Written by Richard Curtis
Directed by Johnny Campbell
After seeing an unusual figure in a Van Gogh painting, The Doctor and Amy travel to 1890 in an attempt to find an invisible alien.
This seems to be one of those episodes that people either love or hate. I fall into the former, but I can certainly understand why it is polarizing. This isn’t a typical Doctor Who story. In fact, you could probably make the case that it isn’t a Doctor Who story at all. It is a character piece. The title, once more, is a clue. Vincent Van Gogh is the primary focus. The Doctor is secondary and the Doctor Who elements are only there to provide reason for The Doctor and Amy visiting Van Gogh. I think in this way, the story is a bit weak. At times, even The Doctor’s characterization seems to be a little bit off, but we haven’t seen him deal with someone as broken as Van Gogh before. Someone living with pain, just trying to get on with his or her life . . . The Doctor would praise this quality, but he wouldn’t stick around or want it for himself. He would run away from it. In truth, going in to this story, The Doctor has no real interest in Van Gogh, just the alien. But The Doctor’s heart eventually breaks for the man.
I find this story inspiring, primarily for personal reasons. Sometimes the struggle to keep moving when life seems hopeless is paralyzing. Sometimes doubting one’s artistic competency tempts one to give up and settle for a mundane life, one marked by mindless routine and sterilization. Stepping out of the endless circle of the blind following the blind is a frightening prospect because you may very well find yourself alone. What this episode does for me is remind me that I may never see the influence I have on those around me or on the world itself. Certainly, if I never do anything, nothing will be achieved. But if I continue to try, continue to live, even if there is nothing seen in my lifetime, I may have contributed to the good in ways that are intangible.
So, I maintain that I love this episode for purely personal reasons. More objectively, it has good points and bad points. Tony Curran is magnificent. Bill Nighy is wonderfully understated. The settings are gorgeous. Truly, I would love to visit the locations in this episode and Vampires of Venice. Both were shot in Croatia and both are beautiful. And I’ll admit that I rather like the space chicken. Not every monster in Doctor Who has to be a humanoid mastermind. As for it being invisible . . . well, these things rarely work as well as they should. It saved some money on CGI, though.
I mentioned earlier that The Doctor seemed a bit off in this story. In the pre-title sequence, he was in quite a hurry. But he and Amy were in 2010. There is no hurry to go to 1890. It’s not like a few more minutes is going to make a difference. It’s a bloody time machine. Likewise, some of the dialogue seemed a bit off. Although, I really enjoyed the scene with The Doctor waiting for Vincent to paint. He was bored and wouldn’t stop talking. This seemed right to me. Amy seemed toned down a bit in this episode, which is good, but I must admit that I’m growing rather tired of the “sexy” outfits. Short skirts last story, short skirts this story. Yes, in the past the female companions had often been outfitted in costumes that give the dads a reason to watch, but at least with Leela the costume was tied to her origin. There were attempts to develop her in ways that led to alternate outfits. With Amy, it just seems to be about short skirts. Given she was just in the 1890s, I’m surprised she didn’t raise more eyebrows.
Oh, and listen very closely to the music in the cafe scene. You will here “I Am The Doctor” (the Murray Gold version, not the Jon Pertwee version) played on an accordian.