“Blink”, written by Steven Moffat, is quite the fan favorite episode of Doctor Who, and for good reason, because it is a very strong, mystifying and memorable standalone story. Though I must confess, in much the same way that I like “The Long Game” more than a lot of other people do, I also don’t feel the “Blink” hype quite as strongly as a lot of other fans do. It’s easily one of the standout episodes of the RTD era (which is to be expected from a Steven Moffat story at this point), but I don’t think I would say it’s one of the top ten Doctor Who episodes of all time. If I’m being honest, I actually like “The Time of Angels” more than it as a Weeping Angels story, which often gets slammed in the fandom for not living up to “Blink”. I don’t know, maybe it’s just because “Blink” is sandwiched between “The Family Of Blood” and “Utopia“, both of which are stories that I really love, that it often feels overshadowed to me.
In any case, “Blink” serves as one last breather episode in Series 3, letting the audience catch their breaths after the emotional intensity of “The Family Of Blood” before the insane developments of the three-part finale. Like “Love And Monsters“, “Blink” is a Doctor-lite episode, an episode that’s deliberately designed to include David Tennant and Freema Agyeman in it as little as possible to give the actors a rest and make their filming schedules easier, and in that regard, it’s definitely a huge step up from “Love And Monsters”. Like Steven’s previous contribution, “The Girl In The Fireplace“, “Blink” has a very compact, efficient and fast-paced screenplay, telling a complete and satisfying story about a peculiar puzzle-box mystery within just forty-five minutes. A fun fact about this episode is that Steven Moffat was originally supposed to write “Daleks In Manhattan“, but he was busy with his own series, “Jekyll”, at the time, so he offered to write the season’s Doctor-lite episode instead, which became “Blink”. Imagine how different “Daleks In Manhattan” and Series 3 as a whole would have been in that scenario.
Sally Sparrow proves to be a likable, engaging one-off protagonist, without the occasional cringeworthy moments that Elton Pope had, and Carey Mulligan is a good fit for the role, giving her warmth, humor and humanity. Sally is an ordinary, unassuming woman, yet plucky and brave when the time calls for it, who finds herself becoming an amateur sleuth in this episode, investigating an old haunted house in her city. Her intrigue gets piqued when she keeps discovering messages from the Doctor, intended for her, who apparently knows all about her future. Since the whole plot of “Blink” happens out of order for Sally and the Doctor, she’s very skeptical and disbelieving of everything that happens, and she has to work out the puzzle herself, piece by piece; but she’s nevertheless a very proactive protagonist. Even if she doesn’t have all the answers, she’s always driving the plot forward from scene to scene.
As she gets closer and closer the truth, terrible things start happening to everyone she comes in contact with, from her friend Kathy (who disappears into the past and never comes back alive) to a policeman she just met, Billy (who ages forty years within the span of a day, from her perspective, and then dies), which leaves her devastated. After accepting the tragic fates that befell them, Sally’s resolve is only strengthened and she decides she’s not going to let it happen to anyone else, showing how stubborn, bullheaded and passionate she can be. My only question is, why does Sally think meeting up with Larry in the old haunted house in the middle of the night is a good idea, when she knows people are disappearing and she believes the Angels are connected to that? Even before she’s given proof that the statues are alive, it honestly seems like Sally has a death wish. Sally’s character is lifted from a short-story Moffat had previously written for Doctor Who magazine the previous year, before he decided to bring her to the silver screen in 2007.
Sally’s primary consultant in this episode is Larry Nightingale, who fits the RTD era tradition of self-professed nerdy guys who are into science fiction and dabble in conspiracy theories (Mickey, Elton) – guys who could arguably act as stand-ins for the sort of people who become Doctor Who fans. Larry has a very dry sense humor, he’s a soft-spoken introverted man, and he can be a bit of pretentious with his hobbies, but he’s a very reliable person – and he takes an interest in the mystery of the Doctor long before Sally does. He fully admits that he’s a lot more fearful than Sally, and a lot less eager to throw himself into harm’s way for the sake of discovery. However, he has an understated crush on her, so he follows her around as her sidekick for a good chunk of this episode, trusting that she knows what she’s doing. If Sally and Larry’s character types seem familiar in retrospect, it’s because Steven Moffat’s first set of companions as the showrunner, Amy and Rory, fit the same mold of a reluctant, nerdy guy trailing after an impulsive, action girl (because I’m guessing he really liked that dynamic).
The Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones have their share of quirky misadventures in this adventure, though they mostly spend “Blink” trapped in the 1960’s – including a fun, coy scene where the Doctor and Sally find a way to communicate across several decades – so David Tennant makes the most of the few scenes he has. Steven Moffat has never made it any secret that he writes the Doctor’s character as a ‘madman with a box’, compared to Russell T. Davies’ ‘lonely god’ approach, so Nine and Ten always seemed a bit more chipper and wacky than usual whenever Moffat wrote them, and that’s very apparent in the dialogue Ten is given in “Blink”. At this point in her tenure, Martha is fully immersed in the Doctor’s lifestyle of traveling in the TARDIS. She loves what she does (fighting monsters and saving people everyday), even if she finds the low points of it (like being stranded in the 1960’s) to be really frustrating at times, and by now she seems to have gone completely native.
Something these Doctor-lite episodes have aimed to do so far is show what it’s like to live in the Doctor Who universe from an outsider’s perspective – in “Blink’s” case, we see how innocent people go missing sometimes, as they fall victims to the wide plethora of monsters who inhabit this universe. The whole plot of “Blink” is a bootstrap paradox – Steven Moffat’s personal favorite brand of paradox that appears in a lot of his episodes. You can’t escape whatever horrible fate might be waiting for you in your own personal future, because the future’s already happened in the past. Like “The Girl In The Fireplace”, Moffat comes up with a great hook for an episode, and we spend the next hour exploring the emotional consequences of it. We don’t learn a lot about the supporting characters in “Blink”, but we do know that they’re all good, kind people, and Steven goes a long way towards making them sympathetic in the short amount of time he has. Whenever some poor sap encounters the Weeping Angels without the plot armor Sally has as the episode’s protagonist, the audience already knows in their gut that they’re doomed.
The first one to get the bullet is Sally’s bubbly, talkative friend Kathy. Her grandson comes knocking while she and Sally are investigating the old house, and it’s implied that there’s a brief temporal tipping point here where history can still be changed, but as soon as she decides to hang back while Sally answers the door, she’s unknowingly set her fate in stone. Then there’s Billy Shipton, a cocky, flirtatious, smooth-talking policeman who has the misfortune to encounter Sally while the Weeping Angels are on her tail. Billy’s fate is especially tragic: like Kathy, the Angels stole his life. He spent the rest of his days away from his friends, his family and his home, but he also had to live with the knowledge of the exact date he was going to die up into his old age, waiting almost forty years to give a message to Sally – which is horrific. Billy’s parting is probably the most sobering scene in this episode: it’s sad, but it’s also handled with plenty of dignity.
“Blink” is the debut of the Weeping Angels, Steven Moffat’s breakout monsters. On the surface, they appear to be stone angel statues, with a Gothic design and blank empty eyes that are very unsettling. In reality, they’re alien shapeshifters disguised as statutes, who can only move around when they’re unseen. They steal people’s lives, trapping them in the past and feeding off the time energy of the potential future they lost. The Angels are a great concept for a monster, if a tad gimmicky: jump scares are a staple of the horror movie genre, and the Weeping Angels are literal jump scare monsters. In all of their appearances, the Angels are characterized as being pretty ambitious and power-hungry. In “Blink”, they want the TARDIS, and they keep tabs on Sally so they can try to steal it. The audience is clued in to their scheme a lot sooner than the characters are, which steadily builds up tension and suspense, until they finally lash out and practically swarm Sally and Larry in the climax.
The Angels are a unique breed of Doctor Who villains (in a show that often likes to create tragic monsters and sympathetic villains), in that they have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Whenever we’re given any insight into their personalities, they’re always shown to be petty, cruel and purely malevolent creatures, but they’re also arrogant. They’re fully aware of how overpowered they are and how easy it is to kill their prey, so they sometimes like to drag things out and make the hunt more entertaining for themselves by playing with their food for sick kicks – which is exactly what they do with Sally and Larry in the last act. Throughout all of their appearances, their overconfidence proves to be their biggest flaw, and it winds up biting them in the ass in “Blink”, when it leads them right into the Doctor’s trap. Finally, the coda reveals that while the Gothic angel appearance is their default form, they can easily look like any kind of statue they want and they can potentially be any statue on Earth. The Angels are always watching: which is an extra bit of paranoia fuel to keep the kiddies up at night, wondering.
As a spooky one-off story that barely features the Doctor and Martha in it, “Blink” is easily the episode that’s the most disconnected from Series 3’s overall story arc, but it still manages to foreshadow the upcoming season finale thematically like all the other episodes in this season. Most of “Blink’s” plot is devoted to exploring the mechanics of the bootstrap paradox, which feels appropriate since, as we’re about to discover in the next adventure, the whole Harold Saxon story arc of Series 3 is one big bootstrap paradox that started in “Smith And Jones“. The Angels’ scheme to steal the Doctor’s ship also serves as a reminder that while the TARDIS is mostly used as a casual mode of transportation, it’s also an exceptionally powerful time machine, and if it ever fell into the wrong hands it could actually be used to destroy the world – so guess what happens in the very next episode?
“Blink” is directed by Hettie MacDonald, and compared to how colorful Doctor Who usually is, “Blink” has a very cold, grey and clinical aesthetic. There’s something very uneasy (and almost unreal) about the overall direction at times: I’m especially fond of that close-up shot of Sally staring out into the rain, eyeing the Weeping Angels until she inevitably blinks, which is held for an uncomfortably long amount of time. “Blink” is quite an impressive episode for the costume and make-up department: while it’s easy to mistake the Angels as stone props that are swapped out from shot to shot, they’re actually portrayed by actresses in full-costume and stone make-up – which makes the Angels one of the most elaborate, practical villain designs we’ve seen this season. Murray Gold’s score is very ambient, sinister and understated this week. Like his music in “Boom Town“, “Blink (Suite)” utilizes the oboe extensively, with the occasional bit of electric guitar, slipping in a few subtle variations on Ten’s theme.
As an experimental episode, “Blink” is quite a special story. It’s a fun one-off adventure and a strong breather episode, with a likable lead, some great villains and a spooky atmosphere – it’s definitely a step in the right direction for the show’s Doctor-lite episodes.
* Between Sally, Larry, Billy and Kathy, Steven Moffat seemed to be quite enamored with names that end in the letter ‘y’ when he was writing this screenplay.
* “Okay. I’m not sure, but I’m really, really hoping. Am I wearing pants?” “…No”.
* “Hey! ‘Sparrow and Nightingale’. That so works!” “Bit ITV” “I know!”
* “I love old things. They make me feel sad” “What’s good about sad?” “It’s happy for deep people” Um, okay Sally. I’m guessing you were an emo teen in your youth.
* “1902? You told him you were eighteen? You lying cow”.
* “Hang on. We’ve met, haven’t we?” “It’ll come to you” “…Oh, my God” “There it is”.
* “When you say you and the guys, you mean the internet, don’t you?” “How’d you know?” “Spooky, isn’t it?”
* “Go to the police, you stupid woman. Why does nobody ever just go to the police?” Because policemen in any sort of movie genre – horror, action or sci-fi – are usually written as being completely useless?
* “Sally Shipton. Sparrow! Sally Sparrow. I’m going now, don’t look at me” “I’ll phone you” “Don’t look at me” “Phone you tomorrow” “Don’t look at me” “Might even phone you tonight” “Don’t look at me!” “Definitely going to phone you, gorgeous girl!”
* “I tracked you down with this: my timey-wimey detector. It goes ding when there’s stuff. Also, it can boil an egg at thirty paces, whether you want it to or not, actually, so I’ve learned to stay away from hens. It’s not pretty when they blow”.
* “Ah, life is long, and you are hot. Oh, look at my hands. They’re old man’s hands. How did that happen?” Ouch, Moffat.
* “I knew you would live in Scooby-Doo’s house” “For God’s sake, I don’t live here”.
* “It’s very complicated” “I’m clever and I’m listening. And don’t patronize me because people have died, and I’m not happy. Now tell me”.
* “You can’t kill a stone. Of course, a stone can’t kill you either. But then you turn your head away, then you blink, and oh yes it can”.
* Can we talk about how Sally straight-up left Larry to die in that hallway? She leaves him watching the Angel while she looks for an escape route, and then she never does come back for him, even though she knows your average person can only hold out for about thirty seconds before they have to blink.
* “Why is it pointing at the light?” “Oh, my God, it’s turning out the lights!” And it was at that point that Sally realized just how screwed they both were.
* “Oh, my God, it’s leaving us behind! Doctor, no! You can’t!” Top ten anime betrayals.
* Larry stared right into one of the Angels’ eyes when they were facing off in the doorway. And during the coda, we see Sally has pictures of another one. Considering what we learn about the Angels in Series 5 and how their powers work, should we be concerned for them?