“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff.” Thus the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) explains temporal theory to a “clever and listening” Sally Sparrow (Carey Mulligan, Never Let Me Go, The Great Gatsby) in the best-ever episode of Doctor Who, “Blink” (2007).
It’s a tough call. ”Blink” came in the middle of a great season, sandwiched between the brilliant “The Family of Blood” and “Utopia,”–a period when Stephen Moffat and Russell T. Davies were clearly at the top of their form. But there’s something about “Blink” that lifts it out of the realm of episodes that are simply great, and makes it an enduring, must-watch classic, and earns borg.com’s nomination for Best Doctor Who. (To be fair, there was a dissenting vote. Jason McClain is partial to “The Girl in the Fireplace.” But we think he’s wrong and just needs to watch “Blink” again.)
First, there’s the time travel. Ok, sure–it’s Doctor Who. It’s all time travel. But this episode does more than drop our heroes into another time to explore–it’s a twisty, precisely calibrated interplay of past, present, and future, with the Doctor stuck on the sidelines and the fate of the universe in the hands of a not-so-ordinary Londoner. ”Blink” is masterfully orchestrated and perfectly paced from the first moment, a complex puzzle of self-fulfilling, paradoxical prophecies that never misses a step or leaves the viewer remotely confused (even when we don’t know what’s going on).
Second, the story–all scant 45 minutes of it–feels not only complete and satisfying, but epic. Villainy on a grand scale. A tantalizing mystery. Romances that span generations, though their starcrossed lovers only know one another for moments. Between “Sally Shipton” and “It’s the same rain,” we live the entire lifelong love-that-might-have-been between Det. Insp. Billy Shipton and Sally. We are treated to the sweet love story of Kathy Nightingale and her young man from Hull, which comes full circle when her grandson brings her letter and photos to Sally–before the story even begins. It’s all one beautiful complex loop of time, love, and missed and grabbed chances.
Third, Carey Mulligan. Usually, TV episodes missing all of their familiar characters don’t work, but “Blink” pulls it off. Not only do we not really miss the Doctor, I think we’d all take even more of Sally, Larry, Kate, and Billy–but Carey Mulligan is the key to everything. From the instant Sally hops the wrought iron fence at Wester Drumlins and strips off the peeling wallpaper, we’re rooting for her. Mulligan feels like an actor you know you’ve seen before, and her poise and talent pull the whole episode up to her level. It’s no surprise to see her cast now in impressive roles like The Great Gatsby’s Daisy Buchanan.
Fourth, the Weeping Angels. Best. Villains. Ever. “Whatever you do, don’t blink.” “Blink” turns an archetype of holiness into a gothic nightmare, and the sweet innocence of Sally and Larry only makes them all the more startling. They’re a fascinating alien species as only Doctor Who can conceive (“quantum-locked” creatures who cease to exist when looked at), but they’re also as scary as any classic horror movie monster. And yet, for all the terror they inspire, they still “kill you nicely,” as the Doctor says. (They’re not always so nice, however, as Doctor Number Eleven and Amy Pond later learn.)
Fifth, the dialogue. C’mon–”Blink” is full of great lines, from the now quotable “Timey-Wimey Stuff,” to my personal favorites, “It goes ding when there’s stuff” and “There’s a thing. Well, four things and a lizard.” We also love Larry’s surprised, “You live in Scooby Doo’s house,” when he finds Sally at Wester Drumlins, and the adorable carpark exchange between the flirtatious Billy and bashful Sally. Also, Sally’s parting admonition, “Don’t look at me, don’t look at me,” chillingly echoes the “Don’t blink” refrain of the episode.
If that’s not enough to plead our case, perhaps the best evidence in “Blink’s” favor is Point Number Six: the fact that “Blink” functions as a complete standalone episode–it’s Doctor Who, but it’s also very much its own entire story, both fascinating and approachable enough to entertain Whovians and non-fans alike.