"I've seen many things, my friend. But you're right. Nothing quite as wonderful as the things you see."
IN THIS ONE... Vincent Van Gogh vs. an invisible monster.
REVIEW: Going purely by the plot, Vincent and the Doctor is pretty standard celebrity historical fare. There's big guest-star from History, and plenty of over-top hero worship. The alien threat is inspired by the artist's own life, and the script goes out of its way to reference his work. In the Whoniverse, artists drew on life more than imagination oftentimes. There are some notable differences, however. Instead of a writer like Dickens, Shakespeare or Agatha Christie, we have a tortured painter, whose work is thus much harder to adapt. They manage it beautifully. The episode is lush and visual, from the first close up shots of wheat to the beautiful Croatian-as-Provencal countryside, and to the wonderful sequence in Van Gogh-vision where the sky becomes a painting before our very eyes. Tony Curran isn't just a dead ringer for the historical personage, but also gives a sensitive, moving performance, equally sad and joyous, which is the core of the mental health issue portrayed. In another twist, though the Doctor and Amy bring some light and wonder into Vincent's world, they can't prevent his suicide, and the episode doesn't gloss over that. It's rather dark and mature subject matter for the program, but a topic that deserves more awareness.
So while the monster - just as wounded and isolated as Vincent himself - is an obvious metaphor for the painter's depression or bipolar disorder, invisible and violent, but essentially sad and afraid, it's not the cause of Vincent's madness. That would have been a cheap cop-out. It's merely a thematic motif, and one that also connects to Amy's own loss. She's sad too, sad of having lost Rory, even though she can't remember him having existed. That reinforces the theme of mental illness' irrationality. We know why she's crying, but from her perspective, there is no reason. And so it goes for Vincent who, despite having been shown his posthumous success, still commits suicide on the correct date. It's not worth looking for a rational answer, and that was Amy's mistake. Vincent didn't kill himself because he thought of himself as a failure, no more than he did because - we can have our theories - he later decided this episode was all a dream, or that there was too much pressure to become the "great man" described by the tour guide, and so on. His suicide was pointless, and that's the point.
If the plot is, on the surface of it, pretty standard, and there are, inevitably, historical inaccuracies, everything is forgiven for the sake of those last 8 minutes or so. I simply can't get through the sequence without massive eye leakage. Vincent overwhelmed by Dr. Black's evaluation of his work is so powerful (and isn't Bill Nighy great?), I'll even allow the rare use of a pop song in Who (if a lot of shows use them, it's because they give emotional end montages some punch; Athlete's "Chances" isn't a song I know any other way, but it works for the sequence). Amy's hope that she'll have Quantum Leaped the artist's life - and we know she'll be crushed - ending on a bittersweet note as she discovers (and this time, it's Murray Gold's cue that's providing the punch, one of his prettier tunes) the Sunflowers dedicated to her. The Doctor's speech about adding to a person's good pile of things is a potent one as well. I'm a big fan of this episode, and it strikes me that I haven't even mentioned all the bits I like the Doctor's impatience at watching Vincent paint, or his comical despair at Vincent white-washing an unknown work for a blank piece of canvas, or the visual references to the first two Doctors, or the posters burning off the TARDIS' shell in transit...
SECOND OPINIONS: My original review, 10 and 1 Things About Vincent and the Doctor, is just as glowing. It also includes a Van Gogh anecdote from my life.
REWATCHABILITY: High - Deeply moving, and not at all hurt by the fact that there's a giant invisible dino-chicken in it.