TARDIS File 05-10: Vincent and the Doctor

TARDIS File 05-10: Vincent and the Doctor

The Big Idea:  After noticing a strange figure in a Van Gogh painting, the Doctor and Amy visit the artist to investigate.

What’s So Great…

  • Richard Curtis’ script manages to walk a delicate tightrope between Doctor Who and his other mainstream work like Four Weddings and a Funeral. There a couple of moments when he crosses a little over the line (Vincent comparing himself too overtly to the creature felt unnecessary).
  • Matt Smith continues to inhabit the persona of the Eleventh Doctor. Like Tom Baker before him, it’s a delight just to watch his face.  He does “distracted” beautifully without feeling affected.  You can literally see his thought processes without the “actor-ly strings” showing. When he asks “is this how time usually passes, really really slowly?” you feel his boredom; when he’s searching for his god-mother’s present his excitement is tangible.
  • Tony Curran is stunning. Vincent’s manic personality is an interesting juxtaposition with the Eleventh Doctor. Both are larger than life personalities that see the strands of the universe.  Despite having a Scottish accent, you believe Curran is Vincent Van Gogh. His realization of a person suffering from severe depression is layered and true.  Here’s an exercise for you: imagine Curran’s Vincent as the Doctor, mental illness and all. It’s pause for thought.
  • Bill Nighy is quiet and understated, but is the lynchpin to the denouement. A lesser actor answering the Doctor’s question about Van Gogh’s legacy could have killed the scene.
  • The enchanting scene where Vincent, Amy and the Doctor are lying under the night sky, as it slowly morphs in the iconic painting. If I explained more, I’d ruin it.
  • The visual of the Doctor and Amy in the confessional was lovely and impressionistic.

Some Quick Bits of Trivia: Richard Curtis, who penned the episode is the well known creator/co-creator/writer of the British sitcoms Blackadder, Mr. Bean, and The Vicar of Dibley as well as being a writer of such movies as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones Diary, Notting Hill and Love Actually. Several iconic Van Gogh paintings are referenced in the episode including The Church at Auvers (where they fought the creature), Café Terrace at Night (where the Doctor and Amy met Vincent), and The Starry Night (when the three gazed into the sky). The song playing over the action when the Doctor and Amy show Vincent his paintings in the museum is called “Chances”, by the British band Athlete. The episode was filmed in Trogir, Croatia (along with The Vampires of Venice).

Things To Geek Out About…

  • The Doctor’s gadget displays pictures of the First and Second Doctors and then they’re printed out on the TARDIS typewriter.
  • The sequence where Vincent enters the TARDIS and then incredulously checks out the exterior of the Police Box is a time honoured Doctor Who tradition, but it’s made all the more humourous because of who he is.
  • The logo of Magpie Electricals, the business featured in The Idiot’s Lantern, can be seen on one of the components of the TARDIS’ centre console.

Did You Notice…? Even though Rory has been erased from time, Vincent notices that Amy is grieving for someone (she’s even crying a little). The Doctor accidentally calls Vincent “Rory”.

Not to complain but…
Including a reference to the Doctor’s halitosis-plagued godmother is sure to inspire all sorts of rubbish fan fiction.

All Things Considered… Vincent and the Doctor is a sublime example of how Doctor Who can sell something completely absurd when it harnesses the right mixture of truth, whimsy and irreverence . Tony Curran’s vivid and compelling portrayal of Van Gogh is so real that you completely buy the scene where the Doctor and Amy take him to the Museum D’Orsay. It could have been utterly cheesy, but it works by damn, it works.

So much of the episode comes down to the characterization and how the actors sell it. As noted above, if Bill Nighy had been anything but understated the end could have flagged. When Vincent recognizes Amy’s pain it doesn’t feel like an out-of-no-where reference to the ongoing story. Similarly, when each inspiration for Van Gogh’s paintings is referenced (the cafe, the night sky) the tone of the art direction feels just right, charming, but never hitting us over the head (the cafe suggests the painting but isn’t exactly the same).

Vincent and the Doctor showcases where the eclectic style of the Moffat era can really work, allowing variations of interpretation on Doctor Who to breathe. It stands in sharp contrast to something like Victory of the Daleks that could have benefited from a strong rewrite by the show runner. Probably one of the best pieces of television you’ll see all year.

Line of the week: “It seems to me there’s so much more to the world then the average eye is allowed to see. I believe, if you look hard, there are more wonders in this universe then you could ever have dreamt of.”

TARDIS File prepared by Scott Clarke

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