Doctor Who – Series 5, Episode 10: Vincent & The Doctor

This is a review I wrote for entertaining telly blog Watch With Mothers. You can read it on their site here. OR, below. Whatever. Although if you read it on Watch With Mothers you can find an exclusive extract from Raised By Bees in the comments section.

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‘Vincent Van Gogh. Bit of a miserable bugger. Good artist. Cut off his own ear. Liked… sunflowers. Lived in, er, Holland? France?’

The above is a summary of everything I knew (or didn’t know) about Van Gogh before Saturday’s episode Of Doctor Who.

I now also know the following: He can see giant, invisible, alien space chickens.

(Don’t worry. You don’t need to bother updating Van Gogh’s Wikipedia page with that info. I’ve already done it).

Saturday’s episode was written by Richard ‘Blackadder’ Curtis. When I first heard Curtis was going to be involved in this series of Doctor Who, I desperately hoped we’d see the Doctor (preferably played by Rowan Atkinson) go rat hunting with Baldrick in a turnip field. I was almost right. Replace ‘rat’ with ‘invisible-alien-cat-parrot-turkey’, ‘Baldrick’ with ‘Van Gogh’ and ‘turnip’ with ‘corn’ and you’ve pretty much summed up the whole episode.

The Doctor and his pet human are on a day trip to the Musee D’Orsay when he notices an ‘evil’ face peering from the window of one of Van Gogh’s last works: Church at Auvers, painted, we’re told, not long before his suicide.

He and Amy zoom back to the olden days and encounter an impressively ginger Vincent being chucked out of one of his more famous paintings, Café Terrace at Night. The café manager tells Van Gogh nobody wants his paintings because they’re rubbish. He’s a misunderstood genius, just like me – nobody will publish my 1,000 page semi-autobiographical novel, Raised by Bees.

What lifts ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ above similar deadly-alien-meets-famous-historical-figure episodes is Tony Curran’s excellent performance as Van Gogh. His demons overshadow the more palpable menace of the Krafayis – a sort of invisible parrot dinosaur with claws who, like ET, can’t get home. But unlike ET it mauls people, hides in churches and can only be seen by troubled artists (and the Doctor, but only with the aid of a rubbish contraption that looks like a rear view mirror attached to an abseiling harness).

Despite the episode’s highly impressionistic, rose-tinted view of Van Gogh, I couldn’t help but sympathise with Curtis’ portrayal of him as a misunderstood, visionary outcast with incredible insight. Yes, episode 10 was full of plot-holes and factual inaccuracies, but the exploration of Van Gogh’s loneliness and unrecognised talent made you forget the various anachronisms – unless you’re a leading Van Gogh scholar, in which case I suspect you watched this whilst frothing at the mouth and shouting things like ‘but he didn’t live there then! He lived in Arles!’

Curtis isn’t the world’s greatest writer, but anyone who’s seen the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth (not to mention his sappy romantic movies) will know he’s an expert emotion-tweaker. The final scene where the Doctor takes Van Gogh to the present day to see his works displayed was more moving than a Lassie Come Home / Bambi double feature. Bill Nighy’s cameo as the museum curator was admirably understated, and his praise of Vincent seemed invested with real feeling.

I’d actually like this to be the start of an ongoing series where two people go back in time in a phone box collecting historical figures and bringing them into the present day. Socrates, for example. Or Billy the Kid. I know – they should form a rock band!

Oh, wait, hang on. That’s Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, isn’t it?

Never mind.

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About Hilary Wardle
Hilary is a freelance journalist and copywriter who writes for a wide range of websites, magazines and newspapers, including Buzzfeed, MSN, The Poke, Chortle, the Guardian and the Independent. She specialises in arts and entertainment, comedy, video games and viral content. Contact her at Hilary3@gmail.com.

One Response to Doctor Who – Series 5, Episode 10: Vincent & The Doctor

  1. Joe says:

    Loved the humor in your analysis. What I wouldn’t have given to hear the Doctor tell Amy, “I have a cunning plan…” I was totally happy to overlook the rearranging of real history in order to tell a better story (Time can be rewritten, remember! LOL). An invisible parrot dinosaur? Gee, when you say it like that, it sounds a bit dodgy…

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