This episode is often maligned by fans as the underwhelming follow-up to the explosive Series 6 opener, a mundane pirate story with Hugh Bonneville its only redeeming feature. That used to be largely my opinion, too, but, upon this viewing of the episode I found it a lot better than I remembered, and I found myself appreciating it more than I used to. It’s an inventive use of the base-under-siege formula, involving a pirate ship under “attack” by an infatuating feminine spectre which spirits away the injured and sick. Perhaps the premise itself is pretty ho-hum, fairly uninspired, but it was executed well enough that it kept me interested throughout. It was at least as interesting as the two least impressive stories from Series 5, The Beast Below and Victory of the Daleks. I compare it to those two stories because it occupies the same place as them—the front end of the series following on the series’ opening story. And I think it compares favourably with both of them, which were both fraught with problems despite ultimately holding up well enough; this story is pretty well-rounded and doesn’t sport any glaring faults, and is even actually enjoyable and memorable (I find it enjoyable, at least).
One thing at which this episode succeeds is comedy: this script is just overflowing with genuinely funny dialogue, almost from the moment we see the Doctor and the Ponds. “A bit more laughter guys?” the Doctor coaxes as he stands at the end of a gangplank. “What kind of rubbish pirates are you?” Amy scoffs as the gang of brutish-looking pirates quail at the sight of the cutlass in her hand. “I’d like a beard. I’m going to grow a beard,” announces Rory in a daze as he ogles the pirates. “You’re not,” Amy stoutly rebukes him. And so on. Not everyone (few, in fact) would count it among the best stories of Series 6, but, God, it’s funny. And who, honestly, would deny that Amy’s sword-fighting with the pirates was pretty damned awesome? The Doctor’s alpha-male competition with Captain Avery was also very amusing to watch. Hugh Bonneville made an excellent arch-pirate, giving a very entertaining and convincing performance. However, the one significant criticism I would make of this episode is Matt Smith’s performance; he lacked the authority and the energy and the conviction that he usually carries, which he displayed as recently as the previous story, the opener. This is the first time in my marathon of Matt Smith’s era that I’ve noticed his performance being distinctly lacklustre. Perhaps I am seeing the first signs of the phenomenon, remarked upon by some fans, but which I haven’t noticed before, of the gradual decline in the quality of Matt’s performance over time?
One of the moments in this episode that really did stand out was Amy’s resuscitation of Rory at the end. It truly conveyed the strength of the love between these two, especially Rory’s confidence in Amy’s capacity to resuscitate him because he knew she would “never give up”. That was touching. It was torturous viewing watching Amy desperately, tearfully attempting to revive her husband, and the relief was sweet when, after a couple of horrific seconds, Rory began to cough up water and breathe again. They’ve been through a lot, these two, but this show keeps putting them through more trials and traumas, it’s no wonder they’re as close and as strong as they are. By the way, I thought I saw something poignant in the Doctor’s visible relief when Rory came back to life. I think he was reminded all too uncomfortably of how dangerous he and his lifestyle is to the friends he brings with him. He thought he’d almost lost another one. That was why he began to travel alone before he picked up Amy, after all. I wonder if he’s rather recklessly kicking the matter into the long grass here. If Rory had died (for real this time; there’s no coming back from actual real-world death), he would have been forced to confront directly his companion issue, but here it looks like he’s put the matter out of his mind because it’s too uncomfortable to think about. If only he knew…