Saturday, September 15, 2007

Doctor Who: Easter egg hunt

Spoilers for the latest "Doctor Who" coming up just as soon as I find out where Alex the droog bought those cool eyelid clips he used to watch TV in "A Clockwork Orange"...

Believe the hype.

Usually, when the fanboys go into orgasmic rapture while promising that something is going to be the Best. Episode. Ever., they oversell it so far that it can't help but be a disappointment. Not so with "Blink." Admittedly, my track record with the franchise only goes back a couple of years, but this was the best "Doctor Who" episode I've seen, and just a superb hour of science fiction, the sort of show that could be included in an unrelated anthology series ("Twilight Zone '08" or something) to dazzle unsuspecting TARDIS newbies.

This was the annual Doctor-light episode, produced to accomodate filming of the Christmas special. I like last year's edition, "Love and Monsters," a lot more than the fanbase at large seemed to, but this was several orders of magnitude better.

It was scary as hell (my forearm is gonna have some nasty bruises on it from where my wife grabbed on last night) while using zero special effects, near as I could tell. (The Weeping Angels were played by actors in costume.) Steven Moffat has come up with brilliant, completely original monsters each time out -- the gasmask people, the clockwork Frenchmen -- but I think the Angels are his masterpiece, terrifying because the concept is so simple: if you can see them, you're fine, but if you can't, you're in huge trouble. An episode like this exposes CGI, blood splatter and all the other modern FX tricks for the horror filmmaking crutch they so often are.

And at the same time, the Angels' "killing with kindness" method was a lovely, very moving touch. Of course, we only got to see two of the victims turn out just fine, and for all we know the drivers of all those cars in the police garage all suffered horrible fates once they were stranded in the past. But the scene with Sally Sparrow and old Billy Shipton in the hospital spoke to how much chemistry the two characters had in their oh-so-brief scene back before young Billy was zapped back to 1969. While Billy obviously lived a happy life in the past with another blonde Sally, you could see how much he regretted losing out on a potential lifetime with this Sally. (Great casting of the young and old Billys; when old Billy delivered his "Life is long, and you're hot" line, the room got awfully dusty again.)

This is the second Moffat episode in a row to feature the Doctor stranded in the past without the TARDIS. When we reached that point in "Girl in the Fireplace," I started wondering if the story was going to go in a direction where the immortal Doctor had to cool his heels for several hundred years, forced to stay in one place like a human while seeing loved ones like Madame de Pompadour grow old and die, until he could finally get back to the space ship where Rose and Mickey were trapped. When I mentioned this theory to Moffat in our interview, he said that would have defeated the whole purpose of the episode, which was that the girl lives on the slow track and the Doctor on the fast track, and that it would have taken away the mystique of the Doctor if he was suddenly some schmoe stuck on a linear time path on Earth for a long time. I'm sure as hell not going to argue with Moffat about what makes a good Doctor Who episode -- at this point, I'm not even sure Russell Davies could win that argument with Moffat -- but it's been cool seeing that basic idea presented in pieces over the last few episodes. First we had the Doctor experiencing life as a human in the Family of Blood two-parter, and last night we had both the Doctor and his companion stuck in the past again and someone else trapped in the past forced to "time travel" to the present in the only way possible: by living.

(If the course of events hadn't been pre-determined by Sally's actions in the Doctor and Martha's past, I wonder if the Doctor wouldn't have just resolved to sit a few decades out himself. Sure, Martha would've been screwed, but no moreso than Billy or Kathy or any of the Angels' other "victims." And 1969 was a much better place for a black woman to be stuck than 1913.)

As seen on both "Coupling" and "Jekyll," Moffat likes puzzle scripts, stories that play with time and narrative and rearrange them until you can't understand the whole picture until the final piece is in place. There are an awful lot of moments in "Blink" that inspire two immediate reactions: "Whoa." and "How'd that happen." I'm thinking specifically of the message under the wallpaper, Sally conversing with the Doctor DVD (twice) and old Billy knowing exactly when he's going to die. But the final scene explained things perfectly, for me and for Sally. Just a marvelous example of story construction from beginning to end.

A few other thoughts on "Blink":
  • Much of what made the episode work while the Doctor and Martha were absent was Sally herself, well-played by Carey Mulligan (who sounds eerily like Gina Bellman, from Moffat's "Coupling" and "Jekyll") and even better-written by Moffat. When she said, "I'm clever, and I'm listening. Now don't patronise me, 'cause people have died and I'm not happy," I figured "Better be careful, Martha, or we have another companion in the offing." Then again, as with Joan Redfern last week (also prime companion material), Sally seemed perfectly happy to return to normal life once she got some closure from the Doctor.
  • The above, by the way, isn't meant to knock Martha, who came into her own in the two-parter and in her tiny bit of screen time seems to have once again taken charge while stuck in the past with the Doctor. (Her MySpace blog gives a fuller, more amusing accounting of what life in '69 was like for them.)
  • I love this show's tongue-in-cheek approach to technobabble. One minute the Doctor will be explaining quite seriously how the Angels are "quantum-locked," and the next he'll be telling young Billy "This is my timey-wimey. It goes ding when there's stuff!"
I would write more, but life is short and my wife is hot. What did everybody else think?

22 comments:

Alan Sepinwall said...

For what it's worth, Ross Ruediger, who has a much longer history with the franchise, seems open to the Best. Episode. Ever. idea.

a said...

I also noticed a couple of oblique instant attraction/unrequited love beats that could be viewed as glancing commentary on the Doctor/Martha arc.

All time travel stories have holes in them. It's a given. Stories like "Blink", which move back and forth and sideways, have even more. The point of a story like this isn't the airtight plot construction, it's the story. In a real sense, a tale like "Blink" is supposed to produce fear, wonder, awe, and joy. It did all that for me in spades. Like Alan, I enjoyed "Love & Monsters" more than most, but "Blink" just, well, it just blew me away. It's not only great Doctor Who, it would be great if you plugged in "anonymous time traveler B." That's what makes it great; it's not dependent on the Doctor's quirks or our knowledge of the series. It's brilliant and solid on its own; the Doctor is lagniappe

Michael said...

As a long-time fan of the franchise (20 plus years now), I adore this episode. Watched it again last night and it just grows on you...even knowing the trick makes it fun. You get to watch for clues as to how things will unfold.

Dr Who at its best....

Don't be shocked when this ones the Hugo next year...which will be three in a row for Moffatt.

J said...

I think the genius of "Blink" (well, one of, at least) is that it makes the viewer an active participant. Watching television is a very important part of the story, and if you, the home viewer, aren't watching things might turn out very badly.

Mac said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who was creeped out. Things-that-move-that-shouldn't ranks very high on my list of things that make my skin crawl.

Jim Treacher said...

Very creepy, very wistful, but my favorite moment was when Larry was trying to remember how he knew Sally. "It'll come to you..." Then he realized she'd seen him naked. His eyes went wide, he covered up his crotch, and she just smiled and said, "There it is." I like the little moments like that.

Moffat is great. If you haven't seen his spoof "Curse of the Fatal Death," with Rowan Atkinson and some special guests as the Doctor, you could probably find it on YouTube if you wanted.

A.H. said...

If the creative team can come up with an episode this good, it makes me sad that I had to suffer through the dismal second season.

--A.

Taleena said...

I second the "Curse of the Fatal Death" spoof. High-larious.

Of course Blink is a fantastic episode.

cgeye said...

I fell asleep.

Good Lord, during FLASH GORDON, I fell asleep.

Jeezum crow, SciFi's programmed by the Weeping Angels. It explains so much.

Toby said...

The CBBC over in the UK starts up a new spin-off from 'Doctor Who' next week: 'The Sarah Jane Adventures'. It's aimed at kids (moreso than 'Doctor Who' is supposed to be). I'm hoping someday Stephen Moffatt will write an episode for it that will bring back Sally Sparrow and Larry Nightingale for another adventure.

And maybe from there, they could be spun off into their own show... kind of a 'Buffy'/'Supernatural' feel as they investigate weird stuff from their DVD store base.

Well, it's a dream anyway.....

Anonymous said...

Something about the name "Sally Sparrow" is tickling the back of my brain, but I can't place it.

As if "Laurence Nightingale" wasn't enough.

marlene said...

I also have been a fan for about 20 years, and this was the best.episode.ever! I agree that the story was everything. Never (for Dr. Who) have I gripped the edges of my chair, or felt my heartbeat race so; I was that invested in the safety of Sally Sparrow and Laurence Nightingale. Loved it all. Knew the angels would end up looking at each other, but so what. Plan to watch it again and again. Thought C. Mulligan was excellent, and agree that "Martha" might have some "future" competition from "Sally". Here's to excellent writing/directing/acting, transporting us!

a said...

No, no, no!

Could we please lay aside the "Sally would be a most excellent companion" kerfuffle? It's starting to leach the joy out of the episode.

The beauty of Sally is that she's a one-off, a character we've never met before or will again. That makes her doubly special. Leave it alone.

jim treacher said...

See Catherine Tate.

a said...

jim treacher
Honestly, I'm right there with you. I thought Donna was a serviceable companion for the Christmas special, but I'm not very excited about her return.

Anonymous said...

Just read Martha's MySpace blog entry, and I'm wondering if I missed something. She says she hopes they don't keep going back to 2007 because "that's when Rose was from." Which certainly implies that's NOT when Martha is from. Did I miss something? Do we know when Martha comes from?

a said...

anonymous,

There's some dispute, but it appears that Martha's adventures are supposed to take place in 2008.

a said...

anonymous,
Sorry, not Martha's adventures, but Martha's home time.

Dan Owen said...

Sally Sparrow was the name of a character Steven Moffat created in the DW Annual. Indeed, the story was the basis for Blink. Maybe that's where you know it from?

Niffer said...

I guess I'm the only one who wasn't wowed by this episode. I loved the emotions in the episode - I started tearing up during the hospital scene between Sally and Billy. And, the weeping angels were quite creepy - I had to watch something else after viewing this ep just so I wouldn't go to bed all freaked-out.

But, for me, the time shifting plotting holes were too much... They kept bothering me. Maybe if I watched it again I would pick up on other things that would make it tidier, but the loose ends are preventing me from loving this episode.

Alan Sepinwall said...

So what do you consider the loose ends, Niffer? Usually I'm a big nitpicker, but by the time we got to the end I had either explained or forgotten any plot problems I had leading into Sally handing the file to the Doctor.

Niffer said...

Maybe it isn't so much a loose end as being too circular with Sally's "conversation" with the Doctor. In order for him to say the right things, he'd have to know what she was saying, but in order for to say what she said, he'd have to say what he said, and on and on.... That bugged the hell out of me.