Human Nature / The Family of BloodBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 June 2007 - Reviewed by Robert F.W. Smith

A lot of people over the years have said it's the best Doctor Who novel ever. Personally I think it's far from perfect: naturalism is often a problem, and so is melodrama, for the novel inhabits the Cornell-verse, a peculiar take on reality in which all soldiers are cowards and any problem can be solved simply by complete emotional honesty. It has a whacking great info-dump half way through that takes you right out of the story, and the wisecracking, self-aware dialogue is such that companion Benny's speech patterns are indistinguishable from those of the villains (an alien race called the Aubertides who want to conquer Gallifrey and become Time Lords using the Doctor's DNA). Nevertheless, the strength of the fundamental conceit, the Doctor's desire to escape from his cold, inhuman Time Lord existence and become a human being, and the consequences it has for the people around him, makes it a big winner in spite of everything. And it benefits greatly from a hilarious cameo by Steven Moffat, writer of two new series stories!

That was why, before this latest two-parter, I was concerned by all the potential changes that Cornell and Davies would have to make, and a bit miffed at the implicit suggestion that this was somehow going to be 'Human Nature done right': it was bad enough that the new series has already comprehensively demolished any chance of reconciling the novels with the TV show (for those who care about that sort of thing, which I must confess I do!), and this was the final confirmation: 'Human Nature' (1995) and 'Human Nature/The Family of Blood' presumably can't take place in the same continuity any more than 'The Gallifrey Chronicles' and 'Aliens of London' can. Bad enough, as I say; but for the new series to just carelessly invalidate the book lines, which are responsible for many of Doctor Who's finest moments, symbolically painting over them like an artist revising an imperfect work, was a presumption too far.

It isn't quite clear, though, that that is in fact what they've done, which is a blessing anyway, and the pictures in Smith's journal during part one of previous Doctors was balm for the possible sting. In fact, part one is really excellent; mostly, I think, because it's so very different to anything in the series revival so far. All that greenery: because when you think about it, every single episode so far has either been set in a huge city or a claustrophobic, metallic 'space base' (with the possible exception of the one set in Scotland, which was mostly in doors and at night anyway). The relaxed pace and unusual plot (for the series post-2005 anyway, which is ironically all monsters, corridors and sarcasm) contribute to the feeling of novelty.

Jessica Hynes, as Joan Redfern (now a nurse not a teacher, in a change which actually does enhance the original novel), is superbly clipped and loveable, and Martha's jealousy puts her in just as unflattering a light as did Benny's, though she at least has the excuse of being madly in love with the (now sexy and young-looking) Doctor, and Harry Lloyd makes a fabulously alien and unhinged Baines. The villains, in fact, without 255 pages in which to do post-modern things, are in a sense a rather better bunch than the Aubertides in the novel, though they lack the back-story and grisly personalities.

The problems, then, do not surface until part two, but when they come they are familiar from the original novel, but given added impetus by what we have seen in the new series so far. This basic conception of the Doctor as a lonely, tormented figure was fine in the New Adventures, but as time has gone on it's become clear just how far removed it was from the spirit of the original series: watch any of those old stories from before 1988 and see what I mean. Now that the revival has enshrined it (with all this 'Lonely God' nonsense) it's like the whole history of the show has been retconned in a way I can't say I'm totally happy with. Far, far worse though, is the way 'The Family of Blood' dredges up a horror from Series One that I dared to hope we'd seen the back of. "Coward!" shouts Hutchinson. "Oh yes, every time", replies Tim with satisfaction. Yep, it's 'The Parting of the Ways' again.

It is, and was, utterly, self-evidently, indescribably wrong to describe the Doctor as "coward rather than killer". It's become Russell Davies' answer to the famous lines coined by Terrance Dicks to describe the essence of the man, which remain to this day immeasurably superior and a far better template for our hero? and in which, I seem to recall, the words "never cruel or cowardly" feature prominently. Go figure. It's such a small thing here as well, but it ruined the episode for me.

As for the rest, Cornell resuscitates the concept of gratuitous racism on Joan's behalf, just to make sure we don't get to like her a bit too much; and his own particular hobby-horse comes out again with the scarecrows' attack on the school, although admittedly in not such an overbearing way as in the book: the notion that Smith is taking the easy way out by choosing to fight, while the morally superior Tim runs away to do something else, and that his mustering of a defence by the militarily-trained and heavily-armed pupils is somehow the wrong thing to do.

It's completely counter-intuitive, part of the "coward rather than killer" idea, but something which I can't blame RTD for because Cornell was already using it 12 years ago: it doesn't seem to factor in that sometimes it can take enormous bravery to fight (what else does the Doctor spend his life doing?), and that Smith, backed into a corner with no other options, is really taking the obvious course of action. So why is Martha's immediate reaction, like Benny's, that the Doctor wouldn't want this? And as for the ending! The cruel ways in which the Doctor ultimately disposes of his enemies is far worse, morally, than simply leaving them on the spaceship to be blown up would have been, something that Doctors have been doing all through time and space since 1963: another inconsistency.

One last complaint: although Smith's romance with Joan is wonderfully touching, and a salutary example to 'The Girl in the Fireplace' and the whole Rose story-arc of how to do a romance for the Doctor right, it ends on a duff note when the returning Doctor offers to take her along for the ride at the end, claiming that he is capable of doing everything Smith could have done. Well, maybe, these days, but in contrast to the Seventh Doctor's sorrowful incomprehension and alien asexuality, this definitely undermines the central story, although having the Doctor only become human as a throwaway solution to a temporary problem rather than because of genuine, psychologically complex needs, had rather done it already by that point. In spite of this, watching part one I was fervently wishing that this was the first time the new series had given the Doc a lady friend -- yet another reason why romanticising the character in the first place was a terrible mistake.

So in conclusion, a two-parter redolent with frustrated promise that was let down by things that most people, I'm uncomfortably aware, would see as trivial; but still, given that it's taken nine episodes for Series Three to offer an episode that left me as disappointed and deflated as all those Series One and Two stories.





Human Nature / The Family of BloodBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 June 2007 - Reviewed by Andy Smith

Every now and then, an episode leaves such an impression on me that I feel duty bound to sing its praises as loudly as possible from the rooftops. The first such story was Father's Day from series 1, and Paul Cornell's latest offering has my vocal chords at full stretch once more.

If there has ever been 90 minutes of television which has so vividly portrayed such a wide spectrum of emotion - horror, poignancy, drama, romance - then I'd be very much surprised. Once again the makers of the series have shown that there is so much more to this show than monsters and comedy, and once again the detractors of the show, many of whom bizarrely seem to spend an awful lot of their time on online Who forums and writing reviews for this website, are shown to be silly and foolish. There is simply no argument that after nearly 3 seasons, the show is still pushing boundaries and daring to approach subject matter that would never have suited, or been braved by, the classic series, let alone anything else on TV.

The First World War is of course such a special and heartrending time in the history of the world and this country in particular, and the period lends itself very easilly to drama. Even a show which on the surface was very fluffy and juvenile like Blackadder Goes Forth, spoke volumes in its final seconds, as the show's main characters went over the top to almost certain death, and here the horror of the impending cataclysm is captured at times very subtly, at times very graphically, but always with the beautiful finesse of a master scriptwriter. Whether the horrific scene with the massacre of the scarecrows - and that phrase simply can't capture the power of this scene - which so brutally and vividly portrayed the sheer horror that the young boys of this era would all soon be enduring - or the final moments at the war memorial, heartrending and touching without any schmaltz - this was as powerful a comment on the horrors of the Great War, and war in general, as there could be, and I'd like to think a few familial discussions followed on from this, with children's curiosity pricked.

Against this wider picture was a more intimate theme, that of the nature of both human and Time Lord. This is, of course, a theme which the RTD series has constantly looked at - an approach which has given the Doctor a depth and raison d'etre which was never present in the classic series. Much as a great film maker like Tim Burton would take an established character such as Batman and completely explore his psychology and certain loss of humanity, so RTD and writers have totally reinvisaged the Doctor by a) making him the last of his kind (...?) and b) completely exploring the mind of an eternal wanderer through time and space. While investigated reasonably frequently, this motif was able to be pushed to the forefront of the entire story by the idea of the Doctor losing his Gallifreyan self and becoming human, and it seems in retrospect that Paul Cornell's original book was completely destined to be adapted at some point by the current production team. And in so doing, the heartbreaking reality of the Doctor's eternal plight was painted as beautifully as it has ever been possible to do. While the basic idea of the story was almost paper-thin, and the technology to change the Doctor's entire biology a very handy plot device, these ideas are only there to set up a situation, and the beauty of the script is in the reaction of the main protagonists to this situation. With this in mind I would say that Paul Cornell has written a pretty much flawless script which probably even outshines The Empty Child - a scenario I would hardly think possible as that story was til now the absolute pinnacle of the sereis in my mind.

The BAFTA word was mentioned in the Radio Times coverage of this episode, and while it can be easy to get carried away with these things, it's hard not to feel that there is much justification here, from the beautifully flowing script to the fantastic production. Charles Palmer really has impressed me with his efforts this season, and here while the more eye-catching scenes such as the aforementioned slo-mo scarecrow massacre will probably draw most attention, the fabulous performances of the actors and gorgeous use of locations show that he is a director at the top of his game. With only a couple of exceptions, the RTD series has constantly found directors who are not only inventive and hugely capable, but who so obviously understand the whole feel of the show. James Strong, Joe Ahearne and James Hawes have been the frontrunners but Charles Palmer, with this story, can be added to the list.

The scarecrows - well, as with the Reapers in Father's Day, they are almost an irrelevent addition to the story, yet they are given some fantastic moments - the snatching of the girl with the balloon being the most nightmare-inducing i would say. As such, despite the fact they could easily not have featured, they add a horror to the story which I'm sure will make it a story that all children who watched it will remember vivdly into adulthood. Again, monster design and realisation has been of the highest order, in this series 3 perhaps more than ever.

The acting of all and sundry was of the highest order - Freema Agyeman has had tough shoes to fill, and in general I do feel there is a slightly less emotional attachment to martha's character - this is no criticism of Freema, but Rose and family were so solidly characterised over the last 2 seasons that inevitably that whole backstory is missed. However, as many fans were quick to point out, Rose's character did become irksome at times last series, although her eventual exit was one of the most touching and heartwrenching moments of British TV history. Martha has been instantly likeable, and here, as in 42, her character has started to flesh out nicely, and it perhaps adds a nice variety that her family have taken much more of a back seat this season than the Tyler clan did. Freema herself continues to impress, and I'm quite prepared to expect that she'll become the second-best companion of all-time (behind Billie's Rose of course!) Added to this was a beautiful performance from Jessica Hynes, who I have long admired but did I ever expect her to deliver such a powerful and well-judged performance as this? Her final scene with the Doctor, and scathing banishment of him, was a magical moment of TV drama.

And finally.....now, who's my favourite Doctor? No question. Tom Baker was MY Doctor, through my teenage years, he became the Doctor, a magical iconic figure, instantly recognisable, totally loved.....and yet....nostalgia is a funny old thing and hard to shake off, but with this performance, David Tennant has knocked the socks off everything that's come before. This is, quite simply, the Greatest Performance ever from a Doctor (though you could argue of course that the most powerful moments were not played as the Doctor, but as John Smith). Tennant is simply mind-boggling, especially in his final angst as he knows he must choose between sacrifice and destroying the Family. The scene where his never-to-be-lived future is played out left me with more than a tear in my eye, and his verstaility was so in evidence when changing in a second from Smith to the Doctor - it really wasn't just a matter of a different accent. David Tennant truly has now delivered the ultimate performance in the show's title role, and if he isn't at least nominated for the aforementioned BAFTA, it is purely and simply snobbery against the show. Nuff said.

So, the best Dr Who episodes ever? Hard to say when there is such a long and rich history and diversity to choose from, but very possibly, and in many ways undoubtedly. The intensity which I've felt has been slightly lacking this series - though hugely entertaining and wonderful in so many ways - has materialised with a vengeance here. Well done to absolutely everybody involved, and with all the recent press speculation, let's hope that all those involved continue to have a long and productive future in this, the absolute jewel in British TV's crown.





Human Nature / The Family of BloodBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 June 2007 - Reviewed by Gary Caldwell

Oh dear...

Actually, that opening phrase doesn't refer to 'Human nature/ Family of blood', but the fact that a production like this, sits alongside the various levels of dross that have comprised series 3 to date.

Right from the opening scene with its palpable sense of urgency (nicely edited reverse angles of the Doctor working the controls) this effort seemed to be operating on a higher level and for the last two weeks it's been like a different show... the kind it should be more often then not!

Everything seemed better pitched, the characters more defined, the historical setting more believable (all it takes is a good location scout), the direction tighter, the casting better (the supporting cast having the appropriate air and look for the period), the FX work better (no overstretching) and most importantly... it had a story.

Yeah... that's right. A story!

A story with it's own internal logic (a rarity in new Who), a story not dressed up in clich?, wonkoid science, or borrowed from a better source. A story allowed to unfold without the usual hurry, unburdened by the desire to pack in as much as possible in as little time as possible. A story with genuine emotion as opposed to manipulative sentimentality. A story with no silly 'broad' humour, and finally, a story which, despite it's fantasy leanings, never felt less than confident to bear the weight it's time period carried, the first World war hanging like a dark pall over the tale from beginning to end.

There were of course faults (nothings perfect). Plot wise, Martha should have been given possession of the watch, not the Doctor (which made no real sense considering the circumstances). Then again, something had to motor the plot along, so as a story device, this was a more forgivable anomaly then the show usually offers. In the acting stakes, Tennant and Agyeman seemed a little inadequate alongside the unusually good supporting cast ( Hynes, Sangster, Lloyd, and in lesser roles, pretty much everyone else). To be fair, Tennant had a lot to do, and he did pretty much run the acting gamut. His eyes still bulged a little too much, and his facial expressions were a little too overstated when acting alongside the more naturalistic Jessica Hynes, to fully convince, however. That said, I much preferred the vulnerable John Smith persona to his smatarse portrayal of the Doctor, and Charles Palmer rightfully reigned him in for the final scenes when Smith was gone. Actually, if Tennant played the part entirely as he did during the last ten minutes I'd like him a damnsite better then I do.

Agyeman, it has to be said, was noticeably struggling. She's just not that great an actress, likeable... yes, but without the skill to convey the weight of character and delivery (which, sometimes, just seemed off) this story demanded. Joan, would never have become a companion, (cos' the kid's would have had difficulty relating to her, though a character like this wouldn't have been out of place in the original series) but she would have been far more interesting then Martha, and this story only really served to throw up just how lightweight Agyeman / Martha is.

The scarecrows were a bit naff (though not a bad idea, by any means) with their 'Wizard of Oz' gait, however, I'm viewing them with adult eyes and I'm pretty sure you're average ten year old and under would have thought differently. The courtyard 'shoot em up' was well handled with it's well judged slo-mo inserts and I liked it's allegorical leanings (the youths themselves would be mown down, like so many scarecrows, in the coming years... see what I mean about operating on a higher level). Compare this sequence with the similar set piece in Hooverville in 'Evolution' and you'll see what Palmer brought to this particular gig.

All in, then, it was a strong production in virtually ever department. It was, however Paul Cornell who shone the brightest, delivering, to my mind, the best written episodes of New Who to date. His understanding of the Doctor seems way beyond RTD, and indeed Moffats (I still cringe at the thought of that drunk scene in 'Girl in the fireplace'). While the various punishments dished out to the family seemed a little like a cop out storywise, they also gave the Doctor a mythic quality and this hitherto unexplored aspect seems entirely appropriate considering his somewhat God like abilities. This is a facet that should be run with (but probably won't).

Elsewhere, Gold did his customary fine bit, with an appropriately soaring eulogy at the end. He'll bugger off when RTD steps down, I would imagine (he may well go sooner if the movie world beckons) and the show will be the lesser for it. Good editing, and sound design (I'm a sucker for the 'thrunch' of bullets ripping through straw) rounded the package off. There's plenty more nice thing's to mention, but I'm sure they'll be covered by other reviewers (unless this story is considered crappy by everyone except me, in which case'I'll just crawl into a corner, to ponder how out of touch I am with the world, and probably never recover!!!)

In closing, this was a glimpse at the kind of show 'Who' can so clearly be when the right people are at the helm, both episodes embracing the solid tradition of superior British storytelling as opposed to American (we just can't beat them at they're own game, so why bother... we shouldn't even be wanting to). In fact, I can't imagine a single American show (Sci-Fi or not) that would even attempt to put something like this together (they do 'slick', they do 'sentimental' but they don't often do gravitas!).

This two parter was well written (it might even spark some interest in the first world war with some kids who otherwise have shown none), well paced, well acted and well directed!

I just wish (placed in the latter half of a poor season) it didn't feel so much like a glitch!





BlinkBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 June 2007 - Reviewed by Dave Kelly

Aside from the emotional finale in Doomsday, I don't remember the last Doctor Who episode that had me rewinding back to scenes multiple times and still experience the same thrill I got when I first watched them.

This was an episode that stands out as a classic. It was well-acted, atmospheric and downright creepy

The scene is set from the start. Spooky house (the line from Larry about Sally living in Scooby Doo's house was great) and strange messages from the Doctor hidden behind the wallpaper. Quite how the owners of the house didn't see the messages when they put the wallpaper up is a question that doesn't really need answering. This is the Doctor contacting Sally from nearly 40 years previously.

The potential of the episode is realised when Kathy's grandson delivers her message to Sally on the date and time that his grandmother insisted upon. Kathy, hiding behind the door, is unaware of the angel behind her. The reveal shots that show how the statue has moved are unexpected and worth waiting for. You never know when the angels are going to appear.

Throughout the episode, the camera work to imply movement works hundreds of times better than actually *seeing* the angels move. Quick cuts as the four angels are moving in on Sally and Larry along with the musical score helps to keep up the tension.

One slight niggle with this was the reveal of the feral angel face rather than the calm one, when Sally and Larry realise that both of them have taken their eyes off the statue. I have to say, it still made me jump as was intended, but an implied threat is far more effective. The robots in Robots of Death didn't need expressions to be scary.

Did this episode benefit or suffer from the lack of the Doctor's physical presence ? Unlike "Love and Monsters" last season, I'd say a resounding no. There was enough of him as a guide in this episode to firmly anchor it. I don't want to spend too much time comparing "Blink" with "Love and Monsters" but L&M was an experiment that had great potential but was ultimately let down by the Abzorbaloff. I've read the various threads on the Outpost Gallifrey forums where there is a definite divide between lovers and haters. The lovers explain that L&M was told from Elton's perspective and, as such, is less reliable in it's narrative, the haters focus on the Abzorbaloff. The lovers enjoy the effect that the Doctor has had on the various characters' lives, the haters focus on the Abzorbaloff. I'm not a hater but, it has to be said, none of the pre-show publicity was about how the episode was an enjoyable description of a group of people, with a common interest in the Doctor, getting together to discuss their experiences. No, it was a collection of pictures on how Peter Kay was going to be dressed in a green fat suit designed by a Blue Peter competition winner. If Peter Kay had remained as the Victor Kennedy character, I would have enjoyed the episode more because I thought he acted very well. As the Abzorbaloff, he was Peter Kay.

"Blink", on the other hand, was a traditional episode. No narration, no commentary. This was the viewer watching events unfolding rather than being told what was going on.

Carey Mulligan was excellent as Sally Sparrow. She was sensible, down-to-earth and, importantly, intelligent. Her realisation that she was the crux of events was well done and it was good to see that she wasn't star struck when she finally met the Doctor. I would have preferred that Finlay Robertson hadn't played Larry like the eldest son in My Family but it didn't detract from the overall story. Everyone else was really extra to the narrative apart from Billy Shipton. I admit that I didn't like the "wide boy" approach of young Billy but old Billy, played by Louis Mahoney, was a poignant character who had lived knowing the precise time that he was going to die and holding out until he'd met up with Sally again.

This was the third (or fourth ?) episode that was based on previously published works. I don't have a problem with this. If I were a Doctor Who author (and there are many days when I wish I was) and Russell T. Davies approached me to film an episode based on one of my books, I would feel this would be a dream come true. If you're immersed in Doctor Who, as we know a lot of the writers are, who wouldn't be crying like a baby to know that you contributed to the canon of your favourite series ? Okay, maybe it's just me then !

Steven Moffat has demonstrated that he's supremely capable of writing for Doctor Who. The Empty Child, The Girl in the Fireplace and now Blink are all standout episodes. Long may it continue.





BlinkBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 June 2007 - Reviewed by Frank Collins

The serious amount of hype from the production team for this episode has ultimately served to be its undoing for me. No episode could have lived up to the 'scariest episode yet' tag and completely fulfilled the brief of being 'Doctor-Lite'. In the end it was a good episode, where expectations for it to perform were unfeasibly high, but I do think it suffered from the lack of the Doctor and Martha dynamic and relied on surrogate companions that you needed more time with to develop the necessary emotional connections.

If you look at 'Love And Monsters' from last year, which was also fulfilling the same brief, it connected not just to the Doctor and Rose but also to the supporting characters and environs that Rose brought to the series. There was a direct connection to Jackie, to the estate and to events past with the flashbacks to the Autons, the Slitheen and the Sycorax. In 'Blink' I think the hardest thing I struggled with was this lack of connection - perhaps it should have featured Tish or connected more to the locations and spaces in which the Jones family operate?

It had a water-tight 'time travel' plot full of conundrums, something which Moffat always excells at, and some very witty lines which again he's good at, particularly his jibe at the nit-pickers of the on-line community with the 'wrong size windows' line where the police officer is describing the TARDIS to Sally, the penchants of drama commissioners at ITV with the 'Sparrow and Nightingale' gag ('Rosemary and Thyme', take a bow) and the effects of a 'timey-wimey' detection device on hens - that would be a sight to see!

The triumph of the episode certainly lay in its desire to scare the living daylights out of its younger audience. With this in mind, 'Blink' connected directly to classic television scares such as 'Sapphire & Steel', 'Children Of The Stones' and 'Escape Into Night'. You could also connect this to 'Ghost Light' another Doctor Who story set in a strange old house. I am grateful that Moffat is bringing this kind of unsettling drama to a 21st Century child audience. And the idea of 'quantum lock' as a way that the angels manifested themselves took us into 'Schroedinger's Cat' territory too.

Children need to understand their fears and healthy scares are few and far between in today's 'cotton wool' television landscape. His concept of alien angels killing people by trapping them in the past and then feeding off the energy released was a beguiling one. Their predatory nature keyed in with the 'dare to scare' potential of children's playground games and it's the episode's ability to understand the psychology of of those games that provided the highlight for me. The most significant scene was certainly where Sally and Larry are trying to get into the TARDIS - you have double jeopardy from the advancing angels, brilliantly caught in those rapid cuts by director Hettie MacDonald, and the imminent demise of the lightbulb. What could be worse? - horrible things creeping up on you [I]and[/I] fear of the dark.

Sally Sparrow (another Moffat connection to last year's Doctor Who annual) was a likeable enough character, although I do think she took an awful lot in her stride to come across as entirely believable, and it's unfair to use her as a stick with which to beat Martha which seems to have been the tendency from other reviewers. I didn't feel as solidly connected to her as I did to Elton in 'Love And Monsters' and I put that down to too little emotional development and where Moffat did try to do this, it seemed a little forced because it hadn't been paid enough attention to during the rest of the story. Up until the final act of the episode, the pacing and development was a little slow and often padded but Carey Mulligan's central performance as determined yet vulnerable Sally did hold it together.

Hettie MacDonald also contributed some very atmospheric direction and editing, with the decaying house and its overgrown gardens populated by the observing angels providing potent images for young nightmares. The shots of the angels looking out of the windows of the old house, the backlit shot of Sally in the empty hospital ward and the quick cutting as the angels closed in were elements to be savoured. More women directors please!

It's difficult to comment on Tennant and Agyeman because obviously they're not in it very much at all but I did like the idea of having their presence strung through the story as an easter egg on a series of DVDs. It's a novel way of getting round the situation and the brief. The weakest performance was from Michael Obiora as the detective Billy. I'm afraid he didn't convince me that he was a detective. And I wasn't entirely sure the sub-plot about Kathy re-starting her life in 1920 actually came off and again I put that down to trying to keep a complex, logical plot together to the detriment of our emotional investment in these characters.

Overall a good episode that like 'Love And Monsters' finds the virtues of not having the Doctor and his companion as the focus of the story and therefore has an opportunity to approach the universe that the series inhabits from a very different point of view. It's refreshing that the series can continue to do this and I would certainly be delighted to see the Weeping Angels in a return match with the Doctor himself and a cameo for Sally in a future episode. It does not match 'Love And Monsters' for me. It doesn't have the same emotional connection that the characters, and by implication the audience, had with the Doctor's universe. And certainly Moffat's 'The Girl In The Fireplace' remains his best contribution to the series thus far.





BlinkBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 June 2007 - Reviewed by Lawrence Wang

Season 3 has been a bit of a let-down for me.

Except for 'Gridlock' and the excellent 'Human Nature/The Family of Blood' two-parter, Season 3 has been fairly disappointing. This is particularly galling because I had high hopes for season 3, what with new blood (coming in the shapely form of Freema). Season 3, I thought, would be the beginning of something wonderful.

Then came 'Mr. Smith and Jones'. Why, Russell, why?

The opening episode was dull, easily the weakest of the opening episodes for the current series. The Judoon were an awesome concept that turned on its head, and the less said about the MRI-bomb-thingy, the better. It would only become worse. The rather fetching Freema Agyeman as the Doctor's latest companion is nothing special, which I mostly blame on the writers: either she is a screaming nitwit or pining after the Doctor in not-so-obvious ways. The idea of having the relationship between the Doctor and Martha be more as a rebound/forlorn love is in concept do-able but in practice simply gets really old really fast. So far only in Paul Cornell's two-parter has there really been even a real exploration into her character and background, namely dealing with her race (and why not? After all, being a time traveller means that eventually Martha will be exploring times on Earth when difference in race was not so tolerated. Though I hope it doesn't become her defining characteristic - that too will become annoying very fast). 'Gridlock' was a grateful reprieve, and 'Human Nature/The Family of Blood' made me believe that perhaps Season 3 was not entirely doomed. But the in-between episodes left me feeling very cold and lonely in the Box of Hope. Then I saw that Stephen Moffat was writing the next episode, and my hopes rose.

They haven't been dashed.

They just exploded out of pure delight. (Possibly orgasmic; a gentleman never tells.)

'Blink' is hands-down the best episode out of the current series that doesn't have the Doctor as the main character. I'm even going as far to say the best single episode this current season. It has it all - time paradoxes, romance, the Doctor at his most entertaining, even more romance, loads and loads of humour and oh-my-god horror. Never, NEVER have I been on the edge of my seat for a TV show. Never. 'Blink' changed that. The moment that Sally (is it curious that Moffat seems to have a penchant for women named Sally? There was one in Coupling. Anyway...) enters the house and I saw the angel I thought, 'Oh my God.' And then she was walking away and its face was open and I thought, 'Oh dear Lord.' I only caught my breath when I heard the theme music, because surely she wouldn't die now! (Not unless Moffat manages to destroy the sacrosanctness of the title!...interesting idea) I was on the edge of my seat (quite literally) and thinking this is awesome.

And it continued to be awesome. When Sally's friend was alternately looking back at the angel and watching Sally talk with her as-yet-unknown descendant I was fairly near screaming 'Run away you mad woman!' Alas she did not. Though it IS happy that she had a great time, even in the past. Poor girl.

The Detective Inspector was fantastic. Oh man, I was so sorry to see him be 'Blink'-ed, because I thought, I can't get enough of this man. He's zany. Even as an old man he's worth a good long chuckle or too.

Which, I add now, is one of the greatest strengths of this episode, and Moffat in general. These characters, even the small ones, live and breathe in a way that just doesn't happen in the other episodes. They're funny and captivating and genuinely intriguing, and you are actually sorry for them to go. Can you say that about Lazlo and Tallulah, or Mr/Ms/Mrs. Generic Character that populate the Who-vian world, and who are useful as corpses (or, more likely, floating atoms) solely?

(The line 'Why does nobody ever go to the police?' is brilliant, by the way. A very effective way of both furthering the story and getting a genuinely niggling problem out of the way.)

The use of the easter egg DVD is top-notch, and genuinely inventive. The way how time, all 'wibbly wobbly' as the Doctor babbles, connects is both intriguing and frankly welcome (Wikipedia states that these are predestination paradox as well as an ontological paradox. I'll go with "big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff", thank you very much.). Come on, this is a show about TIME-TRAVEL, some stuff to do with time paradoxes and exploring time as an issue for episodes is actually interesting! Hopefully this will lead the way for future writers to do a bit more on this.

'You're not looking at the Angel.' 'Neither are you.' - these two predictable (and very entertaining lines) lead to some of the tensest moments in Season 3 history, nevermind series, and it's all having to do with simply staring. How absolutely fantastic is that? The Weeping Angels' change from scary-gothic-morbid to scary-they're-going-to-eat-me left me with chills. Top props to the art department, they really got these down. I was biting on my fingernails as it looked like Lawrence (or is it Laurence?) was about to bite it. This time I actually spoke to the television: 'For god's sake Sally, stop being a twit and get back to Lawrence, how long do you expect the boy, never mind a frightened boy, to stand staring at a thing of death without blinking?'

This too is a rarity. Speaking to the television, that is. Not that staring at a thing of death without blinking is a usual occurance.

I too was panicked as the Angels closed in and the light drifted on and off. It was a brilliant way to scare the living bejeezus out of the audience. And the way that the Doctor defeats them...classic! Especially since we think oh Hell, the two kids are going to bite the dust. The ending was nicely done, getting back into the whole time paradoxes and seeing some David Tennant at work (don't you just find that just even speaking he's entertaining? Ah well.) The only critique I have at all is the absolute end, the many shots of the different statues and monuments of London. Was it necessary? I mean, if it had been to a lone Weeping Angel, watching from a balcony, oh sure, that would've been a great ending and made a good, loopy sense. But this, this is ambiguous. Are they trying to say that all these statues are 'Weeping Angels', and all that keeps them from killing us all is because they're in public places? Or that these days will one day become the Weeping Angels that hunt the Doctor and Martha down? Or...you see, quite ambiguous, and I can't figure out for the life of me why. Yet it really really really doesn't matter. Because this was one helluva show and my faith in the Season, and Doctor Who, has been restored. Steven Moffat has saved the day, once again by producing another top-notch, high-quality episode. He keeps on getting better and better - 'The Doctor Dances' two-parter was good, 'The Girl in the Fireplace' is still one of my favorites, and 'Blink' has just been added onto that list as well. If the rest of the season is as good as this, then there is nothing to fear, nothing to fear at all.

(Then again, Davies wrote the next show, so perhaps we do have to fear something.)

I end this with an uber kudos to the team behind this episode. Hettie Macdonald's direction is no small part in making what may be the most classic Doctor Who episodes ever. The art department should be given medals - the angels were genuinely terrifying, and the set designs were spooky and decrepit and perfect. The actors and actresses must be accorded due honour for a fantastic performance, with Ms. Mulligan as Sally Sparrow getting a free spin in the Tardis for a job-well-done. The Doctor Who production team have outdone themselves again.