Previously: Rory died and got erased from history.
Vincent and the Doctor
K: Confession time: Mari wrote two paragraphs of a recap three weeks ago and when I saw that, I maaaaaay have immediately jumped at the chance to start over and recap this episode, because it’s the ONE episode of the Eleventh Doctor’s run that I actually LOVE and will watch over and over and over again, and I’ve been trying to work out a way for me to recap this episode since we first started recapping DW, so…yeah.
(Sorry, Mari. I know how long it takes to write 2 paragraphs of a recap, buuuuuut I’m selfish af. Love you!)
Dani: As long as we’re confessing stuff, I gotta admit I’ve been putting off commenting because this episode needs to be rated F for FEELS.
K: We open in a field of wheat. Everything seems peaceful, but there’s something running through the wheat. Crows fly up, cawing away (sidenote: I never fail to be astonished by how chill-sounding crows are outside of Australia. Ours sound like demon spawn). The music gets tense and the camera pulls back to show us a painting. The artist adds another crow, and we see his blue eyes and straw hat.
Anna: Ever-so-slightly gutted that Bill Nighy is such a minor character in this? Maybe he was expensive, or they could only get him for one day, I dunno. Would’ve liked to see him have a bigger role in Who. Though, Who being Who, he could easily pop up again later as a different character with zero explanation… *casually side-eyes Karen Gillan, Peter Capaldi and Mark Gatiss*
K: Amy and the Doctor wander into the back of the frame, and we cut to them as Bill Nighy continues talking. Amy wants to know why the Doctor is being super nice to her, and he’s all “WHAT? AM NOT” but it’s clearly because he feels guilty that her fiance just died and she can’t remember him (RIP, Rory). Amy’s suspicious, but in a jokey way.
They tune back into Bill Nighy, who says that Van Gogh’s paintings are worth millions, but in his lifetime, he sold a whopping one painting, and that was to a friend’s sister. Amy pulls the Doctor over to look at the painting of the Church at Auvers. The Doctor marvels at it for a moment, then leans in way closer than you’d be able to without the alarm going off to stare at something weird in the window of the church. He says it’s an evil face, because he definitely knows all about evil.
He stomps over to Bill Nighy, claiming to be an art inspector, and asks when the painting was done. Specifically. To the day. Bill Nighy (his name is Doctor Black, but let’s be real: Bill Nighy is Bill Nighy in everything he’s in) (D: Accurate.) is taken aback, but says it was probably between the 1st and 3rd of June, 1890. They have a mutual bow tie appreciation moment (M: the least the Doctor can offer after his interrupt-y pushiness…), then the Doctor drags Amy away, saying that art can wait because they have to talk to Vincent van Gogh.
DOO WEE OOO!!
After the credits, a cat scurries away as the TARDIS lands. Amy and the Doctor pile out, and head in search of van Gogh. They start at the local cafe, which – unsurprisingly – looks exactly like Café Terrace at Night. Amy joyfully looks between her exhibition guidebook and the real thing. All the cafe staff are all “EW, VAN GOGH” when they mention him, because he’s a drunk who doesn’t pay his bills and has mental health problems. The Doctor’s all “Yeah, but he’s a great painter?” and everyone laughs.
Anna: Hello and welcome to the village of two-dimensional characters, where everyone is the WORST.
K: Just then, we hear a (strangely Scottish) voice from inside offering the manager a painting in exchange for a drink. The manager walks out holding the painting, which he says isn’t any good. Amy and the Doctor fangirl flail, and the Doctor offers to buy either the painting or a drink for van Gogh. Vincent wheels around and says that he buys his own drinks, that no one buys his paintings, and that Amy’s cute but the Doctor needs to butt out of other people’s business. And good LOOOOOOOORD that is an accurate statement.
Marines: A tagline for the ages, that one.
K: Vincent goes back to bickering with the manager over his desired drink until Amy tells them both to STFU because she wants a bottle of wine that she plans on sharing with whoever she likes. Vincent and the manager agree that this is an acceptable compromise.
Later, Amy, Vincent and the Doctor (can I give myself a gold star??) (M: No, man. You can’t steal the recap AND get a star.) share the wine. Vincent is somewhat enamoured with Amy, who he assumes – from her accent – is from Holland, like him. (A: Still confused as to the TARDIS-translation fuckery that somehow means Dutch = Scottish??) He’s also very taken by her red hair. He also assumes that the Doctor is a literal doctor sent by his brother, but the Doctor assures him that he’s not that kind of doctor. He asks if Vincent has painted any churches recently, and Vincent – looking slightly perplexed – says there’s one he’s thinking of painting when the weather’s right.
Just then, they’re interrupted by a woman screaming that someone’s been murdered. Everyone rushes off after her. The Doctor demands that everyone let him through to the body because he’s a doctor. It’s a young woman, and we don’t see much of her, but a bystander says she’s been ripped to shreds. The young woman’s mother turns up and starts literally throwing rocks at Vincent, saying that his madness has brought this on them. Everyone else joins in the rock-throwing, and our trio run off. (D: All these villagers are missing is pitchforks.) (A: I say again. THE WORST.)
The Doctor asks Vincent if anything like this has happened before, and yes. A week ago. The Doctor says it’s exactly as he thought. He says they should get Vincent home, and when Vincent asks where they’re staying, the Doctor’s all “OH YOU’RE SO KIND OF COURSE WE’D LOVE TO STAY WITH YOU.” Amy giggles awkwardly and Vincent gets WTF face. Legit, bro.
Something growls in the night as they reach Vincent’s house. He tells them to be careful because the painting outside is still wet. Amy stares excitedly at the just-completed Bedroom in Arles (D: This is the first time in five seasons that I’ve been legitimately jealous of a companion.). Inside, Vincent lights a lamp and apologises for the clutter, aka his paintings. “I’ve come to accept the only person who’s going to love my paintings is me,” he says, which gives me all of the feelings.
Amy and the Doctor stare around the room in awe. Vincent offers them coffee, plopping the coffee pot down on a painting. The Doctor cringes and says he should be careful because the paintings are precious. Vincent’s all “Only to me” and Amy pops her head around the door to say that they’re precious to her too. She and Vincent share a little moment as he thanks her for her kindness.
Anna: Excuse me, I think my heart is melting a bit. I love Amy in this episode.
K: The Doctor’s all “OKAY COOL ENOUGH FLIRTING LET’S TALK ABOUT THIS CHURCH, YEAH??” Vincent’s all “WTF is up with you and the church?” and the Doctor decides to change the topic to something Vincent likes. That starts him talking about art. Cut to Vincent shouting about how colour is the key and how he can hear the colours, and frankly? It’s a lot like when the Doctor goes on one of his “Wait, no, yes, OTHER THING, that can’t be right, OH MY GOD I’VE BEEN SO BLIND!!” revelatory thought process spiels. The Doctor suggests that Vincent has had enough coffee and could probably use some nice calming tea instead.
Mari: The similarity you pointed out between van Gogh’s ranting and the Doctor’s make the Doctor’s “okay calm down” reaction hilarious because YEAH, Doctor. That’s what we’ve been saying TO YOU.
Anna: I have definitely been on similar manic/obsessed caffeine-fuelled rants so I seriously feel Vincent here. Unlike when the Doctor does it, in which case it’s just sort of… mildly irritating.
K: The Doctor wonders aloud where Amy is just as she screams from outside. They rush out there, and she’s on the ground. She says she was looking at the paintings when something hit her from behind. But there’s nothing there. Just then, Vincent grabs a pitchfork and starts stabbing wildly at the air. Amy hides while the Doctor tries to calm Vincent down. He insists that there’s nothing there, but something sends him flying. Turns out Vincent’s the only one who can see it.
The Doctor tries to join in the fight, but given that he can’t see what he’s fighting, it doesn’t do much good. (A: Not sure he’d do much good if he COULD see it, tbh. He’s a bundle of twiglets in a tweed suit.) Vincent manages to stab the invisible beastie with his pitchfork (D: don’t give the villagers any ideas, Vincent!), and it roars, then leaves. They head back inside and the Doctor asks what the beastie looked like. “I’ll show you,” Vincent says, grabbing a random painting and slapping a layer of white over the top of it. Amy and the Doctor are all “OMG NO STOP”, but too late that painting is gone forever.
Vincent grabs some charcoal and starts drawing. He flips the canvas around to show them something that looks kind of like a cockroach and a hippogriff had a baby? (M: EW and yep.) The Doctor grabs the canvas, and tells Amy to stay with Vincent and says he’ll be back soon. He heads off into the night, creeping around as the hipporoach(?) (M: cockogriff?) (D: Gross, but also LOL) (A: Congrats, Mari, I spat my coffee EVERYWHERE) growls and snorts.
He makes it back to the TARDIS and rummages through a cupboard, talking to himself about a gadget he needs. He eventually finds it and starts it up. It’s a bunch of mirrors attached to a typewriter?? He sticks his tongue out at the mirror, which says “Match found print ready“. The typewriter prints a picture of the First Doctor, and the Doctor declares it to be working.
He shows the gizmo Vincent’s sketch, and it suggests a macaw and a polar bear. He’s all “Uh, NO” and says to himself that Vincent will have to draw something better. He leaves the TARDIS – it’s now daylight – with the gizmo strapped to his chest. He fiddles with some dials on the front, not realising that the beastie has just become visible in the mirror.
The gizmo dings and tells him that it’s a Krafayis, a nomadic pack animal from an unknown planet. “Oh, you poor thing. You brutal, murderous, abandoned thing. I hope we meet again soon so I can take you home,” he says. Then he sees it in the mirror and realises it’s right behind him. “Maybe not that soon...” he says as he starts running.
Mari: Unsurprisingly, one cannot run very gracefully with a typewriter attached to their chest.
Anna: Especially if one is Matt Smith.
K: He throws stuff in its path to slow it down, then hides around a corner. Hearing footsteps, he pops his head out. It’s Amy. They both scream, and it’s oddly amusing. She says with an eye roll she got bored of Vincent’s snoring.
Cut to Vincent, snoring in bed. The Doctor barges in, yelling that it’s morning. He throws open all the doors and windows and OMFG RUUUUUUUUUDE. There is nothing I hate more than a cheerful morning person who thinks everyone else should also be a cheerful morning person. (D: Cheerful people are the worst.) (A: Note to all cheerful morning people: if you wake me up like that, I will unhinge my jaw and eat you for breakfast.) Vincent eventually stumbles out of bed when the Doctor says that Amy has a surprise for him.
She’s sitting outside, surrounded by sunflowers, and casually says that she thought he might want to paint them or something hint hint hint.
Anna: The dialogue in this episode is so wonderfully written at points, it really sticks out from the rest of the series. Forever gutted that Richard Curtis never returned to write another episode, because to be honest the Moffat era could have done with a lot more of this. (Though fun fact, Curtis did write the ridiculous Comic Relief episode in which Rowan Atkinson turns into Joanna Lumley and the Master gets “dalek bumps”. So do with that what you will, I guess.)
K: The Doctor shows him the picture of the Krafayis, and Vincent confirms that it’s what he saw. The Doctor says that they travel in packs but that sometimes one gets left behind. The others never return for it because they’re coldhearted bitches, and they basically kill things until they’re killed themselves. Vincent’s ability to see it is a unique opportunity for them. He encourages Vincent to go get his painting stuff so they can head to the church, saying that if it goes well they’ll be out of his hair by tomorrow.
Vincent heads off to get his things, giving them a sad look as he goes, and the Doctor tells Amy that this plan is super fucking risky because if it goes wrong, Vincent will die and half his paintings will never be created and it’ll all be their fault. Amy’s all “…no pressure then?”
The Doctor heads off to find Vincent, who’s face down on his bed, crying. The Doctor gently asks if he can help. Vincent says that it’s obvious that he can’t, and that when they leave – just like everyone else – “I’ll be left with an empty heart and no hope.” Ow, my feelings. The Doctor tells him that in his experience, there’s always hope. Vincent snaps “Your experience is incomplete.” He says he knows how things will end for him – not well.
The Doctor cheerfully tells him to come outside, and Vincent yells at him to go away. The Doctor reluctantly leaves and Vincent goes back to sobbing. It’s really reflective of when neurotypical people are all “Just think positive thoughts!” and people with mental health problems are like “…fuck you and the horse you rode in on.”
Mari: This is just another version of the Doctor thinking he can just throw open the windows on van Gogh, except it isn’t that easy and also, RUDE.
Anna: Yeah, I hadn’t thought about it that way when I first watched the episode– but several years and a much better understanding of mental illness (mine and other people’s) later, I’m just sat here thinking that really, being 900-ish years old, the Doctor should know better. I know I’ve made that point before about other things– I’d be tempted to say take a shot every time the Doctor, in his old age, should know better… but the potential for alcohol poisoning means it’s probably not worth it.
K: Amy comes up to ask what’s going on, and the Doctor says they’re leaving. Amy’s all sad panda when the Doctor mentions Vincent’s impending death. He says they have to go to the church on their own and just hope the Krafayis turns up. Just then, Vincent walks in, hat and coat on. He grabs a paintbrush and says he’s ready.
Amy helps him carry his things as they walk to the church. She tells him she’s sorry he’s so sad. (A: Amy here demonstrating a much better approach than the Doctor did….) Vincent smiles and says that he’s not sad any more, because if she can soldier on, so can he. Amy’s confused and insists that she’s not sad. “Oh, Amy. I hear the song of your sadness. You’ve lost someone, I think,” Vincent says. Amy insists again that she’s not sad. “Then why are you crying?” Vincent says. Amy touches her face and finds tears there. She has no idea why.
Dani: This show is usually so cruel to Rory, but I really like the acknowledgement here that Amy misses him on such a deep level that she’s crying even though she can’t remember him. If only they were that good to Rory when he’s actually IN an episode …
K: The Doctor changes the subject to the beastie. He says they need a plan. Vincent’s plan is just to fight it. The Doctor’s all “Uh. Okay. How about if we make sure I can see it too?” They’re interrupted by a passing funeral procession – the girl the monster killed earlier. The mother looks at them disapprovingly as she passes.
When they reach the church, Vincent sets up his easel. The Doctor tells him to say the word if he sees the beastie. Vincent’s all “I’m mad, not stupid.” The Doctor says he’s not sure about the madness part because depression is complex, but Vincent shushes him because he’s working. Of course the Doctor turns out to be one of those people who can’t stand silence, and he wibbles on and on about other painters he’s met in the past, including Michelangelo and Picasso. Amy shushes him. The Doctor continues bouncing around until Amy pulls him aside to ask if he’s nervous. Obviously, that’s when Vincent spots the beastie in the window.
The Doctor and Amy rush off towards the church. Vincent wants to go with them. The Doctor’s all “UH, NO, YOU ARE VINCENT VAN GOGH.” Vincent points out that they’re not armed. The Doctor insists that he is. Vincent basically gives him side eye. The Doctor lifts up the case with his monster-viewing gizmo in it, and says he’s armed with “Overconfidence, this, and a small screwdriver.” I actually snort laughed at that. WHO EVEN AM I??
Dani: These moments of self-awareness are so rare for the Doctor that it makes the line particularly funny. But also, yeah .. WHO ARE YOU, AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO KIRSTI???
Anyway, the Doctor says that the sonic never fails (D: NEVER? Seriously?!) (A: Does “it doesn’t do wood” ring any bells, chum? From literally the last episode??) and tells Amy not to follow him under any circumstances. He gestures at her to keep an eye on Vincent. The Doctor rushes off. “Will you follow him?” Vincent asks. Amy smirks at him and says of course she will. “I love you…” Vincent says, and OH MY GOD I HAVE ALL THE FEELINGS ABOUT VINCENT VAN GOGH AND HIS CRUSH ON AMY POND.
All of a sudden, it’s nighttime. I… don’t really understand why or how. But whatever. (M: Vincent was painting for a long time…) The Doctor unpacks his gizmo just outside the church and gets it all set up. He stares up at the carving of St George slaying the dragon over the door, then heads inside. The beastie is growling and grunting inside. The Doctor flips the mirror around looking for it, but can’t see anything.
Outside, Amy asks Vincent what’s going on. The beastie has just moved to the next window. But then it turns around. Back to the Doctor. In the mirror, we see the beastie swipe at him. Outside, Amy and Vincent hear a smash and a scream. Amy rushes inside. Vincent looks around for a weapon, then grabs his chair.
Inside, the Doctor is scurrying around trying to work out where the beastie is. He dumps his gizmo, then shrieks as he comes face to face with Amy. He’s cross with her for coming after him, but says they can discuss it later. He hurries her to a confession booth. He’s all “Shhh, we’ll be safe in here” but LOL NOPE. The beastie attacks Amy’s side, then the Doctor’s.
Vincent comes to their rescue, yelling ridiculous things and fending off the beastie with a chair. Amy and the Doctor scurry over to hide behind him. The Doctor tries various settings on the sonic, but nothing happens. The Doctor gets batted through the air and they decide to take cover in the crypt. “Okay, here’s the plan. Amy, Rory,” the Doctor says. Amy’s all “Who the fuck is Rory?” and the Doctor has to backtrack and say that yes, he definitely meant Vincent. OW, MY HEART.
A: RIP RORY POND.
K: His plan is that maybe they should try talking to the beastie. Amy’s all “WHUT” and Vincent rushes off to get a new weapon, having left his chair outside in the church. The beastie bangs on the crypt door, and the Doctor begs it to listen to him. He says that he doesn’t belong on this planet either, that’s he’s alone too. He begs it to listen, saying that if it does, they can come to an arrangement.
Instead, the windows of the crypt smash as the beastie bursts in. Vincent reappears, clutching his easel, pointy legs towards the beastie. The Doctor asks him what’s going on. Vincent says it’s feeling its way around the edges of the room, like it’s trapped. The Doctor’s all “WTF?”, then has one of those (slightly annoying, tbh) Doctor moments where he’s all “OH, I’M SO STUPID IT’S BEEN STARING ME IN THE FACE THE WHOLE TIME” and then rattles off a full explanation of the situation. It’s one of Doctor Who’s weaker plot devices, and lest you think my gripe with this is limited to Matt Smith, it’s definitely not. Tennant does it a lot too, and I’m sure Eccleston probably did at least once or twice.
Anna: Eccleston definitely had it at least once– but he gets off lighter here, I think, given it was the first season. By the second or third time Tennant does it, it starts to become really predictable. It’s just lazy, rug-pull/GOTCHA writing that can sometimes bring down an otherwise good episode.
Dani: It bled from Doctor Who into Sherlock, too. Once or twice is fine, but the more we see it the more annoying it becomes.
K: Anyway. The beastie is blind. That’s why it was left behind, why it attacks but doesn’t eat its victims. (D: Then why hasn’t it starved yet?) The Doctor says this explains why it was able to hear them so well in the confession booth. Vincent’s all “Yeah, that’s also why it’s charging at us right this very second…”
He yells at Amy and the Doctor to get back, and brandishes his easel some more. The beastie impales itself on the pointy easel legs. But because Doctor Who is a family friendly show (you know, besides all those sonic screwdriver penis jokes…), we just see Vincent being yanked up into the air and hear the beastie shrieking.
Vincent falls to the floor as the beastie collapses. Vincent babbles that he didn’t mean to, that he just meant to wound it. The Doctor kneels down and says that the beastie is trying to say something. He has a little trouble understanding, but eventually translates it as “I’m afraid. I’m afraid.” He puts a hand on the beastie’s side and comforts it as it dies.
Vincent stares at it sadly, and says that it was afraid and it lashed out, just like the villagers lash out at him and his mental illness. “Sometimes winning, winning is no fun at all…” the Doctor says bitterly. Cut to the three of them lying in a field, staring up at the night sky. They told hands, and Vincent talks about how lucky they all are to be alive, before gushing about the sky and how it’s not all a single colour. The camera pans up to the sky as he talks, and slowly, it turns into a living version of Starry Night. “Everywhere we look, the complex magic of nature blazes before our eyes,” he says.
Anna: Dear god, Tony Curran’s acting is wonderful in this.
K: The next morning, Vincent is bidding them farewell. He says he wishes he could offer them something of value, and holds out Self Portrait With a Straw Hat. The Doctor says he couldn’t possibly accept (D: why the eff not???), and Vincent awkwardly says that he’s not the first to refuse. Amy kisses him on both cheeks, and Vincent jokes that if she ever tires of the Doctor, she can come back and they can have dozens of kids. Amy gets “OMG THAT IS TOO MANY KIDS” face. (D: 100% appropriate reaction.)
Vincent turns to the Doctor, and jovially says that they’ve fought monsters together and won. “On my own, I fear I may not do as well…” he says, his face falling. The Doctor hugs him and looks pensive. Amy and the Doctor leave and head back towards the TARDIS. The Doctor asks Amy if she’s thinking what he’s thinking. She’s thinking about food (same, girl. Always.). He’s all “What? NO!” and calls out to Vincent. He says there’s something he wants to show him.
They lead Vincent to the TARDIS, and the Doctor tells him to brace himself because there’s definitely more to life than normal people imagine, just like they’ve discussed. He throws open the door, and Amy and the Doctor giggle together and Vincent does the OMG BIGGER ON THE INSIDE thing.
He asks the Doctor what everything does, and the Doctor gives him some vague answers before flipping a switch and sending them flying off through time and space. Vincent’s amazed by it all, and says they should head back to the cafe for a drink and so the Doctor can tell him all about the wonders of the universe. The TARDIS lands, and the Doctor’s all “Yeah, great idea! I just want to show you this one thing real quick though…”
They’re in Paris in 2010, right outside the Musee D’Orsay. Not gonna lie, I’m already tearing up. (M: Same.) (D: Pass the tissues, please.) The Doctor tells Vincent that the museum is “home to many of the greatest paintings in history.” Vincent thinks that’s great, but wants to go investigate someone’s radio. The Doctor says there’s something far more important to show him and leads the way inside as Chances by Athlete plays.
Cut to Vincent walking through the museum and marvelling at all the art. He stares in awe at Monet’s work, but the Doctor pulls him onwards. We see (but Vincent doesn’t) signs indicating that they’re heading to the van Gogh room. Excuse me while I grab some tissues. In the van Gogh room, Vincent stares in awe. At his paintings, at the people, at photos being taken of his work.
The Doctor goes over to Bill Nighy, who’s conveniently giving another tour. They exchange more bow tie compliments. Amy turns Vincent towards the paintings as the Doctor leads Bill Nighy towards them. He asks Bill Nighy for his view on van Gogh’s significance in the history of art. “To me, van Gogh is the finest painter of them all,” he starts. Vincent turns towards him, tears welling. Same, dude. Same.
Anna: I’m not crying. Who said I was crying? Maybe YOU’RE crying.
K: Bill Nighy continues. “Certainly, the most popular great painter of all time. The most beloved. His command of colour, the most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world. No one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world’s greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.”
Back in 1890, the TARDIS lands. Vincent bursts out happily, saying that he’s a changed man and he’s going to set out tomorrow to paint more than ever. He hugs the Doctor, saying that he’s the first doctor in his life to actually make a difference. Amy kisses Vincent on the cheek, then rushes back into the TARDIS, telling the Doctor that they should go straight back to the D’Orsay. The TARDIS vworp vworps away, and Vincent walks off, grinning to himself.
Musee D’Orsay. Amy’s super excited to see all the new van Gogh paintings, because she knows time can be rewritten. The Doctor trails after her, a little reluctantly. (D: Dammit, Doctor: you stop that melancholy foreshadowing this instant!!!) They get there just in time to hear Bill Nighy telling a tour group that they’re looking at Vincent van Gogh’s last painting, which he did just before he committed suicide at the age of 37.
Amy tearfully tells the Doctor that they didn’t make a difference at all. The Doctor says that every life is a pile of good and bad things. He hugs her as she cries, and tells her that the good things don’t cancel out the bad things, but the bad things also don’t spoil the good things or make them matter less. What they did was add to Vincent’s pile of good things.
He tells her to look carefully, because they made a couple of little changes. The zoomy cameraman zooms in on Church at Auvers to show us that the beastie’s face is gone from the window. Amy turns away, still teary, then walks pointedly towards one of his paintings of sunflowers, hanging off on its own. The zoomy cameraman earns his pay cheque again, showing us that just above van Gogh’s signature are the words “For Amy.”
You guys, even after spending a thousand hours and 4500 words recapping this episode, I still love it to death. I tend to adore episodes that include actual historical figures (“Tooth and Claw” and “The Shakespeare Code” are standouts for me, as is this one), but I also think this does a really great job of dealing with Vincent’s mental health and emphasising that just because you help your depressed friend have one good day doesn’t mean their depression is gone.
Tony Curran as Vincent is an astonishingly perfect piece of casting, as is Bill Nighy as Dr Black. There are funny bits that are actually funny and that don’t end with the Doctor being a massive dick. We see little moments where Rory’s loss is clearly playing on Amy’s emotions, even if she doesn’t remember him. And while the special effects for the Krafayis were pretty fucking awful, we see so little of it that it hardly matters.
It’s one of the few times for me where the Eleventh Doctor is kind and compassionate, and I love that it doesn’t shy away from depicting Vincent van Gogh’s mental health problems, which – given that it’s a family TV show – it easily could have done. Basically? This episode is practically perfect to me, even though it breaks my heart into a million pieces every time I watch it.
Anna: Agreed. To get a little serious here…. as someone with BPD, this episode means a lot to me. I love that it doesn’t just acknowledge Van Gogh’s mental illness, but actively explores it– even the parts that aren’t tragically beautiful or art-related, like lashing out at his friends or turn-on-a-dime mood swings. The Doctor’s little speech at the end about piles of good things and bad things is one that really stuck with me as a teenager, and made me think about how I deal with both my own mental illness and other people’s.
On less of a bummer note, this is one of few episodes where I can actually stand the Eleventh Doctor– and Amy and Vincent’s relationship is downright precious from start to finish. Plus, when it comes to the many many historical figures Doctor Who has covered, this one is up there with “The Shakespeare Code” and “Unquiet Dead” for me. Tony Curran is excellent, and while the plot is clunky at the best of times, the dialogue – Vincent’s especially – was clearly written with a lot of love for the artist.
Mari: I also really love this episode, though mostly because of Vincent van Gogh and the ending scene at the museum. The alien of the week was such an after-thought, thrown in to have some kind of reason to have the Doctor here with Vincent. It works better if you think of the alien as more of a metaphorical beast, the one that only Vincent can see, the one that lashes out at the villagers and is alone and abandoned. Perhaps that’s reading too much into it, but it’s the only way that really works in the story for me. (A: I don’t think that’s reading too much into it, I was going to say the same thing. It feels intentional, if a little clunky.)
It’s an episode that isn’t spared the clunky plot of most Doctor Who episodes, but still manages to come out on the positive side for its heartfelt look at a historical figure. Now, don’t think too much about posthumous fame because if you do, we’ll all be going to bed tonight in tears.
Dani: Too late.
Next time on Doctor Who: The Doctor has to pretend to be human in Doctor Who S05 E11 – The Lodger.