Before pressing on with my thoughts on this week's offering, I'd like to just backtrack briefly to Family of Blood and, for those few out there who could really give a fig, slightly readjust my verdict: I think I was maybe a touch overly critical of said episode on the hindsight of a second viewing, but this was partly due to the almost overwhelming promise of Human Nature. That certainly was a very hard act to follow, and in many ways Family of Blood didn't do that badly - excepting my numerous criticisms of it last week, which I still stand by. I now think that on the strength of just one scene alone, the beautifully choreographed scenes of the scarecrows being mown down by lachrymose schoolboys (right up there, and even beyond, the opening scenes of Genesis of the Daleks for instance), which is also a kind of rejoinder to The Lazarus Experiment's allusions to Eliot's 'The Hollow Men' ('Not with a bang but a whimper - Eliot' - The Doctor; bear in mind also the poet's words: We are the hollow men/We are the stuffed men/Leaning together/Headpiece filled with straw...'), I would upgrade my rather churlish rating of 6.8 to a far more deserving 8/10. Yes, quite a leap, but bearing in mind Family of Blood holds up well to a second viewing - in spite of a few little irritating/pretentious aspects - and also begs a third or fourth, along with Human Nature, means it is truly worthy of the better stories of the old cannon. It will be, I'm sure, the hit of this season critically, and of the entire new series so far.
Anyway, back into present time, and Blink (or you'll miss it). To be honest, not having the Doctor and Martha in an episode isn't such a terrible thing, especially when one considers that this in turn means a) far less doe-eyed drooling from companion and b) far less pratting around from Timelord. Unfortunately the Doctor does interrupt from time to time, and often to the detriment of the chilling atmos of this episode: ie, when he burbles on about 'timey wimey' and so on in an attempt obviously to explain time travel to the Telly Tubby generation. I hate to say it but at moments such as these, I can't help seeing Frank Spencer in place of the Doctor, and sometimes think a nice little beret might suit David Tenant with the odd little 'Ooooo, Martha' thrown in for good measure. The trouble is, whilst Tennant is undoubtedly a good actor (as opposed to a brilliant one such as Patrick Troughton or Tom Baker), he still lacks the necessary gravitas to pull off 'eccentricity' well enough to convince. I find Tenant strains in this regard and often trips over himself in his enthusiasm to please an undefined audience; the problem is, his enthusiasm jars in the same way that Colin Baker's did back in the Eighties. Subtlety, Mr Tennant, subtlety! That's the key here. His eccentricity just doesn't come across as naturally and unforced as say Troughton's, Baker's or McCoy's. But I think this is ultimately down to the scripting for the Tenth Doctor, which has been highly erratic since his inception. On the whole, this series has tended to highlight Tenant's stronger points over his weaker ones moreso than the reverse of the previous season, however, there have been unwelcome lapses, and the 'timey wimey' speech really is rather annoying. Martha is better in small doses, as served here, with an actually quite funny shot of her accusing the Doctor of sponging off her while they're stranded in 1969: 'now I'm having to support him'. One in the eye for the dole-scapegoating generation then: even the Doctor has to draw benefits from time to time; why should he go for a job as a shelf-stacker when he's a fully qualified time traveller? Better to sit it out and cash in on his National Insurance contributions.
Blink itself? Basically - give or take token lapses into mundanity and vapid Noughties' trendy elements - a very good and solid episode, and yet another nice surprise in what is rapidly developing into the best season of new Who so far. The idea of an alien species who have evolved the perfect defence mechanism of only functioning/moving when not being observed ('quantum locked' - The Doc), is fascinating and inspired, and deeply disturbing. The 'lonely assassins' then are basically a race of interplanetary stone Gorgons who not only turn other beings metaphorically to stone with sheer fright, but also literally each other; hence they're being disguised as weeping angels, covering their own eyes so as not to catch one another's gazes. Of course this could be seen as a slightly silly idea in a way, especially considering their evident teamwork ethic, but nevertheless, it doses the episode with a genuinely chilling concept. The designs of the angels are exceptional, and the shot of them statically stood around the TARDIS is iconic. The flashes of their faces emerging and freezing in ghastly expressions as the two humans try to unlock the TARDIS, is brilliantly done, and the most frightening series of images in new Who since the screaming woman in The Unquiet Dead (well, apart from the drooling lycanthrope in Tooth and Claw, and the tattooed, red-eyed Toby in Impossible Planet). The trick of the Doctor in baiting the angels around the TARDIS, only to dematerialise it so they turn each other to stone by facing one another, is ingenious, and one of the most convincing and satisfying conclusions of a new Who episode (and nicely reminiscent of the Mara's death by its own reflections in the classic Kinda - my favourite ever story by the way). Inspired.
The premise of Blink in general is excellent and one of the most disturbing in the series' entire history. Homage is paid here to The Blair Witch Project (among other films, such as Hammer's The Gorgon), though only very subtly; the idea of not blinking in order to somehow stay in control of the situation (re the girl in TBWP being too frightened to shut her eyes in the tent) is a psychologically powerful play on the instinct to stay wide-eyed and awake when afraid. One could also say there's a shade of Ring here too, but in this case we have nothing more frightening than a bespectacled Jarvis Cocker oggling out from the TV screen (well, actually...)
The acting of the main girl is strong, and this young actress carries her character well and is fairly likeable - albeit typically self-assured for a Noughties' girl - and her comment about her friend's sister passing on that she loved him being 'quite nice' got me smiling. As for the 'friend', well, being a poor man's Rhys Ifans from Notting Hill isn't the best of accolades, but he does the job ok.
The time victims' stories were a nice detail, though one wonders why the Doctor couldn't have taken them back to their futures as it were. Still, the letter and old photos from the girl friend near the beginning of the episode, only just after she vanishes into 1920, is a lovely touch, and rather reminiscent of the fourth adventure in Sapphire and Steel. In this sense then, Blink plays a similar role to Fear Her of last year, in its deft juxtaposition of modern day settings with eerie subversions of trans-generational motifs (ie, children's drawings and moving statues), betraying a thread of inspiration from the brilliantly imaginative science fantasies of the 70s, in particular The Tomorrow People (for Fear Her see The Blue and the Green) and S&S. These are very welcome ingredients to new Who and I hope there are more to come. The ultimate chills after all are those that play on our childhood fears.
Blink is a striking episode, absorbing, nicely written, well directed, subtle, frightening and genuinely unique. It is also an episode that can be watched in isolation from the rest of the series, which is no bad thing, and taken on its own merits. It is, further, a far superior tale to its same-placed and similarly Doctor-less cousin of last season, the deplorably self-indulgent Love and Monsters. Blink is much more the kind of oddity we should get for the season's token 'Doctor-on-Call' episode.
Imaginative and memorable. A minor classic.