VINCENT AND THE DOCTOR
First broadcast 5/6/10 starring Matt Smith
Regardless of whether or not you agree that Van Gogh, the titular
Vincent of this tale, is the “greatest artist of all time” I think by the end of
this episode everyone fell in love with the man, if not his paintings.
Richard Curtis, a new boy to Who when he wrote this (and, to date, hasn’t returned, sadly) demonstrated, with some supreme style, just how powerful Doctor Who can be. Just how funny, compelling and, ultimately, heart-breaking time travel can be. I don’t mind admitting that I teared up with some severity during Vincent and the Doctor – a testament to both the writing and the actors involved.
Tony Curran (also magnificent in Red Road
if you haven’t seen it) pulls off the artist and his mental issues
immaculately – which, considering this is a “tea~time family” show is no
mean feat. For example, the scene where we find Van Gogh face down on
his bed crying will scare you more than any of the aliens and monsters The Doctor has previously faced in his many adventures across space and time.
It’s not handled lightly either, his depression forms a significant part
of the plot and is addressed head on, as it were. And the ongoing
repercussions from the previous story (Cold Blood, which saw the “end” of Rory) are felt in a very real and meaningful way.
But, being a Curtis invention, there’s laughs to be had too. Matt
Smith, as always, is delightful (though does have to face a few demons
himself, saying, “Sometimes winning is no fun at all”) with some
wonderful physical manoeuvring and verbal dexterity (inviting himself to
stay with the artist is high~larious).
The first scenes with Van Gogh meeting Amy and The Doctor are
also particularly amusing and we find Curtis’ Provence full of regional
accents and a wonderful excuse for the artist’s “accent.” And the writer finds time to stick in a cowboy motif with Gallifrey’s finest
stating that he’s “new in town” whilst later on Van Gogh appropriates
his iconic hat, easel and brushes like he stepped out of a Spaghetti
Western. And it’s got Bill Nighy! Just witness his bow tie~based interaction with
Matt – sublime.
Karen Gillan is at her best too and, like her co-stars, has much to
think upon – both in happiness and sadness. There’s light touches from
her (the sunflower scene and in the Krafayis attack) but it’s in the final moments where Amy Pond really shines as the heartbreak we’re all feeling comes through on screen. It’s an engaging, tearful moment.
The set design and direction are by some stretch the finest this in the season;
from Van Gogh’s bedroom to the various attacks of the “invisible”
monster (the “monster” being a very small, though interesting, part of
this story) and some striking point-of-view shots; in particular, the scene where the trio are lying on the ground staring into
the sky; a gorgeous scene, again showing us that Doctor Who can be very different every now and again.
Vincent and the Doctor includes
a number of incredibly difficult choices for everyone’s favourite Gallifreyan,
questioning the very nature of time travel and the results of his “meddling” (even questioning his use of the sonic!). Crucially, however,
this is a story about one man, Vincent Van Gogh, and his pain. There’s no happy
end in that sense, Curtis is clever enough to show that “bad things”
happen to good people.
Though this is certainly an emotionally-fueled forty~five
minutes or so we do also get the “good things”, thankfully, resulting
in one of the most memorable and beautiful outings for The Doctor and his companion. Memorable and beautiful, just like a Van Gogh painting itself.