Doctor Who reviews: Vincent And The Doctor
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
The greatest painter of all time ends up fighting an invisible space-turkey in this nonetheless touching Who outing...
A lyrical entry from series 5 this week, as this single-parter historical finds The Doctor and Amy unearthing evidence of an alien incursion during the last year of Vincent Van Gogh's life, and so make a dash in the TARDIS to see what's at the bottom of it (isn't it strange how the TARDIS can land exactly when and where it wants to when it's important to the plot, yet is a temporal roulette-wheel when there's no particular danger to be pursued?).
The Doctor and Amy find Vincent Van Gogh (Tony Curran) as mad and drunk as ever he was portrayed in the final months of his life, but rather more hospitable and open-minded than one might expect. It seems that the TARDIS translation device has given him a Scottish accent like Amy, to our ears.
Van Gogh's extraordinary ability to see what others can not extends apparently even to the invisible alien space-chicken that has become the terrorising scourge of Ravoux (imagine Bernard Matthews' attempt to breed an ultra-chicken gone very, very wrong), giving Jack The Ripper a run for his money in the back alleys of the French town...
The show has tremendous fun with the lack of regard for Van Gogh's work in his own time; The Doctor winces as the world's greatest painter casually sets down his coffee cup on work later to be valued in its millions.
But the very madness and open-mindedness of the Van Gogh character shortcuts a lot of that 'psychic paper' business; this man's mind, though lonely and tormented, believes deep in his soul that there is more in the universe to see and know than mortal eyes can comprehend, so his two battles with the space-chicken that only he can see are off-beat, but not as much of a leap as if The Doctor had to persuade Chaucer of how much larger and stranger the universe is than most imagine. Van Gogh was not quite 'of this world' either, and takes a quick trip in the TARDIS in his stride towards the show's end.
The ghost of Rory lingers from his temporal erasure in last week's Cold Blood. At one point The Doctor even mistakenly calls Van Gogh 'Rory', Amy is suspicious as to why The Doctor is being so nice to her, she seems to be sad but doesn't understand why, and the whole business somewhat echoes the erasure of Donna's memory in the time of David Tennant.
There are some genuinely touching moments concerning the plight of the valiant but as-yet unappreciated painter, and his predictable - and predictably hopeless - infatuation with Amy.
Vincent And The Doctor dealt strongly enough with the issue of suicide as to provide a helpline number in the closing credits for those affected by the issue, and The Doctor's closing speech about how the good and evil parts of our lives cannot cancel each other out, but form the sum - and challenges - of who we are, was genuinely moving.
The Beeb once again saved money on a semi-invisible monster, but provided some nice recreations of the final locale of Van Gogh. This particular 'historical' additionally fulfilled Doctor Who's oldest remit - to educate younger viewers on historical and cultural subjects that they may not have run across yet, or at least to give depth and feeling to dry history.
It is perhaps because Richard Curtis's script had more to say about Van Gogh than aliens, that the giant space-chicken proved something of a MacGuffin in this episode, and familiarly turned out to be just another misunderstood creature that was trying to defend itself and being branded a monster, echoing the sentiments in the aborted 'congress' in Cold Blood.
It was nice to see Bill Nighy turn up in this episode in a cameo as a refined museum curator; the actor has been put forward so many times for the role, and looks such a fit for the program that its sad to consider his years have presumably banned him from adopting the Time Lord's mantle in a youth-obsessed media environment.
Comedy stalwart Curtis seemed to feel oddly unhumorous in this episode, perhaps because of the dark subject matter at the heart of it, and his Pulp Fiction reference fell flat, along with a few other lines. But he had something more important to say, and rounded the subject off in the best spirit of Doctor Who - with acceptance, philosophy and humanity.
The big question is this: can we really believe Matt Smith's Doctor when he says, of the Sonic Screwdriver, "I think I'm just going to use this for screwing in screws from now on'...? Heaven knows he was blasting all over creation with it during Cold Blood. The magic swiss-army knife has gone in and out of favour with producers over the last nearly half century, and one wonders if Steven Moffat is weaning us off it for a little while.
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