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Blink and You Missed One of the Most Amazing Hours of TV on "Doctor Who"

I've been an ardent supporter of the new incarnation of Doctor Who since it launched back in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston in the lead role of the time-traveling Doctor. Since then, there have been a number of casting changes (goodbye Eccleston and Billie Piper, hello David Tennant and Freema Agyeman) but what has remained consistent is the series' undying creative spark and the scope of its vision and its constant need to take risks with storytelling.

That last element was never more clear than in the most recent episode of Doctor Who ("Blink"), written by frequent Russell T. Davies collaborator Steven Moffat, who has consistently written my favorite episodes of each season so far. (He wrote the fantastic WWII-set two-parter "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances" in Season One and the mind-blowing "Girl in the Fireplace," guest starring Sophia Myles, for Season Two.)

Still, nothing prepared me for how surprised and shocked I would be by Moffat's latest, "Blink," despite numerous Televisionary readers telling me to watch out for this episode. It's one thing to focus on supporting characters in a one-off episode that doesn't advance the season's plot, but it's another thing altogether to introduce a new character and relegate your main protagonists (that would be the Doctor and Martha, natch) to a combined total screen time of under two minutes. But the real piece de resistance is that Moffat managed to create such a foreboding air of doom and such a lush atmosphere for the episode that you didn't need the Doctor or Martha to advance the story. In fact, their disappearance from the plot WAS the story.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's backtrack for a second and take a look at the episode itself. The structure and setup of "Blink" is most analogous to Season Two's "Love and Monsters" episode, in which the focus had shifted from the Doctor and his then companion Rose to a sort of support group for people who have had run-ins with the Doctor. It gave the audience the opportunity to see the chaos the Doctor leaves in his wake from a differing POV.

Still, that doesn't approximate the emotional heft that "Blink" wielded, creating memorable characters that will live on in the viewers' consciousness long after the closing credits have run. With the Doctor and Martha trapped in 1969 thanks to a vicious alien race called the Weeping Angels, their rescue depends on a present-day photographer named Sally Sparrow, played by Bleak House's Carey Mulligan, in a role that makes me wish the Beeb had named her the Doctor's new companion rather than Catherine Tate.

So who has managed to do the impossible and stranded the Doctor? The Weeping Angels are silent assassins, who appear to be statues whenever you gaze directly at them. However, if you look away or, hell, even blink, they can swiftly kill you, depositing you in the past to live out your days while feasting on the energy of the life you might have had. Trippy, yes, but depressing to boot. Sally's friend Kathy is one of the first victims, finding herself stranded in 1902 Hull after she's attacked by the weeping angel.

It's up to Sally to piece together just what's happening but she appears to be helped by messages from the past: words scrawled under wallpaper in deserted mansions, DVD easter eggs, letters handed down through the generations. Behind it all is the Doctor and Martha, or at least that's what you're lead to believe. In a fantastic twist, it's actually Sally who is helping herself and the Doctor from the future and, in a rather fantastic twist, we see the first meeting between our time-travelers and Sally at the end of the episode. What other series would have its protagonists walk off screen knowing less than they did when the episode began? Or display a better understanding of the quirky realities of time travel?

Ultimately, "Blink" provided one of the most creative, terrifying, and ambitious hours in television, throwing off the shackles of linear storytelling with glee yet reveling its in own ability to create new characters that are instantly sympathetic and likeable. Sally may have ended up with Kathy's dopey brother Ben, finally forming that perfect partnership of Sparrow and Nightingale, but I'm not quite ready to see the last of her. With a series as unexpected and unpredictable as Doctor Who, I daresay that we probably haven't seen the last of her. Fingers crossed that she and the Doctor meet up again soon.

Next on Doctor Who ("Utopia"), Captain Jack Harkness (of Torchwood fame) returns when the TARDIS makes a visit to Cardiff; the Doctor encounters a professor at the end of the universe. Is the Doctor really the very last Time Lord? Find out tonight.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: How I Met Your Mother/The New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS); Deal or No Deal (NBC); Everybody Hates Chris/Everybody Hates Chris (CW); Wife Swap (ABC); Prison Break (FOX)

9 pm: Two and a Half Men/Rules of Engagement (CBS); Singing Bee (NBC); Girlfriends/The Game (CW); Wife Swap (ABC); K-Ville (FOX)

10 pm: CSI: Miami (CBS); Heroes (NBC); Supernanny (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Prison Break.

Ehn, I caught up on DVD this summer and I'm curious to see where they are going with this change in direction. In the season premiere ("Orientacion"), Michael, Mahone, T-Bag, and Bellick remain in notorious Panamanian prison Sona. Hmm, how long do you think it will take before Michael starts to plot a way out of there?

10 pm: Weeds on Showtime.

The third season of Showtime's acclaimed comedy, Weeds continues. On tonight's episode ("Grasshopper"), Mary-Kate Olsen joins the cast as the beautiful and very religious Tara Lindman, Nancy throws a cocktail party for the town's leaders, U-Turn pays a visit to Conrad and Heylia, and Celia and Sullivan get closer.

10 pm: Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations on Travel Channel.

The third season of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations continues as Tony Bourdain travels to South Carolina, where he experiences Southern hospitality, culture, history, and cuisine.


Anonymous said…
I loved this ep so much. I was one of the scariest hours of television I've ever seen, and it accomplished that without resorting to the usual tricks that TV horror employs. I didn't know before coming here that this writer had also written "The Girl in the Fireplace", but I was reminded of that episode while I was watching this one.

Remarkable, beautiful work.

eAi said…
I have to say this is the best Doctor Who episode there's been - probably on-par with The Empty Child which scared the hell out of me!

It's interesting that the most successful episodes are those that are closest to reality - they rely on making the normal abnormal. The ones that resort to blowing up the earth, visiting other planets are fun - but they don't have the same depth.

Carey Mulligan (who played the main character in 'Blink') is my personal favourite. Not well known generally, but everything I've seen her in she's been brilliant. I've seen her on stage here in London (in The Seagull) and she played a lead character in Bleak House (not sure if BBC America has shown that). Keep an eye on her, I think she's destined for great things :)
The CineManiac said…
Jace, I agree with everything you said, but you left out how absolutely terrifying this episode was. It kept me on the edge of my seat and had me constantly looking over my shoulder to make sure no one was coming after me.
Definitely makes you look differently at all those statues out there!
Anonymous said…
Completely agree with your assessment of "Blink". I thought it was one of most well crafted pieces of TV in a long time and Moffat is a god after this and "Girl in the Fireplace." Can't remember "Empty Child" though. Which one was that?
Anonymous said…
jThis is one of the best things I have seen on TV in a long time! I didn't want it to end. More please!
Unknown said…
Girl in the Fireplace will always be my favorite episode of the "new" Doctor Who series, and Blink will assuredly be my second-favorite. This episode was simply amazing. It managed to scare the viewer without using any movement at all. Its delicate touch, such as when an angel was in a different position after an arm passed in front of the camera, made the show irresistible. Who thought motionless stone could be so frightening.

I, too, wish Carey Mulligan would become his companion.
TxGowan said…
I can't agree more with all the comments.

I had heard that Blink was even better than the previous two-part episode and I didn't imagine that could possibly be true, but I'll admit I was wrong.

Is it any coincidence that the previous two Moffat episodes have featured characters that I would have loved to have seen as The Doctor's companion? I think not.

After seeing Reinette and Sally Sparrow, I shudder when I think about Catherine Tate as The Doctor's new companion.

So very very well done. What's the equivalent of the Emmy in the UK? Was Moffat nominated?
Carey Mulligan was wonderful in Bleak House and even more wonderful in Blink. I love this girl! And I also wish that she was the Doctor's new companion rather than Catherine Tate. But maybe she'll pop up again in a different storyline.

And Steven Moffat is one of the most brilliant writers out there. Not only does he write some of the best Doctor Who episodes but he was also the creator of the hilarious Coupling (the original one in the UK) and helmed the fantastic Jekyll mini series. Is there anything this guy can't do?
Anonymous said…
I also loved this episode. I started watching Doctor Who with a BBC America marathon over the Memorial Day weekend. Then I watched some of the music videos on Youtube but had to wait till Sept. to see any actual episodes. Of course, I've since figured out that my local library has a copies of Series one and two. Anyway, back to the episode--It was amazing--the writing, the acting, the sadness it evoked--it's one I'll watch again and again. This show and especially the writing are so good. It is must-see TV for me.
The CineManiac said…
One down side to Blink, it makes the last three episodes look bad. While the next three have some great stuff, they're just not as good as Blink and it's preceding two-parter.
I don't know what's going to happen in Series 4 and the three specials but my guess is that Catherine Tate's Donna Noble character will be a better fit for the ongoing story than Sally Sparrow would be. I read somewhere that Russell T Davis had a thirtysomething Bridget Jones type character planned, but hadn't got as far as casting when word came to him (via Julie Gardner) that Catherine Tate kept talking about much she'd enjoyed working on "The Runaway Bride". It was then that he decided to bring Donna back. This makes me think that he has story arc planned that will suit a more abrasive character.

Having said that, I don't believe that the production team could have missed how superb Carey Mulligan was and how well she effectively carried the whole episode. Come series five in 2010, I'd like to see her and Ben join the TARDIS crew. Much as I've enjoyed the romance and emotion that the new series has brought, I wouldn't like to see that become the default setting for the relationship between the Doctor and companion. Seeing the Doctor travel with Sally and Ben as a couple would be a good new dynamic, I think.

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