The first in a series where Pop Lifer tests music, film, television etc by the rules laid down in Lupe Fiasco’s “Superstar”: “Did you improve on the design?/Did you do something new?”. If the answer is yes to either of those questions, you qualify for the Lupe Fiasco Award for Services to Pop Culture.
Nominee #1, Dr Who’s 2007 nail biter, “Blink”.
This summer Pop Lifer has watched New York and Gotham take one hell of a beating. “Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises” are both still reverberating; their volume 11 sound and blue screen visuals tearing offices, bridges and apartment blocks down, piece by piece – each brick given its own sound file as it lands and crashes.
It is overwhelming, a little oppressive in fact. Like with a juggler or fire eater, you’re impressed at first but the interest soon wanes – not because fire eating isn’t impressive, it is, it’s just that it can wear thin. ‘Shit, did you see that?’ soon turns into ‘Haven’t I seen that before?’ It’s brutal – exhausting care, and sometimes risk goes into producing these feats or climactic action sequences, but our attention spans are short and our expectations are high. Blame the internet. Or pop. Or Pac Man. Some kind of snappily edited montage should explain it…
It doesn’t have to be this way. “Doctor Who”, a resuscitation that unlike many has worked spectacularly well, returns this weekend with the “Asylum of the Daleks”. The latest series and its opener have been given the film premier treatment on both sides of the Atlantic and the UK is awash with billboards, which to all appearances, are promoting a cinema release – only this one lasts 50 minutes, about the length of both of this Summer’s closing metropolitan trashings.
The Doctor’s current incarnation is penned by Steven Moffat -who could have retired as far as Pop Lifer is concerned after the glorious Press Gang but happily didn’t. Moffat’s Doctor, played with vim, spring and edge by Matt Smith, has maintained the exhilarating and eccentric nature that has been characteristic of Dr Who since its regeneration. This is not a blog which will brutally debate the merits of Ecclestone v Tennant v Smith, or Davies v Moffat (we understand a few may already exist) but instead will flag up how Dr Who managed to improve on ‘the design’ for the 50 minute self contained TV episode with “Blink”- the antidote to bloated overlong cinema blockbusters.
“Blink”, broadcast in 2007, is remarkable story telling by Steven Moffat. In 50 minutes there is set-up, confusion, build-up, climax and pay-off; humour, parody, romance, pathos, victory. The hero, the Doctor, is rarely on screen; the villains, the Weeping Angels – ‘the loneliest psychopaths in existence,’ – are used sparingly. The set up is simple – you cannot blink or the Weeping Angels will get you. That is all you need to know to enjoy this episode. No back story required.
The script is paired down brilliance; two romances are given an arc in less than a page of script and a third ‘near-miss’ romance is satisfactorily introduced, sabotaged and resolved movingly – instant attraction substituted for a tender death-bed retrospective in the time it takes to boil a kettle. The script includes knowing jibes about internet forums and riffs on thriller traditions, before turning in on itself. Act Two concludes with the Doctor finishing a script read to camera, informing us that the words have stopped because something is about to happen.
Meanwhile, as all this knowingness and sheer creative verve is slipped in as effortlessly as vintage Buffy, an audience of children hide behind pillows, wincing, dreading the irresistible encroachment of the creepy statues upon the episode’s one-off heroes. And incredibly, even though “Blink” sounds as if it may be too frenzied, too much, the plot moves gently and with poise. There is time to boil a kettle literally in the opening act; enough time given to the near miss romance to wait for the rain to stop.
The exposition, so beautifully handled throughout, is exemplified in the episode’s final scene. The prospective/retrospective introduction between the episode’s hero, Sally Sparrow, and the series’ hero (the Doctor), elegantly places all responsibility on to a character we will never see again, and in so doing elevates The Doctor, who has the good grace to accept and embrace that this time, he was a bit part.
The episode rightly launched a Hollywood career (Carey Mulligan) and served as a job interview for Moffat to assume chief writing responsibilities for “Dr Who” once Russell T Davies moved on. Despite it’s claustrophobic premise, it is uncluttered, simple, chilling, and rewarding. A lean TV classic.