Doctor Who: Blink [Episode 3.10]

Blink, considered by many to be one of the best segments of the revival series of Doctor Who, is the 10th episode of the 3rd season, and features the Doctor (played by David Tennant) and Martha in only brief appearances, focusing instead on guest character Sally Sparrow.

Previous Episode: Human Nature / The Family of Blood • Next Episode:  Partners in Crime
(I know these are not consecutive – more will be filled in as I have the opportunity.)

Plot:  Investigating an old abandoned house, a young woman named Sally Sparrow finds a message to herself written many years earlier by the Doctor (whom she has never met) that anticipates her arrival at that moment.  She returns with her friend, Kathy Nightingale.  While they are there, a message arrives for Sally, written over 20 years earlier by Kathy.  As Sally receives this, Kathy is attacked by what appear to be old statues in the house of Weeping Angels, which transports her back to 1920, where she gets married and lives out a happy life, eventually sending the letter to Sally at that moment.  Confused, Sally finds a key in the hand of one of the statues.  Sally delivers a farewell from Kathy to her brother Larry, and learns of a private obsession of his:  a recording of the Doctor, having one side of a conversation that’s been hidden on exactly 17 DVDs.  Sally goes to police, and shares her experiences with attractive police officer Billy Shipton, who has been investigating many abandoned cars outside of the same old house, amongst which lies the Tardis. After Sally leaves, Billy is also attacked and sent back in time by the Angels, who also steal the Tardis.  Billy calls Sally, but now as an old man on his deathbed.  He tells her that he is the one who put the Doctor’s recordings on the DVD’s (having gotten into publishing), helping Sally to realize the recording is for her.   She and Larry watch it together at the old house, and Sally’s words back to the Doctor become the other half of the conversation.  She learns that the Doctor is trapped in 1969, and that somehow Sally must return the Tardis to the Doctor before the Weeping Angels – incredibly fast creatures who freeze into stone when looked at and live off time energy – feed off of it and cause tremendous damage.  The Angels pursue Sally and Larry through the house into the cellar, where they find the Tardis.  Entering it with the key and activating it, the Tardis returns to the Doctor, but leave Sally and Larry behind.  However, the Angels are frozen permanently as they have been tricked into looking at each other.  A year later, Sally sees the Doctor and gives him her files on her experience, including the transcript of her conversation with the Doctor’s recordings, completing the causal chain by giving the Doctor the information he needs to contact her when he is later trapped in 1969.

Comments: Blink is an absolute triumph of style and economical storytelling.  It is really astonishing how much story is told, and told well, in this single episode.  There’s the main plot with the full mystery of the Weeping Angels and the DVD message, the relationship between Sally and Larry, the Doctor and Martha’s plight, and the full life and death of both Billy Shipton and Kathy Nightingale.  None of these elements are gone into with tremendous depth, but none of them feel too quickly breezed over.  Larry, Billy, Kathy and especially Sally are all fully-fleshed out characters, and in the midst of the tight pacing there is still time for some very tender scenes, especially between Sally and the older Billy.

The Weeping Angels themselves are an ingenious new enemy, who like the entire story, create incredible effect in a very simple way.  Their various unexpected arrivals and sudden changes of position create a lot of nervous energy the grows to full-on terror later on in the story.

The Angels don’t always make complete sense, however.  There seem to be lots of instances where they are frozen, but nobody is looking at them (unless you count the viewer!)  This is especially obvious in the scene where the Angels are shaking the Tardis with Sally and Larry inside.  It’s also a bit confusing that the Angels don’t just “kill” Sally Sparrow right when she first comes over (or on many occasions afterward), as they apparently have with so many others.  There doesn’t seem to be any reason for them to realize that she will lead them to the Tardis.  And at the end, the four Angels are defeated when they end up looking at each other.  But what about when that light bulb dies?  In fact, whey don’t the Angels just short out the light bulb – they’ve done that before, to that very bulb!  But in the end, one ends up being too busy appreciating the concepts and the slickness of the story telling to be too bothered by these problems.

(Speaking of things that don’t make sense, one also wonders why the Doctor can’t just wait around and take care of getting the Tardis back himself.  38 years wouldn’t be much of a deal for him, and presumably as long as he didn’t spend that time with Martha, he could just pop back in time afterwords and rescue her, and Billy and Kathy as well.)

Blink is the series’ second of what is known as a “Doctor-lite” episode, where the Doctor’s role was reduced for various production and scheduling-related reasons.  By reusing the same footage of the recording a couple of times over, it still feels like the Doctor is present for the whole story, but there’s no doubt that the central character is Sally Sparrow.  She is a wonderful character, and holds the lead role very well.  I always hoped that with all the Russell T. Davies-type cameos in his era as producer, that’d we see her again.  But alas.

Larry is also a good character, and serves in a way as the prototype for Rory Williams, introduced later in The Eleventh Hour.  Both are the guy who would not be considered the finest “catch” in the world for very strong and attractive women, but who through their steadiness in the face of real life prove to be exactly what the woman needs.

Though there are traces of this in The Girl in the Fireplace, this is the first time we really see for Steven Moffat pushing the envelope of what sort of temporal acrobatics you can apply to Doctor Who (unless you count The Curse of the Fatal Death).  The sort of ontological craziness that is seen here will continue to inform his scripts in increasing measure from here on in, especially when we becomes the show’s lead producer in Season 5.  But it’s in this story that the term that has come to define this approach is first introduced:  “…wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey.”

In an episode with a lot of great scenes, there is one that really stands out and contains the most stand-out dialogue, and that’s when Sally and the Doctor finally communicate..

• This little bit is actually my favorite dialogue exchange in the entire episode.  Remember, the Doctor is talking via video taped message nearly 40 years old.

Doctor:  People don’t understand time.  It’s not what you think it is.
Sally:  Then what is it?
Doctor:  Complicated.
Sally:  Tell me.
Doctor:  Very complicated.
Sally:  I’m clever, and I’m listening.  And don’t patronize me, because people have died, and I’m not happy.

• A bit later in the same scene, we have this funny moment, typical of Larry.

Doctor:  What matters is we can communicate. We’ve got big problems now.  They’ve taken the blue box, haven’t they?  The angels have the phone box.
Larry:  “The angels have the phone box” – that’s my favourite.  I’ve got that on a t-shirt.

• Leaving that scene for a moment, there’s a very fun scene between Sally and police detective Billy Shipton, where the possibility of a real connection is conveyed entirely through a couple of short scenes, which go, in part…

Billy:  But that’s not the big question.  See, you’re missing the big question.
Sally:  Okay, what’s the big question?
Billy:  Will you have a drink with me?
Sally:  I’m sorry?
Billy:  Drink.  You.  Me.  Now?
Sally:  Aren’t you on duty, Detective-Inspector Shipton?
Billy:  No.  Knocked off before I left.  Told them I had a family crisis.
Sally:  Why?
Billy:  Because life is short and you are hot.  Drink?
Sally:  No.
Billy:  Ever?
Sally:  Maybe.
Billy:  Phone number?
Sally:  Moving rather fast, DI Shipton.
Billy:  Billy.  I’m off duty.
Sally:  Aren’t you just?
Sally writes
Billy:  Is that your phone number?
Sally:  Just my phone number.  Not a promise.  Not a guarantee.  Not an IOU.  Just a phone number.
Billy:  And that’s Sally…?
Sally:  Sally Shipton.  Sparrow!  Sally Sparrow!  I’m going now, don’t look at me (leaving).
Billy:  I’ll phone you.
Sally:  Don’t look at me!
Billy:  I’ll phone you tomorrow.
Sally:  Don’t look at me!
Billy:  I might even phone you tonight!
Sally:  Don’t look at me!
Billy:  Definitely going to phone you, gorgeous girl!
Sally:  Definitely better!

• Another very funny bit comes right at the end, when the Doctor meets Sally for (chronologically for him) the first time.

Doctor:  Listen, gotta dash.  Things happening.  Well, four things.  Well, four things…and a lizard.

I’ve got a thing…well, four things…well, four things…and a lizard.

• And back to our key scene, we have the episode’s key dialogue:

Doctor:  And I’m sorry, I am very very sorry.  It’s up to you now.
Sally:  What am I supposed to do?
Doctor:  The blue box, it’s my time machine.  There’s a world of time energy in there they could feast on forever, but the damage they could do could switch off the sun.   You have got to send it back to me.
Sally:  How?  How?!
Doctor:  And that’s it, I’m afraid.  There’s no more from you on the transcript, that’s the last I’ve got.  I don’t know what stopped you talking, but I can guess. They’re coming.  The angels are coming for you.  But listen, you’re life could depend on this.  Don’t blink.  Don’t even blink.  Blink and you’re dead.  They are fast.  Faster than you could believe.  Don’t turn your back, don’t  look away, and don’t blink.  Good luck.

Things to watch out for (Warning: includes veiled Spoilers for the rest of the season):  s there a reference to Mr. Saxon in this episode?  If so, I didn’t notice it.  Really, this is pretty much a great stand-alone episode, with little reference to anything that’s come before.te

All four of the main guest characters of this story–Kathy, Billy, Larry, and Sally–have names that are five letters long and end in a “y”.  I don’t think it means anything, but think it’s an odd coincidence.

Making sense of it all (Warning:  blatant spoilers for the rest of the series):  Of course the Weeping Angels will return to great effect in Season 5’s Time of the Angels and Flesh and Stone.  In that story, it is revealed that the ones from Blink are scavengers, barely surviving.  The Angels also make a brief cameo in Season 6’s The God Complex.

Last Word:  Blink is routinely cited as one of the series’ finest episodes, and deservedly so – a fact that is all the more impressive considering the small role the regulars play in the action.

Previous Episode: Human Nature / The Family of Blood • Next Episode:  Partners in Crime
(I know these are not consecutive – more will be filled in as I have the opportunity.)

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