Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Doctor Who: Blink

For a show about a Time Lord, Doctor Who is actually very rarely concerned with Time itself. But Steve Moffat's latest, Blink, not only continues his reign as the writer crafting the best episodes in the history of the entire series, but offers us a brilliantly clever time-paradox episode that could stand proudly alongside the entire subgenre - filmic or literary - and shine as a paragon of what a good time travel tale can do. Moffat is hands down the best writer since classic Who scribe Robert Holmes, and he always managed to deliver that combination of humor and terror that epitomizes the best of Who. Moffat's scripts are also the only ones that seem to involve actual science fiction. Now, this isn't a criticism of the rest of the series. Doctor Who isn't necessarily a science fiction show, or rather, it can be, but part of the strength of the series is its ability to be anything and everything, from comedy to horror, from mystery to adventure, from science fiction to science fantasy. It was the original omni-genre show decades before Buffy. In fact, it inspired Buffy,which in turn repaid the favor when Davies relaunched Who in the new series. But I digress...

Point is, while I wouldn't restrict Who to being just one thing, Solaris Editor George Mann and I (along with Sean Williams and Chris Roberson), have been dialoguing about whether I'm too forgiving of the sillier (non-Moffat penned) Who episodes. Plot was never really what you watched the old series for; it was all about the Doctor himself. So I tend to be lax on some of Russell Davies' inanely connected dots as long as there's good character bits to be had. George has been maintaining that in today's day and age of incredible TV - Rome, Sopranos, Life on Mars, Heroes, Lost - you really can't get away with sloppy anymore, and the really excellent Who - like Paul Cornell's recent "Human Nature/Family of Blood" - show up some of the less clever episodes and demonstrate there really is no excuse for anything less. And I gots to say, after watching "Blink," I think I agree with him. If this is what Doctor Who is capable of - my god. If only the show could consistently be this good, it really would be the greatest science fiction show of all time. Lou's dream come true? An entire season of Who divided between Cornell and Moffat, maybe with Douglas Adams' old "Shada" script dusted off, polished up and dropped in somewhere in the middle. Because occasional good comedy is important too.

Meanwhile, without spoiling anything - the way Sally and the Doctor's cross time conversation worked twice blew me away. When you watch it, you'll know what I mean.

16 comments:

dave hutchinson said...

I think the best thing about Blink (apart from the Weeping Angels, which I thought were a marvellous invention) was the way, along with The Girl In The Fireplace, it gave the viewer a sense of what it must be like to be the Doctor, with Time not being a straight line but a sort of windy thing. Very nice. And I don't mind the sillier ones.

Lou Anders said...

I agree. I also love how this season is leaving room for all the sidetrips by making references to adventures we don't see - in this case the arrows and the 4 trips to the moon landing. Plus, who knows how long they were in 1969 for?

As to silly ones - well plotted silly is fine. But too many of the Davies episodes are starting to feel like mid-run Simpsons, where one thing happens that leads to another that leads to a third that has very little to do with the first thing...

dave hutchinson said...

Yeah, the bow and arrows were a lovely touch, weren't they?
I was interested by a friend's comment that some episodes are too long and some not long enough - some seem to be padded and some seem to be rushed. He thought Human Nature/The Family Of Blood worked so well because the story was told over two episodes.

Chris Roberson said...

This makes three of the best Who episodes of the last forty-plus years appearing in three consecutive weeks. Wow. Of course, it's hard to imagine how *this* week's episode won't be a let-down, at least in part. Wouldn't it be great if it was equally terrific, though?

Chris Roberson said...

Hey, the BBC appears to have posted the short story which inspired this episode, "'What I did on my Christmas Holidays' by Sally Sparrow" online. I'm off to read it now!

Lou Anders said...

I am afraid to read it for fear I will discover that Moffat can write prose as well.

Adam Roberts said...

It was great ... but ...

No: really; it was great ... but ...

I found myself afterwards pondering the seams of the way the elements were put together. So: was it just a massive coincidence that the Dr happened to be stranded in 1969, which just happened to be the time--and the place--that the Angels depredations sent the young policeman Billy back to? (We could say: the Dr could have known that after the fact and gone there in the Tardis ... but at this point he's stranded and doesn't have the Tardis.) Also: the angels moved to attack in a way dictated by plot not according to the logic of the angels themselves: so, Billy blinks in the underground carpark and the angels pounce on him across several yards; but Larry (later on, in the house) is staring down an angel only a yard away, he turns his head to call for Sally, turns back, and the angel is inches from his face. Then at the end: how, exactly, did the Tardis set off travelling and not take its two occupants with it? by what means are they left behind?

This is nitpicking, I know; but it's a function of the greatest art (and this episode was really great) that it encourages us to enter into the world of the text and quarrell with it (how many children did lady Macbeth have, after all). The cross-time conversation (on both occasions) was wonderful; the statues-coming-to-life premise was excellent and many of the angel moments were really really creepy; and I liked the way the angels were defeated. In fact if I have one main criticism, it's that the story needed a film-length treatment; an hour-and-a-half at least, to give certain elements (the development of the relationship between Sally and Larry, for instance, the handling of which felt rushed and truncated to me) space to work.

Lou Anders said...

Well, I believe the implication is that the Doctor & Martha have been stranded by the Weeping Angels themselves. At some point, the Angels grabbed the Tardis key and *sent* the pair to 1969 - one of several destinations in the past to which they send people. Also, we don't know how *long* they've been in 1969 when Billy shows up, but the implication is several months.

One of the things I really like about Moffat's episodes, though, is the way that that which appears creepy and supernatural ends up being explainable and SFNally so. In this case, having all the Doctor easter eggs on all the videos.

I hear Moffat's getting his own series - if that's so, they need to give him every Whop episode between now and then so he can get as much of his genius down as possible before he's off doing other things.

Adam Roberts said...

"...Doctor & Martha have been stranded by the Weeping Angels themselves..."

That's certainly possible. Might have been nice to have it spelled out a little ... which, like I say, a longer piece would have been able to do.

Of course this doesn't explain why the angels send some people back 38 years (not enough, surely, if they want to be sure of 'killing' them) and others 87 years. But enough picking of the nits.

Lou Anders said...

I'm rather glad they didn't spell it out, as too much TV is dumbed down, telegraphed, stamped, underscored and boldly proclaimed for the LCD audience already. But I did think it was a rather obvious assumption to make, and thus, am feeling rather good about myself that someone so much smarter than I missed what I grasped. Thank you!

However, your point about 38 years not being enough time struck me too - particularly with Billy. In a longer episode, you could have worked out some handwaving about the energy required, etc...

dave hutchinson said...

I could have sworn that when the Doctor was explaining stuff to Billy he did say that the Angels had ambushed him and Martha. He must have done; there's no way I would have worked something like that out by myself.
And the way I understood the Angels was that they had no control over how far back in time they sent people, it was a random thing. For a 70-year-old, being sent back to 1969 would have been a death sentence of sorts.
BTW, I believe Moffat's Jekyll, a modern retelling of Doctor Jekyll And Mister Hyde, starts on the BBC tomorrow. I hear good things about it already.

Lou Anders said...

Oh, Adam - I forgot to respond to your question about the TARDIS dematerializing and leaving occupants. This is another case of the series confirming something that was Virgin New Adventures continuity. In that series, the TARDIS had this ability. In one book, Kate Orman's The Left Handed Hummingbird, Ace goes down with the Titanic. The Doctor, wounded/exhausted, collapses in a chair and whispers "Find her." The TARDIS then materializes around her, filling the room briefly with ocean water, which then rushes out down a corridor, depositing a wet Ace (and some fish) on the floor. Other bits of book continuity made series continuity include the notion that it's the TARDIS relaying the Doctor's glossolalia to his companions and transdimensional pockets.

Dave - I'm glad to learn Moffat's is a miniseries. Leaves him free for More WHO!

Samantha said...

I was thrilled to find this posting and the discussion about the author of the "Blink" episode of Dr. Who. I am an on-again/off-again fan of the show (I have to be in the mood), but an all-the-time fan of a well-crafted story. And when it is so well illustrated and directed on screen... well, It was just fabulous, and that's all I can say. Really, some nods NEED to go to whoever directed/edited that episode. The strobed scenes in the basement in particular were exciting, though every time we noticed the statues had changed position we gasped. This was such a circular plot, and it was thrilling without being garbled at any point.

A nice touch at the very end, the Doctor says "sometimes my life happens out of order" and I thought that was the perfect line for the Doctor.

Also worth mentioning: I previewed this episode and watched it again with my 11-year-old daughter. It was exciting and complex and mature, without being inappropriate. This episode was quality entertainment in SO many ways. Kudos to all involved, and thank you to the blog host for opening this discussion.

Lou Anders said...

Hi Samantha,
I agree with you wholeheartedly. Was talking earlier about the shift in BBC's position on Doctor Who from a "children's show" to a "family show." I don't think you need to put limits on how sophisticated a family show can be, as long as it fires on all cylinders.

Ert said...

Lou-

Stumbled on this post while searching for something else, and I think your comments are spot on. I love what Davies has done to resurrect the show and explore the Doctor's character, but if he's going to be writing half of the episodes I wish he was as adept with SF as Moffat consistently is.

As a follow-on to your response to Adam about the TARDIS dematerializing and leaving occupants: The Master's TARDIS also did this with Adric in Castrovalva, and we've seen it with objects a couple of times.

Lou Anders said...

Oh, that's right - it did.
And I just rewatched School Reunion, and though I thought at the time that in the final scene the TARDIS dematerializes to show K-9 behind it, it's possible he was actually in it and left behind too.

Davies gets BIG POINTS for gripping emotional scenes, some of the best of the series, but his plotting largely exists to get us to those scenes and falls upon if you think about it too much. I like Moffat for having it ALL come together so perfectly.