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Vincent and The Doctor

Having just watched it for the second time in two days – not far off the second time in 24 hours, actually! – I felt I just had to write something about last night’s episode of Dr Who, “Vincent and The Doctor”. If you haven’t seen it yet – and I’m aware that those of you who read this blog in the US won’t be seeing the episode for a while yet – then please skip this post, because it will ruin your viewing pleasure. You have been warned; if you’re still reading, it’s your choice, ok? 😉

When I heard that Richard Curtis was writing an episode of Dr Who my heart sank like a stone thrown off a bridge and into a pond. Why? He’s a very successful screenwriter – big screen and little screen – and is responsible for some of the biggest big hits on TV and in the cinema. Surely he’d do a great job on Who? Well, yes, you’d think so, and as a big fan of his TV writing, of his fantastic, hilarious writing for such classics as Blackadder, Mr Bean and The Vicar of Dibley… ok, maybe not so much for Dibley… I should have thought “Great! It’ll be a hilarious episode!” But I just couldn’t shake the memories, the oh so painful memories, of sitting through his monster-success films. I honestly loathe, detest and hate “4 Weddings and A Funeral”. I feel ill watching “Notting Hill”. And as for “Love Actually”, I watched that and afterwards I seriously felt like someone had tied me to a table and force fed me a dozen bags of candyfloss, followed by a huge sack of Kendal mint cake covered cinder toffee, all washed down with several litres of syrup. It’s just so sickly, so cloyingly sentimental, so stubbornly determined to tick all the heartstring-tugging boxes and cram into its running time as many hankie-soaking moments that I felt quite ill after the final scene. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but even thinking about that film gives me that just-eaten-a-McFlurry-in-a-hurry feeling…

So, when I read that Mr C was going to “pen” an episode of Who I feared the worst. Images of Amy and the Doctor running in slow motion into each others arms on a beach lit by a trio of alien suns filled my head. I could see the Doctor weeping over Amy’s body after she’d met some grisly but ironic end, only to have his face contort into a twisted vision of happiness as she miraculously came back to life, her beautiful long eyelashes fluttering several times before her eyes opened and she smiled as music soared in the background-


I am happy to admit to the world that I was wrong. In fact, I couldn’t have been more wrong if I’d tried.

Last night’s Who was a joy from start to finish (well, the story was, and the acting was, and the editing and music were; the monster was absolutely ridiculous, totally unconvincing and was more funny than frightening. Bernard Matthews’ worst nightmare come to life. Not good. But I digress…) Curtis’ script was a masterclass of character writing and of plot and sheer storytelling genius. He breathed new, vivid life into the characters of The Doctor and Amy, and gave us a Van Gogh who was, in turn, tragic, delightful, tortured and elated. At the end of the episode I was genuinely in tears, as the Doctor and Amy brought Vincent into the future to see just how much he and his work would be adored in years to come.

So, Mr Curtis, I hereby forgive you for “4 Weddings”, for “Notting Hill”, and … oh, ok… yes, even for “Love Actually”, because you gave us a Dr Who that treated its viewers like adults, that told a story that will live on in my mind for years to come, and had a script that was finally, FINALLY, worthy of the talents of its two stars, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan.

Because in last night’s episode, for the first time since “The Eleventh Hour”, the series’ opening episode, Matt Smith showed that he is possibly one of the finest actors on TV today. Every facial expression, every movement, every word he spoke, was just perfect for that moment, and he is well on the way to becoming one of the greatest Doctors ever. David Tennant was always going to be a tough act to follow, his performance as the Time Lord a towering one, but Matt has done it, and though Tennant will never be forgotten, his era is well and truly over, and Matt Smith IS the Doctor now. The role fits him like a glove… or a bow tie (bow ties are cool)… and I hope he has control of the TARDIS for years to come.

But for me last night’s episode belonged to Karen Gillan. In some of this series’ episodes she’s been wasted, absolutely wasted, reduced to little more than a cameo character. In others she has shone because the episode has been built around her and she was on screen for most of the time. But in “Vincent and The Doctor” she stole the show through her sheer acting skill and subtle, deft touch as an actress. She is luminous on screen, there’s no doubt about that. The camera loves her, adores her. Not just because she is unarguably beautiful – a tall, long-legged colt of a redhead who strides down starship corridors, Venetian streets and through starship forests with a fierce joy, and has a smile that could light up a room from several light years away – but because she loves being Amy Pond, and has embraced the role so tightly it can hardly breathe. I love watching her on screen. I love it when she laughs, when she’s cheeky, when she’s hurt and angry. I love her loyalty to the Doctor, and to Rory. I love the character. She’s a classic companion – and I have a feeling the whole story arc of this series revolves around her, and the finale is going to be very, very tough on her. We’ll have to wait and see.

Last night, Amy and Vincent definitely had a “thing” going on, and Karen Gillan played it beautifully. There were moments in the story when she looked like she was actually aching, physically, like at the end when she bounded up the museum stairs and into the Van Gogh gallery, convinced that she’d find the gallery crammed full with new paintings, but found just the ones the world already knew about… and then she saw her name on the famous “Sunflowers”… just magical, and heartbreaking too.

Last night’s episode had a serious side too – the struggle some people face with depression. I know that that side of the show will have gone over the heads of the young viewers… in fact most of the episode probably did, come to think of it, but that’s ok, they can have the stupid fat Power ranger coloured daleks… but it will have opened the eyes of may of the show’s older viewers, I think. And that’s not a bad thing.

Another reason why I enjoyed last night’s episode was that it was the perfect way of showing all those people who dismiss Dr Who as being “just a kids show” that they are wrong. It was intelligent, thought-provoking, and funny. It was serious drama. It had a message, but it didn’t preach. It had a love story, but it wasn’t simplified or sugar-drenched. It was one of the best Who episodes since “Blink”, and it’s a Must Buy on DVD.

It also opened my eyes to the genius of Van Gogh, for which I’ll always be grateful. I don’t mind admitting that until last night I really didn’t understand the fuss over his paintings, I just couldn’t see why people are so passionate, so obsessed about his work. I prefer more realistic paintings, always have done, and have never really “got” the Impressionists. But last night it was like the proverbial lightbulb went on above my head, and it was all because of one scene, when the Doctor, Amy and Vincent were all lying on the ground, under a starry sky, and Vincent was describing to the two time travellers what he could see…

Hold my hand, Doctor. Try to see what I see. We’re sort of lucky we’re still alive to see this beautiful world. Look at the sky. It’s not dark and black and without character. The black is in fact deep blue. And over there! Lighter blue. And blowing through the blueness and the blackness, the winds swirling through the air. And there shining, burning, bursting through, the stars! Can you see how they roll their light? Everywhere we look, complex magic of nature blazes before our eyes.

… and as he spoke those words the night sky above them all was transformed, courtesy of CGI, into his famous “Starry Sky” painting…

A kids’ TV show? I don’t think so…!!!!

If you saw the episode I hope you enjoyed it too. I’m sure many people didn’t – they’ll moan that Van Gogh had a Scottish accent as thick as the Big Yin’s in places, or complain that Bill Nighe was just being Bill Nighe, as he is in every Richard Curtis film… ok, actually that’s a fair point, it was a classic “Nighe By Numbers” gig… and they’ll criticise the musical soundtrack at the end for being unWho-like – but that’s ok, each to their own. I loved it. And if you didn’t see it, well, you’re in for a treat when you do, although if you kept reading this post AGAINST my advice there’ll be few surprises in it for you, you numptie… 🙂

Next week The Doctor and Amy return to present day Earth (yes… sigh… again… seriously, Moffatt, come on, next series can we PLEASE have more off-world adventures?! What are you spending the series budget on?! It’s not going on special effects creating alien worlds, is it? ) for an episode that features “roly poly comic genius” James Corden. How that will go, I don’t know. My first thought was “Dear God, no!” when I heard about that piece of casting, having suffered Corden’s “comedy” in his so-called “comedy sketch show” with Matthew Horne, which was about as funny as a kitten with cancer and a broken paw trying to claw its way across a busy motorway. But I’ve learned my lesson – if Richard Curtis can write something as good as “Vincent and The Doctor” after writing “Love Actually” then, ok, James Corden could be great in “The Lodger” too.

But for now, I’m happy with my memories of Who at its best, with Amy Pond holding hands with the Doctor, and Vincent Van Gogh, beneath a starry sky burning blue and gold…