Review by Daniel Saunders


Blink was very good indeed, probably the best story this year (it's hard for me to judge Human Nature, having read the novel first and so having its edge blunted a little, but I suspect it might stand up to repeated viewing better than Blink).  That's partly a reflection of my low opinion of the rest of this series, but I enjoyed Blink not because it was made according to Daniel's Own Recipe for Doctor Who (although it was, by and large), but because it managed to do successfully what the other stories this year have been trying and largely failing to do.

  The first thing that's obvious about this story is the complicated nature of the plot.  This is especially obvious compared with the extremely linear nature of most of the other stories this year (this happens, then this happens, then something surprising happens and everyone dies or lives happily ever after).  Such linear storytelling isn’t necessarily a bad thing; after all, the most basic stories have such basic narrative formats: myths, legends, fairy tales, folk stories and the like.  However, it is partly a function of oral storytelling, where the storyteller has only his memory to help him tell a coherent story.  As a result, such stories are simplistic and lacking in surprise; what power they do have comes from saying something profound about the human condition.  This is less satisfactory when a writer has the ability to plan, draft and redraft to tell a more complicated story, doubly so when the audience can also return to the story to deepen their understanding, as they can in an era of DVD and almost instant BBC3 repeats.  To have such a complicated story told after so many simple ‘chase’ narratives such as Smith and Jones and The Lazarus Experiment is a long-overdue acknowledgement that while an adrenaline rush can be fun, viewers would like some intellectual stimulation too.

  Not only is the audience expected to follow a more complicated story than usual, they are also supposed to follow a more original one.  This year’s scripts have seen a level of recycling that puts the Green Party to shame, with Daleks in Manhattan in particular being an unwelcome return to the ‘greatest hits’ remixes of the Saward era.  Blink opts for a more experimental approach.  Doctor Who has never quite done a story like this before.  Indeed, there are two innovations here, the ‘haunted house’ genre (Doctor Who has done odd ‘haunted house’ moments within other stories, but only episode four of The Chase is a consistent attempt at the genre) and the out-of-sequence time travel story.

  As well as being crediting the audience with the ability to follow complicated, innovative stories, Moffat assumes they can pick up on nuances of characterization.  Throughout, he exhibits a laudable tendency to show rather than tell, again at odds with many of his Doctor Who colleagues.  Sally’s attraction to Billy is made perfectly clear by her Freudian slip when giving her name and her embarrassed reaction to it.  The entire Sally-Billy almost-relationship is set up and played out in the space of about ten minutes, yet with its skilful, subtle, economical writing it is far more believable and poignant than the Doctor-Rose and Doctor-Martha relationships.  The absence of the clunky ‘I like him, but I don’t know what he thinks of me’ style of dialogue that has dominated storylines of thwarted attraction over the past years adds to the believability and hence emotional power of the scene.  Does it matter if the ten year olds miss the detail of this particular strand of the plot?  Likewise, Billy’s off-screen death was unaffected by the schmaltz around the Face of Boe's death, and so was much more moving.

  The strength of characterization extends to the Doctor himself.  As with Human Nature, but unlike every other tenth Doctor story, the Doctor seemed a powerful force at the heart of the story, not despite, but because of his almost total absence.  This is a Doctor so powerful he can influence events and save the day from almost forty years in the past, and for once he didn’t even need to shout or wave his sonic screwdriver to do it.  The Oncoming Storm has finally stopped being The Passing Drizzle.  I admit I’m not at all keen on the Doctor-as-lonely-god for a number of reasons, but if we absolutely must go down that route, then this is the way to do it.

  There’s one final difference between Blink and the rest of this year’s output which no one seems to have noticed yet.  Fandom has been very critical of the scientific inaccuracies in recent stories, yet the scientific bizarreness here has seemed to pass without comment.  There’s a good reason for this, and it comes down to great writing again.  Viewers aren’t stupid, and they know they need to suspend their disbelief.  What they do demand, even if unconsciously, is internal narrative coherence.  Blink establishes its rules fairly early on, even though they aren’t confirmed for quite a long time.  Having done this, it sticks rigidly to them.  There are no extra plot devices to get the heroes out of trouble.  More to the point, the eventual explanation for this fantastic series of events is kept as near to pure fantasy as possible and not grafted onto real science.  As a result, the viewers get a coherent series of signals about how to approach the story; very different from spouting a load of nonsense technobabble, confusing solar flares, gamma radiation and lightning and adding a hefty dollop of magic.

  I hesitate to call Blink a truly great story.  As a 'puzzle' story, I don't know how well it will withstand repeated viewing.  Once you know which tabs go in which slots, there isn’t much left.  There is a hint of the ongoing ‘dark Doctor’ storyline in the fact that his use of the paradox allows him to escape while condemning Cathy and Billy to live their lives out of sequence in order to pass on messages, but this is not dwelt on.  Likewise, the story seems at points to want to say something about the brief nature of life (blink and you’ll miss it?) and the need to seize the day whatever happens, but that theme is never quite developed.  Still, it’s impossible not to like a story which ends with a montage of static shots of ordinary statues and probably still left hundreds of kids screaming in terror (was it supposed to be a 'THE END... OR IS IT?'-type ending, or was it pure kiddie horror?)



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