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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