After the plot-ful and pacey opening two-parter, it was inevitable that the this episode would be considered filler (especially with Neil Gaimen’s much anticipated story following next week). That’s fine by me, I enjoy the “monster of the week” stories, as they’ve become, if they’re fun, and this one has pirates in.
The problem with pirates, though, is that there is a perceived need to do all the pirate “stuff” (walking the plank, treasure, stowaways; I even began to expect a parrot) and it was already beginning to feel a bit like pirating by the numbers before the captain’s boy turned up in an entirely unengaging twist. But although the Doctor was charging around spouting nonsense (water as a portal) I did like the fact he was getting it totally wrong (no, it’s the reflections). Indeed it’s notable just how ineffectual the Doctor is in this story (look at him chewing his nails during the CPR sequence) and even his interventions (setting the siren on Rory) seem random and reckless. I think this is partly a problem with the pacing: some things are underplayed (there needs to be more build up the realisation that there is no way of saving Rory when he goes overboard) whilst others are hammered too hard. The worst example of the latter was stringing out Rory’s resuscitation. After all, Rory being dead is nothing new. As the shows composer drily tweeted:
Having said all that, I enjoyed the episode. The siren’s ship being lodged in an adjacent dimension was a lovely idea, and suddenly all the nonsense on board the pirate ship started to make some sense, like diffracted reflections suddenly becoming clear. The whole episode had that sense of the many 60s Doctor Who stories where the budget is clearly so tight they can barely dress the studio (the sick bay, in this case) but these constrains in now way restrict the imagination of the writer (or the conviction of the direction, editing or performances).
It’s not the first time the Doctor has encountered pirates of course. The previous adventure, Doctor Who and the Pirates or The Lass That Lost a Sailor is a genuine treasure that this story can’t quite compete with. We’d have needed to hear Matt Smith’s rendition of A Gallifreyan Buccaneer for it even to come close…