by Catriona Mills

Live-blogging Doctor Who Season Five: "Vincent and the Doctor"

Posted 20 June 2010 in by Catriona

Let’s see if I can do justice to this episode, shall we? I admit, I was highly uncertain about a Richard Curtis episode, despite being ambivalent about Notting Hill, fond of the funeral scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and devoted to Blackadder (from season two onwards). But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt here.

Of course, for now I’m just shouting at the weather bulletin, which makes me inexplicably angry.

We open on cornfields, waving in the breeze. No, not waving: thrashing.

They’re being painted by Vincent Van Gogh—and that’s not a spoiler, because we cut to Bill Nighy, commenting on the astonishing output of Van Gogh in the last year of his life. Amy and the Doctor are looking at the exhibition. Amy says he’s being so nice to her, and she finds it suspicious.

DOCTOR: It’s not suspicious. There’s nothing to be suspicious about.
AMY: Okay, I was joking. Why aren’t you?

I can’t explain how intensely charming Bill Nighy is in this scene. Amy’s thrilled to see Vincent’s painting of the church, but the Doctor is distracted by an evil face in the window.

DOCTOR: I know evil when I see it, and I see it in that window.

He interrupts Bill, claiming to be from the Ministry of Art and Artiness, and wants to know when the church was painted—preferably without a long explanation.

Bill says less than a year before Vincent killed himself. They compliment each other on their bowties, and then the Doctor literally shoves Amy out of the room, telling her this is a matter of life and death.


They materialise in a small alley, and head off to look for Vincent in the local cafe, which looks exactly like one of Vincent’s paintings, with a little less impasto.

Oh, this is a beautiful episode.

The barmaids laugh uproariously at the idea that Vincent is a good painter, while Vincent himself comes out offering the owner a painting for one last drink. The Doctor offers to buy either a drink or the painting.

VINCENT: One, I pay for my own drinks, thank you. Two, no one ever buys any of my paintings or they’d be laughed out of town. So I suggest if you want to stay in town, you keep your cash to yourself. Three, your friend’s cute, but you should keep your big nose out of other people’s business.

Amy jumps in, and says she’ll buy a bottle of wine, which she’ll share with whomever she wants to.

Vincent’s happy with that.

They sit and chat, with Vincent asking if Amy’s from Holland, like him. (Hee!) The Doctor introduces himself, and Vincent bristles, thinking that his brother Theo has sent yet another doctor after him. He flirts a bit with Amy, in a rather rusty fashion, until the Doctor manages to introduce the idea of the church.

But then they’re interrupted by screams, as a young girl is found torn to strips in the street. The townspeople turn on Vincent, pelting him with rubbish. He and the Doctor and Amy flee.

VINCENT: Where are you staying tonight?
DOCTOR: Oh! You’re very kind.

Amy’s in fangirl heaven, staying over-night with Vincent Van Gogh, and him telling her to keep clear of “Bedroom in Arles” because it’s “still wet.” She boggles at it, but his kitchen/sitting room is cluttered with his paintings.

He pops a coffee pot down on one of his paintings as the Doctor tells him to be careful with them, because they’re “precious.”

Only precious to him, says Vincent, but Amy says they’re precious to her, too.

Some time later, Vincent is ranting about colour, until the Doctor, looking uncomfortable, suggests he’s had enough coffee, and should perhaps have a nice cup of camomile tea. He calls for Amy to make it, but Amy’s outside, screaming, because she’s been attacked by something she didn’t see while she was outside looking at the paintings.

Vincent grabs a forked stick, and the Doctor tries to calm him down on the grounds that there’s nothing there, until he’s twice thrown through the air by some invisible adversary.

It’s clear only Vincent can see the creature, because the Doctor’s thrashing around in an entirely other direction while Vincent drives it off.

He asks Vincent what the creature looks like, and Vincent says he’ll shown them, painting over a rather lovely painting to scratch a charcoal picture of something that looks like a cockatoo.

The Doctor legs it with the picture, telling Amy to keep an eye on Vincent.

DOCTOR: I’ll be back before you can say, “Where’s he got to?”
DOCTOR: Not that fast!
DOCTOR: But pretty fast. See you round.

Back at the TARDIS, the Doctor’s mucking around with an embarrassing present from a two-headed godmother, which scans images and spits out an identification. It works on the Doctor, spitting out a picture of William Hartnell, but not on Vincent’s painting.

DOCTOR: Not accurate enough! This would never happen with Gainsborough, or one of those proper painters.

He steps out of the TARDIS into broad daylight, and the invisible creature pops up behind him. The Doctor mistakes its reflected image for a delayed response from the machine, but it’s not—he gallops through the town, throwing things behind him. But the creature leaves, and Amy pops up, terrifying the Doctor.

At Vincent’s house, the Doctor throws the doors open onto Vincent asleep in the bedroom at Arles—and that is a magnificent set. Just glorious. The Doctor calls Vincent out to breakfast, telling him that Amy has a surprise for him: she’s surrounded by sunflowers, which Vincent says aren’t his favourite—but, he admits, they might be a challenge.

He tells Vincent he needs to paint the church, to attract the Krafayis, the cockatoo-creature.

DOCTOR: Take my word for it. If you paint it, he will come.

He tells Vincent they’ll be out of his hair as soon as this is done, and Vincent leaves to get ready. The Doctor’s uncertain about putting Vincent in danger, but he feels he has no choice.

He heads up to alert Vincent, but Vincent has spiralled down into one of his blackest periods of despair at the idea that Amy and the Doctor, like everyone else, will leave. The Doctor tries ineptly to jolly him out of it, but Vincent screams at the Doctor to get out.

The Doctor tells Amy that they’re leaving, that Vincent is a fragile man. But Vincent comes striding in to the kitchen in his straw hat and a long duster, like a cowboy, and says he’s ready.

As they walk along the dusty road, Vincent tells Amy that he’s shaken off this depressive episode.

AMY: I’m not sad.
VINCENT: Then why are you crying?

And she is: she wipes the tears away and looks at them with astonishment.

VINCENT: It’s all right—I understand.
AMY: I’m not sure I do.

They pass the funeral of the girl from the village, her coffin crowned with sunflowers. At the church, the Doctor tries to talk to Vincent gently about depression, but Vincent tells him to be quiet while he’s painting, and the Doctor rapidly becomes bored with the linear progression of time.

DOCTOR: I remember watching Michaelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel. Wow! What a whinger. I said to him, “If you were scared of heights, you shouldn’t have taken the job.”

The Krafayis does appear, in the window, as expected, and the Doctor heads in. Vincent wants to accompany the Doctor, and when the Doctor says no to that, at least suggests that the Doctor should be armed.

VINCENT: What with?
DOCTOR: This, over-confidence, and a small screwdriver. I’m absolutely sorted.

He makes Amy promise she won’t follow him, but when Vincent asks if she’ll follow, Amy says, “Of course.”

“I love you,” says Vincent.

The Doctor wanders slowly through the church, using his mirror to check where the creature should be. But outside, Vincent says that it’s moved, the Doctor screams, and Amy goes running into the church after him.

They end up in the confessional, while Vincent holds the creature off with a wicker-bound chair. The Doctor wonders if the sonic screwdriver is having any effect.

DOCTOR: Anything?
VINCENT: Nothing. In fact, he seems to rather enjoy it.

They manage to lock themselves in a side room, while Vincent legs it to grab something and the Doctor says he doesn’t have a plan.

DOCTOR: My only definite plan is that in the future, I’m only definitely using this screwdriver for screwing in screws.

In the absence of a plan, he tries to talk to the Krafayis, who does seem to grow quiet—until it leaps in through a window. But once in the room, as Vincent reappears with his easel, he tells them that it’s feeling its way slowly around the walls of the room.

The Doctor realises that it’s blind: that’s why it doesn’t eat its victims, why its pack left it behind, and why it has such excellent hearing.

Unfortunately, he shouts the last bit, and the Krafayis leaps towards them—only to be stabbed to death by Vincent with his easel. Vincent’s horrified at what he’s done and the Krafayis is terrified of dying—but it dies, nonetheless.

Vincent realises that the Krafayis was only lashing out from fear, like the villagers who stone him, and the Doctor says, “You know, sometimes winning—winning is no fun at all.”

But later, they lie on the ground in a star shape, all holding hands, as Vincent tries to explain how he sees things, and the night sky blossoms into a version of “Starry Night.”

VINCENT: I will miss you terribly.

The next morning, Vincent says he only wishes he had something of real value to give them, as he tries to convince the Doctor to accept a painting, but the Doctor says he couldn’t accept a gift of such value.

Vincent embraces Amy.

VINCENT: And if you tire of this Doctor of yours, return! And we shall have children by the dozen. Doctor, my friend, we have fought monsters together, and we have won. On my own, I fear I shall not do so well.

But before they leave, the Doctor has an idea. He heads back to grab Vincent, and then takes him to the TARDIS, which has been bill-posted in his absence. Vincent does the traditional “walking around the outside of the TARDIS,” which we know the Doctor loves.

Vincent asks what the various controls do, and the Doctor dematerialises the TARDIS under the guise of “making everything go absolutely tonto.”

They materialise outside the Musee D’Orsay—“home to many of the greatest paintings in history.”

They drag Vincent indoors and upstairs, and straight into the Vincent Van Gogh exhibition—he has his head turned towards Rodin’s “The Kiss,” so he doesn’t see the signs.

It bursts on him at once—all these people staring at his paintings, including ones he’s only thought of painting. His mouth drops open.

And the Doctor heads over to Bill Nighy, reminding him that they’ve met. He drags Bill over to Vincent, and asks Bill where Vincent stands in relation to other paintings.

Bill says that in his opinion, Vincent is the greatest painter of them all. As he goes on, Vincent scans the room, looking more at the people than the paintings, and he weeps, and I cry onto my keyboard.

Tony Curran kills this scene. Just kills it.

The Doctor sees Vincent weeping, and apologises, but Vincent says they’re tears of joy. He embraces Bill, apologising for the beard, and the Doctor hustles him out. Bill watches them leave, thinking about the similarity between Vincent and the self-portraits and then shaking his head in rejection of the impossibility.

They deposit Vincent back in France, but Amy’s impatient to get back to the gallery to see the “hundreds of new paintings” that resulted from the “long life of Vincent Van Gogh.”

But, of course, there aren’t any new ones. We come in where we first came in, with Bill showing Vincent’s last painting before his suicide.

Amy’s devastated, but the Doctor has seen Vincent in one of his dark moods, where Amy hadn’t—he’s not surprised, and he says they added to Vincent’s pile of good things.

And then Amy sees something new. She walks towards it slowly—it’s “Sunflowers,” with the vase now inscribed “To Amy.”

She says, “If we had got married, our kids would have had very very red hair.”

She’s crying as much as laughing, but the Doctor embraces her, and we fade out on “Sunflowers.”

Now that is what I mean when I say an episode should be compelling in its own right as well as advancing the main story arc.

Next week: “The Lodger.”

Share your thoughts [10]


Melissa wrote at Jun 20, 10:50 am

Tony Curran was fantastic. I sniffled a little when the Doctor called Vincent ‘Rory’; I still miss him.


Matthew Smith wrote at Jun 20, 11:56 am

I have a love hate relationship with historical episodes of Doctor Who. I want to see more of them, I enjoy the depiction of the historical characters and in this episode all the scenes that are paintings. But I always feel like the depiction is too trite and doesn’t do them justice. My general frustration with the new format of the show is it’s just too short – it moves implausibly fast and I want to spend more time with Van Gogh exploring his life.

I think the Doctor’s been a bit naughty not telling Amy why she is inexplicably grieving though. She’s going to find that ring sometime and want to know what it’s about.


Tim wrote at Jun 20, 12:02 pm

I shall cavil as usual, but it was a beautiful episode. :)

I was a bit disappointed by Bill Nighy’s bit, not because he wasn’t charming, he was, but because it probably means he’s not going to get a bigger part later on.

I would have liked the episode to have given us a bit more about Amy’s character post-Rory, and how her past has changed. (Does she remember having tried to jump the Doctor?) And her fascination with art came out of nowhere.

The action scenes seemed to lack some urgency, particularly the first fight in the garden. Though tricky with an invisible monster, I know.

The sets were lovely. Trogir’s alleys are a better stand-in for Arles than for Venice. ;)

I’m still somewhat annoyed by the tendency for the show to go gaga about historical celebrities — the gushing over Shakespeare and Christie, for instance — but at least this was a non-English person for a change. And it was worth it for the final scene.


Wendy wrote at Jun 20, 12:04 pm

At last…. :-) you were very right instructing me to persist…still…they took their time…


Catriona wrote at Jun 20, 12:29 pm

Tim and Matt, I absolutely agree—I’m also frustrated by the historical-celebrity episodes. I ranted to Nick about that when I first heard about this episode, partly because I’m frustrated by the growing sense that we have to have at least one episode each season with a historical celebrity and partly because we’d already had one historical-celebrity episode this season and it was a bit naff.

But I loved this episode. It was taut; it did a wonderful job of showing Vincent’s mood swings and only showing them to the Doctor (and the audience), so Amy was all the more devastated at the end; the sets were incredible (that bedroom! For just one scene!); Bill Nighy was so charming (I just couldn’t bring that across in the live-blogging); it was devastating without being overly sentimental (Tony Curran just killed that scene in the Musee D’Orsee).

I loved it.


Catriona wrote at Jun 20, 01:34 pm

Oh, and I meant to add that maybe the fact that we haven’t seen changes in Amy’s life reflects the idea that the Doctor’s not coping with the situation, either. He’s distracting himself as much as he’s giving Amy treats.


Drew wrote at Jun 20, 09:20 pm

I am with Tim on this, I am tired of every historical artistic celebrity being a “genius” but then I’ve never really succumbed to that gushing fanboy style of adoration. Well, ok, I have succumbed to it, and while few people could admire Shakespeare as much as I do, I still hate the appellation of “greatest writer ever” kind of thing.

The episode was fantastic though, but not being a fan of van Gogh I felt I was missing out on something. And yeah, he did nail that scene in the Musee D’Orsee and it was a nice touch.


Catriona wrote at Jun 20, 10:46 pm

What I thought was rather interesting in this, though, was that they pushed the ‘popularity’ angle as much as the ‘misunderstood genius’ angle. Vincent was looking more at the people looking at his paintings than at the art itself, and Bill Nighy’s character was emphasising how popular Vincent was.

I liked that. Yes, they foregrounded the ‘tortured genius angle’: you can’t really ignore that with Van Gogh, especially when you’re building his suicide into the plot. But the sub-text seemed to be that ‘Art’ isn’t necessarily elitist, snobbish, or so far removed from such low-art artefacts as television as to be another dimension altogether—sometimes ‘Art’ comes on key chains and fridge magnets and turns you into a giggling fangirl.

That’s one reason why I thought Vincent Van Gogh was an interesting choice—simply because he is one of the most widely popular Great Painters. (I suppose you could have done it with Gustav Klimt or Claude Monet, but I don’t think either of them would have been much good in a fight).

As I said above, I’m also highly uncertain about the increasing trend towards historical-celebrity episodes. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have them occasionally. After all, they do serve some kind of fangirl wish fulfilment: who would I meet if I travelled with the TARDIS? But we don’t necessarily need one per season, and especially not more than one.

But I would not have missed this episode for the world, historical celebrity or not. I would rather they’d never done the Winston Churchill one.


Tim wrote at Jun 21, 05:12 am

> Oh, and I meant to add that maybe the fact that we haven’t seen changes in Amy’s life reflects the idea that the Doctor’s not coping with the situation, either. He’s distracting himself as much as he’s giving Amy treats.

I think it could also be about catharsis — he’s giving them both an opportunity to mourn, and giving Amy a means of feeling and expressing the emotion for Rory that she no longer consciously remembers and that the Doctor can’t talk to her about. This is a Doctor who is excitable and talkative, but not so good at expressing his deeper emotions verbally. (In this reading, I might even say that the obvious manipulation of the audience parallels the Doctor’s manipulation of Amy’s feelings. ;))


Catriona wrote at Jun 21, 05:20 am

It could be cathartic, but it feels more like distraction, to me. As you say, the Doctor’s never been very good at expressing his deeper emotions verbally (which is something I’m actually enjoying in the developed relationship between him and River this season—I think they’re doing that nicely). And he seems to be repressing this nicely, as evident in his calling Vincent ‘Rory.’

I don’t blame the Doctor for this, mind: how can he grieve openly when Amy hasn’t the faintest idea what he’s grieving about?

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