The Doctor, Amelia Pond and Vincent Van Gough, what could possibly go wrong? In an episode that is notorious for giving you ‘the feels’, I’ll give my impression as to whether this episode, which turns 6 years old this year, stands the test of time.
Terror lurks in the cornfields of Provence, but only a sad and lonely painter can see it, as the time-travelling drama continues with an episode written by Richard Curtis. Amy Pond finds herself shoulder to shoulder with Vincent Van Gogh, in a battle with a deadly alien.
Typically, I’m not a fan of the historical episodes of Doctor Who, especially when it focusses on a famous person from history; normally for me, it just feels like they’re shoehorning in a historical figure for the writers to justify a reasoning for the Doctor and his companion being in that particular time period. For me though, there’s just an underlying beauty and truth to Richard Curtis’ Vincent and The Doctor that made it a hidden gem of New Who.
We start with Bill Nighy as a curator of a Vincent Van Gough exhibition in Paris, as he’s describing the wondrous works of Van Gough in his final months, and of course, the Doctor and Amy are there too. It seems that after Rory was erased from time in Cold Blood that the Doctor is feeling somewhat guilty about everything and being extremely nice to Amy as an apology, even if she can’t remember her (ex?)fiancee. One thing that really interested me from this opening pre-title scene was just how savvy Amy was at the Doctor trying to keep her preoccupied by keeping her as happy as possible for what happened to Rory. Even though Amy has absolutely no recollection of him, the Doctor still feels it’s his responsibility to look after Amy, whether it’s for his sake or because it’s what Rory would have wanted I’m not sure, but it goes to show just how deeply the Doctor cares for Amelia Pond.
One reason I feel the idea of the Doctor meeting Vincent was such a genius move was the way that Vincent was regarded when he was alive; like it shows in the episode, Van Gough was considered to be a madman (seem familiar?) who’s art was no good and was basically a laughing stock. To me, there’s always something about the character of the misunderstood genius that makes an extremely compelling character. Vincent Van Gough was one of those misunderstood geniuses.
If there’s one thing that I really thought detracted from Vincent and The Doctor, it has to be the inclusion of the Krafayis; the invisible monster that is seemingly stalking Van Gough. Like I said in this article, I feel that recent historical episodes have been somewhat devalued by their ‘necessary’ inclusion of monsters to ‘progress’ the story.
A subject that I feel very sensitively and tactfully in this story too, is Vincent’s depression; whilst people at the time just assumed it was madness, the fact that it is in fact a mental illness that can strike anyone at any time and plague them. The way that Richard Curtis has portrayed depression makes it very physical and apparent, which I personally see as a good thing, as it highlights the issue to the younger viewers in a much more obvious sense, instead of implying that he might have depression. The way that Vincent seems to work out that Amy has lost someone close to her so recently is a way of portraying Vincent’s genius as well as managing to explain that depression comes in waves instead of constantly having it bombard every single thought.
Going back to the Krafayis, it doesn’t really help that the monster looks so unrealistic and obviously CGI; it’s strange really, but I really do think that some of the effects from 2005 look better than the Krafayis, a monster that was created five years later. One thing that I don’t understand about the Doctor’s action from this episode is that he doesn’t seem to punish or scorn Vincent for murdering the Krafayis, however previously in the series in The Beast Below when he learned about the Star Whale, the Doctor seemingly gave up with humanity for choosing to keep the Star Whale semi-conscious.
The final ten minutes of the episode is where it really shines, both in the writing and the performances given. It’s apparent that Richard Curtis is traditionally associated with rom-coms as the romance oozes through in the final quarter of the story; this romance though, isn’t between two people like Curtis normally portrays, it’s instead the romance in the world, seeing things from a different perspective and trying to comprehend the beautiful impossibility of the universe, especially through the genius eyes of Vincent Van Gough.
Like I said, Richard Curtis is known for rom-coms; we’ve seen him romanticise the universe, showing off his rom, the com however is shown when Vincent first enters and tries to understand the complexity of the TARDIS; it would have been easy for Vincent to stroll in, unimpressed and leave it down to the fact he’s a genius, but Curtis’ writing makes it genuinely funny.
When the Doctor and Amy take Vincent to the exhibition to show him what his work will mean culturally in the world, it is honestly one of the most tearjerking moments of Doctor Who history; the idea that this absolutely tortured genius could possibly get to see that he will amount to so much and be held in such a high regard is truly beautiful. Doctor Black’s summary of Vincent Van Gough is beautifully written and perfectly encapsulates exactly what Van Gough means to so many people.
Ultimately however, this tale cannot end happily, as we all know of Vincent’s tragic suicide shortly after his trip with the Doctor and Amy, making Vincent and the Doctor such a bittersweet story. I’m not saying that I’d like every episode of Doctor Who to end this way, however I think that it was a bold move that was executed extremely well; I’d really like to see Richard Curtis write another episode some time to see what else he can offer to the Whoniverse.
The rating system on the Gallifrey Archive is achieved on a scale of 1-10.
For Vincent and The Doctor, I will give a rating of: