Monday, March 29, 2010

Blink: Why the New Doctor Who Will Be the Best Ever

Blink, the tenth episode of the new Doctor Who’s third season, is the reason why fans are so looking forward to the new season of the most successful sci-fi TV series of all time.

Yes, David Tennant is gone, with Matt Smith becoming the Eleventh Doctor, but Steven Moffat has taken over from Russell T Davies as the Doctor Who show runner and in Moffat, the BBC have a man who truly understands the fundamental nature of the show and has the power and potential to develop Doctor Who to its fullest possibilities.

Blink is the proof of that pudding. Blink is the new Doctor Who’s Mona Lisa, its Nozze de Figaro, its Citizen Kane. A defining moment, and a glimpse into what Doctor Who could be if the right man were in charge, which at last he is.

Why is Blink so good? In what way is genius manifested in this story of Sally Sparrow, an ordinary English girl who gets involved in some extra-ordinary events?

The fact that Blink is Sally’s story is the first stroke of Moffat’s genius. It takes astonishing skill and no small amount of courage to remove your central character from the action and still keep him central, but this is what Moffat achieves.

The Doctor gets maybe five of the forty-five minutes of screen team in Blink, but he is still central to the story, the straw that stirs the drink, the sine qua non. Like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, or Harry Lime in The Third Man. Genius.

Second stroke of genius: Moffat’s profound understanding of the nature of a time travel show. Of all the tropes of science fiction, time travel is the least likely to be achievable. It’s more or less impossible.

But in terms of what if, in terms of exploring the limits of what we know about the nature of physics and of the universe, time travel captures the imagination like nothing else does. What if you get off your boat in the time stream, and walk upriver to meet your earlier self? Those sort of questions.

And those sort of what if time travel questions are what Moffat understands and delights in. Moffat is always true to the puzzle he sets himself. He never succumbs to the abracadabra solution that a weaker writer would, where the Doctor makes everything all right with a wave of his magic wand/sonic screwdriver. Instead, Moffat has a meticulously worked out plot that snaps into place the way all great art should. Unexpected yet inevitable. Brilliant.

The third stroke of genius is in the iconography of Blink. The show has received kudos for centring on the blink conceit, and what happens when you blink, but get this: blinking isn’t the central conceit. The statuary is.

A less talented writer may have thought of blinking, of what happens when you close your eyes, but he or she might not have thought of the statues. Britain is replete with statues from its past that no longer mean anything in the 21st century, either celebrations Britannia Triumphant from the days of Empire or the statuary of the Evensong-singing Anglicans. They’re everywhere, but nobody notices them. Moffat noticed them, and turned them into monsters.

The tightness of the writing is extraordinary. There are no false notes. If you are ever tempted to turn a friend onto Doctor Who, you will cringe during some moments, where short cuts are taken just to move things along, or something is just plain bad. It’s very hard to hear the phrase “Harriet Jones, MP,” without feeling the need to tear the ears off your head, for instance.

In Blink, by contrast, every line is perfect. Well, maybe one “I’m really, really sorry” from the Doctor, but that may have been a contractual obligation. Otherwise, it’s perfect.

(The little story on which Blink was originally based was pretty well written too).

Sally Sparrow: 'Sad is happy for deep people'The fifth reason Blink is so good is because the production team were so extremely lucky in their casting. Blink is so tightly plotted it would have worked anyway. But Carey Mulligan was extraordinary, extraordinary, as the beautiful, wistful, Sally Sparrow, and Mulligan’s performance combines with all the factors mentioned above to bring Blink to the level of the sublime.

Carey Mulligan was nominated for an Oscar this year and has a glittering career ahead of her. She absolutely graced Blink as Sally, the Companion Who Never Was.

Recent interviews with Matt Smith in the Daily Telegraph and Steven Moffat in the Guardian promise a thrilling start to a new era. Blink will never be replicated of course, but Moffat’s presence as the deus post machinae gives reasons for tremendous hope. Doctor Who returns this Saturday. Geronimo.

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