Blink or They Might Miss It: Why ‘Blink’ Works as a Doctor Who Starter Story

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DISCLAIMER: This post is based on personal experience.  My words here are largely inspired by what I’ve witnessed, and your mileage may vary.*

It’s an age-old question: “I have a friend who wants to try Doctor Who; which story should I show them first?”  There are lots of good answers, but one that crops up time after timey-wimey time is “Blink.”  It’s a go-to for lots of Whovians shepherding new geeks (and non-geeks) into the fold, but many folks say “Blink” is a poor story to start with because it’s not an accurate representation of the show as a whole.  That’s true, but (as many of those same folks admit), it works.  I’ve been giving this some thought, and I now think I’ve identified just why it works so well.

At first glance, you might think a story including many of the usual Doctor Who elements would be the best choice for starting a new fan on Who-viewing.  But “thinking” about it is simply the wrong way to go.  Getting hooked on a program usually has very little to do with “thinking.”  It’s “feeling” that gets people well and truly hooked.

People (the people I know, anyway) tend to glom onto things based on feelings more than intellectual appreciation and curiosity.  “Blink” is the kind of story that whisks you up in the mystery and action and doesn’t let you go until it’s all over and you’re left shaking your head, repeating “timey-wimey” under your breath, and giving a wide berth to stone statues everywhere.

It’s true that “Blink” lacks many elements of what usually makes Doctor Who Doctor Who (not the least of which is the Doctor himself!), but for most viewers, that won’t matter so much.  Once people have a positive emotional connection with the show, they’re more motivated to stick with it and see what else it has to offer.

Starting someone with a story that has all the stereotypical Doctorey bits would seem to be a good idea on the surface, but if it doesn’t catch hold of the viewer’s soul, they won’t be as invested in continuing.  I posit that someone introduced with “Blink” is more likely to tough it out through the Fear Hers and Curses of the Black Spot** than someone who started with a more Doctorey story.

The wave of the emotional high brought on by something like “Blink” can easily carry a newb through enough other stories to get them hooked on all the wonderful things that make Doctor Who so special to *us*.  As fans, we think those elements are the heart of the show, and in many ways, they are.  That can lead us to see those typical Doctor elements as the kinds of things that’ll grab new viewers–because they grab us so strongly.  That’s not always the case right off the bat.

Viewers who don’t already have our emotional connection won’t resonate with those elements in the same way.  “Blink” is an easily accessible story, and the near-entire lack of the usual Who baggage actually becomes an advantage.  If you’ve properly explained that not every story is just like this one*** and that there’s a lot more they’ll get to discover, then you’ll leave them wanting more.  Any good showman will tell you that that’s the goal.

I guess the key here might be semantic.****  “Blink” as a good starter depends on whether you’re trying to “show someone what Doctor Who is like” or “get them hooked on Doctor Who.”  If the former, then I agree, “Blink” is NOT the way to go.  If the latter, “Blink” is one of the best possible choices.  Again, set the right expectations, and you and your Time Lord tyro should be in great shape.

So don’t turn your back.  Don’t look away.  And…”Blink”!

*I’m not trying to dis anyone who’s done things differently.  All successful roads to Doctor Who are good ones in my book!

**Note that I’m naming a couple stories that are widely panned.  I, for one, don’t hate either of them.

***If you let them believe this is what they should always expect, well you’re just doing it wrong.

****Hooray!  Semantics!  <Muppet flail>

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10 thoughts on “Blink or They Might Miss It: Why ‘Blink’ Works as a Doctor Who Starter Story

  1. Renae says:

    Just reading the title, I thought I would not agree with your premise. Oh, I really liked “Blink”. But I wouldn’t have thought that it would be a good ‘first ever Dr. Who’ story without the Dr. being in the thick of things. However, you have made me think. You’ve persuaded me that you are absolutely correct, that “Blink” is THE right episode for an interested new watcher to see! Your essay is thoughtfully reasoned, logically laid out, and totally well written!!! Impressive!

  2. We Miss You On Team Short-Bus says:

    A colleague of mine has used “Blink” as a day-filler for 6th graders during those weird weeks that conspire to keep you from doing anything productive in your classroom. Invariably, there are a bunch of kids clamoring for more Who, and these are kids not typically in the Whovian demographic.

    • A) I love your “name.” I miss you guys too! B) That’s really interesting! I wonder how many of them go on to try the show, and then how many of those like it enough to stick with it. Thanks for the info. Very cool!

  3. Lizaanne42 says:

    Like your colleague above, I’ve used ‘Blink’ to introduce my middle school students to Who on those weird weeks or as special treats. We start with ‘Blink’ and then do a few other episodes spread throughout the year. Often, my students have gone on to seek out the show on their own. Last year, I even had several who watched the series on Netflix and came in debating River Song’s timeline [which as a nerd-teacher was pretty darn cool!] .

    • I ADORE that you are starting them out when they’re young and vulnerable…er…impressionable…er…well, young. ;) Seriously though, what a great treat. I had a teacher that did the same for my w/MST3k.

      It’s heartening that they continue to pursue it beyond what they see in the classroom. Way to be a positive influence!

  4. Chris says:

    Great points. However I think you there’s even more good reasons for Blink being a good launchpad than you you’ve said. It establishes the time-travelling nature of the show much better than most (in fact the pity of much modern Doctor Who is that the time-travel aspect is largely ignored). It establishes the breadth of the Doctor’s character quite nicely, i.e. his genius in sending the messages to the future, twinned with his inability to save the victim of the Angels he meets in the 1960s and his sadness at this eventuality. It’s also great in that it combines effective fantasy with a contemporary setting, something which has always been a strength of the series, all the way back to “The War Machines.” Great article though, thanks!

  5. Brian Burkart says:

    With the success of the new series people ask me what classic episodes serve as a good introduction to the previous era. I’ve found that “Ark in Space” serves as an excellent example. It’s a solid story with one of the best TARDIS crews. If the viewer likes it the episode is linked through the next three stories leading them on to “Genesis of the Daleks,” “The Sontarian Experiment” and “Revenge of the Cybermen” After that most are hooked and begging for more.

  6. […] links: Doctor Who: The Fan Show gives a Ribbon primer Erika’s essay on starting new folks with “Blink” Jason Snell’s post on how to start watching Doctor Who Erik Stadnik’s open letter […]

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