thu 27/06/2019

Doctor Who: Vincent and the Doctor, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Doctor Who: Vincent and the Doctor, BBC One

Doctor Who: Vincent and the Doctor, BBC One

The Doctor tries to rescue Van Gogh from his demons, real or imagined

The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy (Karen Gillan) spot a ghoul in a Van Gogh

The Doctor Who crew are fond of their encounters with historical characters. In his time, and let's face it he has infinite supplies of it, the Doc has rubbed shoulders with Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie, and recently weathered the Blitz with Winston Churchill. For this one, "Vincent and the Doctor", le Docteur voyaged back to 19th-century Provence to straighten out a puzzling temporal kink.

While visiting the Van Gogh exhibition at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, where art historian Dr Black (Bill Nighy) was holding forth about the marvels of the tormented Dutch genius, the Doctor (Matt Smith) noticed a sinister demon lurking in Van Gogh's painting of the church at Auvers. The Doctor's uncanny intuition told him that something was awry, so he was off to fire up the Tardis, his assistant Amy (Karen Gillan) in tow.The Doctor Who crew are fond of their encounters with historical characters. In his time, and let's face it he has infinite supplies of it, the Doc has rubbed shoulders with Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie, and recently weathered the Blitz with Winston Churchill. For this one, "Vincent and the Doctor", le Docteur voyaged back to 19th-century Provence to straighten out a puzzling temporal kink. While visiting the Van Gogh exhibition at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, where art historian Dr Black (Bill Nighy) was holding forth about the marvels of the tormented Dutch genius, the Doctor (Matt Smith) noticed a sinister demon lurking in Van Gogh's painting of the church at Auvers. The Doctor's uncanny intuition told him that something was awry, so he was off to fire up the Tardis, his assistant Amy (Karen Gillan) in tow.

This episode had gathered a bit of extra buzz by being written by Richard Curtis, rom-com supremo and TV's Mr Charidee. The Doctor must have been relieved to find that he wasn't being made to abolish famine in Africa, do comedy sketches with the Daleks and then marry an American movie star, but it didn't feel as though Curtis was entirely comfortable in this alien environment. It can't be easy to parachute in a one-off contribution to such a national institution, and Curtis has freely admitted that the producers told him to go away and have another try after they'd seen the first draft of his script. Two or three more might have been advisable.

It was the whole "monster" aspect that stuck out like a refrigerator bolted to a bicycle. Arles, 1890, was being terrorised by an unknown beast which was slaughtering the local girls. Unknown, that is, to everyone except Van Gogh (Tony Curran, with unreconstructed Scottish accent, pictured below), whose extraordinary synaesthesic gifts meant that he alone could see the unprepossessing parrot-dinosaur thing (a Krafayis, to give it its proper title) roaming the backstreets or stomping around in his back garden. But nobody was taking much notice of Vincent ("he's drunk, he's mad and he never pays his bills", grumbled the local inn-keeper), until the Doctor arrived and engaged in a bit of rough-and-tumble with the Krafayis himself.

Resisting the temptation to have the Krafayis rip Vincent's ear off, which might have been taking the idea of the space monster as the embodiment of his inner demons a little too far, Curtis was chiefly preoccupied with the painter's mental anguish and the way this was transformed through his work. Themes from Van Gogh's paintings had been recreated with imagination and technical skill, including a brilliant evocation of Cornfield with Crows and an ingenious real-world rendition of The Starry Night. Exteriors of the Provençal countryside looked ravishing, despite having been shot in Croatia.

Doc_2Evidently Curtis wanted to create a sincere homage to Van Gogh, but was it wise to jam it into the unsuitable framework of Doctor Who, which vacillates confusingly between sci-fi, soap and comedy? The Krafayis was really a canard, despite Curtis's attempt to make us feel sorry for it because it was blind, lonely and frightened (which jarred against the Doctor telling us that it was from a pack of murderous intergalactic predators). There was some drollery when the Doctor was trying to identify the Krafayis from Van Gogh's sketch but kept getting false matches ("That's the problem with the Impressionists, not accurate enough"), but the seams began to gape when the Doctor transported Vincent to 2010 to show him how celebrated his work would become. Vincent's self-destructive urges were assuaged by a eulogy to his work from Nighy's Dr Black ("the greatest painter of them all... unique beauty", etc), and Amy felt certain that this foreknowledge would free Vince to create yet more easel-tastic splendours. Sorry, art lovers, it didn't happen. He still committed suicide in July 1890, depressed and dismally unsuccessful. And the point of all this was... um... not entirely clear. Except that Vincent had added the dedication "For Amy" to Vase with Twelve Sunflowers. Taking a bit of a liberty, don't you think? Can't wait for the Doctor's visit to Bayreuth.

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