Plot spoilers ahead, so there be!!!
Well, I was pleased it wasn’t ’Pirates of the Caribbean.’
Well, obviously it was. It was made entirely because of the popular film series, and was bumped up the season schedule in order to coincide more closely with the latest installment’s release. (Audaciously, it’s precisely one word away from duplicating the name of the first film!)
But if that’s the sort of thing that bothers you, then this is the sort of thing that bothers you. This is a show that has made off with others’ treasure a thousand times. It’s even stolen from pirates before! As Robert Holmes used to say “all you need is a strong, original idea. But it doesn’t have to be your own strong, original idea.”
No, I feared this because I thought the show would try and emulate Hollywood again. And whenever it tries that it sets itself a losing game, giving up everything that makes it idiosyncratic for a special effects arms race which it can only lose. Moreover, the style of ’Pirates of the Caribbean’, a theme park ride with Screen Guild membership, lurching from one high-concept set-piece to the next, would most likely lend itself to the show’s worst instincts. And is a TV set, even in these widescreen days, really big enough for the larger-than-life Cap’n Jack and the Doctor?
It didn’t really do that. Of course, it was equally frivolous. Amy donning her Pirate Queen costume so early on was a signifier. It’s here to play with the pirate dressing-up box; the cutlasses, the treasure, the mutinies, the planks for walking and... oh, yes... the black spots. But that’s just the way you do pirates. They pretty much are their paraphernalia. There’s ‘revisionist’ Westerns, war films and Victoriana stories, conceived to ditch the clichés and genuinely convey the era. I can’t think of a single pirate story like that. No-one cares what they were really like. (They were actually all libertarian communists. No, really!)
Instead it decided to rip itself off. A base under siege, a plot conceit taken wholesale from ’The Empty Child’, Rory dead again... oh, wait... not. Which isn’t plagiarism or theft, it’s zombie cannibalism. This show is fast becoming like that Marx Brothers scene, where they have to saw off bits from the train they’re riding, to feed them to the engine and keep the self-same train going. For the sake of a gag, I’d call this episode becalmed. But to be honest it was more mired.
Nice bits included:
- the Doctor running through several theories on the back of each other, instead of just coming up some smartypants breakthrough when we clock up forty minutes;
- Rory’s seduced/ possessed babblings;
- Lily Cole so looking the part you wondered if it was built around her.
Some particularly rubbish bits:
- The Tardis being “sick”. Did that make any sense at all?
- The Doctor and pals waking up on the alien ship unnoticed by the Siren when she had everyone else trussed up. (See above.)
Things they should have done but didn’t:
- Lost the Cap’n’s tiresome ‘atonement with the child’ subplot and have the crew fret and finally mutiny over whether their treasure “be cursed” or not. (About which they wouldn’t be entirely wrong.)
- Dress Amy up as a “cabin boy,” for her safety or some similar contrivance. Not only would that have played up the panto, it would make the only two women in the macho pirate’s eyes the siren and the dutifully dead wife. With the pricking fingers, drawing blood and sheathed swords we already have some fairly obvious fairy tale style symbolism. We even have the Doctor’s “Freud would say you’re compensating” line. (No Rory dressed up as the dame though.)
- Make the Siren/Nurse a mollycoddling kidnapper, keeping the crew in stasis for their own protection. A well-intentioned adversary, but then they’re always the worst kind. (Half of them are only in for pricked fingers after all...)
Will things carry on in this self-cobbling way? Treading-water sessions strung between the event episodes, watched by dutiful fans only for the few clues to the through-line? I have never been much of a Neil Gaiman fan, but am trying to be hopeful for next week. After which, I am looking forward to the two-parter by the guy who wrote ’Fear Her.’ [/sarcasm]
...and as for that through-line, I think I’ve hit on it. The Doctor strips the Silence of their powers, so they can be observed at all times. Then they take out a super-injunction on him and the whole thing’s useless...