“It seems to me there’s so much more to the world than the average eye is allowed to see. I believe, if you look hard, there are more wonders in this universe than you could ever have dreamt of.”
Before we begin, I’d like to start by wishing all of you a very happy new year. I started this blog back in August and never dreamed that I’d have had the commitment to carry it on for a week, let alone 4 months, and I owe a big thank you to all of you who read the drivel I so infrequently push out.
With all that said, let’s get to the review of an episode which is not only one of Matt Smith’s best, but one of my top 5 episodes of the show as a whole.Doctor Who has had episodes featuring many historical figures in its history, it became a sort of annual tradition for the show from 2005 onwards and I honestly cant say I’ve been very fond of many of them. Mark Gatiss’ episode The Unquiet Dead in Series 1 was excellent in my opinion, but it went downhill from there. That is, of course, until Richard Curtis contributed this masterpiece to the show in Matt’s first series.
The story begins following the events of the previous episode where Restac killed Rory in the Silurian tunnels and he was erased from existence by the crack in time. Amy forgot he ever existed, despite the Doctor’s best efforts to help her hold Rory in her mind. As a result, he’s been spoiling Amy by taking her to places she wanted to go – the place in the episode being the Musée d’Orsay art gallery in Paris. Oh, and it’s totally worth mentioning that Bill Nighy plays Doctor Black, the curator, who gives emotional speeches and wears bow ties – more on that later.
The Doctor and Amy notice that there’s something in Van Gough’s painting of the Church of Auvers that shouldn’t be there – a silhouetted, beastly figure in one of the windows. Believing it to be a matter of life and death, they set off in the TARDIS to Auvers-sur-Oise to track down Vincent Van Gough.By far the best thing about this episode (except for the last 5-7 minutes) is the presentation of Vincent’s mental health, I believe that this episode even won an award for it as well. Vincent Van Gough is one of the most famous painters in the world, his work is worth (as Doctor Black even says in the episode) tens of millions and he is one of the most universally recognisable artists in history. But even though we see all these beautifully stunning pieces of Van Gough’s labour, he was hated by the people of his time, his work was laughed at and he was known to have manic, depressive episodes which ultimately led to him taking his own life.
What Curtis does in this episode is capture that aspect of Vincent’s character perfectly. There’s no sugar-coating it for the audience, we see his mental instability get explored as well as the horrible ways he was treated. Amy does her best to help him with his depression (he even dedicates a painting to her, as we see at the end of the episode), and the Doctor tells him that he is not mad but is suffering from a complex mental disorder. Unlike that god-awful (in my humble opinion) Shakespeare episode from Series 3, the Doctor shows an acute understanding of what people with mood disorders have to face. The episode also conveys the message that nobody has any right to label somebody as being mad, or insane, because the very fibre of their being is being challenged every day. It is cruel to judge somebody for something they have no control over, let alone to throw stones at them and hurl insults at every turn.
This all links with the monster of the episode, the Krafayis.It’s clear that this was another low-budget endeavour with the monster, but that’s okay because you don’t actually see it most of the time – it’s invisible to everybody but Van Gough. In that regard, it’s almost like the creature itself is a part of his mental condition, as whole streets end up in tatters as the creature charges through and kills a number of innocent bystanders with Vincent being blamed for it.
Despite the relatively average CGI of the creature, this is one of those episodes which focuses more on the concept of the monster. And, in the end, it turns out that the Krafayis was left behind by its pack because it was blind – shunned by its own society because something was wrong with it that was outside of its control. The Doctor realises this too late, as the Krafayis is accidentally killed as Van Gough attempts to drive it away.
Of course, the Krafayis is killed and there’s still about 15 minutes left of the episode to go. What the episode does from there is a number of things, one important thing being what it does with the Doctor. We’ve seen him as a man who can illuminate the lives of others, give them deeper meaning, offer insight and perspective that others can only fantasise about. But in the end, some things just are, and he’s powerless to change that. The idea that “time can be rewritten” is a recurring theme throughout Series 5, but not always. Just with the previous episode, the Doctor can not rewrite human nature which leads Ambrose to kill the Silurian prisoner, Alaya, just as he cannot rewrite Vincent’s death which the Doctor explains beautifully at the end of the episode.
“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. Hey. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant. And I think we definitely added to his list of good things.”
This is an episode filled with some unforgettable moments, one of them being towards the end of the episode where Vincent, the Doctor and Amy lie outside the church and look up at the sky. Vincent says that he wants to show them the world as he sees it, and as they join hands we see the world transform into the Starry Night painting.
“Look at the sky. It’s not dark and black and without character. The black is, in fact deep blue. And over there: lighter blue and blowing through the blues and blackness the winds swirling through the air and then shining, burning, bursting through. The stars! And you see how they roar their light. Everywhere we look, the complex magic of nature blazes before our eyes.”
And the most emotional moment of the episode, one of the most emotional scenes in the history of the show, is when the Doctor and Amy take Vincent to the Musée d’Orsay art gallery in 2010 to show him the effect he has on the world. The story builds itself around the notion that Vincent was considered an untalented joke, he himself believes that nothing about him will last (the universal struggle any artist can relate to). So to have him see what his work meant to people in the future, and hear what Doctor Black had to say about him was a genuinely beautiful moment.
“To me, Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly the most popular, great painter of all time. The most beloved, his command of colour, the most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world, no one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world’s greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.”
There’s really not much more I can say that you wouldn’t get from watching or rewatching the episode itself – and I’d advise that you do. Vincent and the Doctor easily makes my #1 Matt Smith episode for its thematic value, the tone of the story, the way it handles Van Gough’s mental disorder, the beautifully memorable and relevant-to-real-life dialogue… just everything about this episode manages to hit the nail on the head of what it tries to do.