10 and 1 Things About Vincent and the Doctor

(Spoilers for episode 10 of Doctor Who Series 5.)Item 1: Fandom seems to be split between finding the most recent episode either poignant or cheesy. I am definitely in the former column. Wow. Certainly one of my favorite episodes of Series 5 and the most immediately affecting. It wasn't so much the invisible monster as metaphor for Van Gogh's depression or bipolarity. That works, but it's really par for the course for "historicals". No, what I was most charmed by is the look of the show - just gorgeous - and the performance by Tony Curran as Van Gogh. Deeply affecting, and the episode earns both the right to its historical inaccuracies and its leap to 2010, pop song and all. Many of those unimpressed by the plot had to admit to getting teary eyed at the end.

Item 2: If I think it's one of the best episode this series, I also happen to think it's the best "Doctor meets an artist" television story of all time. Like The Unquiet Dead, The Shakespeare Code and The Unicorn and the Wasp, it plays fast and loose with historical detail, instead allowing the essence of the artist's work to inform the mood and story. In Doctor Who, these artists are not the ones that actually lived historically, but rather the sum of the things we know about them. Ergo, Dickens is embroiled in a ghost story on Christmas Eve. Shakespeare is a great and polysexual genius who defeats three witches with words. Agatha Christie helps solve a mystery that manages references to all her most popular works. Vincent van Gogh isn't as easy to represent because he didn't write stories. So instead, we get a very visual episode that references his great works, and we don't care much if said works were actually painted on the appropriate date or not. And while all four stories have an undue amount of hero worship (Dickens is the Doctor's favorite author, Shakespeare's genius is on par with his, Agatha Christie is still read in the year 5 billion, and Van Gogh is apparently the greatest artist who ever lived), Vincent is presented in a more adult way, less as a caricature, and not flinching from his mental illness or suicide.
Item 3: Is there a more beautiful, lyrical sequence in Doctor Who than the bit where Vincent's point of view reveals an animated version of Starry Night? Wow. The fields of grain are also beautiful, as is the recreation of the café. I bet if I studied his work, I'd find other visual allusions in the show. This is one case where being on location away from Wales has really uplifted the episode.

Item 4: While the guest-star is poignant, there is another thread running through this story that adds to the poignancy, and that's the ghost of Rory. The Doctor is the only person that remembers he ever existed, but Amy has an intuitive sense about it. Vincent, more perceptive than is normal, senses her loss, and she is caught crying for no reason. (She never denies she's suffered a loss, only that she is sad, but she is presumably talking about her parents.) The Doctor is most hard hit though. Not only does he let slip Rory's name at one point, but he seems to be overcompensating with Amy. He's taking her where she wants to go (she's the Van Gogh fan) and if it seems strange that the Doctor would risk the timeline by bringing Vincent to his future, it shouldn't. He's doing it for Amy. (He may additionally sense that it won't change history. Vincent would succumb to his illness, perhaps feel he can't live up to his future reputation or think he imagined it all.)

Item 5: With Rory out of the way, Amy has no reason to hide anything about her relationship with him. When she says she's "not the marrying kind", are we to infer that she WOULDN'T have gone through with her wedding? She would never have said this if Rory had been there, but evidently thought it.
Item 6: Bill Nighy. He's wonderful in this, but where was his credit? I can only assume it was eaten by the Crack.

Item 7: Speaking of cracks and paradoxes... Last week, I talked about the theory that the Doctor and Amy will eventually double back on themselves to (possibly) go out and fix the cracks. I mentioned some of the clues, like a figure running through the house in The Eleventh Hour and the open door in Victory of the Daleks). Is there a place where this "future Doctor" could have gone by? The answer is yes. He visits Vincent in bed, and the artist doesn't want to go out. He's freaking out. The Doctor returns to Amy and then Vincent walks in all refreshed and ready to go. On the surface, this seems to be part and parcel of his bipolar behavior. But could he have been visited and encouraged by the other Doctor?

Item 8: Non-genre writers seem to be doing a lot better than genre writers this series. Richard Curtis is best known for comedy, specifically Blackadder. Moffat himself came out of sitcoms. The episodes I liked the least have been written by Chris Chibnall and Mark Gatiss, both writers who had done Who (and/or the spin-offs) before. Maybe we're moving away from the RTD era in such a way that its writers aren't meshing well with Series 5's mood.

Item 9: "If you have been affected by the issues in this episode..." Must be the first time a Doctor Who episode has had an invitation to "learn more" or "call a helpline" at the end of it. You have permission to call it "a very special Doctor Who". I guess I'll use that number/website if I ever get a bad case of invisible monsters running through the house.
Item 10: Another lovely bit, I thought, were the circus posters that burnt up in the vortex. Great touch (no I don't think they mean anything per se). I guess Jack's invulnerability aura extends to his coat.

Item 11: Here's my own Van Gogh story... I used to work in a museum/art gallery. Strictly contemporary art, you understand, but nevertheless, people would sometimes call and try to have one painting or another appraised (we didn't really do that). Anyway, this lady called from Riverview, New Brunswick, and said she'd found a painting in her attic and wondered if it was worth anything. Well, right away I'm skeptical. They're usually just landscapes done in a Bob Ross style by old ladies. I asked her to describe it and she said it was yellow flowers and that the signature was "van... van Sosh?" You mean "van Gogh"?, I ask. "Yes, that's it." (Never mind the fact that he signs his works "Vincent".) So I told her it was pretty unlikely to be sunflowers by Van Gogh, because they'd be worth millions. I shouldn't have said that, because she became really defensive. She's sitting on a gold mine, after all! Or a poster from WalMart. They often can't tell the difference between a print under glass and an actual painting. She hung up on me. She must be rich by now...


Loki said...

Love these posts, but have to quibble with point 8: Gatiss, despite his Who experience, is probably best known for "The League of Gentlemen", while Curtis is probably best known for his romantic comedies "Four Weddings and a Funeral", "Love Actually" and "Notting Hill" than he is for "Blackadder".

Siskoid said...

Just goes to show how genre oriented I am.

Gatiss' work in the Doctor Who novels is how he started out and that's always how I'll remember him.

But I did Curtis wrong, you're right.

Greg said...

I really enjoy the Doctor Who posts as well. I wasn't sure about what you said in Item 5 though. I took Amy's comment as she's not the marrying kind now because on some level she's aware of the loss of Rory. Your take seems a bit bleak (at least in light of Amy's Choice), but not inconsistent with her character.

Siskoid said...

Been progressively poisoning myself on bleak by watching and re-watching Battlestar Galactica and Children of Earth, so it may be that bias showing.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree, if Amy's not the marrying kind, it's because deep down she knows the one man she WOULD marry no longer exists. (And, I predict, will exist again soon.)

Dr. Anonymous prescribes downloading some episodes of "The Middleman" to get your faith in heroism back.


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