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!"