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.
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.
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?
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.