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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

‘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”)

MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
posted in:
tv buzz
  • Poly

    The line that makes me tear up is when Billy says: “Look at my hands. They’re old man’s hands – how did that happen?”. And for me, this is the essence of the timey-wimey stuff that Steven Moffatt writes. It’s the fluid norion of time, not from a scientific highminded perspective but from a personal perspective. Blink (get it?) and your whole life has gone. It’s the same with The Girl In The Fireplace: the Doctor goes through a revolving door, he takes his eyes off the ball for a few seconds, he forgets that time is cruel, and he completely misses the last few years of his love’s life. And even the Lord of Time can’t get this back.
    It’s not only tragic because it happens to the Doctor all the time, his whole life is revolving doors, it’s tragic because it happens to everyone all the time: all the things that happen when one doesn’t pay attention. Blink (again!) and everything you love is gone.

    The bow and arrow are there because the Doctor is cupid. And that’s why the Doctor (and Doctor Who) is magnificent. He doesn’t know these people, he doesn’t know what happened, this story is in his future, he doesn’t care if things don’t happen to him in the right order. He knows when something is good and accepts it, focus on it, without needing a logical explanation. The Doctor knows better than anyone the tragic dark cornes of life, but stubbornly doesn’t focus on them. Any hint of light and he is as enthusiastic as ever.

    And not strictly connected to Blink, but try to track down the episode of Doctor Who Confidential that aired after Blink in the UK (Doctor Who Confidential being a 45 minute behind the scenes programme, airing after each episode). That particular episode of Confidential called “Do you remember the first time?” was directed and put together by David Tennant, a moving and funny love letter to Doctor Who, geekiness and childhood dreams that come true.

  • We are all time travelers.

    Blink makes this point very, very clearly. However, in SF in general, and in Dr. Who in particular, some individuals travel through time at different rates.

    I liked this episode very much (look, no scarecrows! ;->), and I think I want to watch it one more time before I try to comment on it too much. There was really quite a lot going on.

    There’s been at least twice in this season where someone knows the Doctor, but the Doctor doesn’t know her. The first time was that funny scream from Queen Elizabeth in the Will Shakespeare/witches episode. The second time was when Sally runs into the Doctor, he has no idea who she is, and she realizes it’s because he’s a time traveler, and this incident from her past is still in his future.


  • Blink is a completely awesome hour of television. The writing was absolutely clever (as clever as Fight Club), and Carey Mulligan was brilliant as Sally. (Not to mention stunningly beautiful.) I think MaryAnn’s not off the mark when she predicts it will win the Hugo. Actually, I happen to know she’s right. Don’t ask how.

    (I wish this box of mine would stop dinging. Too much stuff, I suppose.)

    Anyway, the entire episode reinforces the concept that in Doctor Who there are NO time-travel paradoxes, that the entire Universe is a giant spreadsheet of recalculating possibilities where the only real effect that time has is due to our perception of it and you can’t count on the past staying the same as how you remember it. (I don’t know if we’ve yet encountered a race that lives “backwards” in time, where they remember the future but know nothing of the past because everything works differently for them. Obviously the Time Lords perceive time linearly, as we do, but they discovered the freedom to move anywhere around in it with their TARDISes.)

    It’s a good thing Sally’s quick to think, or she might have missed her chance to give the Doctor the transcript, the photos, and everything else he needed in order to fulfill his end of the bargain… had she failed to do that, the Universe would have had to recalculate and the story as we saw it would have been recalced right out of history. (Of course, who’s to say she might not have had another chance later on in her life?)

    Of course, there are other SF examples of someone running into someone else who has no idea what’s going on because of time travel. For example, in Life, the Universe, and Everything, Agrajag hijacks Arthur to his cave in order to kill Arthur, but then Agrajag realizes that he has hijacked Arthur there too soon; Arthur hasn’t yet been to places that Agrajag remembers seeing him (Stavromula Beta, which turns out to be a crucial bit of info for Arthur). Agrajag tries to kill him anyway, and of course he fails because that would be a paradox and DNA’s Universe uses a non-recalcing, paradoxable timeline.

    Loved how the angels freeze up when observed… Schrödinger would be proud. Kinda dangerous (and stupid) for Sally or Billy to stand in between them, though… they might have blocked the sightlines enough to allow one or more angels to escape the trap, and the Doctor’s plan would have been ruined. (Of course, the trap could fail just as soon as that light bulb burns out or someone turns the light out.)

    I feel like I should go watch Blink again.

  • I think you’re right, this will win the Hugo because it was proper science fiction. I was just waiting to see one of those angels move, y’know, like the ‘real people as mannequins’ you sometimes see in storefronts? Creepy.

    It’s funny, but I wonder if Tennant might not find that Dr Who gives him the greatest freedom of range of any character he might do? I’ve only seen him in the fabulous Blackpool (aka Viva Blackpool, the American version of which is the upcoming Viva Laughlin) and young Casanova in the program of the same name. Of the two, the more complex character is in Blackpool. After these last three episodes, Tennant has edged out Tom Baker as my favorite Doctor – never thought that would happen!

    And can I just give a shout out to everyone who loves Martha? Don’t get me wrong, I still adore Rose, yet I also adore this love triangle. You know that whoever Martha eventually hooks up with, the great tragedy of her life – as for Rose and the Doctor, too – is loving someone she knows can’t/is unable/unwilling to love her back. That sounds really simplistic, but honestly, can any normal human guy stand up to the Doctor? I don’t care who you are, only the Doctor can spin you around the Universe.

    I think a new tee shirt needs to be added: TDILTF.

    I’m just sayin’.

  • Blink was even better the second time ’round.

    Oro, there was one bit, when Sally goes upstairs and takes the key from one of the angels, when one of the angels in the background does move… but you don’t actually see it. Rather, the angel stands in a particular posture; Sally moves in front of the angel momentarily; and then when she moves out from in front of the angel, the angel is now in a new posture. It all takes place within a second or two. Brilliant timing by the actor playing the angel not to get caught moving by the camera. (I bet it took a few takes to get it right.) Unless you have a sharp eye, you might not even see the change.

  • Blink is just an absolutely fantastic hour of television. Well-written, well-acted, and just wonderful ideas that are both creepy and so smart at the same time.

    One of my favorite things about Blink – now that I’ve seen it a few times, is how there are so many times that the TV viewer is the only person watching the angels. The characters on screen are in a position where they cannot see the angels – and the only thing keeping them back is the TV viewer (Kathy’s disappearance, for example).

    Great, great stuff!

  • PaulW

    Just one note to MaryAnn: The Doctor started off oh so long ago traveling with his granddaughter. That implies he had a son or daughter of his own. *That* implies he had a wife, which means he had a wedding. QED. ;)
    There’s been fan conjecture the wife might have been the Rani, which horrifies me (I’d have thought the Doctor has better taste). I’d prefer to think the Rani was the evil sister-in-law who got them the steak knives from the wedding registry. Here’s hoping.

    There are still some questions about this episode though:
    1) Who threw the rock? It can’t have been the Weeping Angel. They don’t do rock-throwing: I mean, that could be their cousin they’re tossing.
    2) Did the Doctor take Larry’s pants as part of the clues?
    3) Do they sell that t-shirt in a XXL?

  • I recommended “Blink” to someone who doesn’t even like “Doctor Who” and they were blown away. Storytelling of the highest caliber, regardless of medium.

  • MaryAnn

    Wow, you guys are all so smart and cool. I love you all.

    The Doctor started off oh so long ago traveling with his granddaughter. That implies he had a son or daughter of his own. *That* implies he had a wife, which means he had a wedding. QED. ;)

    Having a child certainly does NOT require having a spouse. It doesn’t even require having sex. I’m not suggesting, of course, that this is the case with the Doctor. But there are many, many explanations that can account for Susan that do not require the Doctor to ever have married or ever had had children.

    I have always believed that Susan was not really the Doctor’s actual biological granddaughter. (In my own fanfic, she was someone he had rescued when she was a small child and raised as his own.) He would never have abandoned her on Earth were she able to regenerate and outlive those around her.

  • Given the known history of the Doctor via the television series, Susan is very likely NOT his biological or actual Gallifreyan relative. That just doesn’t jibe given all we know about him.

  • Drave

    I think the ideal “The angels have the phone box” shirt needs to not have any images on it. The internet DVD geeks who presumably made the shirts had no idea what it was referring to, and I would assume they would make shirts with plain text on them. If they had any image, it would be of the Doctor’s face from the DVDs. Personally, I think plain text is more geeky and thus more believable, because it makes even less sense that way. It’s a complete non sequitur, and only people who know about the DVD easter eggs could find any meaning in it.

  • Katie

    The first time I watch Blink I was “falling asleep” to it so I had all my lights off and it was night and it freaked me out. I had to turn the lights on for a few minutes before I could fall asleep. The angels were just spooky beyond words and like Mary Ann I will never be able to look at them innocently again.

    I loved Sally. She was the right mix of curious, brave and scared. She’s able to process what she’s learning and apply it. And while she doesn’t necessarily believe at first she doesn’t dismiss it completely either.

    “Don’t blink. Blink and your dead. Don’t turn around. Don’t turn your back. And don’t blink….Good luck”

    That’s just…so great and creepy (because we have to blink, our bodies do it involuntarily) and always pops into my head at the oddest times. David Tennant’s delivery is perfect.

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

    Loved that too. It’s what we’re all thinking and yet, no one ever does.

    I love the bow and arrows. Its so random and yet seems completely normal and I like Poly’s idea that the Doctor is cupid at that moment.

    ““a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-whimey stuff.”” Teehee. Love it. And it makes sense too.

    Off to rewatch now. :-)

  • Magess

    I am so in love with this show right now I don’t even have words. Even if I wanted to think about time paradoxes, I can’t. The universe provides. It happened because it happened because it happened. Cause and effect are meaningless. And more, I can’t think about it because I don’t need to think about it. Because Sally is living the strangest, most crazy day of her entire life and I actually care about what happens to her.

    Some of the other comments here were so dead on about the passing of time, and that experience of time being made so poignantly personal.

    I love a good story. And god damn, this was a good story. I’m still just stunned by it.

  • Poly

    The Doctor and Martha get out of a cab! How random and weird is that? One of the joys of Doctor Who is how well it throws in concepts, backstories and lines and never feel it has to explains them. You know there must be a whole backstory but you have to imagine it.

  • MaryAnn

    You know there must be a whole backstory but you have to imagine it.

    Oh, and we are, Poly. We are. :->

  • Lucy Gillam

    My infant daughter had an “The Angels Have the Phone Box” t-shirt within a week of the first airing. Just sayin’.

    (She also has a Torchwood onesie, courtesy of a friend, and the fact that she’ll be wearing both of these a good half-decade before the earliest I consider letting her watch either of these shows is very appropriate to Doctor Who, I think.)

  • Stu

    The wikipedia has this to say on the subject of Susan being left on Earth:


    “The Past Doctor Adventures novel The Time Travellers by Simon Guerrier gives an explanation for why the Doctor left Susan. During the events of that novel, the Doctor becomes involved in the British Army’s time travel experiments, which risk him being noticed by the Time Lords. He then resolves to begin looking for a place where Susan can be safe and content so that if he is ever apprehended by their people, she will still be free.

    Susan reappears in the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Legacy of the Daleks by John Peel, which takes place after the events of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. At the end of that novel, Susan comes into possession of the Master’s TARDIS after he tries to capture her, and is once again able to roam time and space.”

    Which ties things up nicely re-regeneration should you believe any of the spin-offs are canon which I happen to.

  • MaryAnn

    I don’t believe Susan was a Gallifreyan. The Doctor would never have left her in the company of short-lived humans if she were.

  • Erm.

    Can we not assume, perhaps, that the case of Susan Foreman is a direct result of the Doctor Who writers of 1963 not being as sophisticated as the writers who came along later? I’m reasonably sure that they did not put nearly as much effort into thinking through all of the “future” history of the Doctor, what regeneration entailed, the Doctor’s personal history, etc. It almost seems like people are trying to retcon a scenario for Susan which dovetails in with what we now know about the Doctor.

    It’s almost like how Enterprise, the show, looks better than ST:TOS, even though it occurs earlier in the timeline. Some tried to explain that away by saying that it was a result of Jean-Luc Picard and company traveling back in time in Star Trek: First Contact, and that that visit influenced the future. The real reason, of course, is that ST:TOS was produced 30 years earlier. We don’t need to shoehorn in some dumb explanation for why the earlier show is not as sophisticated or complicated: Just accept the fact that the earlier show was produced earlier, before a bunch of “new history” was added, and move on. ;-)

  • MaryAnn

    It almost seems like people are trying to retcon a scenario for Susan which dovetails in with what we now know about the Doctor.

    Of course that’s what it is! But what’s wrong with that? It’s not like it requires a whole ton of fudging, in this instance, to make it work.

  • So what’s the most likely scenario, then? The Doctor calls Susan his daughter, but she really isn’t, and they use that cover because the idea of an older man traveling with a single girl is too scandalous?

  • MaryAnn

    My scenario is that the Doctor rescued a human Susan from some catastrophe when she was a baby or very small child — only survivor of some disaster or other — and raises her as his ward. He tells her to call him “grandfather” to protect him from whatever the horrible truth of her real life is. (Maybe all her people are dead? I dunno.) And he eventually forces her to leave because he knows it’s the only way she would leave him, and she needs to have a life of her own, he believes.

  • Ron in Provo

    Two things:

    All Time Lords are Gallifreyans, but not all Gallifreyans are Time Lords. Susan may very well have been the Doctor’s granddaughter, but there’s no reason to assume she is a Time Lord with regenerating abilities.

    Does anyone know whether there are any Easter Eggs in any of the DW DVD sets?

  • MaryAnn

    Why do people seem to think that non-Time Lord Gallifreyans can’t regenerate? Where is this coming from?

  • i don’t know, but that was my impression too. i think i recall something vaguely in the dim distant of DW about Time Lord “skills” one of them being regeneration…

  • I have a dim and distant memory of reading Terrance Dicks’s novelisation of The Invasion of Time as a kid, and I think it said that the Shobogans living outside the Time Lord dome weren’t Time Lords and couldn’t regenerate. But I could be wrong.

    Although, in the BBC books published before the TV show’s revival, there was a recurring character called Iris Wildthyme who wasn’t a Time Lady but was Gallifreyan and could regenerate. I think….

    Oh, and Ron, the Doctor’s DVD Easter egg from ‘Blink’ is included as an Easter egg on the box set. You need to go to the episode chapters and fiddle around with the arrow buttons. If memory serves… I don’t have it with me right now.

    Either my memory’s going or I really must pay more attention to this stuff.

  • I don’t know if anyone noticed, but Moffat won his 3rd straight Hugo this week, for this episode. :)

  • MaryAnn

    I so called that. :->

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