Monday, 4 January 2016

Vincent and the Doctor written by Richard Curtis and directed by Jonny Campbell

This story in a nutshell: The title says it all…

Nutty Professor: Whilst I was already convinced this was the episode that my mom finally fell in love with Matt Smith as the Doctor and got over her pining for David Tennant. The almost flirtatious way that the Doctor and the museum guide admire each others bow ties always makes me smile. He’s not that kind of Doctor. Matt Smith seems to revel in any chance to be a bit silly and yet he never comes across as being frivolously so (a far cry from his later seasons) and so the energetic way he dashes around the courtyard waving the pole around to attack the invisible creature is quite the delight. He takes absolute delight in tossing old junk out of the way so he can look for his invisible alien detector, which apparently was a gift from his Godmother. His experiences are that surprisingly there is always hope despite all the terrible things that he has seen. Fascinating to see that whilst the Doctor is confident at confronting whole armies (such as he will in a few episodes time) but when it comes to one mentally ill man he is awkward and shy. The Doctor is armed with over confidence, a briefcase and a small screwdriver. His camp little dancing to the soothing music of the TARDIS makes me want to kiss him. When Paul Cornell talks about Sylvester McCoy being all sweet and retired and so easy to fall in love with (something I occasionally saw) I apply exactly the same description to Matt Smith in this episode. I'm not sure there is another moment where he is more comfortable playing the Doctor and it's the most unconventional episode of all.

Scots Tart: The Doctor is being super nice to Amy at the moment and taking her exactly where she wants to go and she smells a rat. Naturally. Amy’s one moment of ‘can't she get swallowed by a Bandril?' (trust me to only have one in an episode is a rare and treasurable thing) was when she told Van Gogh and the bar owner to both shut up and she will buy the drinks. It's that smug, superior tone that grates and the way she thinks she can talk to anybody the way she likes. But as I said, it's just one moment in an otherwise faultless episode for the character. For the most part she is desperately sweet and sensitive. See - it can be done! She knows that Vincent will take his own life but when the Doctor puts it into words she cannot handle it especially when he says it will be in only a few months time. It's one of those times when your foreknowledge of the future is extremely painful. Amy suggests that she is not really the marrying kind, another subtle touch of the arc not getting in anyone’s way. Amy looks genuinely pained that they didn’t manage to save Vincent from committing suicide and the Doctor’s attempts to cheer her up are some of their nicest moments together. I don't think I ever liked Amy more than the moment where she sheds a tear for her lost Rory without even knowing who he is.

Earless Artist: It's one of those freak occurrences that the person who happens to be the spitting image of the historical character just happens to be the best person for the part. The year before his death is described as ‘the most astonishing outpouring of art in history.’ In his lifetime he was a commercial disaster, selling only one portrait to the sister of a friend. The pre-credits sequence gives you everything you need to know about Van Gogh before we meet him and taps into your sympathies for the man effortlessly. He’s come to accept that the one person who is going to truly appreciate his paintings is him. You forget that Van Gogh doesn’t know how revered his artwork will be and the Doctor and Amy’s horrified reaction to him daubing white paint all over a picture to draw the creature really brings it home. Sunflowers are disgusting and a challenge, this man is truly a genius. With the Doctor he has fought monster together and won and on his own he fears that he will not do as well. To use your pain to portray the magnificence of the world is Vincent Van Gogh’s gift to the art world and to the human race. This is an extraordinary study of an extraordinary man, one that refuses to shy away from the horrors that he faced in life and celebrates his achievements despite his condition. Curtis might not seem like a natural fit for Doctor Who but this is one of the finest Matt Smith episodes.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Every time I step outside I feel that nature is shouting at me! Come on! Come on! Come on…capture my mystery!’
‘Is this how time normally passes? Really slowly. In the right order.’
‘Will you follow him?’ ‘Of course!’
‘Be good to yourself and be kind to yourself.’
‘That strange wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the worlds greatest artist but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.’
‘I still can’t believe one of the haystacks was in the museum. How embarrassing.’
‘The way I see it every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things but vice versa the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things.’
‘The ultimate ginge.’

The Good Stuff: Whilst much of the imagery in this episode is striking, I can think of few openings that top the crows flying from the glowing corn as something invisible approaches the camera for gripping you instantly with visual beauty. Bill Nighy is one of those actors that you always hope will wind his way into Doctor Who one day but never think he will. He’s a joy in this episode simply because he makes such an impact with very few scenes, that’s the skill of a good performer. The cat on the cobblestones as the TARDIS materialises in the alley is one of my favourite TARDIS landings ever. The set designers should be extremely proud of recreating the café exterior with such an eye to detail. Is the accordion music in the bar the Doctor’s theme for the season? Curtis cutely dresses up the first Krafayis as a psychotic episode of Van Gogh’s before the Doctor realises there is a genuine threat present. That's a genius way of adding a monster to the story and show the audience the sort of episodes that Van Gogh is experiencing. Watching these two great men being led a merry dance by this invisible creature is a joy to watch, the show pulling off farce (my least favourite form of comedy) with real style. It's lovely that with all the technology at its disposal Doctor Who of this day and age will still plump for invisible aliens (it's not a budgetary thing because they still have to go to the lengths of creating the beast in CGI and the physical effects probably cost more anyway) and watching it pursue the Doctor through the streets is surprisingly tense (Blair Witch aside, I always love dramatic handheld camera work). Plus Amy turning up around the corner makes the audience laugh and jump which is always a great feeling. I’m not sure what is more striking; the sunlight streaming into Van Gogh’s bedroom or the truly stunning image of Amy surrounded by sunflowers. Both are beautiful images. We are reminded of the tragic events at the end of the last episode in a very delicate moment showing how subtle this seasons arc can be handled if necessary. The Doctor and Amy in the confession box is another exquisitely lit scene. Doctor Who is not the sort of show that discusses the effects of depression and there is a very telling moment where the Doctor tries to and Vincent tells him to shut up – the episode has already shown us in some very powerful scenes that Vincent is unstable and it doesn’t need to push it further (like most shows would) in dissecting his apparent madness. The double twist of discovering that the Krafayis is blind and then its accidental murder completely turns the simple plot of its head and guts the viewer. But it is all done in a very subtle manner that doesn't bash the sentiment over the viewers head as some episodes can. Seeing the world through Vincent’s eyes is sheer visual poetry and it will be a long time before the series offers anything that potent again. Even the touch of the TARDIS covered in posters that have burnt off in the vortex is perfect. It feels like everybody is working really hard to make this episode as visually and emotionally memorable as possible. The ending made me choke with tears when I first watched this. Simon and I were sitting on the sofa with tears streaming down our faces hugging each other with the sheer magic of it. Can you think of a more amazing gift the Doctor could have given Vincent than to realise that his work would eventually be hailed as the work of a genius? It's hugely uplifting and beautiful and Curran’s dizzying reaction is captured to perfection.

Result: Vincent and the Doctor is a truly sophisticated episode of Doctor Who and one of the few moments of television that actually brought tears to me eyes. It's awesome than an episode with such gorgeous character drama and one that studies schizophrenia with such sensitivity still has time for a giant invisible chicken roaming the streets of Paris. Visually it is one of my all time favourite Doctor Who stories, every frame has been exquisitely lit and designed to provide a feast for the eyes and some of the imagery is appropriately as dazzling as a Van Gogh painting itself. Matt Smith and Karen Gillan give their best performances of the fifth series and Richard Curtis treats the pair of them to some wonderful dialogue and interplay.If this is how likeable this pair can be together...why hasn't it quite clicked like this until now? But the star of the show is Tony Curran who takes a potentially unsympathetic role and creates a Vincent Van Gogh who is entirely credible and great fun to be around and before the episode he will have broken your heart. The intimacy and chemistry between these three characters is extraordinary. Some people might not like this slower, more character based drama but I found it intoxicating and with the Angel two parter it is my favourite episode of series five: 10/10


Anthony Pirtle said...

By the end of the episode I wanted Vincent as a companion. Would have been ridiculous and terrible, but I wanted it, damnit!

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