02 July 2013

The Doctor Diaries III.10a: “Blink”

The Best Episode?

“Blink” is the favorite episode of many connoisseurs. It is really a perfect episode: perhaps the quintessential single piece of Doctor Who. If you had to pick just one episode to watch, ever, or a first episode as an introduction for a new viewer, this might be the one.
Its narrative perspective is great as an introduction to the Doctor, because [nearly] the whole episode is from the point of view of someone who knows nothing about him, and who is justifiably confused by the strange events in which she is involved. Sally Sparrow is a sweet, loveable, beautiful person, too (played by the charming and talented Carey Mulligan, more recently of The Great Gatsby fame): someone whose narrative position we are happy to inhabit.

The dramatis personae is stocked with delightful characters: Billy Shipton, Larry Nightingale, and Kathy Nightingale are all tons of fun, just a little bit cooler than people you know. Again, they provide a way into the story: they are like us, or like what we want to be, or like our friends, or like how we imagine our friends to be. This takes us into the plot so that we get wrapped up into it.

Its story-arc is ideal: It is contained within one 45-minute episode, but it has a long, slow, carefully-developed exposition. For a very long time, it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the Doctor. This connects with the narrative position, as both Sally and the viewer gradually get to know about powerful, mysterious, dangerous forces at work in time and space, and about the one Person who can control them. But he cannot: he is trapped, and needs the help of ordinary little humans to set him free again. That is the conflict: can Sally help the Doctor escape from his time-trap without being destroyed in the process? {wow, that sounds like a cheesy back-of-the-box blurb. Sorry}.

And the tension ratchets up higher and higher, with a delicate handling of fear and creepiness not often matched in Doctor Who, which frequently relies on simple race-against-the-clock and race-against-death matches with superbly unsubtle monsters and disasters. This one takes a more sophisticated approach, with a slow, patient introduction to one of the worst enemies ever: the Weeping Angels.

Now, I had the misfortune of watching “The Time of Angels” and “Flesh and Stone” first, in my crazy backwards introduction to Doctor Who (remember I watched series 5, 2, 1, 3 in that order). I LOVE those two episodes. I think they are amazing. I do not mean to disparage them at all, as the writing and acting of those two Angel-episodes are superb. But since those angels are even more dangerous than these—those kill you, these chuck you back in time somewhere so they can consume your life-energy—and since Amy's terrifying encounter with them is drawn out and amped up, I found the Weeping Angels in “Blink” much less scary than I would have otherwise. Because, really, their terror is far greater, because so much more subtle and psychologically realistic. Amy meets them on another planet, in another time period, as just one more horrific enemy that wants to kill the Doctor in a long chain of horrific enemies who want to kill the Doctor. Sally meets them in her own time period, during her ordinary linear life, in a very creepy old abandoned house. Whereas Amy's encounter is (from her point of view) clearly science fiction she is caught up in, Sally's is a nightmare come to life.

Do you see what an enormous difference that is? Meeting terror in a foreign situation is pretty much expected; expected as a genre convention, and as part of life. We expect to meet monsters in a far-away jungle or on a far-away planet. But meeting something ordinary—a garden statue—in your ordinary life and having it turn out to be a monster? That is much, much worse.

Then, finally, there is the plot: the time-story. It may be the best and most convoluted time-story Moffat ever wrote. If you've seen the episode, you know it, so there's no sense my summarizing it: if you haven't, I won't spoil it here. But tomorrow's post will be about time-stories, using this one as a point of discussion, so I will spoil it there. So go and watch “Blink,” then come back tomorrow!

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