With speculation raging over the next incarnation it seems that the possibility of a female Doctor has been dashed. Written by outgoing showrunner Steven Moffat, ‘Blink’ is one of the most highly regarded Doctor Who episodes of modern times. It features a lead character who provides a hint of how a female incarnation of The Doctor could work if incoming boss Chris Chibnall does elect to move the show in a new direction…
Winner of a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short form) in 2008, ‘Blink’ has also twice been voted the 2nd best Doctor Who story by readers of Doctor Who Magazine. It’s pedigree is therefore clear. However, our hero, The Doctor, the individual from which the programme gets its name, is scarcely in it. Instead, the lead role is occupied by a new character, introduced for the purpose of the episode, Sally Sparrow. In the absence of the Time Lord, she takes the lead, moving the story forward and ultimately defeating the Weeping Angels. With Peter Capaldi’s announcement that he will be leaving the show at Christmas 2017 the debate regarding the next incarnation has inevitably covered the potential of a female actor taking over. But does one of the most celebrated stories in the show’s history prove that a female Doctor can work and work well?
Sally Sparrow takes the lead
Writer Steven Moffat offered himself up to the more challenging script of the 2007 series, the Doctor/companion-lite episode. Adapting a tale he had composed for the 2006 Doctor Who Annual, Sally Sparrow became an adult character instead of a twelve-year-old girl. The Doctor became separated from the TARDIS and is sent back in time with Sally having to reunite the two. Although assisted by The Doctor’s message on the wall and the DVD Easter Egg, Sally Sparrow becomes the driving force. In script terms, she takes on the quantity of dialogue usually attributed to The Doctor.
Sally Sparrow also has many of the characteristics of a typical Doctor. She is curious, brave and has a sense of adventure. This is demonstrated by the very first scene where Sally climbs over a gate to take photographs inside the derelict house. Keen to find out more she chooses to investigate. Smartly she chooses to do so in the day time. She even recruits a companion in the form of her friend Kathy. That, however, doesn’t quite work out as Kathy is sent back in time by the Weeping Angel.
To replace her first, short-lived assistant is Larry, Kathy’s brother. He now fulfils the role of the companion. He provides information regarding the DVD Easter Eggs but then is able to ask the necessary questions to explain to the viewer what is happening. Similarly, DI Billy Shipton is another male character who fills in the blanks and illuminates the developing story. Like Kathy, he meets an unfortunate end too. This is a reverse on the traditional male Doctor and single female companion. See Liz Shaw through to Clara Oswald. It’s a common theme.
With The Doctor trapped in the past, it is Sally Sparrow who pulls the story forward. She is the one who goes to Wester Drumlins. She is the one who goes to the police station. As the Weeping Angels close in it is Sally who finds the way out and sends the TARDIS back, trapping the creatures into seeing each other.
Of course, a proportion of the success of ‘Blink’ can be attributed to Carey Mulligan who played Sally Sparrow. She has since gone on to become a genuine movie star, BAFTA award winning and Oscar nominated. But yet in her role as Sally Sparrow, she proved that a female Doctor, with female or male companions around her, can drive a Doctor Who story forward. The results proved to be one of the most celebrated Doctor Who stories ever.
Not that you need much of an excuse to rewatch ‘Blink’ but it proves that a lead actress in the role of The Doctor can deliver spectacularly well. Perhaps they just need to find someone as good as Carey Mulligan?