Post Game TV Recap DOCTOR WHO S5E10 "Vincent & The Doctor"

The trio is now a duo, and The Doctor is going out of his way to keep Amy distracted.  A visit to a museum reveals a century-old threat in a classic painting, and The Doctor has to do something about it.  It's a  Spoilery Spoilery Night, so paint your palette blue and grey and follow me.


by Richard Curtis

Directed by Johnny Campbell

The Doctor and Amy Pond visit the Musee d'Orsay in Paris to view a collection of works by Vincent Van Gogh.  The Doctor has been taking Amy to a steady stream of amazing places, so much so that Amy teasingly wonders why he's being so nice to her.  The Doctor protests a tad too much, but Amy drops the subject quickly.  Enjoying the exhibit, The Doctor notices something odd.  In one of the paintings, specifically The Church at Auvers, The Doctor notices something that shouldn't be there -- a shadowy figure in one of the windows.  Hastily learning the approximate date of its painting, he and Amy head back to discover what could be hiding in that church.

They arrive in Auvers-sur-Oise and start looking for the painter, likely holed up in a local cafe.  Indeed, they find him at a cafe right out of one of his paintings.  Far from the respected man he is in the present, the locals refer to Van Gogh as a madman who doesn't pay his bar tab.  As if on cue, Vincent comes out of the cafe, offering to pay for a bottle of wine with one of his paintings, an offer the owner finds easy to refuse.  The Doctor offers to pay and is rudely rebuffed, but when a shapely redhead offers to share a bottle with him, he's stricken and joins her.  The Doctor introduces himself, but Vincent mistakenly assumes he's a doctor sent by his brother to help his mental issues.  Vincent is in a dark mood, callously insulting his own work.  The Doctor starts asking about his work, particularly if he's done any churches, or plans to. 

Their conversation is interrupted by a local who screams that her daughter has been savagely attacked in an alley.  When The Doctor and his friends try to help, the crowd grows ugly, throwing stones at Vincent, demanding that "madman" leave.  They seem to blame the attack on him in some way.  They all return to Vincent's home, which is littered with his work.  He uses one as a coaster, much to the horror of The Doctor.  As they talk about his love of art, Vincent slowly begins to rave, obviously entering a manic phase.  He talks about nature screaming at him, demanding him to paint it; he claims to be able to "hear" colors.  A scream from outside causes them to run to Amy, who has been knocked over by something unseen.  Vincent looks into the garden and starts screaming.  The Doctor assumes Vincent is hallucinating, until the "hallucination" knocks him over.  While he and Amy can see nothing, apparently Vincent can, and tried to fight the unseen threat with a pitchfork.

Scaring it away, they return to the cottage, where Van Gogh grabs a canvas, hastily painting it over to provide a surface to paint the beast (and thus obliterating Irises).  The Doctor takes the drawing and returns to the TARDIS, using a scanner device to identify the beast.  Alas, the scanner cannot interpret the impressionist's interpretation of the beast.  The Doctor grabs the scanner and prepares to bring it back to the cottage.  While he cannot see the beast, the scanner can its a Krafayis...and it's right behind him.  It chases him through the narrow streets of the city, losing him in a crowded alley.  Amy catches up with The Doctor, unable to deal with Van Gogh's snoring. 

The next morning, the pair awaken the artist, and Amy has filled his yard with sunflowers in various pots and vases, suggesting he try painting them.  Ironically, he says he's never cared for them, but at her suggestion, finds them a challenge.  The Doctor shows Vincent a printout of the Krafayis, explaining that they're pack animals, but occasionally one gets left behind as the pack travels from planet to planet, which is obviously what happened here.  But since Van Gogh can see it, they have a chance to find and kill this one.  Vincent agrees to help, and The Doctor realizes that this is a very dangerous move, putting such an important historic figure in such risk.  The Doctor goes to get Vincent, only to find him weeping uncontrollably in his bed, in a fit of depression.  The Doctor said that once the monster was defeated, they'd leave and get out of his hair, something that he finds terribly sad.  The Doctor realizes that Vincent is too fragile to place in danger, but almost as soon as he plans to search on his own, Vincent appears, explaining that if brave Amy Pond can soldier on through her sadness, so must he.  Amy assures him she's not sad, but Vincent can feel it - an terrible sense of loss in her heart.

The Doctor will use his scanner to allow him to see the beast as well, and Vincent and Amy will remain outside of the Church, safe.  This does not happen.  The alien destroys The Doctor's scanner almost immediately, rendering him helpless, and when Amy joins him, they have no option but to hide.  The beast seems able to find them no matter where they hide, no matter how silent they remain.  Vincent storms into the room, attracting the beast's attention away from The Doctor and Amy, fending the beast off with a chair.  After a brief chase, The Doctor starts to discuss his plan...accidentally calling Vincent "Rory". Vincent runs off, and The Doctor makes an attempt to reason with the monster. That doesn't go well.  When Vincent returns, armed with his easel and its spiked legs, he tells the Doctor what he sees.  The beast is blundering around the room, feeling its way.  The Doctor comes to a realization - the creature has been blinded somehow, which is why its pack left him, and why its hearing is so good.  So good that it's attracted to the Doctor's monologuing and charges at the three.  Vincent rushes forward with the easel, spearing the beast and bringing it down.  It dies quickly from the wound, and Vincent is distraught that he's killed what was revealed to be a wounded, albeit still dangerous creature.

The trio rest in the grass outside the church, and Vincent, perhaps from what must be one mother of an adrenalin high, is entering a manic phase again, and attempts to explain how he sees the world, with screaming colors and patterns.  As he does so, we see the black sky transform into a real vision of his classic "starry night" painting, a vision that moves even The Doctor.  Vincent knows they'll be leaving soon, and he tells them how much he'll miss them.  Back at his home, he tries to present them with a gift, a small painting of himself wearing a straw hat; they have to refuse, though they can't tell him why.  He makes it clear that though they've fought monsters together, he's not sure how well he'll be able to fight his own when he's alone.  The Doctor makes a big decision. 

Three people return to the Musee d'Orsay in Paris in modern day.  Vincent Van Gogh walks through an exhibition of his own work, amazed to learn that his work not only survives, but is revered.  The Doctor asks Doctor Black to talk about his opinion of Van Gogh for a bit; the rapturous lecture brings tears of joy to Vincent's face, and he hugs the rumpled lecturer.  They all return to his home, Vincent filled with a joy he can't explain.  He can't wait to paint the next day.  They wish him well, and Amy insists she and The Doctor return to the Musee again, expecting there to be dozens of new works of art, his new knowledge helping to keep from taking his life.  Alas, it is not to be - he still killed himself at 37.  The exhibit is all but unchanged, save for two things.  The monster is no longer in the window of the church, and on one wall is a still life of a pot of sunflowers...but now, above his signature, is the dedication, "For Amy".

Historic episodes are a crap shoot, especially if the narrative plays fast and loose with the details of the facts of the participants.  In this case, the story survives that issue, giving us a rollicking adventure that may not be a good source of Cliffs Notes about the painter, but if that's why you're watching the show, you really need to get out more.  Richard Curtis does a good job of addressing Van Gogh's tortured psyche, connecting it to today's issues of depression and bipolar conditions.  They don't cure him, they just do what they can to help him along, which is all we can really do for people with such issues. 

This is the second episode in a row that the bad guy is killed accidentally by a human.  As opposed to the torture of a sentient creature in Cold Blood, here it's more an act of self defense against a feral and panicked beast, which explains the difference in The Doctor's reaction to the two scenarios.  As opposed to Ambrose who tries to justify her choices and actions, Vincent feels true remorse for what he did.  A similar action, seen two different ways.


Tony Curran (Vincent Van Gogh) - While you didn't technically get to see him on screen, Tony played the Invisible Man in the film adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which makes him fighting an invisible force here somewhat coincidental. He's had a steady career in TV and film on both sides of the Atlantic; recently he appeared in 24. He'll be in the upcoming Tintin film (along with half of the people who've ever been on Doctor Who, apparently)

Bill Nighy (Doctor Black) was not credited for his performance, but there's no missing him.  He played Shaun's Stepfather Philip in Shaun of the Dead and had a cameo in Edgar Wright's next film Hot Fuzz. He played Slartibartfast in The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy and Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean II and III.  His hemming and hawing delivery is classic, and he brings great fun to everything in which he appears.  Whofen will recall another pair of British comedians in a Parisian museum - John Cleese and Eleanor Bron are seen admiring the TARDIS as it sits inexplicably among the art in City of Death.

Richard Curtis (Writer) - Starting as a writer on Not the 9 o'Clock News, a seminal British comedy show that brought us most of the previous generation of British comedians like Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, Curtis established a long working relationship with Rowan Atkinson, a partnership that brought us both Black Adder and Mr. Bean. He's also responsible for the classic romcom Four Weddings And A Funeral.  He and Atkinson teamed up again for the Comic Relief special that brought Doctor Who back to TV, The Curse of Fatal Death.  Curtis executive produced, Atkinson starred, and it was written by (now, let's not always see the same hands...) one Steven Moffat. Moffat has jokingly said that having Richard write for the series is his way of paying him back for the chance to achieve his dream of writing for Who.

Andrew Byrne (School child) - it's likely more of a coincidence and testament to the relatively small actors' pool in the UK, but Andrew played one of Dr. Tom Jackman's twin sons in Moffat's take on the horror classic Jekyll.

MONSTER REPORT - The Krafayis is a new monster, but is not the first enemy which has been hard for The Doctor to find.  The Visians, the only local native species of the planet Mira attacked The Doctor and his companions in The Dalek Master Plan. The Swarm, the enemy from The Invisible Enemy, was a microscopic virus that transmitted itself telepathically to its victims who became its agents. Omega (already rumored to be part of the next season's story arc) was reduced to invisible and intangible anti-matter in the anniversary adventure The Three Doctors. The Spiridons had the ability to turn invisible, a process the Daleks tried (and luckily failed) to learn in Planet of the Daleks. And this list doesn't even count all the spaceships concealed in cloaking devices, Perception filters (drink up!) or other technological gadgets to hide themselves.

BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS - Trivia and production details

IT'S AMAZING HOW THE BRITISH COUNTRYSIDE LOOKS NOTHING AT ALL LIKE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA - The Doctor Who Crew return to Trogir, Coatia for this episode, the same location for The Vampires of Venice.

I PAINT WHAT I SEE, CHILD - We've had three stories in the new series that deal with great creative people, and a common theme that such people's brains simply work differently.  Gareth Roberts (who we'll be hearing from again next week) started the trend with The Shakespeare Code and Unicorn and the Wasp, featuring William Shakespeare and Agatha Christie respectively.  In both stories, it's the way the creators perceive the world that played a major part in saving the day. 

While many believe that Van Gogh had depression, or bipolar disorder, another theory is that the heavy metals in his paints caused brain damage.  He mixed his own paints, as many artists of the time did, and often, instead or washing out his brushes in water, he'd allegedly swish them around his saliva-filled mouth.  He'd spit out the paints, but the trace amounts absorbed over the years may well have contributed to his issues.

The Doctor has met other great artists in history as well.  He knew DaVinci well enough to scribble all over his canvases, advising him to just paint over them, a move that would allow modern science to determine which of the assorted Monas Lisa was the original in the Baker adventure City of Death.  He mentions knowing Michelangelo Picasso as well.

"Dark night, very starry" - The line in the episode is a double reference - it's a direct reference to the iconic painting by Van Gogh, but it's also referenced in the opening line to Don McLean's "Vincent", his song about the painter.

"Less than a year before he killed himself "- As is rather standard for episodes where The Doctor meets historical figures (at least in recent years), the timeline of Van Gogh's life is tinkered with quite a bit for dramatic purposes.  The painting at the heart of the story, The Church at Auvers, was indeed painted in the last months of his life, part of a massive flurry of activity, as Doctor Black mentions, but it's during a period that he was committed to a mental hospital, and he painted it from memory.  And sadly, he killed himself less than a couple months after the timeframe of the story - in July of 1890.

Similarly, while he painted many still lifes of Sunflowers ("The sunflower is mine in a way" he was once quoted as saying)  the specific one featured in the story, Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers was painted in 1888, two years before the events of the story.

Ironically, when Doctor Who was first conceived, it was seen as an opportunity to educate children in history, and the details of visits to the past would be as correct as possible.  Once the Daleks became such a smash hit, those plans fell to the wayside and the more science-fictiony stories became the order of the day. 

WHAT'S IN A NAME - American viewers may have been confused by the various pronunciations of the artist's last name. Van "Go," Van "Goff," and Van "Goch" (with the scratchy, German/Yiddish pronunciation of "ch") are all correct, depending on region, dialect, and country of origin.

BIG BAD UPDATE - There's no Crack in this episode, but the events of last week are still a major part of this one.  Rory is nowhere to be seen in this episode, but his shadow hangs over everything.  From the Doctor trying to keep Amy diverted, to Vincent seeing the loss in heart that she's not even consciously aware of to the Freudian slip by the Doctor, he is conspicuous in his absence. 

NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO - It's time for the funny episode.  Trapped on Earth with the TARDIS out of phase, The Doctor must find a place to stay -- naturally he chooses the flat where people have been going missing mysteriously.

Was this slightly "interlude" episode just what you needed, or were you miffed by the apparent lack of overall mythology?

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