Doctor Who discussions: Vincent, The Doctor and Rory Williams and being remembered

Now that the fifth series of Doctor Who is over, I feel like I’m starting to slowly digest the series in its entirety. Remember during the middle of the series when we vowed not to pass judgement on Moffat/Smith’s first year until we’d seen the whole series? Well, now that we’ve had a break from the weekly madness of spoilers and episode reviews, I want to spend a few posts talking about different aspects of this year’s Doctor Who.

Today’s installment – the power and importance of memory. If you remember, this theme really came out after Rory was shot by a Silurian in [[Cold Blood (Doctor Who episode)|Cold Blood]] and then consumed by the crack in the universe. If it wasn’t bad enough that Rory was dead, he was quickly being erased from Amy’s memory. And there was nothing The Doctor could do about it.

If I remember from the discussion in our review of Cold Blood, we talked about the imprints people leave behind when they die – the influence they had on people and how they come to be remembered.

When you think about it from that point of view, it was a masterpiece of storytelling that the next episode was about Vincent Van Gogh and saw the artist being whisked to the future to see the eventual impact his art would have on the world. Rory was foremost in our thoughts during that episode – because Amy was crying, though she didn’t know why she should be sad. The Doctor was being especially kind to her.

It’s fitting that Van Gogh should be shown his cultural impact on the world, yet lowly Rory Williams couldn’t even be remembered by his own fiancée. Rory was erased from existence.

Time Travel and being erased from history

Remember that phrase? “Erased from existence”. First coined by Doctor Emmett Brown in Back To The Future, when Marty McFly watched helplessly as his siblings started to vanish from a photograph as it looked like his mother and father would never get together. That was the biggest danger in Back To The Future – that he’d changed the events of his parents’ first meeting, meaning that unless he got the pair together, he would never be conceived! Thank God for Marvin Berry and Earth Angel, eh?

I was also reminded of The Butterfly Effect, another great movie where a guy uses his ability to rewrite time to change aspects of his life that he doesn’t like. Ultimately, he realises that he is an anomaly and for the good of the people he loves, he has to sacrifice himself and make sure he’s never born. The ending is perhaps the most grizzly concept I’ve ever seen in a movie – I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s a truly horrible ending.

This brings me roundabout to tackle the series five ending – where The Doctor sacrifices himself, being erased from the universe completely.

As a narrative theme, I’d love to talk a little bit more about it. Here are a few thoughts that are buzzing around my head on this one:

  1. How important is it to be ‘remembered’ after death?
  2. Is there a difference between the memory of an average guy like Rory or an important creative talent like Van Gogh (or Dickens, or Beethoven)? These people leave a tangible legacy while most of us may be forgotten within a couple of generations.
  3. Van Gogh was unique among many artists in that his talent was largely undiscovered until after his death. Did you think The Doctor taking him to the future to see the impact of his work worked as part of the Vincent And The Doctor story? Would showing an artist the legacy of his work change his body of work? (Perhaps that’s why The Doctor encounters historical figures toward the end of their lives – Van Gogh, Dickens?)

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