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Saturday, 5 June 2010

Doctor Who: Vincent And The Doctor

Doctor Who has long been plagued by stunt casting, but a particular quirk of this current regime appears to be stunt writing - such as Men Behaving Badly's Simon Nye with the decidedly mediocre Amy's Choice.

Now we have Richard Curtis, who has never expressed any interest in Doctor Who before, beyond commissioning Steven Moffat to write the Who spoof Curse Of Fatal Death for Comic Relief, and wrote this because his kids wanted him to!

If you were expecting something as hilarious and satirical as Blackadder or as mawkish as Love Actually, then - for the most part - you would have been disappointed with Vincent And The Doctor.

The main story of the episode is very mediocre - The Doctor and Amy spot a monster in the window of a Van Gogh painting in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, that shouldn't be there and nip back to 19th Century Provence to investigate.

They meet up with the mad, passionate Van Gogh (Tony Curran) who, of course, takes a shine to Amy and discover that he is being bothered by an invisible monster that only he can see - which actually looks like a giant, plucked chicken!

The period detail is great, as you'd expect from the BBC, but a lot of this episode appears to be racing through a tick list of Van Gogh tropes - that would probably be totally lost on younger viewers anyway - like one of more earnest episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles... but with an invisible monster shoe-horned in.

Initially I wasn't even sure if Richard Curtis had a good handle on The Doctor. He really ups the slapstick and there are some quite heavy-handed attempts at humour, but little did I realise he'd saved the best for last.

Truth be told, the story probably could have worked without the monster in at all - and all that ridiculous guff about The Doctor's godmother!

Thankfully, the monster is very quickly dealt with and then the good stuff kicks in for the final act.

First, Vincent 'shows' The Doctor and Amy how he sees the world (which I guess is why he could see the chicken-monster) and then the TARDIS travelers are determined to prove to him that he isn't wasting his time and that his art has some value, so take him to the Musée d'Orsay in the 21st Century where he sees all his paintings on display and hears art expert Bill Nighy extolling the genius and talent of Van Gogh.

This is pure Richard Curtis and, through the power of Nighy's words and Curran's performance as the overwhelmed artist, it's unlikely there'll be a dry eye in the house. These scenes echoed the understated brilliance of the conclusion of Blackadder - when the troops went 'over the top'.

Vincent And The Doctor isn't a standalone episode though as it also picks up on Amy's loss - that she doesn't remember - which Vincent senses and, in a moment of panic, The Doctor calls Vincent 'Rory'.

Certainly not the greatest episode of Doctor Who, by a long chalk, if anything this story, optimistically and realistically, dealt with the issues of legacy and historical perspective, and - within the context of the show mythology - the fact that while some events can be rewritten, other points of time will turn out the same no matter how much you wish otherwise.

While, ultimately, I'd prefer writers more immersed in the lore of Doctor Who to write the show - or at least with a track record of sci-fi/fantasy (so the plot is hopefully a bit more than 'find monster, fight monster, defeat monster') - Vincent And The Doctor was saved by the last 15 minutes or so, when Curtis moved back into his comfort zone.

9 comments:

  1. I felt the same way, and really wish they would have had the balls to not have a monster in this episode; the last 15 mins were some of the most emotional in Who history, and only something that could have been done in a time travel story.

    I also gotta hand it to Curran, he played the role marvelously.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I thought it the best episode yet of Moffat's run, and up there for one of the best episodes since the series came back.

    There was a lot more going on in the first thirty minutes than it appears, and the monster was of vital importance to the episode, because a deadly, destructive, misunderstood and invisible creature is also, of course, a great metaphor for depression.

    Brilliant stuff, and it almost made up for years of soft Richard Curtis romcoms. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I got that the monster was a metaphor - I just didn't think it was a particularly subtle or clever one. I believe this story could have worked much better as a Hartnell era "monster-free" historical story.

    ReplyDelete
  4. In all honesty, I did too, at first. But then I realised what the monster meant and represented, and it became clear to me how vital it was, how it enriched the story.

    And of course, it's a kids show, and kids love monsters. Nothing wrong with that.

    ReplyDelete
  5. "...and kids love monsters" And not just kids :D

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'm more with Kelvin on this. I thought it was a great highlight of Series 5 (of New Who, really). I think it's the best Doctor meets a Great Artist story ever (compare to Dickens, Shakespeare and Christie). Note that all of them went for "box ticking" rather than historical accuracy, but in this case, I felt the portrayal was far more realistic and touching.

    A wonderful ending that does make up for the monster story's weaknesses, but to me, plot isn't always the be-all and end-all. When I watch the episodes again (and I invariably do), I already know the plot. I come to it again for character moments and performances, which this really delivered. It was poignant almost from beginning to end because of Rory's ghost.

    Anyway, more thoughts on Thursday, as usual.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'm afraid it did nothing for me - until the last 10 minutes or so, which I thought were wonderfully understated and very moving.

    Although, of course, with all that self-knowledge you have to wonder why Van Gogh still killed himself? Perhaps another giant invisible chicken got him?

    I'd still rate the other three 'Great Artist' stories you mentioned much higher than this one, the only thing that Vincent & The Doctor had over the others was the ability to draw on great visuals which could be tied to the artist-character (whereas all the others, of course, were writers).

    To be frank, as brilliant as Matt Smith is as The Doctor - and I have to say he is one of the best - there's an atmosphere about this season that just isn't gelling with me.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Perhaps it'll do better after we can look back on it as a whole (most seasons have).

    I don't think Vincent would have turned his life around after a visit to the future, especially if he was mentally ill. Maybe he soon started to doubt it ever happened, chalked it off to his madness. Or he couldn't bare the pressure of having to live up to his 2010 reputation.

    ReplyDelete
  9. "Maybe he soon started to doubt it ever happened, chalked it off to his madness. Or he couldn't bare the pressure of having to live up to his 2010 reputation."

    Both of those are very viable options - thanks!

    I'm looking forward to the two-part finale to tie the whole season together and hopefully explain - for my benefit - some of things I felt didn't work this year.

    ReplyDelete

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