Blink is the perfect way to handle a Doctor-lite episode, turning a disadvantage into a huge advantage. Thanks to the stroke of genius of the Easter Egg conversation, the Doctor always feels like a part of the story, although only requiring a tiny amount of filming from David Tennant and Freema Agyeman. He does not make an appearance in the flesh until over 20 minutes into the episode, and then after one brief scene that’s it until the end. This allows events to develop without the sense of security he brings, adding to the fear factor. It also allows the guest characters more room to take the limelight, and it is no accident that Doctor Who fans were beggin’ for Sally Sparrow to be a companion. She is the hero for the episode and virtually takes the place of the Doctor. It also helps that Carey Mulligan is such a talented actress, and makes Sally so real and likeable.
Hettie MacDonald’s direction is inspired. She allows the viewer to spot the changes in the Weeping Angels, without always flagging them up or making them too obvious. She does not always cut from one camera to another to show a change: in one scene Sally’s head obscures our view of the statue, and in that second it changes to cover its eyes. This makes us feel like we are a part of the story; not only do the statues keep still when somebody within the story is looking at them, but they also keep still when we are looking at them. Short of some kind of VR/interactive television experience of the future, this is the cleverest way there is to get the viewers involved in an episode – to make them a part of the narrative themselves, whether they realise it or not.
A generation of kids will never forget Blink. It is another story that makes the mundane frightening, something Doctor Who used to get into trouble for doing (Terror of the Autons). It ends by suggesting that danger lurks in every street that has a statue – just the thing to make children have nightmares, and the stories that do that always end up being the best remembered ones.
Just like the previous year’s Doctor-lite, Love & Monsters, Blink holds up a mirror to the many of the Doctor Who fans watching the episode, but it does this in a very different way, and both episodes get misunderstood in this respect. Love & Monsters is a celebration of what it is to be a Doctor Who fan, and the way in which it brings people together. It’s a love letter to fandom, a bitter sweet symphony. Blink superficially does a similar thing but showing an obsessive group of fans decoding the Easter Eggs, but note that moment of poking fun at the misinterpretation of “look to the left” as a political reference, a bit of a snarky commentary on overenthusiastic interpretations of fan reviewers, but fun nonetheless. Moffat’s representation of fandom is also shown to us as people watching in isolation, rather than coming together to form social links. So Davies’s fan parallel is by far the nicer one. Both are rooted in truth because both aspects of fandom exist, but why not accentuate the positive?
But if I’m looking for my perfect slice of Doctor Who when I watch Blink then I still haven’t found what I’m looking for, and where it falls down is in some of the internal logic. In a taste of things to come, Moffat is not too bothered about making everything make sense. That is secondary to telling a good story, and that’s fair enough. When the Doctor explains how the Angels kill people he says ‘they just zap you into the past and let you live to death.’ Why, in that case, do they only send Billy back to 1969, when he would have had a fighting chance of living beyond the present time? Incredibly, he dies on the day he was sent into the past, as if that were deliberate, all of which would have been a very neat plot point if it weren’t for Kathy being sent back to 1920, and dying in 1987, years before the point at which she was sent back. And how does the TARDIS move from the police station to the cellar of the house? Sally suggests going down into the cellar which seems like a ridiculous idea until it turns out that the TARDIS is down there. Convenient!
The direction is also not quite 100%. The Doctor’s trap for the Weeping Angels is clever, but the director doesn’t get it right. The two statues closest to the camera are fine: they are looking at each other and are both being looked at. But the other two are also looking at the two closest to the camera, and neither are being looked at by any of the other three, so they should both be free to move.
But fairy tales don’t have to conform to anything so mundane as logic, and what we have with Blink is the best example of Steven Moffat writing Doctor Who as part of the children’s fantasy fiction genre, prior to his showrunner years. We all hoped that he would give us a few years of stories of this calibre when he took over Doctor Who (imagine that!) and we were probably hoping for the impossible. There’s not a writer on the planet capable of giving us six seasons of drama of the standard of Blink. What we got instead was years of Moffat’s approach of showing us threats that feel like they hail from mythology rather than science, far more than Doctor Who had ever done before. In that respect, although sadly not in its near-perfection as a viewing experience, Blink gave us a taste of things to come. RP
(Scroll below the video for another review “from across the pond”!)
The view from across the pond:
During David Tennant’s first season as The Doctor, we were introduced to a new concept: the “Doctor Lite” episode. This allowed the production crew to work on two stories at once. The first, Love & Monsters, was a lightweight, fun story allowing the guest to drive it. By the second “Doctor Lite” episode, Blink, things ramped up. This was another Moffat classic from his pre-showrunner days and is well-loved largely because there’s a wonderful mystery, a creepy-as-hell villain and an utterly fantastic character played by the amazing (pre-Oscar nominated) Carey Mulligan. It’s a perfect October/Halloween story, with Wester Drumlins serving as the creepy house, the Weeping Angels making for a terrifying threat and an atmosphere so thick, it can’t even be cut with a sonic laser!
The episode starts with some important questions: where did Wester Drumlins get that wallpaper, because I needed a razor and lots of elbow grease to remove mine in my first house? And why do English homes have names? Can I name mine? Does it need a birth certificate?
All joking aside, Blink is an outstanding episode, worthy of viewing not only by Doctor Who fans, but fans of good, scary stories. The Doctor barely has any screen time (probably amounting to less than 10 minutes and most of this is in the form of a recorded image) and yet his presence is felt throughout the entire episode. This is the episode in which we first hear that now ubiquitous “timey wimey” line as well! Sally Sparrow is a character that could have had her own series, if it wouldn’t have seemed a bit “Scooby Doo”. (I only say this because she has a gentle way about her and her boyfriend, Larry Nightingale, is very much a “Shaggy” remake.) But the supporting cast is excellent. Beyond the aforementioned Mulligan, Lucy Gaskell as Kathy Nightingale and her on-screen brother, Finlay Robinson as Larry Nightingale, are both great characters; instantly sympathetic and relate-able. Billy Shipton, both old and young, is a great character played by Michael Obiora as the young, super-confident cop and Louis Mahoney as the old man who gets to meet his crush one more time. There’s a bitter-sweet quality to the story about aging and letting go, but the central focus is our new villain: the Weeping Angels.
We’ve all learned, it’s very important that we “don’t blink”. But no one seems to think about “winking”. When Larry is staring at the Angel and can’t blink, he could close one eye and then the other. It might not be comfortable, but if these creatures can move in the blink of an eye, it pays to have contingency plans in place. Though we’ll learn more about them later, in this episode, the Angels are superb. They send their victims back in time; they don’t kill them, merely feed off their potential energy. It might not make sense, unless it creates an alternate timeline that they can feed off, otherwise their time-displacement ability is strange. But they are a new race to add to the pantheon of Doctor Who monsters and they are an instant classic.
There’s nothing to critique about this episode. It has a strong story, a great cast, great music, it’s eerie without being the stuff of nightmares… It is even viewed by many to be a perfect Doctor Who story. The ending montage is a classic trope designed to make us look twice at every statue with the question: could it too be a Weeping Angel?
Doctor Who gets it right a lot, but no episode has ever gotten it right for quite so many before. Blink deserves a second look, and maybe many more, because like the Angels themselves: blink and you might miss something. So obviously… Don’t Blink! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Utopia