Doctor Who: Vincent and the Doctor
(1 episode, s05e10, 2010)
Demons take their toll.
The Doctor and Amy visit the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The Doctor is being very nice to Amy to distract her from something she doesn’t quite remember. While Doctor Henry Black leads a tour of the Vincent van Gogh exhibit, the Doctor spots something evil in The Church at Auvers. The Doctor gets the exact date that the painting was created, compliments the doctor on his bow tie, and drags Amy to the TARDIS.
The TARDIS materializes in Auvers-sur-Oise where the travelers find van Gogh at a café. Apparently the artist is a cheapskate drunkard whose talent is ill-regarded. Amy defuses the situation by offering to buy a bottle of wine and share it with him. When the Doctor introduces himself, van Gogh mistakes him for a medical professional sent by his brother to help. They trade small talk until a woman’s scream draws them to a young woman’s murder scene. The distraught mother throws stones at van Gogh, calling him a madman and driving the trio away. They all retire to van Gogh’s residence for the night.
Vincent thinks that no one sees any value in his work, but Amy is starstruck. Vincent believes that there is so much more than what the normal eye can see, and having travelled throughout all of time and space, the Doctor says that he doesn’t need to be told. Some time later, Vincent is high on coffee and the Doctor offers to make some tea before they hear Amy scream. They investigate and are attacked by a creature that only Vincent can see.
He later sketches the beast for the Doctor, who then takes the picture back to the TARDIS, all the while stalked by the creature. He feeds the image into a portable device, but doesn’t have any luck until he takes it outside and captures the creature’s reflection. Identified as a Krafayis, the beast chases the Doctor through town.
Once he loses the Krafayis, the Doctor is shockingly reunited with Amy and they return to van Gogh’s home. After a gracious gift of sunflowers, the Doctor tells his companions about the Krafayis and they plot to paint the church in order to lure the creature.
After some waiting, the Doctor checks on Vincent. The artist is lying in bed, sobbing, distraught that the Doctor and Amy are prepared to leave him. The Doctor tries to console him but Vincent turns violent. The Doctor and Amy realize that van Gogh’s suicide is only months away, but as they prepare to execute the plan themselves, Vincent is ready to go.
As they walk to the church, Vincent asks Amy why she’s sad. Amy denies being sad, but Vincent notes that she’s crying, almost as if she’s recently lost someone. They watch the funeral procession for the girl, then carry on to the church where Vincent begins to work. When Vincent spots the Krafayis, the Doctor takes the identification device, his sonic, and a bit of confidence into the church.
Despite being told to stay behind, Amy rushes into the church as the Doctor is attacked. They hide together in a confessional, but since the Krafayis has fantastic hearing, it finds them in short order. Vincent distracts the creature and they all escape. The Krafayis chases them into another chamber, and while the Doctor and Amy hold the door, Vincent rushes off with a plan of his own. The Doctor tries to talk to the Krafayis, but it’s not interested in discussion. As the Krafayis circles the room, the Doctor realizes that it is blind. When it charges, Vincent inadvertently impales it with his easel.
As the Krafayis lays dying, Vincent is sorry and the Doctor comforts it. Vincent realizes the parallels between the creature and himself, and the Doctor remarks that sometimes winning is no fun at all.
The trio later lay under the stars as Vincent muses about the Starry Night. The next morning, the Doctor and Amy say farewell. Vincent admits that, despite his experiences over the last couple of days, he won’t do well on his own. Before they leave, the Doctor invites Vincent to join him for a short trip.
They return to the TARDIS, now covered in handbills, and Vincent has one extraordinary bigger-on-the-inside moment. They take him to the modern day and the Musée d’Orsay where Vincent is astounded by the art all around him.
The truly beautiful moment is when he enters the exhibit of his own works. Speechless, he takes it all in as the Doctor asks Doctor Black about his opinion of van Gogh. The words tear Vincent’s emotions open as he realizes his impact on history. The Doctor comforts Vincent, and the artist thanks Doctor Black for the moment.
They return Vincent to his own time. Vincent teases Amy about marriage, but Amy claims not to be the marrying kind. The TARDIS dematerializes as a happy Vincent walks away. The travelers return to the Musée d’Orsay, but they find that nothing has changed.
Vincent van Gogh still committed suicide. His portfolio is still the same.
Well, almost the same. The church no longer houses the Krafayis, and the famous sunflower painting is dedicated to someone special.
“For Amy, Vincent.”
For Doctor Who‘s first real venture into the topic of mental health, they hit the mark on many levels for every main character.
For Amy, we see the theme of repressed memories. She lost her fiancé to the mysterious crack on the last adventure, and the Doctor’s been spending his time trying to balance that big bad thing with a handful of good things, including Arcadia and the Trojan Gardens. This trip adds to that pile of good things by introducing Amy to Vincent van Gogh, over whom she fangirls like she’s never fangirled before.
The discussion about her mourning Rory is poetic, particularly with the idea that Vincent can see her pain. She doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but you can tell that it’s gnawing at her. That’s going to take its toll.
For the Doctor, we see the reminder that he cannot fix or solve everything. The Krafayis seemed like a terrible menace, but in the end we discovered that it was afraid because it was blind and abandoned. Similarly, his admirable efforts with both Vincent and Amy did not solve their problems. It reminds me of Doctor Who and the Silurians.
For Vincent, we get a beautiful story about personal demons, as well as the reminder that one good day doesn’t solve mental illness. The former is obvious: Vincent confronts his illness, eschews the Doctor’s ham-handed attempts to rouse him from bed, then confronts the Krafayis. Defeating that demon cost him with both sorrow and the departure of his new friends, and no amount of good things could stop the bad thing that lay on Vincent’s path.
Thus, we get the moral of the story in an excellent quote from the Doctor:
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.
Mental illness and trauma can’t just be wished away. Even if the Doctor couldn’t quite wrap his head around the idea, Doctor Who did an admirable job in exploring it in a tearjerker of an episode.
There are some smaller notes to look at as well. I was amused about the Doctor’s impatience with the normal passage of time. I was also amused by the recurring revival-era theme of historical figures being infatuated by the travelers (The Shakespeare Code, The Girl in the Fireplace). Finally, I loved the sequence with van Gogh’s Starry Night, particularly how it placed us into his headspace to build the art.
Oh, yeah… I also learned how to say “van Gogh” in multiple regional ways. Special thanks to the Grammarphobia blog for their advice.
Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Lodger
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.