‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “Vincent and the Doctor”

(all spoilers! don’t read till you’ve seen the episode! this is a love fest only — all complaints and bitching must come from a place of love / previous: “Cold Blood”)
More like this, please.

This is, far and away, the best Matt Smith episode yet, and is among the very best Doctor Whos ever. Maybe only “Blink” and “Midnight” are in the same league.

I hope I’m wrong about this entire season being just a nightmare of the Doctor’s, or a bit of undigested beef troubling him, or whatever. Because I don’t want to see this story get erased — I don’t want to think that this story never happened. I can’t stop sobbing over lots of little things here, but mostly over this big thing:

Vincent listening to Dr. Black gush over his work might well be the most powerful moment ever in the history of Doctor Who… and there have certainly been many powerful moments in the rebooted show. The writing — by Richard Curtis! — is absolutely exquisite, but this scene is just plain marvelous for how Bill Nighy and Tony Curran sell it: it’s so beautifully understated. Black, of course, has no idea Vincent Van Gogh is listening to him (and might say very different things if he did know! would anyone say “He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty” to the tormented person?), and Vincent is too overwhelmed to say anything. But there’s a palpable spiritual energy between these two characters — and between the two actors… and they’re not even looking at each other!

And the moment is so powerful, too, because we’ve been spending time, as quality-time as fictional-time gets, with Vincent and in his world. It’s hard to imagine someone who hasn’t heard of Van Gogh — though perhaps it will inspire young children to seek out his work! — but it’s easy to see how that imaginary art naif would still feel the power of this story. Because it so immerses us in Vincent’s perception. When this episode doesn’t look like an actual Van Gogh canvas:

it still looks like a Van Gogh canvas, it’s so luminous and luscious:

And it all becomes doubly affecting — if, like me, you’re finding yourself falling even more madly in love with the Doctor (and with Matt Smith as the Doctor) with each passing episode — because everything the Doctor does here to help Vincent appears to be some sort of attempt to help himself, as well.

I don’t think it’s an accident that this episode is called “Vincent and the Doctor” (it could have been called, simply, “Vincent”). It didn’t start out this way, but I think that the Doctor begins to see himself in Vincent, and he doesn’t want to think that he — the Doctor — could be traveling along the same path. Meeting Vincent is all very exciting, at first, of course. It’s really nice, in fact, to see the Doctor so excited about meeting someone like Van Gogh:

because he’s usually so blasé about these kinds of things. But soon enough comes another sorta shocking side of the Time Lord we thought we knew so well: Vincent is too intense even for the Doctor, who’s pretty darn intense himself.

Or perhaps this is when it strikes the Doctor that his own intensity is too much like Vincent’s, and that makes him uncomfortable. Certainly, it’s so unlike the Doctor to do what he does to Amy and Vincent, jumping back into the room to startle them just after he has left. The Doctor must be really rattled to do that.

And then, the next morning, when the Doctor tries to get through Vincent’s despair — which was brought on by the Doctor saying casually that he and Amy would be out of Vincent’s hair as soon as possible — Vincent says something that the Doctor himself could well have said on many occasions:

When you leave, and everyone always leaves, I will be left once more with an empty heart and no hope.

The Doctor almost sounds like he’s trying to convince himself of how he responds:

My experience is that there is, you know, surprisingly, always hope.

Doctor Who has never gone anywhere like this with such realism before:

And the Doctor has rarely been so deeply affected:

and so much at a loss about what to do.

By the time it’s time to leave, though, it’s all become something close to a platonic romance between Vincent and the Doctor:

Which is another thing that deeply moved me. Because for me there is a romance to Doctor Who that is about seeing the universe and all of history, and about intellectual exploration. This right here — these events, meeting someone like Vincent Van Gogh and being able to talk to him about his life and his work — would be the most thrilling part of traveling with the Doctor (if we really could do so — *sigh*).

Even the subplot about the Krafayis being lost and alone, not really evil as such, and afraid as it dies… that, too, would surely be much more a part of the Doctor’s day-to-day life than fighting Daleks and so on. I mean, sure, “the bits in between” — as David Tennant’s Doctor characterized the exciting stuff that makes up the stories we usually see — are where the drama and, you know, the stories are to be found. Doctor Who wouldn’t be Doctor Who if it were always just about sitting around and chatting with Plato or whoever (that’s where fan fiction comes in; and this is a really fanfic-y story). But it’s refreshing to, once in a while, get a story that works almost purely on a personal scale, even down to the Doctor having to admit that “sometimes winning is no fun at all.”

I sort of feel like the Doctor’s jokey comment about his own “overconfidence” is a little hint that he’s extra tuned in to himself in a way that maybe he hasn’t really been before. (Which could be a hint, also, that there is another level of self-awareness and introspection at work, such as would be involved if this all were a dream or a nightmare or a construct of the Doctor’s imagination.) Now we know for sure that the Doctor remembers Rory — he calls his name, and Amy responds with a puzzled “Who?” — and we see that he’s being especially solicitous of Amy, taking her to lovely places such as “Arcadia, the Trojan gardens,” and the Musee d’Orsay in 2010 Paris. Is he being “nice” to her in some sort of attempt to make up for Rory’s loss (even if she can’t remember it)? Or is he trying to create pleasant memories for himself, because he suspects that she will soon cease to exist, too, either by getting sucked into the crack in the universe, or by getting rewound by the crack in the universe, or by evaporating into nothingness because she is the crack in the universe (and not just a victim of it; another theory of mine), or that she will simply disappear when he wakes up?

Random thoughts on “Vincent and the Doctor”:

• So many awesome moments:

= “Ministry of Art and Artiness”
= the Doctor and Dr. Black complimenting each other’s bowties
= Vincent thinks Amy is cute
= the Doctor uncomfortable listening to Amy and Vincent flirt
= the “clutter” in Vincent’s house
= sunflowers aren’t Vincent’s favorite
= the Doctor and Amy horrified to see Vincent gesso over an iris painting
= the Doctor serving orange juice in Vincent’s yard
= the TARDIS papered over with advertisements, which then get burned off in the Vortex
= watching the sky swirl into Vincent’s “Starry Night” perception

• Why is the Krafayis making me think about a monster that you can only see out of the corner of your eye? Is there such a thing? The Krafayis is a bit Jabberwocky-esque, a bit Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal-esque, even a bit Predator-esque. What else esque am I forgetting?

• Oh my goodness: there is a lost Van Gogh sketch of a Krafayis cluttering up the TARDIS:

• “He seemed to rather enjoy it,” Vincent says about the Krafayis’s reaction to being sonicked. Well, surely there are certain settings on the sonic screwdriver that would be quite, er, pleasurable when, um, used in just the right way…

• I love the Thing That Sees What’s Really There:

even if the operator cannot. It’s my favorite Doctor Who gadget ever, I think, even better than the timey whimey detector that goes ding when there’s stuff. And I want to know the story behind this:

I though you were just a useless gadget, I thought you were just an embarrassing present from a dull godmother with two heads and bad breath twice.

Was Zaphod Beeblebrox the Doctor’s godmother?

I bet the Thing That Sees What’s Really There shows up again…

• Monsters in mirror may be closer than they appear:

• On the other hand, an invisible monster is very easy on an FX budget.

• Magpie spotting:

• No crack in the universe in this episode, unless this counts:

That big tree branch in the foreground is a bit crack-in-the-universe-ish, don’tcha think?

• Great quotes:

“It seems to me there’s so much more to the world than the average eye is allowed to see. I believe that if you look hard, there are more wonders in this universe than you could ever have dreamed of.” –Vincent

“You do have a plan, don’t you?” –Amy
“No. It’s a thing. It’s like a plan, but with more greatness gray bits.” –the Doctor

“I remember watching Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel. Wow, what a whinger. I kept saying to him, ‘Look, if you’re scared of heights, you shouldn’t have taken the job.’” –the Doctor

“Is this how time normally passes: really slowly, in the right order?” –the Doctor

“If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s an unpunctual alien attack.” –the Doctor

“One simple instruction. Don’t follow me under any circumstances.” –the Doctor, to Amy
“I won’t.” –Amy
“Will you follow him?” –Vincent, to Amy, after the Doctor’s gone
“Of course.” –Amy
“I love you.” –Vincent

(next: Episode 11: “The Lodger”)

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