(MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD)
“Carving colours into shapes”
After watching ‘Vincent And The Doctor’ more than a few times, I’m still not sure of how I feel about it! Not a good sign for a review, is it? I don’t love it, and I don’t hate it…somewhere in between, maybe? It was an intense character piece, no doubt, but I found the beauty in the scenery, rather than in the writing or characters. Seriously, this is the most stunning Doctor Who episode to date. Forget worlds conjured by CGI; this episode almost matched the beauty of Van Gogh’s paintings. Maybe I was too entranced by the beauty to distil the true nature of the episode? Or maybe I thought that Richard Curtis and Doctor Who should never meet…
Let’s get it out of the way first: the episode was beautiful. There were scenes that melted exquisitely into Van Gogh’s paintings, or vice versa. The opening scene, with the shaking of the barley, was superb. We see the scene and then Van Gogh’s painting. The first scene at the museum was vital in the storyline; we were seeing Van Gogh’s paintings through Amy, specifically her guide to the Van Gogh exhibition. When Amy’s sat in the middle of a hoard of sunflowers (to convince Van Gogh to create his famous ‘Vase With Twelve Sunflowers’), we witnessed a scene of elementary beauty. Later, Vincent explains to The Doctor and Amy how he “hears” colour, his true philosophy of painting. The sky slowly turns into Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” It’s breathtakingly beautiful. And it shows that not even The Doctor can understand human genius. “I’ve see many things my friend, but you’re right, nothing quite as wonderful as the things you see.” It’s important that Van Gogh’s self-portrait is positioned above the title Van Gogh’s Gallery. Yet we only see his eyes and forehead. The implication is clear: we are seeing everything through Vincent’s eyes.
“I hear the song of your sadness. You’ve lost someone, I think”
The parallels between Amy and Vincent were strewn throughout the episode; both ginger, both “from Holland”, both with a “beast below”, both with something deep inside. Van Gogh was aware of his depression, festering deep inside and eventually leading to his suicide. Amy, however, has forgotten Rory, but as was made clear in the episode, there is still sadness in her, as Vincent notices. He hears the song of her sadness. And throughout the episode, Vincent and Amy gather some sort of affection for each other. Amy’s admired Vincent for a long time, and wonders why The Doctor is being so kind by taking her to a Van Gogh exhibition. He’s worried that the memory of Amy resides somewhere in her subconscious; or he’s guilty that he was indirectly responsible for Rory’s death and subsequent erasing from time.
The “enemy” here, like in so many of the “enemies” is this series, is invisible, hidden beneath the surface. The Krafayis is a “brutal creature,” left behind by his own kind, lost in time. And only Van Gogh can see him; is this because of his visual genius, or because they are the same? Both are left behind by their own kind. Van Gogh lies unappreciated and outcast. And of course, the Krafayis isn’t really an “enemy” in the true sense of the word. It is a creature simply scared and afraid. Apart from the Daleks, has there been a true enemy this series? Look back, and the “enemies” are usually fighting for their life, or their survival as a species. The Krafayis represents the ‘invisible’ in more way than one. It’s there, bubbling beneath the surface, causing havoc in the ‘real world,’ yet still invisible for all that. Rory, anyone?
“Sometimes winning is no fun at all”
Even after a few rewatches the episode for the second time, I still can’t decide how I feel about the episode. I always have a few tears in my eyes at the end. But for an episode of true beauty (how many times is that now? At least 50), why can’t I decide on this episode? Maybe it’s the prejudice of Richard Curtis writing it. Maybe I’m never in the mood to have her emotions manipulated in the way that Curtis likes to manipulate them. After so many positive feelings about the episode, why is there still doubt lying beneath? Compared to any of the historical character episodes, it’s brilliant. Dickens, Christie, Churchill…they’ve all been included in terrible episodes. The historical characters are often caricatured. References to their history are unsubtly thrown out. This episode felt like a true (or as close as possible) representation of Vincent Van Gogh. I will leave you with a famous Van Gogh quote, one that may have connotations for this series of Doctor Who: “I dream of painting then I paint my dream.”
VERDICT: 7/10. A beautiful character piece, both about The Doctor and Amy and Vincent Van Gogh. But did anything really happen?
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(Click here for my review of Doctor Who, Series 5, Episode 9: Cold Blood)