Doctor Who Vincent and the Doctor (Series 05, Episode 10) Review

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What’s It About?

The Doctor has been treating Amy to sights she has always wanted to see, guilty after events in Wales 2020. At the Musee D’Orlee in Paris, an unexpected sight in a painting leads the time travellers to 1890 Provence where they meet Vincent Van Gogh and go in search of a monster. …

Review It

Veteran writer Richard Curtis (Blackadder, Four Weddings and a Funeral) steps up to the writers pedastal this week with a plot centred around Vincent Van Gogh. I’ll be honest. When I saw last week’s trail, I wasn’t blown away – reminded of last series’ Agatha Christie episode which is one of my least favourites. There are moments of slapstick and gags scattered throughout the episode – possibly a few too many to stop me cringing occasionally.

The story follows the pattern of historical Who’s of an alien menace visiting Earth’s past but this time, the Doctor is aware from his arrival – having seen evidence of the creature’s existence in the future. Again, we see the importance of the Time Travel element of the show coming through this year.

Tony Curran is superbly cast as the artist – he looks the part and plays both sides of Van Gogh (depression and joy) in a very real manner. That said, this is of course Doctor Who, so don’t expect a deep discourse on mental health. A scene very near the end shows how the Doctor can positively influence a life and again offers a fantastic use of the TARDIS and Curran’s performance is award winning in that scene. I’m really enjoying the quiet scenes at the end of the episodes that have been recurrent throughout this season.

What’s nice about this story is the nature of the monster. I for one am a fan of the alien not necessarily being evil, but just existing or lashing out, as with The Planet of the Dead and the same goes here. It’s unfortunate that a different resolution couldn’t be found but perhaps the tale is more poignant for this.

The creature is invisible to everyone but Vincent – making the creature a metaphor for some of his internal demons if you want to make the parallel. It’s also a parallel to the nature of mental health – Vincent says he can “hear” colours which relates to other conditions where the brain is wired differently. These elements, there if you look, make this a far more intelligent episode than the slapstick adventure on the surface may suggest.

And the niggles?

Actually, I’m scratching my head a bit here. I thought the scene where the Doctor first sees the invisible monster outside the TARDIS was potentially eye-rolling stuff, and yet I enjoyed it. Possibly the episode verged on the slapstick at times, but the direction and acting pulled through this too…

In summary:

This was a good fun romp that managed to lightly touch on the subject of depression and mental illness. Some very nice character moments, particularly towards the end that left me with a slight lump in my throat. Definitely not the best of the series but far from a disappointing episode.

Rate It: 3.75 / 5.
Dry Slaps: 0.
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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6 comments

  1. Bob /

    quiet scenes at the end of the episodes? hm…
    didnt someone say something about silence falling?
    😉

  2. Spikey_p /

    I felt that this was wonderful, and to be honest, it was such a pleasant surprise. Easily the best episode yet, and I never expected to say that.

    I’m not a fan of the New Who formula for pseudo-historicals… That is to say that rather than using historical events as a backdrop, it’s “The Doctor travels back to the year X to meet a particular historical celebrity (usually some kind of artist) who we are supposed to be in awe of, who may or may not flirt with the companion, but there are also aliens”, with The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances and The Fires of Pompeii being notable exception. Generally speaking, they tend to turn into fanboyish fawning excercises over the genius in question and the alien menace is at best underdeveloped as a result, at worst lazy. So we have “Charles Dickens, but with ghosts / gas monster-zombies”, “Queen Victoria with Werewolves” and “Shakespere with… oh, I dunno, witches?” How about “Agatha Christie and a giant wasp”?

    This wasn’t that – perhaps because personally, I’m less intimately familiar with Van Gough, his personal story and his body of work but that’s not the whole story here. I already said that my expectations were not high going in, partly for that reason but also because Richard Curtis was writing this one. I’m not at all against Moffat bringing in comedy writers to write for Who, it takes a special level of discipline to write a situation comedy, just as writing Who for telly is a LOT more difficult than most people must imagine it to be – it takes some serious chops. Moffat himself spent years in the trenches writing sitcoms and writing what he knows, straight from the heart and that’s made his own scripts as tight as a duck’s bum. That said, bringing in Simon Nye didn’t exactly cover the whole enterprise in glory (quite personally, I think he just stretched himself far too far with that episode). Add to that the additional heavyweight star value of Richard Curtis to page 1 of the script and there was potential for a collosal mess.

    To say that in the hind portion of my brain I was probably expecting a mish-mash collection of adorable, loveable English chaps, meeting up with their terribly nice friend who looks a bit like Hugh Grant (who says Buggar! a lot and likes an american girl), one of them is blind/has aspergers/is allergic to water (but doesn’t stop them enjoying dinner parties with the group), all getting together to discuss how jolly nice Van Goughs’ paintings are would be to do an utter disservice to Mr. Curtis. It is also, sadly, totally true. Richard Curtis, my reptilian cortex owes you a drink by way of apology, not least for the bit about thinking that James Fleet would surely sneak in there somehow.

    Continuing the theme this series of time and causality being broken, the Doctor and Amy start off the story in a way that would never normally work – Van Gough painted a monster, was counselled by a mysterious Doctor, so lets go back and involve ourselves in history by saving him. It’s like starting off City of Death by X-Raying the Mono Lisa to find the message in felt-tip pen. But time is broken, so it’s allowed. And time may even approve, given the lack of cracks this week.

    Great casting, clever jokes and subtle too – by having a red-headed Scot pay Vincent and having him keep his accent and then ask Ms Pond “Are you from Amsterdam like me? You sound as if you are”, its a great joke on the TARDIS translation and makes perfect sense if everyone around them is speaking French or Provencal. The Doctor goes back to the TARDIS and gets a bit of tech to trace the monster and its great to hear him declare of the sonic “that’s it, from now on, I am only using this thing to tighten up screws!” is music to the ears. The fact that he can only see the thing by its reflection is great, as is the prominent statue on the steps of the Musee for those sharp enough to spot it. The TARDIS gets COVERED with bill-posters, so much that The Doctor has to slice through it with keys just to get the door open, like opening a letter (which is EXACTLY what would happen!) and the shot of the last burning ember, singed off by the trip through the vortex to signal their arrival back in Paris was purely magical.

    But what of Vincent himself and his monster? Well, interesting, from the outset The Doctor and Amy suspect that the monster might just be a symptom of his “madness” than something physically real. but yet they still make the effort to travel back there and save him from it. It seems almost not to matter – it might just be a manefestation of his depression that’s haunting him, like Churchill’s Black Dog, and history says that he has less than a year left to him at best.

    But they treat it the same as they would any other monster. Which is remarkable, not to say incredibly brave for a popular family drama series, not least one as unique as Doctor Who. That the monster itself IS real is more or less moot, The Doctor in fact seemingly disbelieving in it too long, if anything, even after the beast has knocked him around the yard a few times. The beast itself was eventually revealed to be an even more tortured and tragic soul than Vincent, abandoned and alone in a world of strangers that barely registered it’s existance and doomed to ultimate self-destruction.What did became clear is that Curtis had written an almost perfect representation in Vincent of the reality of depression… He swings and he cycles, even within the same scene to extremes of energy and lethargy, almost manic appreciation of the beauty in the world and the utter loneliness and dispair of being unable to share that appreciation with another living soul.

    It tore at my heartstrings, for its a sensation I know myself all too well. Curtis takes you there with it as well; the bittersweet meaningless death of the beast, put down out of it’s misery in one sense, but still dying alone in fear and pain, followed minutes later by the final, heartrending ending for Vincent as he learns of the almost universal appreciation and acclaim he could just never imagine in life… Even here, the level of wit is consistent, his wonderful line about the haystacks. You think, how can The Doctor possibly show him this and take him out of time this way, change his whole future as the price for giving him that one, wonderful moment of ultimate appreciation? Will he erase his memory? Like Amy, it seems impossible to think that he could return to his life that way and yet still end it by his own hand mere months later. But depression is not a logical disease of the mind. Anyone who has suffered or witnessed its hand will tell you that no matter how much praise you receive when you are up, means absolutely nothing when you are down and it is all so easily forgotten.

    Thinking back, I remembered that Richard Curtis has seen this all up close. Of his friends, Steven Fry is a high profile and vocal sufferer of the condition, whilst Tony Slattery came within days of exiting the same way as Vincent. I believe I read somewhere too that Moffat himself has suffered until recently; his fellow UK Drama royalty along with RTD, Paul Abbott certainly is well known to have suffered acutely in the past.

    This episode astonished me and moved me on every level. Amy’s dismay at failing to avert Vincent’s death makes no sense on the face of things, but The Doctor seems instinctively to know that there was no way to prevent his downward course. He was cursed with a brain too small to contain, explain or encompass all the beauty he saw in it and which was impossible for him to make others see. That was his monster. With depression you live your life day by day, minute by minute, you treasure every second and see meaning in everything. Even if its just in signing someone’s name on your work as you remember them for perhaps the last time. It doesn’t matter if no-one else ever understands it.

    As Brandon Lee said, nothing is trivial.

    • geeksyndicate /

      awesome round up sir! if ever you ever fancy doing any reviewing for the website films, tv, comics etc then drop us a line.

      • Spikey_p /

        Happy to do what I can, let me know what you had in mind, gents.

    • Couldn’t agree more with most of what you say there, spikey. Except I preferred Simon Nye’s episode to this 😉

      I too loved the screwdriver line and the parallels between the monster and depression were superbly implemented.

      • Spikey_p /

        Thanks, man – the sonic thing is something of a bugbear for me as you might have noticed! I won’t rest until an opening TARDIS scene begins Amy walking in on The Doctor actually using it to put up some shelves in the console room, denies that’s what he actually doing and pretends to have been scanning for discreet chronal particles or somesuch instead…

        I think the problem started less with the use of it in the scripts as when someone decided to okay all those promotional shots of Eccleston and Tennant in “action!” poses for calendars, annuals and the front cover of the Radio Times… I think the problem is that those fix in the mind of the viewer, not least the newer generation of viewers who are mostly kids that the screwdriver is some kind of weapon or gun and because Tennant in particular played the Doctor as so angry and vengeful at times, the risk is that you create the impression that either A) imposing a solution to problems you encounter via force rather than living by your wits is good or B) that the Doctor is a bit of a bully and as it happens actually always right, or worst still C) both of those things.

        From Tennant’s first season, there was a tendency to show the Doctor brandishing the thing in “sensor” mode like a gun with a two-handed grip, rather than like a geiger counter or a PKE meter. Why does he need to hold it at arms’ length with both hands, what’s he guarding against, recoil? Seems wrong, and totally counter-intuitive, especially when it gets switched to “general tech disruptor mode”, where it makes the aliens weapons/armour short-circuit conveniently. And every time I hear the phrase “dead-lock seal”, I feel as if someone just smacked me in the face with a 2 x 4.

        I think it was always a risky image to portray to a new, young audience for a character like The Doctor, who *should* never resort to violence, particularly when you have all those promo shots basically replicating the kill-shot pose from the James Bond gun-barrel sequence. I know that’s not what the intention was, but at the time, I really feel as if someone in the production office should have spotted it and just said “Hang on, no…”. Very young kids can’t really make that distinction but for that reason I’m much more comfortable having K-9 trundling around in the SJAs, blasting things to protect Sarah and the gang and behaving like the world’s coolest guard dog, computer hacker and lock-pick all in one. We need more of that level of fantasy and the SJAs are the prefect place for that.

        As far as the screwdriver goes, there’s a lot of fences to be mended as far as credibility goes… Dating right back to someone deciding in the first 20mins of the new show that it could work on animated plastic objects to make them be unalive again.

        Hmmm….

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