recycling from earlier superior episodes, namely the mirror gateways of “The Girl In The Fireplace” and the misunderstood medical tech of “The Doctor Dances.” More critically, I think we know as viewers that Rory is not going to die (particularly in a stand-alone episode), so the CPR climax felt labored. Of course, most television shows place protagonists in mortal danger that will never come to fruition, but Rory’s seeming death last season and the level of guilt that would come with true death for him (or for Amy) at this point should serve as a guide to Moffat and company that attempting to draw too much drama from apparent death undermines the story and smacks of “the boy who cried wolf.”
There were some good elements; it was evident that the actors were having fun with the setting. Arthur Darvill gave Rory a couple amusing moments while in the midst of hallucinatory attraction to the siren, and Lily Cole’s siren in turn was appropriately spooky. Hugh Bonneville did a good job as the naval-officer-turned-pirate-captain, although I felt that his character could have benefited from being a little rougher around the edges.
Worth mentioning is that while aboard the pirate ship Amy did have another vision of the lady with the metallic eye patch. This time she told Amy, “It’s fine. You’re doing fine. Just stay calm.” I am guessing that remaining calm is exactly what Amy is expected to do to keep The Doctor’s death secure in future-history.
Next week guest writer Neil Gaiman himself takes a much anticipated shot at the Doctor Who world with his episode “The Doctor’s Wife.”
C. Robert Dimitri never saw that third Pirates Of The Caribbean movie, but he did battle pirate ships while playing Ultima III: Exodus. Even though he found the episode lacking, Karen Gillan can point a cutlass at him anytime she likes.