At an exhibit of Vincent Van Gogh’s artwork, the Doctor thinks he’s spotted – in a painting – evidence that an alien creature that may have been stalking the Earth in Van Gogh’s time. The next stop for the TARDIS is in Provence, where something has indeed been claiming the lives of numerous people – and Van Gogh, considered a crazy outsider, has been blamed for the deaths. The Doctor and Amy offer to help, but how can the Doctor save any lives when Vincent is the only one to actually see the alien creature? And will helping Vincent fight the beast change the painter’s own future?
written by Richard Curtis
directed by Jonny Campbell
music by Murray Gold
Guest Cast: Tony Curran (Vincent), Nik Howden (Maurice), Chrissie Cotterill (Mother), Sarah Counsell (Waitress), Morgan Overton (School Child), Andrew Byrne (School Child), Bill Nighy (Dr. Black)
Notes: Guest star Bill Nighy – whose name was not shown in the end credits of the episode – was, at one time, considered the hot contender for the role of the Doctor when the series’ return was still in pre-production (in fact, one prominent British newspaper announced that Nighy was picked for the role of the ninth Doctor). He has featured in the Harry Potter film series and appeared as Slartibartfast in the 2005 film adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Oscar-nominated writer Richard Curtis penned the screenplays for Four Weddings And A Funeral, Notting Hill and Love, Actually; prior to his film career, however, Curtis wrote or co-write every episode of Blackadder, starring Rowan Atkinson, who would play another ninth Doctor in the 1999 Comic Relief spoof The Curse Of Fatal Death (written, coincidentally, by one Steven Moffat). Curtis also founded the Comic Relief charity.
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: A truly off-format episode, even by Doctor Who standards, Vincent And The Doctor‘s alien-hunting plotline is almost incidental; it’s very clear that the real meat of this episode is the interaction with Van Gogh. That part of the episode wears its heart on its sleeve unashamedly, and Tony Curran does such an outstanding job as Van Gogh, that I found myself growing annoyed when the “alien” plot distracted from these scenes. Why can’t modern TV Doctor Who grow the pair that Big Finish audio Doctor Who has had for many years, daring to tell “historical” stories with no science fiction elements other than the time travelers themselves?
The real treat of the Van Gogh scenes is that they don’t skimp on depicting the man’s anguish and mental disarray. That part of the show could’ve been even more powerful with no goofy sci-fi influence. Van Gogh’s interactions with the Doctor and Amy have heart and have a strange kind of reality to them. No alien snipe hunt was necessary to drive it home that the only characters capable of even beginning to understand Van Gogh were the time travelers.
The unexpectedly charming and touching conclusion takes Van Gogh briefly into a future where his work is revered and he himself is regarded with sympathy. Amy expects, for some reason, that this revelation will change his future, but we’re left to ponder the possibility that it may simply cement the tragic end that hovers over Van Gogh throughout the episode. Tony Curran’s performance in these scenes is scene-stealing; Matt Smith is no slouch in this episode, and there’s also an uncredited turn from Bill Nighy, but Curran simply blows everyone else off the screen by the episode’s end. If I wasn’t still stinging from Rory’s abrupt and rather pointless exit, I’d be tempted to ponder the wonders of Van Gogh traveling on the TARDIS for an extended period of time, and then returning to his old life – a jarring return to humdrum normalcy that could, very conceivably, have driven him to the depths that awaited him.
In the face of all of this character development, the alien subplot – surprisingly for an episode of a science fiction series – winds up looking awfully superfluous.