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New Series Episode 81:
The Curse Of The Black Spot

Plot

The Doctor, Amy and Rory find themselves aboard a pirate ship in the 17th century. The ship has been becalmed for days, marooned in waters that seem to be haunted by a Siren -- a beautiful but demonic woman who comes for those who are sick or injured. She sings a mournful, unearthly melody, and her arrival is presaged by the appearance on the victim's skin of a livid black spot. When Rory is cut, he is marked as the Siren's next victim, and it's up to the Doctor and the reluctant Captain Avery to unearth the creature's true nature.

Production

Although he originally worked as a maths teacher, Steve Thompson began writing after he left his position to raise his children. His first play, Damages, was highly regarded and led to him writing for television shows including Doctors and The Whistleblowers. However, it was his second play, Whipping It Up, which caught the attention of Steven Moffat, who invited Thompson to write for the first season of his forthcoming programme Sherlock. Pleased with the result, in early 2010 Moffat offered Thompson a slot on the other show for which he was executive producer -- Doctor Who. Moffat envisaged a traditional pirate story mixed with a science-fiction element, a genre not attempted in Doctor Who since The Smugglers in 1966, but which had recently seen renewed interest following the release of the 2003 blockbuster Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl.

As his starting point, Thompson recalled a popular Cornish legend about “the Mermaid of Zennor”, which apparently dated from the fifteenth century. The story concerned a mermaid with a beautiful singing voice who tempted a human man to come live with her in the sea. It is associated with an ancient chair bearing a carving of a mermaid, which can still be found at St Senara's Church in Zennor.

Thompson sought to marry this folktale with the real-life pirate Henry Avery (also spelt “Every” or “Evory”), who had been prominently referenced in The Smugglers. Active in the late seventeenth century, Avery -- known as “the Arch Pirate” -- had been a member of the Royal Navy before becoming first mate aboard the Spanish slave trader Charles II. Following a mutiny over withheld wages, Avery became captain of the rechristened Fancy. He was a pirate for two years, and most famously plundered an immense fortune from the Ganj-i-sawai, flagship of Aurangzeb, emperor of the Mughals in India. Avery vanished with a portion of his newfound wealth, and his final fate is unknown. This appealed to Thompson, who felt that it gave him carte blanche to tell the rest of Avery's story.

Thompson began work on his adventure in March. Referred to as both “Siren” and “The Siren”, it was intended to appear as the second episode of the second half of Season Thirty-Two, and the ninth episode overall. However, towards the end of 2010, Moffat decided to rebalance the running order, with “Siren” now moving into the first half of the run as episode three. The Doctor's Wife was pushed from third to fourth, while the original episode four, Night Terrors, would take the slot vacated by “Siren”. Moffat felt that the rather lighthearted pirate story would be an effective counterpoint to the more intense stories which otherwise made up the year's initial salvo.

Moffat encouraged Thompson to incorporate as many tropes of the pirate genre as he could. However, to avoid giving the impression that “Siren” was a pastiche, care was taken not to make Hugh Bonneville -- playing Captain Avery -- resemble Johnny Depp's iconic Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise. A more unusual casting choice was Lily Cole as the eponymous Siren. Best known as one of the past decade's foremost supermodels, Cole had recently begun moving into acting, taking roles in films such as St Trinians and The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus. One late deletion from Thompson's script was the idea that the Siren would appear to Toby Avery as a young girl; this would have given the Doctor a clue as to the entity's true nature.

“Siren” was made as the only episode of the fifth production block for Season Thirty-Two, officially labelled “Block Four-B”. The director was Jeremy Webb, who had previously worked on programmes such as Grange Hill and Casualty, as well as numerous episodes of Merlin. However, the first filming undertaken for “Siren” was carried out by Julian Simpson, the director of The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People. This was the footage of the “Eye Patch Woman”, recorded at Fillcare in Llantrisant on January 27th, 2011.

Webb began his filming the next day at Upper Boat Studios, with scenes in the ship's store and the magazine. Cast and crew remained at Upper Boat to tape TARDIS sequences on January 31st, before heading to the story's only location. This was the Phoenix of Dell Quay, a two-masted brig berthed at Charlestown Harbour in St Austell, Cornwall. Material on the deck of the Fancy and in the rowboat was recorded there from February 1st to 3rd.

All of the remaining work on “Siren” took place back at Upper Boat, beginning on February 5th with scenes in the captain's cabin. The 7th and 8th dealt with material in the hold, the magazine and the below-decks area. The latter day also saw the recording of the online prequel for the episode, in which Avery wrote ominously in his journal; more footage would be shot by producer Marcus Wilson on the 16th. (Somewhat ahistorically, the prequel set the events of “Siren” in 1699, although Avery had already abandoned the Fancy in the Bahamas in 1696.)

The hold set was again in use on February 9th, but the main focus on this and the two subsequent days was material aboard the spaceship, where the deceased alien was identified in the script as a “Skerth”. A variety of Fancy sets were then in use on February 14th and 15th, when a number of inserts were also completed. This left only the effects shots of Lily Cole as the Siren, which were finally recorded on March 10th and 11th.

Unfortunately, a significant continuity error was introduced in editing, when the removal of scenes involving the Boatswain -- in which he was manacled to the ship's bulkhead and then cut himself trying to escape, resulting in his capture by the Siren -- meant that the character abruptly vanished from the narrative, only to reappear as a patient on the spaceship at the end of the story. The story's title also changed in post-production, when it became The Curse Of The Black Spot as an homage to the first Pirates Of The Caribbean movie. The prequel premiered online on April 30th, directly after the transmission of the preceding episode, Day Of The Moon.

Sources
  • Doctor Who News.
  • Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition #29, 14th December 2011, “The Curse Of The Black Spot” by Andrew Pixley, Panini Publishing Ltd.

Original Transmission
Date 7th May 2011
Time 6.15pm
Duration 44'45"
Viewers (more) 7.9m (11th)
· BBC1/HD 7.9m
· iPlayer 1.3m
Appreciation 86%


Cast
The Doctor
Matt Smith
Amy Pond
Karen Gillan
Rory
Arthur Darvill
(more)
Henry Avery
Hugh Bonneville
Toby Avery
Oscar Lloyd
The Boatswain
Lee Ross
Mulligan
Michael Begley
De Florres
Tony Lucken
Dancer
Chris Jarman
McGrath
Carl McCrystal
The Siren
Lily Cole


Crew
Written by
Steve Thompson
Directed by
Jeremy Webb
Produced by
Marcus Wilson
(more)

Stunt Coordinator
Crispin Layfield
Stunt Performers
Gordon Seed
Stephanie Carey
1st Assistant Director
Nick Brown
2nd Assistant Director
James DeHaviland
3rd Assistant Director
Heddi-Joy Taylor-Welch
Assistant Directors
Janine H Jones
Michael Curtis
Location Manager
Nicky James
Unit Manager
Rhys Griffiths
Location Assistant
Geraint Williams
Production Manager
Steffan Morris
Production Coordinator
Claire Hildred
Asst Production Coordinator
Helen Blyth
Production Secretary
Scott Handcock
Production Assistant
Charlie Coombes
Asst Production Accountant
Rhys Evans
Script Executive
Lindsey Alford
Script Editor
Caroline Henry
Script Supervisor
Caroline Holder
Camera Operator
Joe Russell
Focus Pullers
Steve Rees
Jonathan Vidgen
Grip
Gary Norman
Camera Assistants
Simon Ridge
Svetlana Miko
Matthew Lepper
Assistant Grip
Owen Charnley
Sound Maintenance Engineers
Jeff Welch
Dafydd Parry
Gaffer
Mark Hutchings
Best Boy
Pete Chester
Electricians
Ben Griffiths
Bob Milton
Stephen Slocombe
Alan Tippetts
Supervising Art Director
Stephen Nicholas
Set Decorator
Julian Luxton
Production Buyer
Ben Morris
Standby Art Director
Ciaran Thompson
Assistant Art Director
Jackson Pope
Concept Artist
Richard Shaun Williams
Props Master
Paul Aitken
Props Buyer
Adrian Anscombe
Prop Chargehand
Rhys Jones
Standby Props
Phill Shellard
Helen Atherton
Dressing Props
Tom Belton
Kristian Wilsher
Graphic Artist
Christina Tom
Draughtsman
Julia Jones
Design Assistant
Dan Martin
Petty Cash Buyer
Kate Wilson
Standby Carpenter
Will Pope
Standby Rigger
Bryan Griffiths
Store Person
Jayne Davies
Props Makers
Penny Howarth
Nicholas Robatto
Alan Hardy
Props Driver
Medard Mankos
Practical Electrician
Albert James
Construction Manager
Matthew Hywel-Davies
Construction Chargehand
Scott Fisher
Graphics
BBC Wales Graphics
Assistant Costume Designer
Samantha Keeble
Costume Supervisor
Helen Leat
Costume Assistants
Jason Gill
Yasemin Kascioglu
Emma Jones
Make-Up Supervisor
Pam Mullins
Make-Up Artists
Vivienne Simpson
Allison Sing
VFX Producer
Beewan Athwal
Casting Associate
Alice Purser
Assistant Editor
Becky Trotman
VFX Editor
Cat Gregory
Post Production Supervisor
Nerys Davies
Post Production Coordinator
Marie Brown
Dubbing Mixer
Tim Ricketts
Dialogue Editor
Paul McFadden
Sound Effects Editor
Paul Jefferies
Foley Editor
Jamie Talbutt
Online Editor
Jeremy Lott
Colourist
Mick Vincent
Online Conform
Mark Bright
Original Theme Music
Ron Grainer
Casting Director
Andy Pryor CDG
Production Executive
Julie Scott
Production Accountant
Dyfed Thomas
Sound Recordist
Bryn Thomas
Costume Designer
Barbara Kidd
Make-Up Designer
Barbara Southcott
Music
Murray Gold
Visual Effects
The Mill
Special Effects
Real SFX
Prosthetics
Millennium FX
Editor
Simon Reglar
Production Designer
Michael Pickwoad
Director Of Photography
Dale McCready
Associate Producer
Denise Paul
Line Producer
Diana Barton
Executive Producers
Steven Moffat
Piers Wenger
Beth Willis


Working Titles
[The] Siren


Media
DVD Release
Doctor Who: Series 6 Part 1 (double disc; 2011)
Buy: Canada · UK · USA
Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series (2011; boxed set)
Buy: Canada · UK · USA
Blu-ray Release
Doctor Who: Series 6 Part 1 (double disc; 2011)
Buy: Canada · UK · USA
Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series (2011; boxed set)
Buy: Canada · UK · USA

Updated 19th July 2014