THE funny thing about art is that one man’s masterpiece is another’s complete waste of paint – it all depends on your perception.
Vincent and the Doctor certainly fell into the former category in my eyes and was undoubtedly one of the high points of the series.
A great deal of credit for that goes to Richard Curtis, who I was concerned would write a script filled with Four Weddings-style tics and traits, especially as he had a new floppy haired muse to work with.
But while Vincent and the Doctor had its share of humour, it was also a cracking Doctor Who adventure as the Doctor and Amy travelled back in time to help Vincent van Gogh defeat an alien.
It was much more than that too, involving a sensitive and powerful study of mental illness and, like the best art, generating a powerful emotional response and reaction in the people looking at it thanks to the skill of its creators.
It also resonated with relevance regarding Who’s greater story arc of the difference between what is real and what seems to be real, with constant references to seeing the truth and how having a different perspective can reveal what is hidden.
Van Gogh himself was an inspired choice as the episode’s focal point.
Here after all was a man, an outsider, who has a unique vision and who believes there was more to the world than first meets the eye, just like the Doctor.
His quote about his desire to ‘look hard’ for the wonders reminded me of Hamlet and his ‘more things in heaven and earth’ line, as well as his quest to find the truth in a world of confusion and falsehoods, but also of the Doctor’s speech to Rose about feeling the world turing and his nature, in Rose.
The potential of that perspective was revealed in a wonderful scene where the night sky was changed into the sky of one of Van Gogh’s paintings as he lay down with the Doctor and Amy.
This was another touchstone with the Doctor, as we share in van Gogh’s vision in much the same way as we shared in the Doctor way of seeing the world in The Eleventh Hour.
He could also see Amy’s sadness – again something he and the Doctor shared – caused by Rory being wiped from history or so it seemed. The fact that sadness exists must have relevance before the end of the series.
Van Gogh’s own looming darkness was never far away, and while the invisible space monster was well realised, the real enemy in this episode was the artist’s dark mental state and the audience’s knowledge of the toll that would take on this wonderful man.
Beautifully portrayed by Tony Curran
Just like the Dream Lord tormenting the Doctor in Amy’s Choice, van Gogh too was plagued by his inner demons which blinded his remarkable acuity and leavft him unable to express the things he could see, instead writhing in frustrated agony on his bed.
The Doctor is able to overcome his nightmares and tried to help Van Gogh do the same by showing him the esteem he is held in and having the validity of his vision – so derided in his own time – confirmed.
His trip to the Musee d’Orsey was a fantastic scene, emotional and magical that left me sharing Van Gogh’s tears at one of the most affecting moments since new Who returned, right up there with Rose and the Doctor separated by the wall at the end of Doomsday.
But it was also filled with pathos because, as the man himself said ‘I have seen the end, and it does not end well.’
Despite everything the Doctor and Amy did and to Amy’s surprise, he still committed suicide. That was a bold story choice by Curtis and one that gave the extended denouement all the more power and weight.
I wonder if Van Gogh’s life may continue to resonate with the Doctor in the episodes to come and when the Pandorica opens?
After all the Doctor was asked to commit suicide and throw himself into the crack by the Weeping Angels. We have seen his tormented inner self and a dark fate has been indicated when he found the shattered debris from the TARDIS in the crack.
To me the key difference is the Doctor’s belief that there is always hope – something van Gogh could not see.
I don’t think it is coincidence the Doctor has spoken of his faith in hope at least twice this series, to van Gogh and in the church in The Stolen Earth, but what that will mean is for another day and another post.
For now, let me repeat my admiration for a fantastic and truly touching episode of Doctor Who which Richard Curtis deserves nothing but praise for (and maybe another episode next time around Moff?)
Like the best of Who it made me feel wonderful after watching it, like I had seen the universe in a different way for those 45 minutes and was richer for the experience.
Here in a small but key role as art critic Joxer Black, he was so Doctor in everything he did – so unusual, stylised and different – that I can’t help but wonder what might have been.
Was the Doctor’s praise for his bow tie as they stood face to face a hat tip to that future that never was? I think so and my hope is it is not the last time we see him in Who.
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- Doctor Who review: Vincent and the Doctor (telegraph.co.uk)
- Doctor Dan Reviews DOCTOR WHO 5.10, From The Guy Behind LOVE ACTUALLY, BRIDGET JONES, NOTTING HILL, BLACK ADDER And MR. BEAN!! (aintitcool.com)
- Curtis told to redraft Who script (news.bbc.co.uk)