Friday, September 14, 2007

“I’m not in Hull. Stop saying Hull!” – Doctor Who

Although Doctor Who is often mentioned by many British writers as a show which terrified them at a young age, for teenage viewers like me Who has never been especially scary. That is until ‘Blink’, last night’s episode which featured the series’ first genuinely terrifying villain, the Weeping Angels. The Angels are a brilliantly simple concept: monsters which turn to stone when you look at them, but attack as soon as you turn your head or blink. Writer Steven Moffat’s monsters often seem like afterthoughts, and yet are consistently the most memorable baddies of their respective seasons. The Weeping Angels continue this tradition, and ‘Blink’ continues Moffat’s run of fantastic offerings to every season of Who.

‘Blink’ is unique for being the ‘Doctor-lite’ instalment of the season. Starting with last season’s ‘Love & Monsters’, one episode per season features only limited appearances by the Doctor and his companion because the actors are busy shooting another episode (in this case, ‘The Family of Blood’.) The episode instead centres around an entirely new character who has crossed paths with the Doctor. ‘Blink’ follows Sally Sparrow, whose curiosity and vivacious nature leads her to an old house inhabited by the Weeping Angels. After a message left there by the Doctor saves her life, he enlists Sally’s help in helping him stop the Angels and retrieve the TARDIS, which they have stolen. Meanwhile anyone who comes near Sally is sent back in time by the Angels, and have to play their part in helping her to survive and complete her task.

Where ‘Love & Monsters’ took a more cynical approach to this concept (that episode’s protagonist, Elton Pope, had his life ruined because the Doctor twice showed up too late to save his loved ones), ‘Blink’ is more upbeat in its approach. Sally’s acquaintances, despite having been forced to live out their lives in the wrong time period, seem remarkably content about their fates. Her friend Kathy Nightingale, who gets ‘zapped’ to 1920s Hull, leaves a letter for Sally in which she says she has had a full and happy life. Later a flirtatious cop, Billy Shipton, gets Sally’s number and then gets zapped. Then, in the episode's most beautiful and poignant scene, he meets her minutes later as an old man. While more melancholy about his fate, Billy has accepted his role in Sally’s journey and says that knowing they would meet again “kept me going”.

‘Blink’ is first and foremost about looking at a typical Doctor Who adventure from the other side. As was shown with Joan in last week’s episode, guest stars on Who will so often come and go with the writers leaving much of their story to the audience’s imagination. ‘Blink’, on the other hand, leaves much of the Doctor and Martha’s adventure to the imagination, and instead places the focus squarely on the humans who got caught up in his troubles. Some of it you won’t want to think about too much; Billy, for instance, has essentially lived out his whole life waiting for one moment at its end. Unlike ‘The Family of Blood’, however, in this case the end definitely justifies the means. We come to realise that the Weeping Angels pose too great a threat for the Doctor to worry about Kathy and Billy. Not that that stops us from worrying about them.

The script is beautifully structured and immensely satisfying. Moffat is a writer I could rave about for paragraphs on end, but all I’ll say is that ‘Blink’ proves his immense talent for taking seemingly ludicrous situations and making them so, so undeniably human. The episode is also beautifully directed by Who first-timer Hettie MacDonald, who makes every scene lush and vibrant. She actually manages to establish a unique tone, like nothing we’ve seen before on Who (nor may ever see again). As Sally, Carey Mulligan carries the proceedings superbly with her likeable and grounded performance. She is helped along well by the entire supporting cast – I’d particularly like to mention Louis Mahoney, who is so sweet as older Billy that he almost broke my heart.

Like all of Moffat’s scripts on Who, ‘Blink’ has a lot of subtext worth considering. But more importantly, it’s also a lot of fun. The ever-mounting mystery and terrifying villains are wonderfully realised, as is the charming dialogue. And I haven't even mentioned the Doctor and Martha’s two brief but very memorable appearances! Moffat gives the Doctor some truly hilarious lines to bit into, while also allowing himself a bit of self-referential mocking in the final scene (“Things. Well, four things. Well, four things…and a lizard”). ‘Blink’ truly has it all, and for that reason I believe it is destined to become a true classic in sci-fi television history.


Todd said...

Pretty ingenious stuff. Reminded me of the best of The X-Files, which from me is high praise indeed.

Dan Owen said...

Yep, wonderful episode. Strangely, given the fact The Doctor hardly appears in this episode, if you ever want to get people into DW -- show them Blink. It's genuinely scary, intelligent anf involving television. Certainly one of the best sci-fi episodes in a few years.

Libby said...

As proof to what Dan's saying, this was the first complete episode of Who I've ever actually watched and it may (coupled with a burgeoning nerd-crush on David Tennant) just get me hooked on this show yet.

Dan Owen said...

To Libby: beg, borrow or steal to watch last week's two-parter Human Nature and Family Of Blood -- both just as terrific, but also contain necessary information for the next episode of s3 to make its intended impact.

Actually, most of the best episodes rely on you having seen previous episodes. Blink is a slight anomaly, as it could have worked as part of a sci-fi anthology show.