Doctor Who #764: Blink

"Don't blink. Blink and you're dead. They are fast. Faster than you can believe. Don't turn your back. Don't look away. And don't blink. Good Luck."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jun.9 2007.

IN THIS ONE... Sally Sparrow, Weeping Angels, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey... stuff.

REVIEW: Somehow, Steven Moffat's Blink was even more clever than I remembered. As an intricate timey-wimey (in fact, it coins that silly, but now pervasive term) puzzle story, it stands up to scrutiny well enough. We're dealing with a 45-minute paradox, one that occurs inside a fairly air-tight time loop (see Theories for my attempt at explaining the original timeline). Obviously, there's intellectual delight to be had in the way this unfolds, and there are particularly clever bits, like the various Easter Egg conversations Sally has with the Doctor in the store, and later in the house, using the same lines on his part. But I do so love it when there's a thematic coherence to a story that goes beyond its nuts and bolts. So while Sally's embarrassed flirting with Billy Shipton, "Don't look at me", registered first time around as a reference to the Angels' weakness, I found lots more where that came from this time. The pause button slipping for no reason on Larry's DVD player, for example, again plays on the Angels' stop-and-go existence. The video store clerk has a conversation with the television, that has Sally running to the police, even though he wasn't talking to her, nor could the television characters hear him (in contrast with the Easter Eggs). Shipton's line about time being short and Sally being hot, becomes literal, with his entire life from her point of view going by in a flash. And that climax with the blinking lights in the basement? Yes, BLINKing. Never got that before. Even Martha's enthusiasm at seeing the moon landing four times tells us something about the recursive nature of time travel in this story.

Of course it would all just be an intellectual puzzle if the characters weren't engaging, but they struck gold when they cast Carey Mulligan as Sally. Obviously, she went on to do great things in the world of cinema, but I'll always remember her first as Sally Sparrow, a character we were all clamoring to become a regular companion or even get her own spin-off series. She's quite lovely, as beautiful as she is clever, and has to be. She's carrying what is basically a Doctorless episode. When the Doctor does show up to meet her (and I love the outlandish untold tales these fleeting meetings always seem to infer), he gives her that "companion material" look, and you're like, YEAH! How quickly is Martha forgotten. But she isn't alone in the cast. In nerdy, unsteady Larry we get a prototype for Rory. Kathy and both Billies are charming too. Not a wrong note in the bunch.

And then there are the Weeping Angels, one-offs that were quite insanely brought back (but that's a story for another day), creatures so abstract, they're actually metatextual. Think about it. We're told they can only move when no one sees them, and consequently we never see them move. But that means they're affected by the camera, which of course, isn't really there. We're not OBJECTIVELY there looking at Angels, and yet, they stop for us even when the characters in the scene are clearly not looking at them. That's crazy, but part of the overall postmodern vibe of the episode, and episode in which the Doctor uses DVD extras to send messages ahead through time (and in the final sequence, addresses us directly), where Sparrow & Nightingale think their names sound like an ITV series, and where Billy Shipton criticizes the TARDIS prop for having the wrong-sized windows! It knows it's a piece of television on some level, and yet that doesn't diminish the drama. The Angels are great for creeping the viewer out, increasing the tension, making you ask "how'd they do that?" (mimes, MIMES!) and that final sequence with all the statues is pure "terror in the mundane" Doctor Who stuff. It's pure in that it isn't part of the story, just images and words designed to creep you out. A good friend of mine even developed a mild phobia of statuary after seeing Blink!

THEORIES: Okay, so I know time isn't just cause and effect, but here's how I make sense of the paradox. The Weeping Angels are staking out an old house and sending people back in time to gobble up their potential days, including the Doctor and Martha. The TARDIS and lots of abandoned cars end up at the police station. In the original timeline, I don't think Sally Sparrow got sent back on that first night. Somebody threw something through the window, and she ran off before the Angels got her. She may or may not get hit in the head, but let's say we give the Doctor the benefit of the doubt and that he left a generic message about the Angels under the wallpaper. She brings Kathy Nightingale with her the next day to look at the old house and investigate that message and gets the TARDIS key (because the Doctor was taken in her objective past). Kathy is taken back to 1920 and time chances a first time. Sally receives a letter from Kathy, speaks to Larry her brother (who has never seen the Doctor's Easter Eggs because they don't exist yet) and goes to the police where she meets Billy Shipton. Shipton is sent back to 1969 where the Doctor tracks him down. The Doctor learns of Sally Sparrow who was investigating the house. Timeline #3 then has the Doctor not only leaving a specific message TO Sally, but getting the ball rolling with Shipton to put some Easter Eggs on DVDs in the future, but random DVDs. In this timeline, Sally is even more intrigued because she sees her name on the wall, and Larry HAS been watching Easter Eggs, though the message would not match a conversation, just be information on Angels and whatnot. The Egged DVDs are not her own (small) collection, so she can't follow that clue exactly, but still explores the house with Larry. Maybe she hears the Angels reference sooner, and it clues her in. Perhaps Sally speaks to the screen a couple times and it matches up (like in the video store), and Larry, conspiracy theorist that he is, makes a transcript. Later, she'll meet the Easter Egg man and give him the transcript, and a number of timelines flash by in which the conversation's exact text is revised several times until it completely matches up (and Shipton would also then have fewer DVDs to encode, and the message on wall would include a warning about flying rocks). In any case, the imperfect timeline would still have Sparrow & Nightingale running to the basement, finding the TARDIS, putting a magic DVD in and getting the right effect, quantum locking the Angels in place. Only by getting Sally involved first accidentally, then through Shipton's information, can history ever take the shape we see it in in Blink.

The focus of the original review, Blink and you'll miss him, was on Doctor-lite episodes in general.

VERSIONS: A deleted scene on the DVD includes a little more of the Doctor's prerecorded message aboard the TARDIS, a bit that warns "Don't do anything that would avert the creation of your own species". Moffat's original short story from the 2006 Annual, called "What I Did on My Christmas Holidays by Sally Sparrow" features a younger Sally discovering a message written to her by the 9th Doctor under some wallpaper (plus video messages in which her adult self is featured), but is otherwise an entirely different timey-wimey story. It is available online on the BBC website.

REWATCHABILITY: High - It's incredible that what is quite possibly New Who's best story has so little Doctor in it.


Anonymous said...

Fully agreed, they were crazy to bring the Weeping Angels back. It made them less mysterious, more mundane in the way of the Sontarans, and the new suite of powers they were given didn't help.

Can't say enough good about this episode, though. As for how a stable time loop formed, your theory is as good as any, though (fortunately) we'll never know the "real" answer because that would just wreck a perfectly fine episode.

CiB said...

I actually prefer their next appearance (i.e. Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone). Not saying Blink isn't excellent, because it really is.

We'll need to wait and see if they'll work well in tonights one though (although it being a regeneration story, my hopes aren't high)

Siskoid said...

I actually think Time of Angels works remarkably well. I'm less enthused about The Angels Take Manhattan.

MOCK! said...

This is the epsiode I have rewatched the most...and the one we shared with my daughter...the only non-Who fan in the house.

CiB said...


In that case, we agree completely. Time of Angels I think added to the mystery (simply by addressing all the "Why don't you just do X?" points- many of which had the same effect as seeing Daleks fly for the first time. That is, it made the monster more scary once the obvious vulnerabilities were explained away.)

Craig Oxbrow said...

It's touch and go about whether this will make people watch Doctor Who because it's so off the norm - it often makes Sparrow and Nightingale fans instead.


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