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.
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.
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.”