“BLINK” – Series 3, Episode 10, Story 186 – Written by Steven Moffat; Directed by Hettie MacDonald – It’s time for the now annual Doctor Light episode involving the Suicide Squad and- wait, wrong universe. This is the one where the Doctor and his Companion get involved in something that mostly takes place off screen so the Beeb can film an extra episode and we can look at the Doctor’s universe from a sideways angle. So while the Doctor and Martha Jones are stuck in 1969, we’re introduced to Sally Sparrow, a curious, too-cute-to-believe twentysomething who likes to investigate weird places. She walks into the wrong house and now she’s got the Weeping Angels on her tail and they keep sending people into the far past in their effort to get at the TARDIS. Don’t hate. Because You’d Totally Steal The TARDIS, Too, Ya Thieving Bastard.
I’m not really interested in saying something hyperbolic like, “BLINK is the single best/third best/ninth best story in the history of DOCTOR WHO,” and not just because I hate the artificiality of lists. What I will say is that whenever there’s a conversation about the best shows this incredibly long-lived series has produced, you’re going to have to talk about Steven Moffat’s stunning masterpiece. Of course, you’re probably also going to have to talk about his other masterpieces: THE EMPTY CHILD/THE DOCTOR DANCES from Series 1 and THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE from Series 2, so it’s really not any surprise that he was chosen to take over the reigns of the franchise when Russell T Davies stepped aside.
What sets BLINK apart (but lets not get into whether it’s above or below) the others is that it’s a so-called “Doctor-lite” episode with only minimal involvement from David Tennant and Freema Agyeman, so you’re enjoyment of BLINK might wane if you’re not crazy about a DOCTOR WHO episode with a limited role for the Doctor.
That’s one thing I love about the B&W days – you’re watching an 8-part serial or something crazy and you get to part five and there’s no Doctor all episode. You’re like, “That seems odd,” but then the extras tell you that was Hartnell’s week to go on vacation or something and while everyone else was in the studio, he was conked out on a beach in Barcelona. Hartnell must look down at these 13-episode seasons and say things in a cranky old man’s voice about how easy today’s kids have things.
BLINK focuses on Sally Sparrow, an early twentysomething who goes looking for dangerous places to photograph, and she’s one of the single-best one-off characters in the history of this franchise. What makes her so compelling is that she has the same kind of curiosity that fuels the Doctor. Sally goes to this dilapidated, abandoned scary house (“Scooby-Doo’s house,” Larry calls it) to take photos, starts peeling wallpaper off a wall in an upstairs room and there’s a message for her scribbled on the wall beneath: “Duck!” the message says, and it’s signed, “The Doctor. 1969.” Sally ducks and a rock goes sailing over her head. She’s a bit tweaked by this and her sense of unease is increased by the weeping angels statues outside.
As she’s leaving there’s a fantastic shot of the weeping angel statues in the house windows looking down at her, having moved inside the house while she was busy not looking at them.
That’s right, the statues move when you’re not looking at them, a wonderful idea for villainy that speaks to Moffat’s imaginative, thoughtful approach to sci-fi. It makes the fear of them so much more tangible that they’re harmless so long as they’re being looked at, but some of the deadliest assassins in the universe when you’re not.
Pulling a move straight out of the Doctor’s playbook, Sally heads to the home of her pal, Kathy Nightingale despite the late hour, makes some tea, and sees Kathy’s brother Larry in all of his naked slacker glory.
Larry is obsessed with a series of easter eggs he’s found on DVDs over the years. All of the DVDs contain an image of a man having a one-way, seemingly rambling conversation with no one. This man is, of course, the Doctor, but Sally doesn’t know this so she largely ignores Larry in order to talk to Kathy. The following day she drags Kathy out to the house to have a look around.
Director Hettie MacDonald skillfully moves her cameras around this house, cutting around the slowly approaching angels as Sally and Kathy are unaware of the danger they’re in. While they’re inside the house, there’s a knock at the door and a young man gives Sally a package that contains evidence that Kathy – the woman in the room just behind her – has actually spent her life in the past and that this delivery boy is her grandson, who she ordered to go to this house, on this day, at this hour, to give Sally the package.
“It will have been seconds for you,” Kathy’s letter states and Sally is forced to confront the unbelievable truth about her friend being sent back in time. It’s a really wonderfully written and filmed sequence with Sally dealing with the man at the door and a weeping angel approaching an unaware Kathy from behind. Moffat and MacDonald use Sally’s tension to fuel Kathy’s half of the sequence.
A distraught Sally goes to the cops to tell her story in one of those meta-moments where she wonders, “Do you ever wonder why people in stories don’t just go to the police?” Well, Sally does and in a nice twist, there’s a cop named Billy Shipton who doesn’t think she’s completely crazy because people have been disappearing from that supposedly abandoned house for a while.
Shipton is all charm and soft-shoe aggression with Sally, asking for her number because “Life is short and you are hot,” and he gets it after showing her that in the basement of the police station is a relic from the past: an old blue police box. Sally leaves and then realizes that the cop said no one could get into the police box and she’s got a key stolen from the angels back at the house. She runs back inside but everything is gone because in the short time she had left Shipton alone, he got zapped back into the past by the angels.
In the past, Shipton meets up with the Doctor and Martha and the Doctor tells him he needs a favor. Moffat’s script continually weaves back on itself. Just as Kathy went to the past, lived her life, and then had her grandson connect with Sally as Kathy was busy disappearing, Sally’s phone now rings and it’s a call from Billy. For her, it’s been seconds, but he’s lived his whole life. Visiting him in the hospital, she discovers that Billy has married and become a producer of DVDs and that he’s the guy responsible for putting all those easter eggs on the DVDs and that Sally should look at the list of DVDs that Larry has compiled to see what they have in common.
What they have in common is that they are all the DVDs in Sally’s collection and now she understands that strange guy on the TV is leaving messages for her. Sally and Larry go back to the house and play the DVD and Sally has the other half of the conversation with the Doctor. They wonder how this could be possible since the Doctor really is on tape and not communicating directly, but she later realizes it’s because Larry writes down a transcription of her half of the conversation and these papers will eventually come into the possession of the Doctor.
The angels attack and Larry and Sally end up in the basement where the TARDIS awaits, surrounded by angels. They approach, the lights go all horror-movie, flickering on and off and the angels get closer and closer and closer and closer as Sally fumbles with the key and Larry gets all panicky and just in the nick o’ time, they get inside. There presence keys a hologram of the Doctor to start playing and they get the TARDIS going, except for the fact that the TARDIS leaves without them. As the TARDIS fades away, the angels press in and press in and press in and …
The angels have looked into each other’s eyes and now remain frozen in place for all eternity.
Larry and Sally get on with their lives by co-running the video store. Actually, Larry is ready to move on but Sally remains obsessed with what happened until one day she looks out the front window and there’s the Doctor and Martha running down the street. She runs out to meet them and the Doctor has no idea who she is.
Being a clever girl, Sally realizes that it’s because the Doctor is a time traveler and her past is his future. She gives him the packet of info she’s collected, thus causing her life to loop back in on itself just as the script is continually doing and as the Doctor and Martha go running off to shoot arrows at dinosaurs or something.
It’s just a fantastic episode. Part horror story, part imaginative sci-fi, Moffat, MacDonald, and star Carey Mulligan craft a gripping 40-odd minutes of television. Mulligan makes Sally both tough and vulnerable and determined and scared. She’s such a great character that I thought, for a moment, how wonderful it would be to have her be a Companion, but then realized that wouldn’t work. Sally and the Doctor are the same character at different stages of their life. It’s not hard to imagine the younger Doctor having adventures like this back on Gallifrey.
The end result is that while BLINK doesn’t have much of the Doctor, it’s still very much an episode of DOCTOR WHO. Unlike LOVE AND MONSTERS, which really did come at the world of the Doctor from a side angle, BLINK offers up a more traditional style and tone.
It’s all fantastic and one of the best hours you’ll ever spend on the couch watching TV.