Story 186
Series 3 – Episode 10

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“Don’t blink. Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead!” – the Doctor

Storyline
When Sally Sparrow goes trespassing in a derelict house, Wester Drumlins, she uncovers a danger stretching back decades. The Weeping Angels occupy the property. Quantum-locked assassins in the form of stone statues, they feed off the energy caused by sending their victims back in time. After her pal Kathy is transported to 1920, Sally befriends Kathy’s brother Larry, who is obsessed with DVD Easter eggs of a video message from long ago. It’s from Doctor, who is trapped in the 1969 with Martha. They engage in a bizarre conversation across time that may just save them all from the Angels – and stop the creatures from gaining control of the Tardis.

First UK transmission
Saturday 9 June 2007

Production
November 2006–January 2007. Main locations: Old Nat West Bank and Coal Exchange in Cardiff Bay. Caerphilly Miners’ Hospital. Fields House, Fields Park Avenue in Newport. Oddverse Café, Diverse Vinyl and St Woolos Cemetery in Newport. Llanfair Road in Porthcanna. Cwm Ifor Farm in Caerphilly. Studio: Upper Boat Studios, Treforest, Pontypridd.

Cast
The Doctor – David Tennant
Martha Jones – Freema Agyeman
Sally Sparrow – Carey Mulligan
Kathy Nightingale – Lucy Gaskell
Larry Nightingale – Finlay Robertson
Malcolm Wainwright – Richard Cant
Billy Shipton – Michael Obiora
Old Billy – Louis Mahoney
Ben Wainwright – Thomas Nelstrop
Banto – Ian Boldsworth
Desk Sergeant – Ray Sawyer
Weeping Angels – Aga Blonska, Elen Thomas (uncredited)

Crew
Writer – Steven Moffat
Director – Hettie Macdonald
Designer – Edward Thomas
Incidental music – Murray Gold
Producer – Phil Collinson
Executive producers – Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner

RT review by Patrick Mulkern (published 9 June 2022)

Many incredibly strong pieces of drama were written for Doctor Who during the first decade of its revival, by Russell T Davies and some of the most talented writers working in television, but Steven Moffat’s Blink still looms head and shoulders above them like a chilly, impassive monolith.

Not only did it introduce those dead-eyed, creeping stone creatures, the Weeping Angels – who instantly earned a place alongside the Daleks and Cybermen in the pantheon of Doctor Who’s Greatest Monsters – it also gave us the gorgeous Carey Mulligan, on the cusp of fame, as the intrepid Sally Sparrow. Blink appealed to viewers who didn’t really even like the programme. And it was the first Doctor Who properly to give me the shudders since I was a youngster in the 1970s. I jumped out of my skin when Sally and Larry looked up from their DVD player and saw an Angel’s fanged snarl for the first time.

Blink is a curio, an enduringly popular David Tennant episode that barely features the tenth Doctor. With the star busy on other episodes, Moffat was charged with making Blink “Doctor-lite”. His clever solution was let him pop up occasionally as an “Easter egg” (a hidden extra popular on DVDs at the time; and that dates it now), issue the chilling “Don’t blink!” warning and engage in a disconcerting “conversation” with Sally across time.

In 2015, Blink topped a RadioTimes.com poll asking readers to name their favourite episodes of the previous decade. In that week’s RT, Moffat modestly described his script as having been “perfectly serviceable, nothing special” – yet it was dazzlingly original, playful and complex. That script is currently available via the BBC Writers Room.

Many lines stay in the mind, such as this exchange:
SALLY: “I love old things. They make me feel sad.”
KATHY: “What’s good about sad?”
SALLY: “It’s happy for deep people.”

Blink delivers so many twists and chills on first and even subsequent viewings, it’s easy to overlook the precision and subtlety of the writing, how sharp the characterisation is. There’s Sally’s friend Kathy (Lucy Gaskell) who only has a few scenes before being zapped back to 1920 by the Angels but feels like she’s been her friend for ever. Finlay Robertson is terrific as Kathy’s brother Larry, an endearing nerd like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo who is obsessed with the crucial Easter eggs (“The angels have the phone box. I’ve got it on a T-shirt”). In 2021, Robertson reprised his role in a BBC video game, Doctor Who: The Lonely Assassins.

Carey Mulligan carries the episode, superb as the determined young woman who creates an adventure – and wins admirers – simply by walking into a room. Sally could so easily have been a companion. Mulligan could have been a Doctor. Indeed, it was reported that Mulligan turned down an offer to become a series regular soon after, as she went on to Bafta-winning glory for the film An Education. It could be argued that Sally and Larry set the template for Amy and Rory, introduced by Moffat three years later.

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In an easily overlooked, poignant sequence, the detective Billy Shipton (Michael Obiora) asks Sally on a date (“Life is short and you are hot”). She is so dazzled that she gives her name as Sally “Shipton”. But Billy is whooshed back to the 1960s by the Angels so that, moments later, Sally next meets him as an old man (indeed another actor, Louis Mahoney) dying in hospital. Rain cascades down the window.
BILLY: “It was raining when we met.”
SALLY: “It’s the same rain.”
BILLY: “I have till the rain stops.”
We then see Sally alone in the ward. The bed is empty. The rain has stopped and Billy is dead. She marches off – resolved to battle the Angels. It’s beautifully written, performed, directed and scored. Like everything else in Blink, every line, every moment, every shot has purpose.

You could pin-point a few chinks in Blink. More conveniences, such as Kathy’s brother just happening to be obsessed with those DVD Easter eggs; the Doctor and Martha locating Billy the instant he arrives back in 1969; dying Billy lasting till the moment Sally needs him…

But there are just so many aspects to praise – from casting director Andy Pryor for his spot-on guest actors; to whoever found the appalling, perfect location for Wester Drumlins (a derelict property in Newport, reused ten years later in the episode Knock Knock); to Murray Gold easing his familiar (excellent) house-style to deliver an eerie and often shrill score redolent of Psycho. Director Hettie Macdonald is rightly revered for her magnificent compositions, tight edits and evoking the mystery, urgency and terror, beat by beat, that one reads in the script.

No wonder Blink bagged a Best Writer Bafta for Moffat in 2008 and remains, years later, a stone-cold classic and fan favourite.

Radio Times Archive

Looking back to 2007 (15 years ago at the time of writing), I’m pretty sure Blink required my very first contact with Steven Moffat. Preparing RT’s coverage, I was curious why all the publicity, in particular the BBC billing and cast list, omitted Sally Sparrow’s surname. Such a catching name, was it an oversight? He explained by email: “Because every kid who read the Panini Annual will work out a whole section of the story. That may not be many people, but it’s something that’s easy to get right. So, yes – no Sparrow.” He’d written a short story (What I Did on My Christmas Holidays by Sally Sparrow) for the Doctor Who 2006 Annual.

In the feature pages of Radio Times, we introduced the “frankly petrifying” episode and showed the work that went into creating the Weeping Angels.

Such would be the enduring appeal of the Weeping Angels, many years later Moffat’s wife, TV executive Sue Vertue, had a solid replica made for him. It lurks in bushes at the bottom of their garden in London. In 2015, I suggested an RT photoshoot of Steven with his Angel and he agreed with alacrity. It was broad daylight one November morning, but the photographer Richard Ansett created a spooky twilight effect and, up close, the Angel did deliver the heebie-jeebies. But I’m bold. I did touch it. And I did blink.

Steven Moffat and his Weeping Angel, photographed in 2015 for Radio Times by Richard Ansett
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Here are the results of the 2015 RadioTimes.com poll as they appeared in the magazine, with Moffat talking about his winning episode, Blink.

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