‘Don’t turn your back, don’t look away, and don’t blink.’ Steven Moffat’s reworking of his 2006 Annual story, What I Did on My Christmas Holidays by Sally Sparrow, is the third adaptation this series, which might suggest a show running out of fresh inspiration except Moffat’s key new addition is the Weeping Angels, the only new series monsters that approach the old favourites in public recognition. They’re truly brilliant creations, brilliantly realised: the placid, Axon-like stares of the neutral Angels flipping to horrifying Medusa masks when they attack. You can draw a line back from them to Bok or the Malus, and there’s something of the original Autons in their ability to hide in plain sight then spring to life, but it took Moffat’s genius to mix these influences and Granny’s Footsteps.
There was a lot of expectation for Blink. Having written stand-out episodes for each of the previous series (even if I don’t like The Girl in the Fireplace), Moffat was already frontrunner for next showrunner. This is the clincher: he opts to write the difficult, Doctor-lite episode, and thoroughly nails it with a script that’s darker, funnier, sadder than his previous three. And if Love & Monsters got to the nub of RTD’s idiosyncratic take on the show, Blink is equally steeped in Moffat’s trademark tics and interests: the woman, the timey-wimey plot, and the high-concept monster.
Taking these in turn: Sally Sparrow is the ultimate Moffat girl: witty, sharp, beautiful, self-assured but vulnerable, with a helplessly geeky boyfriend. She says things like sad is ‘happy for deep people’ and ‘I’m clever and I’m listening. And don’t patronise me because people have died, and I’m not happy.’ She’s Susan Walker from Coupling; she’s Lynda Day given a 21st Century makeover. She and Larry are also a first pass at Amy and Rory. Notably, Carey Mulligan’s performance is superb: in one episode she becomes the lead, and only the most hardcore audience member could pine for more Doctor and Martha and less Sally.
Moffat had established his reputation for clever, timey-wimey plots with The Girl in the Fireplace. Instead of rapid time jumps, this goes for time loops, with the same conversations happening nearly 40 years apart. Some of the beats here are similar, if (in my view) more effective, particularly Billy’s death – like Madame de Pompadour’s, heralded with a rainstorm: ‘the same rain’ that was falling when Sally met the younger version. The cut to a sunlit hospital ward and Billy’s empty bed is brutal. The angels aren’t the only things weeping. The genius of all this isn’t the complexity of the time travel angle – which is pretty straightforward – but the little details that become the bigger picture, like Sally’s 17 DVDs, Kathy’s letter and the trail of Easter Eggs that lead to the solution which, alongside the similar climax to Frontios, is one of the few satisfying pay-offs in the entire show.
The Weeping Angels are the glue that holds it together, making what could seem mechanical haunting and horrifying, helped by Hettie Macdonald’s direction, with lots of POV shots and close ups of little details, like a Lawrence Gordon Clark Ghost Story for Christmas. The Angels’ stalking of Sally is particularly creepy, playing for horror the earlier sequence of Ben following Kathy. In future episodes, Moffat strives to recreate their peculiar impact to varying effect, reimagining dust motes as voracious predators, or Grey Aliens that instantly wipe themselves from the memory, but never quite as successfully. I always felt the Silents had more potential to be a regular monster, but the Angels are so perfectly crafted for particular story that their impact made them, like the Daleks, a no-brainer to bring back.
Next Time: Utopia