Doctor Who – Vincent And The Doctor – Episode review

Every now and then, [[Doctor Who (TV Series)|Doctor Who]] brings in an historical figure for an adventure. In the past, we’ve had Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare and Agatha Christie. Moving away from the literary world, the much-awaited Richard Curtis penned episode sees The Doctor and [[Amy Pond]] visiting Vincent Van Gogh.

In [[Vincent And The Doctor (Doctor Who episode)|Vincent And The Doctor]], The Doctor and Amy are visiting a Van Gogh exhibition in Paris, when they notice a sinister figure painted in one of the windows of Van Gogh’s churches. It’s an excellent distraction for the pair, since Amy is suspicious about why The Doctor’s being so nice to her.

The duo race back to 1890 to investigate and to meet Van Gogh himself. In a nutshell, the story establishes an alien threat terrorising the town of Arles in France. The time travellers manages to bluff their way into Van Gogh’s company (not difficult considering he’s laughed at by his fellow townspeople and thought of locally as a madman).

It turns out that the alien in question looks remarkably like a giant space turkey, though it turns out to be a predator called the Krafayis. The alien is not the focal point of this episode in my opinion. It’s all about Vincent Van Gogh, and the homage plays out in the faithful reproductions of the Cafe Terrace from one of his famous paintings.

The story doesn’t hold back on Van Gogh’s tragic suicide. It touchingly emphasises the way Van Gogh’s art was seldom appreciated during his life, in stark contrast to his status as one of the greatest painters in the world. It touches on his depression, too.

Once the Krafayis has been unfortunately dispatched by the artist (easel to the chest, what a way to die), it should be time for The Doctor and Amy to depart. Instead, they bring Vincent to the present-day museum to see his art being displayed and hear the testimony of the curator about Van Gogh’s artistic legacy. It’s perhaps the most touching moment to watch the artist seeing his life’s work in a completely different context. Tony Curran managed to bring a lump into my throat with his almost wordless portrayal of the artist.

I think the fact that they didn’t prevent Van Gogh’s suicide was quite poignant. Bittersweet in that there aren’t always happy endings, and difficult for Amy to hear because she’d literally seen the man alive a few minutes before. Despite their attempts to raise Van Gogh’s mood, the effect was only temporary. It provided a great moral counterpoint to the “nobody dies today” cries we’ve heard in Doctor Who – you can’t save everybody, but you can at least make a positive difference.

Comedy moments

Curtis managed to inject a few great comedy moments into the episode, from the sight of The Doctor fighting an invisible enemy with a broomstick (echoes of Rory’s [[Vampires Of Venice (Doctor Who episode)|Vampires Of Venice]] stick fight), to his nervous wittering as the three wait for the Krafayis to appear in the church.

Even the sight of Amy in Van Gogh’s garden, surrounded by sunflowers in a gentle attempt to nudge the artist toward his iconic paintings of sunflowers was gently funny. The fact that the artist then claimed to dislike the flowers was brilliant too.

And how nice to see a new gadget to come out of The Doctor’s vast armoury – a mirror-like device which can identify types of alien. Fun to see it throw up yet more pictures of The Doctor’s old incarnations – that’s the third episode this series that’s traded on old Doctors: Eleventh Hour with its alien vision of all his incarnations, Vampires with the Hartnell library card, and now Hartnell and Troughton being printed off in the [[TARDIS (Doctor Who)|TARDIS]].

I also loved the fact that the TARDIS got covered in flyers, which subsequently got burned off whenever it de-materialised.

Summary

Those nagging fears from my earlier series five reviews have all vanished at this point. Despite those earlier mostly-Moffat penned missteps, the storytelling has become sophisticated, intelligent and utterly charming.

And after five years of the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who, we’re seeing an entirely different (better? maybe…) type of narrative. [[Matt Smith]]’s Doctor rarely raises his voice, he’s far more thoughtful and lost in thought than his predecessor. Each episode at the moment feels richer than what went before it. Even that little scene where Vincent remarks on Amy’s anguish, “If Amy Pond can soldier on…”, turned our attention and sympathy toward the redhead for just a moment.

It’s not clear at this stage how this advances the overall series story arc, although there are rumours that a Van Gogh painting will feature in the finale.

Quotes from Vincent And The Doctor

  • Amy: “Why are you being so nice to me? Arcadia, the Trojan Gardens, now this?”
  • “He was the doctor who took care of Van Gogh before he went mad.”
  • Vincent deflecting the fact that he has a Scottish accent, says to Amy: “That accent of yours. You from Holland like me?”
  • Vincent: “There’s so much more to the world than the eye can see.”
  • Vincent: “Every time I step outside, I feel nature is shouting at me.”
  • Amy Pond: “I’m not sad.” Vincent: “Then why are you crying?”
  • The Doctor: “Is this how time normally passes? Really slowly…in the right order.”
  • Vincent: “But you’re not armed.” The Doctor: “Yes I am. I’ve got overconfidence, this (points to suitcase) and a small screwdriver.”

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7 Comments

  1. jefft

    Loved this episode.

    And that scene at the end with the Athlete track and Vincent realising his fame.. even if I didnt know already that had Richard Curtiss stamped all over it!

    Nicely paced, beautifully filmed, understated.

     

    On the subject of flyers.. check out this video made in 2008, around the 2:08 mark..

    Doctor Who Figure Adventures

    http://www.youtube.com/user/torchwood95#p/c/54B510F87C09020C/7/1vPb0aPew6Q

     

    ..I’d love to think Richard’s kids saw this and suggested it!

     

    There are 2 paintings which are on the radar for the finale.

    The Sunflowers (werent there over 20 of these?) shouldnt have Amy’s name on it.

    But the doctor took one into the TARDIS, covered in white paint and charcoal.

    ..and did anyone spot the Van Gogh advert stuck to the side of James Corden’s fridge in the ‘next time’ trailer?

     



  2. Rosie-Lee

    I am totally biased on this one, because I fell in love with Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings and life story when I saw “Lust for Life” with Kirk Douglas playing Vincent so triumphantly, umpty-tump years ago.  This Doctor episode was a lovely homage to the “ultimate ginge”.

    A great touch to bring Vincent to the present day to see how popular and much loved he was, and the always terrific Bill Nighy as the art professor actually being embraced by his hero, without (sort of) realising it.

    So ironic that his mental illness was what pushed him on to do so many paintings.  Often, in his manic phases, painting through the night with a candle on his hat brim.  You really got the feeling in this episode, about his prolific painting urges, with finished canvasses all over his apartment, and his talk about hearing the colours, as if they were sounds.

    And sad to see a dark moment make him take to his bed in despair, but Amy there trying to help him out of it.  Tony Curran did such a great job.

    The fact that his brain chemistry would have made him delusional from time to time, presumably aided him in seeing the alien, which he was so sorry to have killed.  Bless.

    I think this has to be one of my favourite episodes, even if Vincent was still going to commit suicide.

     

    1. Gerard McGarry

      Yeah, it’s almost a shame they had to write an alien into the episode at all. That was sooo not the focus of the story for me.

      I loved the fact that the TARDIS didn’t immediately land in the right place and time for an adventure. They picked up on the clue (left over 100 years previously) and followed it to the source of the adventure. That’s quite different from simply blundering into a situation and having to deal with the consequences.

  3. Jeffrey Scott

    I agree about the invisible alien. This could have been done some other time, why it was added is beyond me. Still, there had to be something odd for the Doctor to discover to draw him back in time, though they certainly could have found something else.

    Interesting notes:

    Vincent: Is it possible Vincent had Synesthesia? That was certainly implied in the story and explains his ability to see the alien. Though it’s difficult to understand why the Doctor was able to bring Vincent to the present to see his works on display, it is possible he realized with his depression it wouldn’t ultimately make a difference. A point the Doctor was trying to stress with Amy. So, did the Doctor do this for Amy’s benefit, or for Vincents?

    Krafayis: Did they ever explain why it was invisible? Perhaps bathed in an ultra-violet light undetectable to the human eye? Though a person with Synesthesia, might “see” it when he hears it. Also, though it was not mentioned he was the last of his species, it is interesting to note he was ‘alone’ on the Earth, cut off from it’s own people.

    Painting: ‘The Starry Night’ would be my pick if one of Van Gogh’s paintings were to appear in one of the latter episodes.

    Rory: When the Doctor accidentally says Rory’s name, I’m certain that’s a hint for us we will see Rory again, along with the Doctor being extra ‘nice’ to Amy for some reason.

    Okay, that’s all I can think of at the moment.

    1. jefft

      Vincent: Is it possible Vincent had Synesthesia?

      I sat thinking the same during the bit near the fire when he started talking about hearing the colours. (Bit of a giveaway there)

      I think it might have been more expressly stated if Curtiss had delivered a longer script.

      But Im pretty sure that someone uses the word synesthesia in the Confidential episode that followed.

       


  4. aladinsaneuk

    the alien was depression – hence why it appeared real to vincent, but no one else could see it

     

    the dr could see it – via a mirror – ie, look at yourself to see another’s hurt

     

    also, the beeb said at the end of the show – if you have been troubled by any issues raised by this episode, then here is a number to call….

     

    a very clever piece of writing – probably the best idea i have seen in dr who

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