...a blog by Richard Flowers

Monday, December 14, 2015

Alex & Richard's Doctor Who 52: 04 Blink


Last time, the first classic monsters of the classic series; this time, the first unforgettable monsters of the new series.


The Weeping Angels, aka the Lonely Assassins, aka statues that move when you are not looking at them. So don't blink.

Ten Reasons To Watch "Blink" (warning: spoilers)

  1. It's a haunted house story – we open with a dark and stormy night as our heroine explores the creepy, abandoned house: Wester Drumlins. It's a house full of ghosts, the victims of the monstrous Angels who live here. But it's also a whole story about how time haunts us, plays tricks on us, runs away from us. People are displaced in time as a metaphor for the way life is something that happens while we are looking the other way. Blink and you literally miss it.

  2. It's definitive Moffat – it's almost a sketch of the tropes (good and bad) that writer Steven Moffat will develop as he goes on to become Doctor Who lead writer (apparently he dislikes "showrunner"): it's a plot-driven puzzle-box that juggles the more mind-bending aspects of time-travel and it takes an everyday thing and makes it totally scary. But it's also recycling his own earlier works, in this case his contribution to the first Dr Who Annual: "What I did On My Christmas Holidays by Sally Sparrow…"

  3. Sally Sparrow – well, this is a very different Sally played by soon-to-be-very-famous-indeed Carey Mulligan with star-level charm. After 2005, the creators realised they could only make 12 episodes of their 13 episode Doctor Who series without killing their leads. The solution: the "Doctor Lite" episode, with a stand-in companion intersecting only briefly with the title character: hence 2006's "Love & Monsters" had Elton Pope; thus 2007 brought us to heroine Sally.

  4. Sparrow and Nightingale, bit ITV – Sally is smart and determined, and won't take shit, even from the Doctor. She's also a bit pretentious – telling her best mate Kathy that "sad is happy for deep people" (in fairness, as an answer to why she likes exploring old buildings that are sad).

    Kathy is the first victim of the Angels (or rather the first that we see: there are plenty of recovered cars – and the TARDIS – in the police pound to show how many others there have been), aged to death in an eyeblink. She's the friend that Sally loses touch with when she goes off to get married and raise a family. And it's through her brother Larry, that Sally discovers…

  5. The DVD Easter Eggs – the particularly memorable bit of the episode is the "one-sided conversation" between Sally and the Doctor. A tour-de-force piece of writing, especially the bit where the Doctor's dialogue is used to do double duty, fitting into a conversation with Sally twice (it's his description of causality as "timey-wimey", which alas has stuck). It's all achieved by filming David Tennant doing a to-camera message that then appears as a hidden extra feature – or Easter Egg – on just seventeen seemingly entirely unconnected DVD. The connection being that they are the only DVDs that Sally owns, and it's because the message is for her. It makes the story unexpectedly uniquely of its time: this could only happen in the DVD era, between VHS tapes and streaming digital downloads.

  6. Larry works in a shop: Banto's – clearly named for Banto Zame (a name to remind you of "Panto Dame") memorably played by Christopher Biggins up against Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor in the Big Finish play "The One Doctor". This makes the shop name an Easter Egg. Larry may or may not be named in reference to Lawrence Miles. Who has NOTHING to do with the works of Stephen Moffat at all ever. (See also, almost every other Moffat or Russell era story.) Banto's main contribution to the plot is to shout "Go to the police, woman!" at the unseen heroine of a film he is watching just as Sally is passing, a piece of synchronous dialogue that prompts her next action… just like those seemingly gnomic remarks of the Doctor's in the recording seem to form a conversation with her when she speaks too. It's a clever little reminder that this could all be coincidence.

  7. Billy Shipton – is the young detective inspector in charge of the Wester Drumlins case (all those abandoned vehicles, remember). His motto/chat up technique: "Life is short and you are hot".

    Sally meets him when she goes to the police. Which, unfortunately, turns out to be bad news for him because the Angels are now following her. (The Angels are actually after the TARDIS – the Angels have the phone box; buy the tee-shirt – so it's probable that they allowed Sally to escape with the key in order to track it down; maybe they sensed something of her connection to the Doctor about her.)

  8. Billy Shipton (reprise) – young Billy is played with an infectious grin by Michael Obiora (who in fairness is as hot as Billy thinks he is); but old Billy is a deeply moving performance from Louis Mahoney (who first appeared in Doctor Who as a newsreader in "Frontier in Space" in 1973 – later that same year Trevor McDonald would become ITN's first black reporter).

    Billy is Sally's lost opportunity for a relationship, going straight from flirting (via accelerated TV drama Freudian slip she experiments with the name "Sally Shipton") to waiting at his bedside for him to die. The Bride in White contemplating the Widow in Black done at warp speed. As with Kathy earlier, the implication here is that the Angels are feeding off Sally, that the "potential" that they consume is hers not that of the people they displace. Something her determined stride from Billy's now-empty hospital bed seems to suggest she realises.

  9. The Angels – are the real meat of this story, an honest-to-god new monster that was good enough to become a recurring enemy. Never mind the hand-waving about "quantum locked" (and definitely ignore how "Flesh and Stone" messes with their USP), they are clearly a weaponised version of Grandmother's Footsteps, only able to move when you're not looking. And, like the game, they gradually gather pace over the course of the episode: unseen, someone throws a stone to attack Sally; the first one we actually see, in the garden, may have moved or may not. Slowly they uncover and recover their faces, stretch out a hand. Only by the final act do they reveal the full frightful aspect to their visage before their final assault on the TARDIS – thanks to a light blinking on and off – becomes a terrifying almost stop-motion effect.

    The fact that they are realised physically – thanks to some astonishing mime acting and prosthetic work they are also the endpoint evolution of those "living statues" you see in public places – adds to their threatening sense of presence in the room. And of course the montage at the end suggests to us that any statue could be an Angel. Don't have nightmare, kiddies…

  10. Paradox – hang on, doesn't the Doctor defeat the Angels because Sally hands him the DVD and tells him how he defeats the Angels?

What Else Should I Tell You About "Blink"?

The Doctor's (half of the) conversation with Sally is an Easter Egg on the BBC DVD release of the complete season three. Which means that the BBC DVD release of the complete season three is one of Sally's seventeen DVDs. Which is a bit meta.

If you need one, my score:

It's a perfect little closed loop ontological paradox, with a star turn from Carey Mulligan making Sally Sparrow more grounded and real than just another Moffat manic pixie dream girl, and real genius in the concept and realisation of a truly memorable monster.

If You Like "Blink", Why Not Try…

"Mission to the Unknown" – This little gem, essentially a trailer for the then forthcoming epic "The Daleks' Master Plan" with none of the regular cast, shows off the Daleks to maximum effect: in the absence of the Doctor, they can win.

"The Empty Child" – a child's game of tag turned into a deadly infection amidst the falling bombs of the London Blitz in a plot that comes together at the end in almost the most perfect way possible to create Moffat's (deserved) reputation.

Meanwhile on the other side…

Alex is watching "Ghost Light".

The most intense lecture on the Victorian evolution debate you'll ever sit through. And another angel that can't move.

Next Time…

Once upon a time Doctor Who was a TV series. And then for a while it wasn't. And then it was again. But in between, came some of the greatest Doctor Who stories every told. Tales of gods and monsters and time-travelling archaeologists. Tales of the Dark Times. Tales of the Future. And among them, the origins of the Time War…

1 comment:

Mike Taylor said...

Just wanted to say I am really enjoying this series. I don't have much to add to what you said about Blink, beyond the rather obvious observation that seeing it now in the light of everything that'd happened since, it looks much less radical and delightful than it did at the time. But I remember being absolutely riveted at the time -- all the more so as it followed the arguably even better two-parter Human Nature/Family of Blood. For a while there, the Martha Jones season was shaping up to be the best of them all.

BTW., I do hope the mention of The Empty Child in the 'if you liked that, try this" section doesn't mean it won't be getting its own treatment in your series.