Doctor Who Series Five Review: Vincent and the Doctor

by William Hohmeister

The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy (Karen Gillan) meet Vincent Van Gogh (Tony Curran) in Vincent and the Doctor. There’s a tradition to have one “artist” episode per Doctor, beginning with Nine and Rose running into Charles Dickens in The Unquiet Dead, and again when Ten and Martha helped William Shakespeare fight witches in The Shakespeare Code.

I love the artist episodes. Vincent and the Doctor is second only to The Eleventh Hour as my favorite episode of series 5 Doctor Who. It begins with a transition from Vincent Van Gogh painting Wheatfield with Crows to the finished painting hanging in the Musee d’Orsay. Dr. Black (Bill Nighy) lectures a tour group about the artist and the paintings, drawing a connection between Vincent’s madness and his work right away.

Wheatfield with Crows -- oil on canvas 101x50 ...

Wheatfield with Crows — oil on canvas 101×50 cm Auvers june 1890 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Amy says the Doctor is behaving too nicely and the Doctor overreacts, which makes Amy suspicious; she says she was joking, and asks why the Doctor isn’t. The Doctor still feels guilty over Rory Williams’ death in Cold Blood. I think he’d be more comfortable if Amy blamed him, but she doesn’t remember Rory at all; he was eaten by one of the Cracks in reality.

The Doctor spies a strange creature painted into The Church at Auvers. He says, “I know evil when I see it, and I see it in that window.” I can only remember a few times the Doctor declared something to be “evil”, and never without speaking to it first. I’m not sure if this is part of Eleven’s reckless personality, or a chance to distract himself from his guilt over Rory. Either way, it has repercussions for the Doctor, and leads to a defining moment at the end of the episode.

Amy and the Doctor travel to 1890. They find Vincent at a café from his paintings, begging for booze. He and the Doctor squabble, but Amy buys wine to share. She and Vincent flirt, which is weird because syphilis – a point Vincent himself brings up when he hears the name “the Doctor.” The Doctor tries to get Vincent talking, but a scream interrupts them. A dead woman in an alley is the first “look” we have of the creature from the painting. The Doctor invites himself and Amy to Vincent’s home.

Vincent describes how he hears colors to the Doctor. The Doctor realizes Amy has left the house and we hear her scream. Vincent seems to attack the Doctor with a pitchfork, but Vincent turns out be attacking an invisible creature which only he can see. Vincent sketches it over a completed painting (cringe) and the Doctor leaves for the Tardis. Amy stays with Vincent, but wakes up early to buy him sunflowers as a thank-you.

The Doctor gets a species-identifier – a papoose with a car mirror on the side – from the Tardis and shows it Vincent’s sketch. The creature shows up in the mirror, which identifies it as a Krafayis just before it attacks. The Doctor escapes and finds Amy as she returns to Vincent. Vincent delivers some great lines back at his house; like Dickens and Shakespeare, Vincent steals the episode.

The Church at Auvers-sur-Oise

The Doctor convinces Vincent to paint the church so the Krafayis will show up. Vincent agrees, but a remark by the Doctor about leaving afterward sends him crying to his bed. When the Doctor finds him Vincent screams at him to leave. The Doctor prepares to go to the church anyway, but Vincent reappears wearing the best hat/coat combo ever.

The trio confront the Krafayis at the church and discover, as it rambles aimlessly, that it is blind. Vincent is forced to kill it, however, as the Doctor’s plan to subdue it fails. Vincent eulogizes the creature, claiming it was scared and lashed out, like the villagers that attack him. The Doctor states that “Sometimes winning… winning is no fun at all.”

I think this sums up the Doctor’s character by contrasting his reaction with Vincent’s. Only Vincent shows real sympathy and understanding of the Krafayis, which while a brutal and murderous species, was abandoned on an alien planet, scared and confused. The Doctor seems annoyed that his grand victory – over what he imagined at the beginning to be “evil” – has been stolen from him.

Winning is no fun at all for him this time, because winning was all he cared about. With the comment from River and Amy about how the Doctor “keeps score,” I think Eleven views his travels as a competition. The Doctor loses something in this episode, even if it is only the victory he longs for.

There are two negatives to this episode: the dialogue from Amy and the Doctor (see above: “I’m sorry you’re so sad”) is bad, and the song at the end, “Chances” by Athlete. Call me old-fashioned, but if you need a moody song to set some heavy stuff to, you use “How to save a life” by The Fray.

We also get some hints that Amy does remember Rory, when she tells Vincent that she’s “sorry you’re so sad” and Vincent responds that he sees the same sadness in her. Amy starts crying without realizing it; at the end of the next episode, The Lodger, she finds her engagement ring, which the Doctor had hidden. This leads into the two-part season finale, and my next review, The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang.

 

Doctor Who Review: The Beast Below and Vampires of Venice

by William Hohmeister

Instead of one episode of Doctor Who today I decided to review two, out of order: “The Beast Below” and “The Vampires of Venice.” “The Time of Angels” and “Flesh and Stone” come between these two episodes, but I’ll review them next time.

“The Beast Below” and “The Vampires of Venice” are both bad episodes, although a bright spot appears in “Vampires” when Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) joins the Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) in the Tardis. His character is the only good thing about either episode, however.

“Beast” and “Vampires” both try to capitalize on the fairy tale theme introduced in “The Eleventh Hour”. Both feature monsters – an enormous creature hidden in a spaceship in “Beast”, and guess who in “Vampires” – a moral dilemma, and the Doctor and Amy continuing to occupy the roles of hero and victim, respectively. Unfortunately, neither episode moves beyond this basic setup.

The plot in each episode is dull and unimportant. A space whale in “Beast” is tortured into carrying a spaceship with millions of humans on its back. The Saturnyians, a fish-like alien in “Vampires,” want to repopulate their species in Venice after a crack in reality destroyed their planet. Both sound interesting, as they present the Doctor with a moral dilemma. Or they should, but the plots are solved without trouble.

“Beast” is the worse offender. The dilemma exists because freeing the space whale from torture condemns the ship and kills millions of people, but the alternative condemns the whale to unending pain. The Doctor decides to beast belowlobotomize the whale, as the least of all evils, so that the ship survives but the whale feels nothing. Amy Pond frees the whale before he can, and the ship survives. The whale, like the Doctor, wanted to help.

The aliens of “Vampires” plan to sink Venice so their children, who live in the canals, can mate with the genetically altered human women. Rain starts to fall, but the Doctor stops it and the queen alien kills herself.

In each episode the characters behave as if time is racing, but it’s not. The Doctor decides to lobotomize the space whale without considering other options, such as finding alternate transportation or moving the humans in the Tardis, and then freeing the whale. When rain starts to fall in Venice, everyone freaks out immediately, but the rain is not heavy and the city doesn’t begin to sink. The plot needs the characters to pretend they have no time because if they don’t, the plot falls apart.

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