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Spacemen and Sunflowers

June 11, 2010

I must apologise for the lateness of this posting. I have to admit that I wasn’t hugely looking forward to Vincent and the Doctor after the ending of Cold Blood, but having finally found the time to catch up I must say that the latest Doctor Who episode was thoroughly satisfying and very enjoyable, and having the ever brilliant Bill Nighy involved was the icing on the cake.

It’s always a risk when fictional dramas involve real-life historical figures, but thankfully for us this doesn’t seem to be a problem for Doctor Who. In fact the Doctor Who episodes that feature these characters have tended to be strong episodes, and ones which are both entertaining (like when the Doctor and Rose were trying to make Queen Victoria say “we are not amused” in Tooth and Claw) and educational (I didn’t know that Agatha Christie was a divorcee, nor that she had once mysteriously disappeared, but now I do thanks to The Unicorn and the Wasp). They also provide a plethora of in-jokes for those familiar with the relevant histories. For example, though I’m not very well versed in Agatha Christie myself I’m told that her episode was littered with references to the titles of her novels, and in The Shakespeare Code I spotted a few of the great man’s verses woven into the dialogue. Crafty writing and gleeful little nods like these help Doctor Who do what it was always intended to do, which is to inform us without talking down to us and to do so while being entertaining. In these respects Vincent and the Doctor was everything it promised to be.

The episode’s opening was nicely executed. I find that episodes kick-off a little better if the Doctor and his companion(s) have a reason to be where they end up, rather than having just happened upon a situation and then getting involved with it. This going-and-looking style also provides a subtle means of introduction because the Doctor and Amy, in asking where they could find Vincent, were shown what Vincent’s contemporaries thought of him (the waiter’s west-country accent was good fun too). This introduction was important because Vincent’s exclusion from this society underpinned his depression and isolation as seen in the rest of the episode, particularly when he breaks down and cries. That scene is a particularly poignant one; Vincent has clearly been enjoying himself for once, at least up to the point where Doctor says “don’t worry, this time tomorrow we’ll be out of your hair”, and the look on his face as he reacts to that line, and the breakdown just afterwards, show how much Vincent has connected with the Doctor and Amy and how much he suddenly realises he is going to miss them when they inevitably leave. This sense of loss also recurs throughout, especially around Amy, and although I enjoyed Vincent and the Doctor more than I thought I would considering nothing was actually done about Rory I’m still keen to see what happens about him in the finale.

The scenes with the invisible monster worked quite well I thought, and although the Doctor looked a bit silly in the first fighting scene him being flung through the air was done very well. The visual effects, both physical and digital, and the stunts that were performed here contributed to the good overall ‘look’ of the episode. There were other good visual bits too, my favourites being the quick nod to the old Doctors from the mirror machine and the TARDIS trip near the end when it’d been covered in posters. I enjoyed the Doctor’s reaction when he first saw the posters – understated but funny I thought – but what actually made me laugh was seeing the posters burning away after they’d time travelled. What I didn’t like, and I only actually noticed this after the episode had finished, was that the Doctor never explained how the monster was invisible to most people, nor how Vincent could see it. It seems strange that there was no mention of this whatsoever so at first I thought I’d just missed it, but I’ve asked a few people who’ve all confirmed that there wasn’t an explanation. I didn’t find this too big a flaw at the time but I know others have done.

Aside from this particular omission I thought the episode was resolved quite well. That the monster was blind explained why it had been a little bit rubbish at killing the Doctor earlier on, and the dialogue near the end when they’re about to leave Vincent was fun. The visit to the Van Gogh exhibition, though unexpected and perhaps a tad indulgent, was nicely done on the whole, though I did think that his reaction to the TARDIS and to time traveling wasn’t what I’d have expected. People just don’t seem to be shocked by the TARDIS as much these days (Rory and Nazrine weren’t that surprised either). However the Bill Nighy speech here and Vincent’s reaction were heartwarming, and even though the visit didn’t change much in the end the Doctor’s was right when he said “we definitely added to his pile of good things”. In fact the whole “good things/bad things” speech was a good bit of writing (and by Richard Curtis no less). I also thought the music in the museum scenes contributed to them very well, as I know that people can sometimes find the music in Doctor Who too intrusive or distracting.

Best bits:

  • The Doctor and Amy’s faces when they see Vincent for the first time.
  • It’s a thing, it’s like a plan but with more greyness
  • Vincent saying “on my own I fear I may not do as well” at the end. For me this was a reference to the Doctor and his relationship with his companions. Neither does as well without the other. This concept was brilliantly explored with Donna at the end of The Runaway Bride and when she meets the Doctor again in Partners in Crime, and I think it still rings true here.
  • I may be mad, I’m not stupid
  • When the Doctor was getting bored while Vincent was painting the church. Turns out he’s actually just a big kid.
  • Don’t follow me.” Well we all knew what was going to happen there didn’t we.
  • I’m not really the marrying kind.” Now there’s a loaded statement!
  • All the comments about red hair and bow ties.
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