Sunday, January 22, 2017

"Vincent And The Doctor" Is A Powerhouse Episode Of Doctor Who!

The Good: Incredible performances, Memorable characters, Decent plot development
The Bad: Mixed special effects, Predictable plot
The Basics: "Vincent And The Doctor" takes an average Creature Of The Week Doctor Who episode and makes it extraordinary through impressive performances and cool supporting characters.

When it comes to Doctor Who, one of the conceits of the new Doctor Who is the inclusion of historical figures for guest shots in the episodes. Usually, the famous historical figures pop up at a rate of one per season, so when Matt Smith took over as The Doctor, fans had good reason to figure the pattern Russell T. Davies had created would endure when early in the season "Victory Of The Daleks" (reviewed here!) included Winston Churchill. But the pattern was altered by Steven Moffat took over as Executive Producer and multiple historical figures popped up. "Vincent And The Doctor" featured the second appearance of a historical figure in one season.

"Vincent And The Doctor" is notable both for bringing Vincent van Gogh into the Doctor Who narrative and for the fact that it was written by Richard Curtis. Richard Curtis is a genius who might well have been the one who made dramedies popular. After getting his start with audacious comedies, Richard Curtis began a film career where he wrote brilliant movies that effectively blended humor and drama. For his Doctor Who outing, Richard Curtis brings the incomparable Vincent van Gogh to life and combines the tragedy of a man struggling with his own sanity with the absurdity of an invisible alien creature. "Vincent And The Doctor" is memorable for how it effectively blends humor and angst.

The Doctor and Amy Pond are on an art kick as The Doctor tries to comfort Amy, who does not know what she is missing. The Doctor and Amy are in Paris at an installation of Vincent van Gogh's work, when Amy Pond is enamored with his painting of a church and The Doctor notices something in the church's window in the church. Consulting the curator, Dr. Black, The Doctor learns exactly when van Gogh painted the painting and the pair goes back to meet the artist. Shortly after arriving and finding van Gogh at a cafe, a little girl is found dead.

Returning to van Gogh's home, Amy wanders off to look at some of his paintings, when she is knocked down. The Doctor and Vincent rush out to aid her and van Gogh finds himself fighting an invisible creature. After rescuing Amy, van Gogh sketches the creature and The Doctor takes the sketch to the TARDIS for identification. The Doctor identifies the entity as a Krafayis, but when The Doctor offhandedly remarks that once they find the creature, he and Amy can be out of van Gogh's hair, the artist freaks out. Soon thereafter, as The Doctor worries about what might happen to the Musee D'Orsay should they fail, van Gogh commits to painting the church. Once there, the trio has to survive the encounter with the alien that only van Gogh can see!

Tony Curran rules "Vincent And The Doctor" as Vincent van Gogh. Curran is moody and somber as van Gogh and he delivers the lines to characterize the self-defeated artist with a quality that never makes the viewer believe that he is casually whiny. Instead, Curran embodies van Gogh as a man absolutely passionate about art, while oscillating between mania and depression. Perhaps most impressive is how Curran performs opposite the invisible creature and his body language and eye lines are entirely convincing!

Amy Pond is incredibly careless in "Vincent And The Doctor." In addition to referencing things that indicate she is not necessarily native to the timeline, Amy goes off on her own even after she and The Doctor learn about casualties in the area. "Vincent And The Doctor" allows Doctor Who to explore the emotional ramifications of a non-event; Amy carries a sadness from losing Rory, but because he never existed, she does not recall him at all. The idea that Amy would feel the pain and loss without the memories is a clever one and Karen Gillan manages to find the right balance to embody that.

Gillan and Curran play off one another masterfully and Bill Nighy's two scenes allow the veteran of Nighy's works to absolutely steal the show. Matt Smith plays The Doctor is his most effective blend of humor and pathos in "Vincent And The Doctor." When The Doctor expresses concern over the potential of van Gogh getting killed, Smith is able to embody well that concern.

"Vincent And The Doctor" is a rare "creature of the week" Doctor Who episode that is little more than a monster hunt - and one that does not go in the typical Doctor Who direction. But Curtis, director Jonny Campbell, and the performers do an amazing job of making the predictable plot feel fresh again. While some of the effects - most notably the early moments of when the Krafayis is first spotted - are irregular, the episode is well-directed and there are some impressive visual effects with both creature design and editing.

Arguably the stand-out episode of Moffat's first season as showrunner of Doctor Who, "Vincent And The Doctor" is brilliant and fun and makes the audience wish it would just keep going on in this direction!

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Fifth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of Matt Smith as The Doctor here!

For other works by Richard Curtis, please visit my reviews of:
About Time
Love Actually


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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