Thursday, November 28, 2013

Doctor Who: 2007

Episode 733: Blink
First broadcast: 7.10 pm on Saturday 9 June 2007
<< back to 2006

The Doctor explains in Blink
Blink is something special in Doctor Who. For some it's the best ever episode, for others it's the one to show someone who's never seen the show before and ensure they're hooked.

I don't think the latter is quite right. A bit like City of Death (1979), part of the brilliance of Blink is how it plays with expectations and clich├ęs, and the usual form of Doctor Who. If we know Doctor Who, it's more rewarding. That's why it helps that it's some way into the run - it wouldn't work earlier on in Season 3; it wouldn't work in Season 1.

(Much better, I think, for a novice to begin with season opener Smith and Jones, but surely a novice ought to start from Rose.)

The wheeze is to show what happens when the Doctor isn't around to stop the monsters - an idea used again to great effect in the following year's Turn Left. Instead, here it's up to two ordinary people - Sally and Larry - to work their way through the clues.

Since they're not familiar with the format of Doctor Who like we are, we're often a few steps ahead of them. We know to be worried as they walk into danger. We know to shout at the screen. Our own knowledge of the series makes the episode more scary.

But, on first viewing, even we are lost in the intricacies of the plot. A story like this depends on a sort of contract between writer and viewer. We agree to accept the strange, confusing world we've been landed in on the promise that it will be explained. In fact, we're given all the clues we need to solve the mystery - we just don't realise it yet.

The best example of that is right at the end, when it seems the Doctor has abandoned Sally and Larry, the TARDIS dematerialising round them, leaving them to the mercy of the Angels. It's heart-stopping stuff, the Doctor seemingly callous, Sally and Larry with no chance of escape...

But, once the solution is presented, it seems to desperately, wretchedly simple. We realise it's clearly been signposted all the way through the episode. Of course that's how to get out it.

My chum James Goss once described the six episodes (including Blink) that Steven Moffat wrote for Russell T Davies as,
"perfect puzzle boxes, full of heart and drama but also where every single bit of the mystery is in place like clockwork."
That "heart and drama" is exactly right. The Doctor and Martha appear in just three scenes of Blink but we get a great sense of their relationship. I can readily imagine a whole episode - or series - of them stranded in the 1960s, an exasperated Martha forced to take a day-job to support his building contraptions that might help them get home.

Best of all is how concisely the complex plot is spelled out in simple terms. So much of Doctor Who is exposition, building worlds and politics and problems from little more than words. There are tricks to getting through it - the Doctor says it at great speed, or peppers it with odd asides full of jokes and weird mental images, or the companion shares some of the burden.

Blink does a trick with exposition that still utterly thrills me. It's so simple, so quick, so what a real person would say. The Doctor holds up an all-important gadget, vital to him solving the problem at the heart of the episode. And explains:
"It goes ding when there's stuff."
Next episode: 2008 

No comments: