Monday, June 7, 2010

Doctor Who 5.10 Vincent and The Doctor Review

Written by Richard Curtis, who created Blackadder and gave us such classic fares as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, the very funny series The Vicar of Dibley, and Love Actually, I was almost expecting Vincent and The Doctor to be a funny and light romp. But the episode turned out to be anything but that.

The Doctor and Amy noticing a strange monster behind the windows of a church painted by Vincent Van Gogh.

Underneath the simple “let's meet up with a historical figure and fight a monster” story, there were tons of emotions to be had. Following the tragic events of Cold Blood, the Doctor seems at pains to be trying to atone both for Rory's death and for the fact that Amy doesn't remember him at all (though her subconscious seems to), by taking her to fantastic places such as Arcadia, the Trojan Gardens, and the Van Gogh exhibit. Amy knows something's up, because she tells him he's nicer than usual to her, but she doesn't know what.

Men bonding over their bow ties.

So after popping up at the Musée D'Orsay in Paris to see the Van Gogh exhibit, and after seeing a monster in the artist's famous painting The Church at Auvers, the Doctor decides to go back in time to solve the mystery and help him. There's a funny scene in the museum with the always fantastic Bill Nighy (who's often been rumored to be in the running to play the next Doctor, and who only has a too brief but important cameo in the episode) where his character, Doctor Black, and the Doctor talk about their bow ties: “bow ties are cool” the Doctor once again proudly tells Amy.

Amy charming the pants off (not literally, of course, this is Doctor Who after all and not Torchwood!) Vincent Van Gogh (Tony Curran).

So quickly back in time they go, but the meeting with Vincent Van Gogh doesn't particularly go smoothly at first. However, the painter quickly warms up to Amy's charm, a good bottle of wine, and then to the Doctor. His continuous flirtation with the Doctor's companion was particularly charming, and she definitely made an impression on the artist that lasted right until the end of his life.

During the episode there's of course a death, a chase, the typical idiot/backward/superstitious villagers, a few fights against an invisible monster, a bit of humor, as well as some flirting and a certain dose of sadness. Everything's in the mix.

Vincent Van Gogh telling a very attentive Doctor all about hearing Color.

Vision is a major theme in Vincent and The Doctor and it was an interesting development, on the part of the writer, that the monster, called a Krafayis, could only be seen by Vincent Van Gogh, emphasizing the man's incredible use of vision. Even more interesting was that the creature itself was blind, which serves to contrast with the painter's ability to see things beyond what humans, and even the Doctor, can see. An important and fabulous scene which shows us the way Van Gogh sees the world  is when the Doctor, Amy and Van Gogh all lie on the ground and hold hands, while the artist explains to them - and us - how he sees the night sky, which then slowly transforms into his famous painting The Starry Night (on an aside note, at a certain moment there, I really thought Van Gogh would kiss the Doctor!). Simply beautiful and magical.

The First Doctor (William Hartnell) making a third appearance this season, followed by the Second Doctor (unseen in that pic).

The real monster of the story, however, was not the alien. The real monster was Van Gogh's depression, which would ultimately lead to the painter taking his own life only a few months later. Though a delicate subject matter, especially coming from a TV show that is aimed for kids, it was the real big unseen monster in the room, and no matter how positive a difference Amy and The Doctor made in the painter's life, the monster ultimately won. The Doctor, who travels through space and time and who sometimes save people, could not change the painter's fate.

Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.

Loneliness is also a theme, if not a major one, in Vincent and the Doctor. And of course our good Doctor tries to connect with the poor Krafayis, which was left behind on Earth blind and quite alone. His efforts are unsuccessful and the creature is unfortunately killed. Van Gogh has it right when he says of the Krafayis: “He was frightened. And he lashed out. Like humans who lash out when they're frightened.” I felt a lot of empathy for it.

Amy surrounded by sunflowers. One of the most beautiful shots of the episode.

But it was not all about sadness and the alien storyline also did provide some very funny scenes. For example, the Doctor trying to fight the alien - which he doesn't see at all - by swashing a stick blindly in the air and in the wrong direction. Or when he used a funny-looking gadget with some kind of rear view mirror, which enabled him to see the Krafayis, and at the same time provide some very useful analysis.

The artist at work, with a bored Doctor humming about, while Amy looks on.

On the performance level, Tony Curran absolutely shines. The actor gives a multi layered performance which deftly shifts from normal to depressive and then back to his normal self again: It's a complex performance of a complex man. It's a refreshing contrast to the portrayal of Winston Churchill (Ian McNeice, Victory of the Daleks) earlier in the season which, the more I think about it, the less I like, because it felt more like a caricature. Van Gogh not the first historical figure to appear in Doctor Who, there's been Charles Dickens (Simon Callow, The Unquiet Dead), Queen Victoria (Pauline Collins, Tooth and Claw), Madame de Pompadour (Sophia Myles, The Girl in the Fireplace), William Shakespeare (Dean Lennox Kelly, The Shakespeare Code) and Agatha Christie (Fenella Woolgar, The Wasp and the Unicorn) but in new Who I feel he's the most human, and less mythical, I've seen. Plus, Tony Curran looks uncannily like the dutch painter, which was a definite plus in making me believe in the character.

I'm a turkey, no, I'm a dinosaur, no, I'm a turkeysaur! You think I could have a guest spot in a Primeval episode?

Matt Smith is again in top shape, portraying an obviously fraying Doctor who's more nervous and on edge than usual; and I'm seriously starting to think that Karen Gillan only has 2 emotional modes. She either looks happy or she looks fixedly surprised, like a deer with wide eyes caught in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. I still have yet to truly warm to her character which, at episode 10, should have happened by now. I'm not saying I don't like Amy, I'm just saying I'm still not connecting with her like I connected with previous companions and with Rory in so brief a time. I wonder how many people feel like I do.

There's nothing like grown up people lying on the ground, holding hands and looking at the night sky.

Seeing what Vincent Sees.

On the whole, Vincent and The Doctor was good but not spectacular. It felt like an ode to all the paintings Van Gogh ever made  - - - It's sad to know the painter never got the recognition he truly deserved in life. On the other hand, both the art and visual effects departments did a tremendous job in recreating scenes seen in Van Gogh's paintings. The monster, on the other hand, was not terribly well realized and I think they kept most of the special effects budget for the last two epic episodes of the season. I also need to give kudos to director Jonny Campbell who gave us some gorgeous shots, like the one of Amy surrounded by sunflowers in the garden of Van Gogh's house. Simply gorgeous!

The Doctor takes Vincent Van Gogh to the Musée D'Orsay in 2010 Paris to show him how his paintings will be loved by all.

Vincent taking this all in.

An emotional Vincent Van Gogh listens to Doctor Black explain the importance of the artist in the world of art in one of the most tear jerking Doctor Who scenes.

Vincent and the Doctor would have been quite a standard Doctor Who episode were it not for the very last 10 minutes which, in my opinion, completely elevates it. In one of the most poignant scenes I've ever witnessed on Doctor Who, the Doctor takes Vincent Van Gogh aboard the Tardis, and brings him to the exhibit in 2010, where he asks Doctor Black to describe the importance the painter had in history and the art world. It was both touching and sad to see Van Gogh realize how important his art will become, and I have to say that there were moments (thanks to a very well chosen song: Chances by Athlete) that I became a little (translation: a lot) teary eyed during that entire sequence. But the saddest thing is the Doctor and Amy, despite showing Vincent how important he will become, couldn't change the painter's ultimately sad faith. Steven Moffat has been accused a few times this season of providing a lot less emotional moments than his predecessor, Russell T. Davies, did (go figure). Well, with these last 2 tearjerkers, he's certainly made up for it.

Vincent Van Gogh remembered Amy and the Sunflowers.

Maybe Vincent and the Doctor won't go down as one of the best Doctor Who episodes ever, but it certainly was a magical and infinitely sad one. Vincent Van Gogh's pathos turned out to be somewhat similar in tone to Madame de Pompadour's fate in The Girl in the Fireplace, without perhaps having the same deep impact. It is, however, a worthy and satisfying filler episode that will soon lead to bigger and much more spectacular things.

The Doctor and Amy reflect upon What could Have Been: "Our kids would have had very, very red hair."

Interesting tidbits

The Doctor knows Michelangelo and Picasso and calls this one a “ghastly old goat.”

The machine shows us the pictures of the First Doctor and of the Second Doctor, when verifying the identity of our present Doctor. Will that be meaningful by the end of the series or is it just a showrunner's fancy?

The Doctor had a smelly godmother, meaning the Time Lords also had similar family units has humans.

The name Van Gogh is not pronounced Van Go as most North Americans do (including me).

There was no Crack, Silence or Future Doctor to be seen (well, that I could see).

Next Week: The Doctor goes to investigate a strange happenings in a apartment building by passing himself off as a simple human being in The Lodger.

My Rating for the episode: 8/10

Some Favourite Quotes:

The Doctor: Ministry of Art and artiness.

Van Gogh: Your hair is orange.
Amy: Yes, so is yours.
Van Gogh: Yes, it was more orange but now is of course . . . less.

The Doctor: Come on! We better get you home.
Van Gogh: Where are you staying tonight?
The Doctor: Oh! You are very kind!

Van Gogh: It seems to me there's so much more to the world than the average eyes are allowed to see. I believe, if you look hard, there are more wonders in this universe than you could ever have dreamed of.
The Doctor: You don't have to tell me.

Van Gogh: It's color! Color that holds the key. I can hear the colors. Listen to them. Everytime I step outside, I feel nature is shouting at me: Come on! Come and get me! Come on! Come on! Capture my majesty!
The Doctor: Maybe you've had enough coffee now. How about some nice, calming tea. Let's get you a cup of chamomile or something shall we? Amy. Where's Amy?

The Doctor: This is the problem with the impressionists, not accurate enough. This would never happen with Gainsborough or one of the proper painters. Sorry Vincent, you'll just have to draw something better.

Amy: As much as you admire his command of color and shape, it's hard to get fond of Vincent Van Gogh's snoring.

Van Gogh: Oh Amy, I hear the song of your sadness. You've lost someone I think.
Amy: I'm not sad.
Van Gogh: Then why are you crying?

The Doctor: I had an excellent, if smelly, godmother.

Amy: You do have a plan don't you?
The Doctor: No. It's a thing, it's like a plan but with more grey bits.

The Doctor: Is this how time normally passes? Really slowly. In the right order. There's one thing I can't stand, it's an unpunctual alien attack.

Van Gogh: But you're not armed!
The Doctor: I am.
Van Gogh: What with?
The Doctor: Overconfidence, this (slaps the case he's carrying), and a small screwdriver. I'm actually sorted.

The Doctor: Can you breathe a little quieter?
Amy: No.

The Doctor: I think he heard us. That is impressing hearing he's got! What's less impressive are our chances of survival.

The Doctor: My only definite plan is: in the future, I'm definitely just using this screwdriver for screwing in screws.

The Doctor: Sometimes winning, winning is no fun at all.

Amy: If we had got married, our kids would have had very, very red hair.
The Doctor: The ultimate ginger.
Amy: The ultimate "ginge"! Brighter than sunflowers.


  1. I've been waiting for this review the whole weekend and here I go too:
    1) I like Amy and I should like her more if it weren't by Karen GIllan's constant pouting and looking like a deer caught by the headlights. She's not a good actress at this time yet, MAYBE later in life.
    2) This episode could well be aired before Rory joined the TARDIS. It would make more snse not only because it felt completely aside from the main plot but bc Rory wasn't there (of course, he's dead!) and the Doctor, after what happened, didn't rush to solve it.
    3) Aside from that, the episode was great! Nice cinemagraphy: the blues, and bright yellows and oranges... WOW! That scene where they were star gazing was pure poetry.
    4) I got beyond teary eyed. Tears rolled down my face.
    5) The Doctor's speech to Amy at the end was soulful and true. We should all pay atention to those words.
    6) there was an Easter Egg on the scene showing "mustard" on the TARDIS conter(?) or desk or panel: smtg abt magpie. I'll look that image again.
    Thanks for the review again. My episode watching is not complete without reading it here.

  2. I just watched this ep for the first time this week, and it completely affected me. I saw a couple other reviews elsewhere where it was critiqued uncharitably, but I thought it was fantastic. It's probably in my top 5 fave DW episodes. I thought it was really powerful, emotional, and beautiful.
    Thanks you for posting such gorgeous, high quality pics so I could relive it all over again.
    And I'm not ashamed to admit I did cry all through the end!