TV EYE: Doctor Who, week 10– ‘Blink’

A shorter, less essay-like reaction this week, for another episode from the worryingly fantastic Steven Moffat. Fear the spoilers…

Doctor Who: S3, E10: ‘Blink’

The idea of doing a Doctor Who story that barely features the Doctor might seem one of the most offbeat and revolutionary moves of the new series– but it’s actually following in an honorable tradition that dates back to the Sixties. Back in the days when Who was screened in 40 episode seasons for most of the year, it simply wasn’t practical for the leads to be in every single episode– so, every so often, there would be a ‘holiday’ episode, which would often feature the Doctor or companion vanishing for various reasons, whether it was being knocked out (Seeds of Death episode 4), locked in a room (The Time Meddler episode 2), or having his face rearranged by accident (for two whole episodes of The Mind Robber). There was even one episode without a trace of the Doctor- the ‘Dalek Masterplan’ prologue episode ‘Mission to the Unknown’. With the story rattling along as a piece of fun sci-fi melodrama, these kinds of contrivances never really slowed things down for too long- so, when Season 1 already needed a Doctor-and-Companion-lite story to make the schedule workable, and then the Christmas special was added to the mix, it was pretty obvious the way they had to go.

‘Love and Monsters’ is a story I had very little time for– a self-reflexive, smarter-than-thou piece of storytelling that buried some genuinely interesting ideas about what effect the Doctor has on the world around him under a heap of crass jokes, arch references, and ELO songs. Combine that with the sight of Peter Kay waddling around in a prosthetic alien fat suit (complete with mohican) and the dubious first example of a blow-job gag turning up in Doctor Who, the last ten minutes of the episode were some of the most unwatchable moments of New Who since World War Three back in S1, and even the genuinely effective work from Marc Warren and (shock, horror) Camille Coduri couldn’t make up for it. The fact that there was bound to be another one in Season 3 didn’t fill me with optimism– until it was announced that Steven Moffat was going to be writing it. While The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances was enjoyable but rather self-consciously flawed (particularly with Captain Jack, who didn’t really start working as a character until the next three episodes), Girl in the Fireplace was the finest episode of New Who yet, a story that broke all kinds of Who taboos (The Doctor falls in love?!?) yet managed to feel utterly right, as well as being one of the few times that the new show has been genuinely tear-jerking without feeling the need to go over-the-top with the waterworks.

The question was, how was it going to work- and the answer was that we would get the finest episode that Torchwood never made. A combination of horror movie, down-to-earth character drama, missed opprtunities, and the cruelties of time, it once again proves that Moffat is great at thinking up relatable scares that aren’t just stuff that looks good ( “Hey- let’s have an army of scarecrows!”) but actually have a certain amount of logical thought behind them. It also continues the feeling that the better moments of Season 3 have given me– that unlike the first two seasons, Who now feels like it’s actually taking place in the real world. ‘Blink’ was almost completely free of the kind of arch, bigger-than-life moments that have plagued earlier seasons, with scenes like the flirting between Sally and DCI Shipton feeling genuinely real, and certainly more convincingly adult than 99% of anything that Torchwood ever managed. I would have expected this kind of thing to be a chance to expand Martha’s family, but instead ‘Blink’ was a complete standalone, with barely a wasted moment, and a fantastic turn from Carey Mulligan as Sally, giving exactly the right edge of spunky determination.

It wasn’t perfect– the premise had a couple of holes, the climactic scene with the Doctor and Martha hoisting a bow-and-arrow was a little too Buffy-esque for comfort, the ‘Evil from the Dawn of Time’ angle is officially old, and the final montage slightly spoiled the happy ending for no other reason than going “Look- statues! SPOOOKY!!!!”. However, it also managed some of the most genuinely spine-tingling moments in New Who that’ll hopefully be scarring the imaginations of eight-year-olds across the land. The statues were eerily thought up, and atmospherically produced- one of the new series’ most effective villains. It didn’t quite escape from feeling like a self-contained play that had just wandered into Doctor Who by mistake, but if we’re going to have Doctorless stories, may they be as imaginative, weird and memorable as this.

Three more episodes to go, and I’m going to be missing the finale thanks to my holiday (Damn and blast….). Next week, we’re back in the hands of RTD for the return of Captain Jack, and the countdown to the final two-parter. Hmmnm…..

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