So take a load of pirate cliches, throw in the same dimension-hopping twist as ‘The Stones of Blood’ (albeit not seen since 1978), lightly blend the deranged hologram from ‘The Lodger’ and the monomaniac healing of ‘The Doctor Dances’, and cap it off with the hugely manipulative resuscitation scene from the Abyss (only minus the semblance of a rationale). I think the word I’m looking for is “unoriginal”. It might be “meh”.
Since there are no surprises here, the episode lives and dies on how well executed it is. Unfortunately it’s a very lukewarm effort.
Pirates are a modern pop-culture icon, but writer Steve Thompson doesn’t seem to know what to do with them. He has the good sense to know that all the normal pirate cliches are too unrealistic to portray seriously, but barring a couple of “yo ho ho” style gags from the Doctor that removes most of the point of doing a pirate episode. You’re left with a ‘grubby thieves on a ship’ episode, which is a very different proposition. This uneasy compromise also besets the scenes of Amy swashbuckling, which feel simultaneously unrealistic for the character but not outlandish enough to be exciting.
The curse/siren is potentially more fruitful, but within this action-romp context it emerges up as a pale shadow of the kind of thrills Who can actually deliver. The worldbuilding doesn’t feel real, and Matt Smith in full on hand-waving Frank Spencer mode doesn’t do much to sell it.
There are other problems: setting up the idea that the siren can use any reflection is fine but opens up any number of plot holes (why only break a mirror – what about all the pieces?) and the siren appears to miss any number of opportunities to ‘get’ the crew. Plus Rory feels ridiculously easy to keep away from the siren while everyone watches other crewmembers stroll to their doom. Hugh Bonneville gives a likeable performance but his character is strangly sanguine about multi-dimensional spaceships and ridiculously adept at flying a spaceship. Add all of this up and it never quite rings true.
That’s not to say that there aren’t charming moments, funny lines, or that the sight of Amy and the Doctor in three cornered hats isn’t pleasing. But it’s not enough. There was the potential here for a more full-on comedy, or a claustrophobic period thrill ride like ‘The Horror of Fang Rock’, but in trying to be both it ends up as neither. I’m a fan of the way Doctor Who blends genres and shifts tone from scene to scene, but this grab bag of half-hearted cliches demonstrates the weakness of trying to be all things in one story. Or maybe it just does it poorly.