Thursday, 20 February 2014


Doctor Who
Series Three, Episode Ten

Okay.  Who honestly saw this coming?

I'll never forget the Next Time trailer for Blink.  It was, frankly, not inspiring.  Don't blink?  A whole episode of trying not to blink?  It looked like a 45-minute staring contest.  And it was set to be this year's Doctor-lite episode, which for a lot of people went down like a lead balloon with a death wish the last time they tried it.  The omens, they were not good.

"You can't kill a stone."
Oh really?  Fetch a sledgehammer.
Of course that was then and this is now, and Blink is one of the most popular episodes of Doctor Who ever made.  Surprise!  It won Steven Moffat his third Hugo, which is quite a result seeing as he mostly wrote it as a favour after backing out of Daleks In Manhattan.  (Now there's a What If.)  It's safe to say it struck a chord with fans and critics; it certainly did with me.  And it went out on my birthday!

Okay, what's so super about it?  Well, it's a small story that is at once complicated and logical.  Essentially a time paradox, much thought has gone into ensuring it makes sense, if you're prepared to give it a bit of thought.  That feeling, of having your concentration rewarded, is a big part of its appeal.  We also have a fabulous new monster, and again, Steven Moffat has clearly sat down and worked out how best to frighten you with them.  Their success, still felt in Doctor Who years later, was very much earned.  And there's also the matter of the characters, who by virtue of necessity must not be the regulars.  They need to be interesting, and they need to keep us from getting too upset that the Doctor and Martha didn't show up for work.  They do not disappoint.  Blink might be a Clever (with a capital C) episode, but it's a tremendously human story, and we care about the people in it.

Instead of the Doctor, we've got Sally Sparrow.  She's a plucky, interesting woman who can't help investigating a strange old house.  In it, she finds a message addressed to her from the Doctor, circa 1969.  And she immediately meets a very suspicious statue that might be able to move.

This is a cracking, no-time-to-waste opening, immediately setting up the episode's ideas: the Doctor trapped in the past (a handy excuse for a Doctor-lite), the angel statues having something to do with it (creepy as hell), and Sally Sparrow being the only one who can put things right.  Carey Mulligan is up to the task.  She makes Sally a fun presence, believably kooky but still recognisably real, instantly earning years of fan discussion over how nice it would be to have Sally as a full-time companion.  (I wouldn't mind, but let's leave it a while.  Doesn't the Doctor sideline Martha enough without us joining in?  Anyway, the way she tells a character that his sister loves him, and says "That's nice, isn't it?", actually reminds me more of the Doctor than his companions.)

Sally joins Harriet Jones, Nancy, Lynda-with-a-Y and Martha
in the elite Shut Up About Rose club.
Soon, Sally's friend goes missing, and in a direct (but very apt) steal from Back To The Future Part II, she instantly receives a letter from her, dated decades earlier.  She's been sent back in time by the Angels, and there's no way back.  That's what we're up against.  The Doctor, via a series of DVD easter eggs and messages across time, is trying to tell Sally how to stop them.  (He only knows to do this because Sally will, at some point, meet him and tell him everything he did.  By all means think about this, and the inherent implication that free will is an illusion, if you're in the market for a really top-of-the-range headache.)

Let's talk about the Weeping Angels.  They are "assassins".  (Although I think "predators" is more accurate.)  They freeze to stone if they are observed, but can move unimaginably fast when they're not.  One touch means you're sent into the past to live out your life, while they absorb the energy of the days you might have lived.  Apart from the abstracty "days you might have lived" stuff, this is all instantly terrifying and well thought out.  Most of us have been a bit unnerved by statues at one time or another, particularly as kids; who hasn't wondered if they can move when we're not looking?  And the elemental terror of something touching you, or "getting" you, is a staple of nightmares.  It's a barmy idea, but you can still relate to it.  Like the Ood and the Judoon, the Angels are one of the show's best inventions, at once brilliant and simple.

They also allow Steven Moffat to explore one of his favourite themes, time-travel, from a different perspective.  Like The Girl In The Fireplace (only better), Blink shows us lives being lived in, well, the blink of an eye.  Sally's friend Cathy, and a policeman named Billy, both end up in the past, allowing for that neat Back To The Future bit and a genuinely creative and beautiful death-bed scene for Billy (who we only met one scene earlier).  Steven Moffat often shies away from killing his characters, but old age seems to be an acceptable compromise.  Despite only knowing Billy for two scenes, via two actors, we feel the weight of his death.  It's very well done, and helps sell the horror of what the Angels can do.

Admittedly, there are two sides to this.  Yes, the moving-when-you're-not-looking is terrifying, as is the one-touch-and-you're-dead, but listen more closely to the writing.  They're "weeping" (i.e. they can't look at each other), they're "lonely" (see "weeping"), and apparently they're "kind" (because they "let you live to death").  In spite of everything, isn't it all a bit... cute?  The only victims we hear about in this episode die, and that's sad, but both get to lead full and happy lives.  If anything, they owe the Angels their happiness!  It's a little difficult to be terrified of something if it's sending you directly into the path of your one-true-love, and all those cuddly adjectives don't help.  For good measure they're also referred to as "psychopaths", though there's nothing at all to support that.  They're just hungry, and this is how they feed.  By that logic, all predators are psychopaths.

So, the Doctor's plan: get the Angels round the TARDIS,
dematerialise, trap them in their own gaze.  Clever.
But hang on: why leave Sally and Larry behind?
What if one of the Angels isn't trapped?
Why risk their lives?
And while Blink works like a puzzle, and most of the irregularities (like the Doctor telling a man precisely when he's going to die, which is a bit out of character for him) are explained because it's a pre-destination paradox, there are some questions which don't get answered.  Like the Angels' plan.  They want the TARDIS – fair enough.  They have the key, and they've got the Doctor out of the way.  What's stopping them?  The police, apparently, as they've taken the TARDIS (along with all the other victims' cars) to a police car park.  But we see that the Angels can move in a crowded area (somehow), so why don't they just go and get it?  Oh, that's right: they gave the key to Sally, and they subsequently need to get it back.  Why did they do that, then?  (And don't tell me that scene, with an Angel holding the key towards her, is not them giving her the key.  They could easily hide it if they wanted to.)

Did they need her help finding the police station?  If so, they're awfully lucky, since it's a coincidence she went there in the first place.  (If she hadn't overheard some guy saying "Why does nobody ever go to the police?", would they have got the TARDIS back?)  Couldn't they have just followed the police when they nicked the TARDIS?  Or zapped the police back to 1969, or something?  Just how soon did the police whip round to pinch the TARDIS, anyway, and why hadn't the Angels made use of it already?  Really think about it: if they kept the key, they could have followed Sally to the police station (or just gone there on their own, because how many police stations are there?), and the plot – not to mention the human race – would be finito in no time.

Come to think of it, if the Angels can move around cities – and they can, we see them do it – why are they hanging around a smelly old house in the sticks?  In the commentary (how cool am I?), Steven Moffat says it's because they're basically a bit rubbish, and all they've managed to conquer is this one house.  Pull the other one: why can't they set up shop in the city, and feed to their hearts' content?  And what about all those cars?  Why are all those people coming to a house in the middle of nowhere?  It's a shame there's no reason for this in particular, as (due to their self-imposed exile) it's the only reason the Angels have anything to feed on.

It's an episode built on paradoxes, indeed, where you are rewarded for paying attention to the plot... but not this bit.  Or that bit.  But, it's unwise to dwell on the various plot hiccups and stuff-that-isn't-ironed-out-properly.  Blink does add up, in a broad sense, and it's still cleverer than most episodes of Doctor Who.  It'd be sheer churlishness to let its cons get in the way of its pros.  It's got one of the All Time Great baddies, the Doctor and Martha (briefly) acting like good mates (which makes a bloody nice change, doesn't it?), and Carey Mulligan and Finlay Robertson, both effortlessly hilarious and compelling main character stand-ins.  Blink ultimately has a charm and wit that sets it apart from every other episode to date.  Happily, I think this also sets it apart from its plot holes.


  1. It's a bit hard to say anything about Blink that hasn't been said before - everybody loves it, the Angels are scary, Sally Sparrow is awesome etc etc... and yet, I find I never come back to this one. Yes, it IS good, certainly better than a lot of what's gone before, but I dunno - partly, I don't want to 'diminish' it with repeated viewings, and partly it's become inseparably linked in my mind with the sycophantic, overblown praise Moffat has received in the last few years and his intolerable smugness. It's a complicated set of emotions.

    I will say that the episode LOOKS gorgeous, as most of the later Moffat-era stories do compared with the majority of the RTD-era stories, which often look a bit cheap and tacky. And the Angels are a great invention - even though they will become increasingly pathetic in subsequent appearances. They really should have been a one-off. Carey Mulligan is fantastic as Sally Sparrow, and as you note in your captions above, infinitely superior to Rose (or at least, Series 2 Rose - I still really like her for the majority of Series 1).

    But you've broken down the few niggly problems with the plot pretty well here - good job finding something new to say about Blink - they're not immediately apparent, and often not even on subsequent viewings (I certainly didn't pick up on all of the ones you've listed here, and haven't seen many of them on other reviews). Good review dude :)

  2. Blink suffers, I think, from the amount Steven Moffat has borrowed from it in recent years, in a (semi-understandable) desire to replicate success. You guys like Weeping Angels? Okay, have more of them. You guys like time paradoxes? Okay, have loads more of them. I'm genuinely surprised we didn't have more Sally Sparrow, but Carey Mulligan's movie career may have interceded.

    It's funny you saying I've raked up all this stuff to say about Blink (thanks!), because I honestly didn't notice any of it until this particular viewing. I hadn't seen Blink in ages, and I don't remember the Angels' plan sticking out so much before. I think years of Steven Moffat Who has taught me that his plots tend to look very spiffy on the surface (unlike Russell's, which usually don't even convince *that* much), but fall to bits on closer inspection.

    One detail that used to bug me, which I can't fit in here: Billy is sent back to live his life etc., but he's still alive in the present. He lives BEYOND the point where he's sent back, cheating the Angels out of precious minutes. Why send him back not-far-enough? Wouldn't it short-circuit them or something, if he's still alive now? And I'll bet that line was added later, about the same Angel sending Billy and the Doctor to 1969. Yeah, why *would* one Angel keep sending people to the same spot? Where did it send people back to when it wasn't 1969 yet?

    Oh, here's another one: the Doctor gives Billy a message. Look at the list! It's a slightly wasted effort, though, since she's just been given the list, and is surely already going to look at it and register what's odd about it. If you can give her a message, isn't there anything more important that needs saying than something she's already going to do?