Miss DW (goldenmoonrose) wrote in doctorwho,
Miss DW

...And What the Doctor Found There: A Review/Analysis of The Curse of the Black Spot

"All the reflections suddenly become gateways…
Ever look in a mirror and think you're seeing a whole other world?
Well, this time, it's not an illusion."

…And What the Doctor Found There

(A Sequel to Through the Looking Glass)
Mirror Imagery, Identity, and the Greek Hero Quest
The Curse of the Black Spot




Excuse me a moment.

Who da woman?


Victory lap! Am I good or am I good or am I good?!? Hells, yeah I am! Behold the awesomeness that is the literature major. 

Called it!

What did I say? REFLECTIONS. Reflec-tions! Reflections, swabbies!!

I mean, how do people even watch Doctor Who without a literature degree?

OK, I'm done with the gloating now. Sorry about that.



The Curse of the Black Spot, needless to say, was the perfect literary compliment[1] to Moffat's series six opener The Impossible Astronaut and The Day of the Moon, using once again the literary device of mirrors and reflections to punctuate the Greek tragedy and fate of the Doctor.

The Curse of the Black Spot takes place on a ship stuck in still waters. Literally, there are layers, as the pirate ship, the TARDIS (a Time and space ship), and a multi-dimensional space ship are also all stuck in the same space and in the same still waters. These still waters are a metaphor for limbo, a place where the psyche/soul cannot move forward. This is the perfect representation of the Doctor, who is running off with the Ponds (another not-so-subtle still -water metaphor) in an attempt to escape his destiny[2]. Here, stuck in the doldrums, fate and the identity quest seem to stalled-out. Can't move forward in the water current, can't move forward in the Time current, can't move forward in the identity current.

Here on the pirate ship, Amy and Rory can once again play dress up. And the Peter Pan connection cannot be overstated. This is Never Neverland, where Amy and Rory don't have to grow up, where Time can stay still while they play with their childlike alien pal rather than maturing into parents with children of their own.[3]

"We are not cursed! Cursed means game over.
Cursed means we're helpless. We are not cursed!"

"I've set my course, now. Nothing I can do to alter it."

But this is not really a safe place. This is a place where death is at the slightest injury. Humans, as the Doctor says, are so delicate and "second-rate". His statement is that of an otherworldly, alien protector of humanity. It is this identity that we will see reflected back at him.  The injured are marked with a black spot, a motif that began with the black tally marks to record the Silence in the previous episode. The black spot is a curse; to be marked for death, to have fate and future determined. Naturally, the Doctor rages against destiny in his dismissal of "the curse". Of course, the Doctor is cursed. We know that he will die on that beach, murdered by a child. A curse is fate, is destiny.


"It's dangerous here. There's a monster aboard."

Here, the characters are attacked by a Greek mythological monster, naturally. A Siren, a female beast from the depths (again, that beast below theme) that calls and seduces, anesthetizing and seducing the mind. She is representative of the call of the sea (or Time and space), of the desire for knowledge (particularly to that other long-time traveler Odysseus), but most importantly, she is a reflection of the Doctor himself.

Of course she is.[4] Right from the beginning, she comes whenever someone needs a doctor, just like the Doctor does. Also significantly, she comes to those that are dying, throwing them into a limbo between life and death, just as the Doctor does, and just as the Doctor is currently doing to his own destiny--running away from death. But, most importantly, her song, like the Doctor's call to adventure, is hypnotizing. She (and the Doctor) make people act like fools, abandon their lives, and go to another world. This is absolutely the monstrous side of the Doctor. But, like the Siren, he makes people better[5].

"Still water; Nature's mirror."

We've got reflections up the wazoo here. The Doctor and the Siren doctor are the most obvious. The TARDIS is reflected in both of the other ships. The little boy stowaway, son of the captain (Toby), is reflective of the unborn child stowed away in Amy's womb. (The lines: "I don't want you here." "You can't send me back." are hauntingly appropriate) In fact, as Toby exists on the verge of death, Amy's child exists on the verge of life. Both are in limbo. The captain is an obvious reflection of the Doctor, particularly when he (in the eyes of his child) is transformed from a hero (Navy captain) to a monster (a greedy pirate captain).

The literal reflections are, of course, appropriate as all hell. The Siren doesn't come from the water, she comes from mirror reflections. The treasure is the evil[6]. The crown, in particular, is evil because the pirate father holds onto it even at the expense of the life of his own child. A crown is an obvious symbol of destiny and identity. It is significant, therefore, that it is the medium by which the reflection (a revelation of identity) allows the monster to come through[7]. Before she does, though, the Doctor attempts to "destroy every reflection". There is a reason that we superstitious humans believe that breaking mirrors causes bad luck: to destroy a mirror is to destroy an image of the self, to destroy the self. The Doctor, in resisting and blatantly misunderstanding the Siren (who is, of course, a reflection of himself, literally a doctor), is destroying himself. In running away from his identity, from his destiny, he is causing (in a oh-so-Greek-way) his own destruction and death. In not being able to understand the Siren, the Doctor is not able to understand himself.

"She's not a killer at all. She's a Doctor…
It's been looking after humanity while it's been idle. Look at her. A virtual doctor…
She's just an interface, seeped through the join between the plains, broadcast in our world. Protein circuitry means she can change her form and become a human doctor for humans.
Oh, sister, you are good."

A reflection reveals the truth about the self. In creating a mirror-image, a backwards image, and reflecting it back at the self, we can understand who we are. When the Doctor steps through the mirror, the monster becomes a hero and a very literal mirror reflection of the Doctor. She is a doctor. She is a doctor fighting death. "She's keeping them alive, but she doesn't know how to heal them." This is also the Doctor's problem; he's created a limbo where he and others cling to life, but are not exactly healing. The Doctor, though, like the Siren, cannot heal. It has to be the hero (Amy or Rory). The Doctor, as a teacher or guide, can only work through others. The problem is that is isn't always successful in this endeavor.


Furthermore, when we have reflections, that means we have duality[8]. We have two images. This is beautifully illustrated with the Doctor and the Captain's conversation about Sirius, the binary star system.[9] Duality is deeply entrenched in Moffat's Doctor Who: the Doctor's struggle to find his identity between the duality of the monster and the hero, the duality of the psyche, the split of the identity through Time, the split between the hero and the beast below.

"If this is just because I'm a captain, you shouldn't feel threatened.
You're ship's is much bigger than mine, and I don't have the cool boots or a hat even."

The Doctor even comments quite obviously on the psychology connection, discussing Freud and his comfy couch, particularly in terms of comparing his ship to the pirate ship. I'm not going to go into all the phallic-ship stuff. I'll leave that to another English major to tackle.

Of course the episode takes us to a hospital, a place of limbo between life and death, a place populated by doctors who straddle the boundary between heroes and monsters. And nurses. Though our nurse is existing in a Sleeping Beauty[10] fairy tale. Amy is required to show her identity and connection to Rory with her wedding ring[11] and must give him the "kiss of life"[12].

"You only call me Amelia when you worry about me."
"I always worry about you."
"Go to bed, Pond."

The episode ends with a sweet scene between the Doctor and Amy, which reveals again that we truly are through the looking glass. Of course, though, Amy and the Eleventh Doctor have always served as looking glasses for the other. Their identities (as hero and teacher-guide) have always been dependant on and determined by the other. This series, though, is further twisting this connection. The wise old man teacher-figure is worried about his student. But the relationship is no longer that of one between a parent and a child. The child is now going to be a parent, and she is beginning with acting parental towards the Doctor. The guardian of lost children is being guarded by a lost child. Their relationship has gone through the mirror. And it is appropriate that it revolves around birth and death: the birth of Amy's child, and the death of the Doctor. Opposites and reflections on the dual sides of existence. Both concerned with fate, time and identity.

And the episode ends with the Doctor's reflection on the screen, showing both a beginning and an end.[13]




[1] That is not to say that I actually like this episode. It was ok, stronger than some other stand-alone episodes, but much weaker than most. First of all, there were no great lines. You've got pirates and no great zingers? Come on. Secondly, pirates, as much as I love them, are just so trendy right now. Come on, Doctor Who, let's go with some originality, it's what you're best at, being hip. The redeeming grace of this episode was far and away its literary quality.

[2] While this is a constant in the Doctor's story, it is particularly true considering the previous two episodes.

[3] That is not to say that here they aren't still learning lessons or inadvertently growing up. This is the second time that Amy takes up arms to defend the Doctor. She is growing up, and not necessarily in a good way. One small wound causes death. And we already have an inkling that she will play a hand in the Doctor's death. Thus, a great pacifist message is portrayed. And, as the ending of this episode will reiterate, as Amy grows up, the Doctor (in mirror image) regresses into childhood.

[4] All great Doctor Who monsters are reflections of the Doctor.

[5] The question is, will Rory and Amy ever be able to go back to real life or are they doomed to inhabit the TARDIS forever?

[6] Sort of get hit over the head with the meaning of that one, eh?

[7] Also, notice that the moon is reflected in the waters. The Impossible Astronaut, The Day of the Moon, and Greek mythology already established very firmly the connection between the moon and fate/destiny.

[8] Duality was a theme of the fifth series as well. And duality, always, has to do with perspective, either in Time or Space, and, thus, is very psychological.

[9] If I had to make a theory here, based on literary devices, I would say that this whole duality thing, of there being two when we think we're looking at one, is going to have something to do with the Doctor's death on the beach. Just saying.

[10] I must also point out here that Sleeping Beauty is probably the most Greek mythological fairy tale with its prophecy at the beginning (that she will prick her finger and die), it's concern with Time (16 years), and the prophecy that becomes self-fulfilling during the princess' quest for her identity.

[11] Which is not only another reflection-casting piece of jewelry, but one that reveals identity, and also that is in the shape of a circle. A circle, of course, goes hand in hand with duality.

[12] Nitpick coming through. Doctor Who, I give you a whole hell of a lot of rope on the whole logic thing, but seriously I have to call time out on this one. I have to be CPR certified due to my job, and I hate how they always do it wrong. I can give Amy some slack because she apparently doesn't know how to do it. But that's doesn't excuse Rory from telling her to use TV as a guide. Or the Doctor. Come on. He's the Doctor! It's his frigging name! He knows quantum mechanics and can diagnose Typhoid from a kid's cough, but he doesn't know CPR?! Worst of all, Rory says that he trusts Amy because she won't give up. And then she gives up in less time that my CPR exam lasted. And the Doctor--who gave up before she did--couldn't have been like, "Hey, Amy, it's 30 compressions and 2 breaths. Just saying." But, oh, no, it's because we have to have that fricking clichéd melodramatic we-all-think-he's-dead-and-we've-given-up-on-the-CPR-and-suddenly-he-starts-breathing scene. Actually, I think that's step five in my CPR handbook. But I could go along with all of that. But. Come on, the Doctor has every gadget in the known universe in that TARDIS, including a mirrory-monster-identification-doohickey, but he doesn't have an AED? Really? Come on! The school where I work doesn't have a working water fountain, but we've got two of them. GAAAA!! I love you, Doctor Who, but, FAIL!


uh, that was so Neil Gaiman. shit." And then passing out.


Tags: academia, discussion, reviews and reactions
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