‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “Blink”

(intro to my Who blogging, please read before commenting / previous: Episode 9: “The Family of Blood”)

Apart from the obvious issue of there not being enough David Tennant this time around, this has got to be one of the single most brilliant episodes of any TV science fiction show ever. It’s mind-bending even grading on a Doctor Who curve, but — more importantly — even grading on a Doctor Who curve, it’s real science fiction. It explores our relationship with and conception of time in such a way that it makes us look at it anew… or at least consider how we might look at it anew if we could achieve the same kind of “nonlinear, nonsubjective viewpoint” the Doctor has: we’d see time as “a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-whimey stuff.”
It’s the kind of story that could only be told in the SF genre; this new Who has been really good at that. And it’s also been good at using SF for doing what I’ve long considered the point of SF, the deep-down point, what you get to when you boil away all the trappings: SF is a controlled experiment in figuring out what it means to be human. How much can you change about what we take for granted about our humanity before what’s left is no longer recognizable human? As a quick non-Who example, the controlled experiment of, say, Robocop would be, What happens when you take away our fleshly bodies? Are we still human if we’re “just” a brain in a cyborg casing? The answer, is this case, is yes.

Doctor Who — and SF in general — has to push hard at us poor, put-upon homo sapien sapiens to find stuff that renders us unrecognizable, and even “Blink” can’t do that. What happens when you untether someone from their anchoring in time and space? Life goes on, of course. Sally’s friend, Kathy, sent back to 1920, has no trouble settling into her new life, marrying and raising a family, quite happily, it seems. Billy, sent back to 1969, has a successful life — presumably it’s not just the influence of the Doctor but his knowledge of the future that leads him to his DVD authoring business. Strange stone aliens casually tossing people around in time? Oh, universe, you’ll have to do a lot more than that to shake us up too much.

Sally, who never leaves 2007 at all, gets the worst of it, ironically. She’s the one who has to contend with not just news ideas but a whole new way of thinking. All this weird shit is happening all in a row for her, while everyone else is taking the long way round. One afternoon out of her life is entire lifetimes for other people — and it’s so wonderfully eerie and poignant. “It was raining when we met,” Billy tells Sally. “It’s the same rain,” she replies. That’s… just… My head wants to explode. And my heart, too.

But that’s not why — or not all of why — fandom loves this episode, and why it will win the Hugo at next year’s Worldcon for short-form dramatic presentation. (This year’s Hugos have only just been awarded; nominations for next year’s are months away. I don’t tend to make these kinds of predictions, but I’m really confident about this one.) Fandom loves “Blink” because it’s about fandom, about being a fan (just like last season’s “Love and Monsters”). From the opening teaser, of Sally discovering the message from the Doctor scrawled on the wall — what fan wouldn’t love to get a personal message from the Doctor? — to all the stuff about the Internet going wild over the DVD easter eggs, to Sally and Larry finally leaving it all behind and, ahem, getting a life, this is about our relationship with the Doctor, our obsession with him (sometimes to, um, an unhealthy degree).

When I first saw this episode, which was probably two months after it aired in England, my initial instinct was, “Oh my god, I must have the angels have the phone box on a T-shirt.” And of course fans in England were waayyy ahead of me — there are multiple versions of such a thing already available. I cannot help but imagine that the producers of Who were monitoring the Web after this episode first aired to see how long, precisely, it took for the shirts to show up.

I’m guessing not more than a few hours…

Random thoughts on “Blink”:

• I live near the Bronx’s Woodlawn Cemetery, which is beautiful and Victorian and parklike, and I walk in it all the time. But I’ll never be able to do so again without looking twice — or three times — at all the old statues of angels. *shudder*

• Sally says: “Sad is happy for deep people.” Okay, I understand that.

• Sally demands that the Doctor not patronize her. Good for her — more people need to talk to the Doctor like that.

• The Doctor: “I’m rubbish at weddings, especially my own.” Wha–?

• The Doctor’s lunchbox-looking toy “goes ding when there’s stuff.” Tee-hee!

• “Go to the police, you stupid woman! Why does nobody ever just go to the police?” Love it.

• All the movies referenced in “Blink” are fake, as far as I can tell. Anyone up for a viewing of Acid Burn?

• What’s with the bow and arrows? “The migration has started”? Give us more!

(next: Episode 11: “Utopia”)

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