I’ve always been a huge fan of the work of Richard Curtis. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that Love Actually is one of my all time favourite films, with About Time being fairly close behind. Then there are Blackadder and The Vicar of Dibley being two of my favourite comedy series too. Therefore you can imagine how excited I was to hear that Richard Curtis was going to be writing an episode of Doctor Who.
The Doctor and Amy take a visit to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris to take a look at some of the fine artwork by Vincent Van Gogh. It’s in order to cheer up Amy because the Doctor clearly feels guilt over her losing Rory in the previous episode (which of course she can’t even remember). Something that I enjoy about this story is that it isn’t too deeply rooted in the story arcs of the rest of the series. There is no mention of the Silence or cracks in time. The most that we get is the Doctor accidentally mentioning Rory, and Amy being a bit sad although she can’t remember why. Other than that it’s a very self contained episode much like Amy’s Choice. I think it happens to work to the story’s strength by doing this.
While in the museum, the duo find that there is a creature of some kind in the window of the church in The Church of Auvers. It obviously shouldn’t be there so they hop back in time to encounter the creature at the moment when Vincent decides to paint the church. Tony Curran plays the part of the famous artist. I have to say that I think he looks more like the person he is portraying than many of the other historical figures we’ve seen. Simon Callow was easily passable as Charles Dickens back in The Unquiet Dead, but here the production team are actually able to hold up self portraits of Van Gogh next to Tony Curran’s face a couple of times. Although he’s got a thick Scottish accent, you soon forget about it as you get to know the character. This episode deals with something that Doctor Who has never explored before. It’s a worthy introduction to mental illness for children, giving them the opportunity to learn about issues that they might have been unaware of before.
Throughout the episode the Doctor and Amy get the chance to bond with Van Gogh. We see his frustration at his brother constantly sending him doctors to try and help; but the Time Lord actually seems to help somewhat. It shows how challenging mental illness can be, with Vincent being fun loving in one scene, but having a deep dark mood in the next. It even scares the Doctor and you get the sense that he feels a little bit out of his depth sometimes. The episode does something that so many other pieces of work by Richard Curtis do very well – which is to marry together immensely sad elements with great humorous moments. For example we have very serious scenes with Vincent refusing to even leave his bedroom in the same episode that we see the Doctor wave around a stick trying to fight an invisible monster.
The monster of the week in this story is an invisible monster named a Krafayis. It transpires that it had been running around killing people but without eating them. The poor creature had been abandoned by it’s pack. For some reason only Vincent is able to see the Krafayis. Of course this saves on budget, but the threat does feel real for quite a portion of the episode. It means that the Doctor has to get creative in order to learn about the creature before he can identify it. Therefore he pulls out an identification gadget that was given to him as a gift from a godmother with bad breath and two heads. Maybe the Ninth Doctor wasn’t joking when he said that he could regenerate with two heads or no head – maybe Gallifreyans can regenerate into all different shapes and sizes. My question is why the Doctor doesn’t ever try to use this device before or since; as I can imagine that it would have been useful on more than one occasion to identify a mysterious threat. We eventually learn that this particular Krafayis is in fact blind and so is probably just acting out of fear for most of the episode. I think that this is one of the better stories where the villain turns out to be misunderstood. It doesn’t feel like it’s been done too many times as of yet, and it works quite well.
The identification gadget is rather cool as it allows us to get glimpses of the Krafayis – which looks rather more like a giant turkey than I had remembered. The Doctor also tests that it is working on himself, and we get to see printed pictures of both the First and Second Doctor before he switches the machine off. While I don’t necessarily mind it here; we are seeing images of previous incarnations of the Doctor more and more frequently, which can unfortunately lead to it not feeling very exciting anymore.
I had forgotten how quickly the episode gets the Krafayis plot out of the way. Vincent accidentally kills the creature while trying to defend himself and his new friends. All three of them express guilt for having killed the Krafayis, stating that sometimes winning isn’t any fun at all. To be honest I couldn’t really see that plot ending in many other ways. What would the Doctor’s plan have been? He says that he wants to find the right setting on the sonic screwdriver to stun the Krafayis and be able to take it to somewhere safe. But he leaves the Tardis back in the centre of town, was he expecting them all to carry the invisible, unconscious creature all of the way and somehow squeeze it through the police box doors? Why didn’t he pilot the Tardis to the church first? Wouldn’t that make more sense – again I’m overthinking things but as I stated last time – this is what I do.
After the poor Krafayis is killed – presumably leaving a giant invisible corpse in the church for people to mysteriously fall over for the next year or so – we get to see more of Vincent, Amy, and the Doctor. There are at least two scenes in Vincent and the Doctor that I would describe as beautiful. The first of these would be when the trio are laying on the grass looking up at the night sky. As Vincent describes how he sees the colours of the world, the night sky transforms in front of our eyes to become to style of a Van Gogh painting. It’s a treat to see and an absolutely stunning moment that I had somehow almost forgotten about. Although it’s seemingly small, it really gives us a further insight into the mind of the great artist.
The other of these scenes is when the Doctor and Amy decide to take Van Gogh back to the Musée d’Orsay in the same time period as they were in at the start of the episode. They reencounter Dr. Black who gives his opinions of Van Gogh and his work. Vincent is able to listen to this as the room seems to spin around him. For once it isn’t Murray Gold’s music that sets the scene off perfectly, but the song Chances by Athlete. The music builds as Tony Curran’s perfect acting almost made me cry even after watching this serial more times than I could count. It allows the artist to know just how good he was as a painter even though he was unappreciated in his own time.
I think it’s a shame that after stellar episodes from both Simon Nye and Richard Curtis – we have not yet seen any more written by them for the show. Considering that both episodes were very well received it’s rather strange that they either haven’t been invited back to write more, or they have decided to decline. Either way I would love to see more Doctor Who written by Richard Curtis. It might be even more of a good idea now that Jodie Whittaker has taken over the role. Curtis did a fantastic job of showing people how great women vicars could be in The Vicar of Dibley – he could now help to show the audience how much of a good idea a female Doctor will be. Vincent and the Doctor has got to be one of the best episodes of the show in series five, which is really saying something. I’ll be awarding it with ten Vase with Twelve Sunflowers paintings out of ten.