Is it possible that “Blink” is the greatest Doctor Who episode ever created? Maybe. But it’s even more probable that “Blink” is such a fine piece of sci-fi/horror that it deserves to stand on its own, outside the larger canon of the series. If I were going to introduce someone to Doctor Who for the first time, it would be tempting to show them “Blink”—and yet it would be unfair to do that because they might think the series is something other than what it is. If “Blink” is the greatest installment of Who, then what does that say about the show, given that the Doctor is in it for it all of six or seven minutes? Like the previous two-parter, much of “Blink’s” strength comes from its uniqueness (although that’s probably the only thing it has in common with “Human Nature”).
Steven Moffat’s scripts for Doctor Who have come to be the stories against which all others end up being measured (which is probably very unfair to the other writers). “The Empty Child” two-parter and “The Girl in the Fireplace” have been the high points of the first two seasons, so it’s no surprise that “Blink” is another masterpiece. What continues to stymie me about Moffat’s work is his ability to see Doctor Who in a way that is entirely his own. He doesn’t seem like a man who sits down to write a Doctor Who story as much as someone who sits down to write a story that would be good regardless of whether or not it’s Doctor Who. “Blink” is the clearest example of this yet. Remove the Doctor from the proceedings, insert a time traveler with any other name, and this could just as easily have been an installment of some other show. Maybe “Blink” is actually the greatest episode of an unknown sci-fi/horror anthology series and it just happens to be on loan to Doctor Who.
Jeez. If I engage in any more hyperbole I might as well get married to it. The episode begins with a young lady by the name of Sally Sparrow (Carey Mulligan). She’s got this Nancy Drew thing going on, but I suppose any young woman investigating a spooky old house would. She discovers a message hidden behind some crumbling wallpaper. It’s from someone called “The Doctor” and it insists that she duck. Luckily she does, as if she hadn’t she’d have been knocked out cold by a rock flung by seemingly nobody. The only other thing in the room is a creepy, angelic statue. Before long, Sally Sparrow finds herself embroiled in what must be the strangest series of events in her life, and all of them seem to lead back to an even stranger man who appears only as an easter egg on a series of otherwise unrelated DVDs.
The episode is as simple as it is complex. It’s, as the Doctor put it, “a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey…stuff”. It also achieves the unthinkable in the form of the Weeping Angels—a race of alien beings who must surely rank amongst the scariest the show has ever presented, and yet we never once see them move. Oh how I hate to toss around words like “genius”, but how else do you describe what Moffat achieves here with inanimate objects? Even after the episode concludes, Moffat plays with the viewer by repeating the Doctor’s advice for dealing with the angels against a montage of other statues. He’s scarred children for life with this piece. Peet Gelderblom, who also worships at the altar of Moffat, wrote to me in an e-mail after seeing “Blink”: “He’s taken the least convincing scare element of Stephen King’s The Shining—the hedge animals that move while you’re not blinking—and made it work, simply by supplying the right context and backstory. I looooved it.”
Aside from being great sci-fi and great horror, there’s also the tenderness of the story and the characters are quite intricate given how much is going on in these 45 minutes. Particularly moving is the story of Billy Shipton (Michael Obiora), a DI who’s instantly transported from the present to 1969. The only way he will return to 2007 is by living his life day to day until he gets there. Sally Sparrow meets him twice on the same day: Once when he’s a virile, flirtatious young hunk, and a little bit later as an aged, dying man in a hospital. When he sees her for the second time he reminisces, “It was raining when we met.” She replies, “It’s the same rain.”
Much like last year’s Doctor-lite episode “Love & Monsters”, the internet plays a big role in “Blink”. The Doctor’s easter egg appearances have led to an entire internet subculture of surfers trying to decipher the deeper meanings of his message. Sally’s sleuthing partner, Larry (Finlay Robertson), who is one of them, repeats a phrase of the Doctor’s from the DVD: ”’The angels have the phonebox’. That’s my favorite, I’ve got that on a T-shirt.”
I want one of those T-Shirts.
NEXT WEEK: Derek Jacobi guest stars and Captain Jack Harkness crosses back over from Torchwood to reunite with the Doctor in “Utopia”.
Classic Who DVD Recommendation of the Week: Check out some vintage Who by seeing Jon Pertwee battle “The Claws of Axos”.