Our eyes were watching them
In anticipation of Steven Moffat’s two-parter installment for the BBC sci-fi series, Doctor Who this Saturday, I rewatched the episode that became not only a fan favorite, but the winner of the BAFTA award for best screenplay. The man who brought us the original romance series, Coupling, is able to tweak a family-friendly show and indulge our inner man-child with both cerebral brainteasers and emotional rollercoasters. If you happen to be a devoted fan of Doctor Who, a MOFFAT episode is the ice cream best served by itself, with the rest of the season being the unnecessary cherry on the top (especially those written by the executive producer, Russell Davies).
“Blink” is considered a doctor-lite episode that barely features the titular time-traveler himself, yet it focuses more on the consequences of time-traveling than the ones that do have the nerd-chic David Tennant in them. The monster of the week is a creepy rendition on Christian mythology, The Weeping Angels. Of course, they neither weep nor guard, but rather wait for you to blink in order to kill you. But again, murder is better served cold, so these “psychopaths are the only ones in the universe to kill you nicely. No mess, no fuss, they just zap you into the past and let you live to death. The rest of your life used up and blown away in the blink of an eye. You die in the past, and in the present they consume the energy of all the days you might have had, all your stolen moments. They’re creatures of the abstract. They live off potential energy.” If that’s a mouthful, just look at the wikipedia entry for better clarification and the elaborate paradox-heavy plotline.
I could go on and on about the wimey-blimey nature of time, but what’s actually more intriguing during my second viewing, are the very techniques of visualization in terms of suspense and genre conventions. Usually, in a “horror” film, the viewer has the privilege of sight, while the character must suffer from the lack of hindsight. We are given the perspective of someone witnessing the crime, but are helpless to act or help our onscreen counterparts. Of course, most horror films have ransacked this dynamic into bits, but Blink manages to incorporate those horror traditions into the logic of its narrative, or more importantly, the morphology of the Weeping Angels. I’m not sure if Moffat or director, Hettie MacDonald even contemplated about the scopophillic implications of their work, since the unanimous praise has easily silenced these formal gestures as visual cop-outs, or else, the episode would have failed otherwise. As you can see from the screencaps below, the Weeping Angels are basically just stone statues, what’s so scary about that? Well, that’s just half of the story.
I SEE YOU!
They are described are “quantum-locked,” which means if someone or something sees them, they changed into stone. We never see their “real forms” since they move quickly until of course, they are sighted. Phew. Rock solid, again. Therefore, the doctor advises us to “not blink, blink and you’re dead.”
This returns us back to the conundrum, due to the fact that we only see these creatures as statues throughout the whole episode. Yes, sometimes, we’re in the point of view of one of the human characters, but other times, we’re supposed to be in the omniscient role, watching everything and doing nothing. The camera does not exist! Or does it? Self-reflexivity can be awfully boring (see late period Godard for overkill), but “Blink” puts the META back into metamorphosis, of the angels that is from abstract absence to concrete objects of frightening presence. It’s the perfect example of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, we change what we see! Our viewing directly intervenes in the events of the episode. It’s not the “suspend my disbelief” example where Wonder Woman’s plane is invisible even as we see the white outlines around it (for our eyes only) since in this case, we look when the others are not working. We watch the watchers. Three examples below.
A: Character leaves the room.
B. Angel staring as the heroine leaves the house.
C. Heroine don’t see what we see.
Simultaneously, our sight parallels the blindspots endemic to the placement of the camera. In this scene, our heroine, Sally Sparrow, does not realize the statue behind her has moved its hands. Neither are we given the chance to witness the transformation due to our static positioning (and Sally blocking our view).
Perhaps, the episode succeeds because of this added level of suspense, that we are kept in the dark about their true ontology as our presence is felt within a supporting role. In short, we see, but cannot touch; we change them into stone, but cannot yell “look behind you” to the poor victims. We’re like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window with the window being simply a TV screen.
Mummy, could I wear this for Halloween?