He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty…
An art gallery in Paris. A trip back in time to visit a famous artist. A cameo by an actor almost more famous than Doctor Who itself. Vincent and the Doctor sits in good company with City of Death as an example of Doctor Who at it’s most confident.
The moment Richard Curtis was announced as a writer for Matt Smith’s debut season the rumours of a crossover with the comic character Blackadder began. Apart from existing in the minds of numpties such as readers of The Sun, who also believe the story of a Children in Need reunion for all the Doctors (including the deceased ones) every year, this was never ever a serious proposition. Doctor Who would have died as an entity of entertainment the instant old “Slackbladder” appeared.
Instead of a innuendo-laden comedy or a frothy rom-com, Curtis delivered a beautiful and moving tale of a tormented soul who was able to take the crippling effects of his manic depression and produce unmatched works of art that opened the window onto the souls of humanity.
Vincent Van Gogh fighting invisible monsters with the aid of a 907 year old alien is another clear demonstration of the infinite format of the series. Matt Smith and Karen Gillan continue to fire on all cylinders but this time around top marks for the acting in an episode simply has to go to Tony Curran’s brilliant appearance as Van Gogh. The likeness between him and the real Van Gogh was most clear during the coda where the Doctor took him to Paris in 2010 to see the legacy he would leave to future generations. Some may say that one man succumbing to madness may be a small price to pay for such genius to exist.
Bill Nighy’s cameo and banter with the Doctor re their respective bow ties showed Curtis’ comedic touch but then suddenly the whole nation had trouble seeing the pictures before them as Dr Black delivered his summation of Van Gogh’s life and work. Many actors can go their whole career without ever being presented with material of such eloquence to perform, and Nighy nailed it. It’d be nice to see Dr Black again one day.
Ultimately kudos must go to the production team and Curtis for not shying away from the depression that would ultimately lead to Van Gogh’s all-too early death by suicide. Indeed, the story could not have worked without knowing an untimely death and sheer madness awaited the artist. Mental illness and suicide are difficult subjects to tackle in any form of drama, let alone one that has children and young people at the heart of the viewing audience. At no other time has the series been tailed with a “if you have been affected by the issues…” annoucement.
Vincent and the Doctor is not the type of episode that Doctor Who should do every week but it’s the type of episode that needs to be done from time to time to remind the world of the vast canvas that the Doctor and his friends can be shown upon.