When you ask somebody to describe Britain (England? The UK?) one thing that will almost always crop up is the long running Sci-Fi series Doctor Who. This show started in 1963, and after a hiatus from 1989 returned in 2005, with a film being released in between in 1996. I remember as a child my uncle brought me a whole box of VHS tapes, each and every one was a classic Who. I’ve never been a huge Sci-Fi/Fantasy fan but it was something my mum said when my uncle brought in that plastic box that made me want to watch them.
“That show had me hiding behind the sofa as a wee-un, terrified me!”
(Imagine that in a Scottish accent)
As a child that had absolutely seen The Grudge at too young an age, horror was an obsession for me already. So my tiny child arms got that box upstairs and started watching. This is a day my mother and uncle would regret for many years to come, on that day I became a Whovian.
The beauty of Doctor Who is that there are endless possibilities. When dealing with time and space you are limitless. This show has done well to keep the story lines at such a high standard for so many years, and although I have my own opinions on the way the show has developed, the last thing I want to be today is a critic. This show was a staple of my childhood, and instead I want to celebrate it by talking about The Weeping Angels, and what their debut in Who can teach the horror world.
For this I will be focusing on the Angel’s first appearance on Doctor Who, as I believe after that their position as a horror icon shifts. I wouldn’t immediately call this a ‘bad move’ when it comes to their sequel; The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone. The stakes are raised, the threat is bigger, and the body count is higher. All classic sequel tropes. From that point on however, it becomes harder to suspend your disbelief. (The Statue of Liberty is a Weeping Angel? That can somehow move through the city? Really?)
Our first introduction comes in 2007 with Blink. For those unfamiliar with Doctor Who here is a brief summary of the episode from our good friend Wikipedia:
In the episode, the Tenth Doctor is trapped in 1969 and tries to communicate with a young woman in 2007, Sally Sparrow, to prevent the statue-like Weeping Angels from taking control of the TARDIS. Sparrow and her best friend’s brother, Larry Nightingale, must unravel a set of cryptic clues sent through time by the marooned Doctor, left in DVD Easter eggs.
The Weeping Angels are an alien race who’s method of terror involves creating time paradoxes by sending people back in time, and feeding off the potential energy of the years the person would have had in the present. When comparing these Who villains to others in the series before and after this, they certainly do not seem as scary or deadly. Yes they remove you from your time, but they do not hurt you, they do not kill you. If I had to choose a Doctor Who method of death, this one would certainly be higher on my list. So why is this episode considered one of the scariest of New Who?
Believe it or not, one of the key components of Doctor Who is that mad man in a box; The Doctor. This is a family show, so it is expected that The Doctor is going to be able to solve the puzzle, save the world, defeat the evil. Blink however raises the threat levels by removing our hero. When this episode begins, The Doctor and Martha are stuck in 1969 with nothing but a device that goes “ding when there’s stuff”. There will be no last minute swooping in to save the day. Instead Sally and Larry are thrown into a world they have never encountered after losing the ones they love. Immediately the threat level for this episode is raised higher than the average adventure. With The Doctor out of the picture, the fate of Sally and Larry is not as easy to surmise as one may think. They are new characters and their deaths would ultimately have no real impact on the show itself, so a bad ending for these two is absolutely a possibility. With that uncertainty, the horror elements of this episode begin to creep in.
So our threat levels are raised. What comes next?
Whatever you do, don’t blink.
As I said before the way in which The Weeping Angels feed from their victims is not necessarily scary, the real horror comes from the chase. This episode places us in an abandoned house in the middle of no where, with no help from our usual heroes, and no help from the authorities. (RIP Billy Shipton) The horror stage is set. Now all we need is the perfect monster, and boy does this episode give us it. The Weeping Angels are fascinating. As a species they have developed a defence mechanism whereby they turn to stone if looked upon. The uncanny nature of statues is already a source of fear for many of us, and the Angel’s design feeds on this perfectly.
The uncanny valley may scare us when we see them, but if you decide to look away, if you glance elsewhere, if you so much as even blink, it’s all over. It is the speed of these creatures that gives us so many nerve wracking horror moments. In order to succeed, our characters can not even succumb to their basic biological instincts. This has become a huge trend in horror within the last decade. Our senses and our natural human responses have become the thing that gets us killed in some incredible films including A Quiet Place and Bird Box; Blink was truly ahead of the curve.
Throughout this episode we never see the Angels move, rather we simply see them in their frozen state between movements. This is a staple of good horror. Instead our mind is left to reel and wonder at the sheer speed of them. This is elevated further by stunning moments in which the world slows down and we watch our characters blink for what feels like an eternity. We can only imagine what the Angels look like in their natural state, and what the human mind can imagine is far more terrifying than any CGI or special effects. I will always be a defender of ‘not showing’. To imagine means that the threat can be tailor made to reflect each audience member’s fear. Rather than a general “oooh it’s long and spindly and generically scary ooooh” creature that we’ve seen a thousand times before. There is of course a limit to how much you should do this, or else we’d have no context, or much of a film/show to watch. Blink knows this, and works our imaginations alongside a brilliant horror narrative in such an elegant way.
I adore Doctor Who, and I really believe Blink is a horror television staple. It is incredibly intelligent, setting the stage in a way that means the conventional narrative formula is disrupted. It gives us a creature that makes us fear our body’s natural needs. Then just to top it all off and truly scare 11 year old me, this episode tells you that the Angels walk among us, and are just waiting for the moment we blink.
Opinions are my own, images are not.