Vincent and the Doctor, or How I Became a Fangirl Without Even Trying: 13 Days of Doctor Who


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Welcome to the second stop on the 13 Days of Doctor Who bloghop! If you’d like to see yesterday’s entry, please visit Erica O’Rourke! Tomorrow’s entry will be from Allie Pleiter at DestiKNITions.

I am not a fannish person, unfortunately. I am often quite envious of my friends who are. Fannish people have different relationships to texts than those of us who aren’t, and I often thought that I was missing out on something ineffable because of it. It took watching Vincent and the Doctor for the first time to convert me.


Tony Curran as Vincent Van Gogh, looking like he just stepped out of that self-portrait.

A little bit of plot – and be warned, there are spoilers from here on. The Doctor and Amy Pond have decided to visit the Vincent Van Gogh exhibit at the Musée d’Orsay, and during their turn around the museum the doctor spots something off in one of Van Gogh’s paintings. A monster is peeking out one of the windows at The Church at Auvers. Clearly, the only choice the Doctor has is to go to Provence in 1890 to Fix It. The Doctor buttonholes the docent, a delightful Bill Nighy, and after a moment of mutual admiration for their bow ties (“Bow ties are cool,” he insists to an unimpressed Amy) finds out the exact date Van Gogh painted the church. Fwoop fwoop, and they are off in the TARDIS.

One of the chief joys of this episode is the art direction. The Doctor’s Provence is an Impressionist wonderland, from The Café Terrace at Night where they find Vincent, identical to the painting in Amy’s guidebook, to Vincent’s Bedroom in Arles, the room with sickening angles, Vincent’s yard full of sunflowers thanks to Amy (“I don’t even like sunflowers,” Vincent says, to their surprise) to the night sky transforming into The Starry Night as Vincent describes it. The viewer sees the setting not as it really looks but through Vincent’s eyes.

The episode’s plot isn’t anything new or groundbreaking. After finding Vincent in a cafe, trying to barter the paintings no one wants for just another drink, The Doctor and Amy stumble upon a woman who has been killed. Turns out, an invisible alien monster is rampaging through the wheat fields, killing people indiscriminately, and only poor mad Vincent can see it. (In a neat trick, occasionally the viewer can, too.) The Doctor pulls out a gift from his “smelly godmother,” an apparatus meant for him to wear with a reflective surface that identifies the creature as a Krayfis, which looks like an overgrown, horse-sized chicken. With a lot of teeth.

It’s scarier than it sounds, I promise.

The Doctor spends the rest of the episode getting tossed around by the Krayfis or fighting it with his back turned so he can see it in the reflection. Vincent descends into madness and emerges again, changing from a snarling beast who can’t get out of bed to a jovial painter out for a stroll. Finally, he defeats the invisible monster (totally not a metaphor, am I right?) with the sharp points of the legs of his easel.

(NB: This is where I begin to weep, by the way, when The Doctor soothes the Krayfis as it dies. The monster is invisible, people. And yet.)

Vincent and the Doctor could have ended there, not much more than a monster-of-the-week episode set in a historical period. (As an aside, did you know that the reason there are so many historical episodes of Doctor Who is because that helped make it more educational for children? I always thought it was because there were, like, a million historical costumes stuffed in the back of some BBC lot somewhere.) The episode itself doesn’t touch much on Series 5’s overall plot, aside from some references to Amy feeling like something was missing. (That something was her beloved, Rory, who had been sucked into a crack in a wall and subsequently erased from her memory.) But instead the episode pushes forward.

Before leaving Vincent behind, Amy and The Doctor decide to show him what kind of legacy his artwork has had. “How come I’m the crazy one, and you two have stayed both sane?” he mutters, as he realizes the TARDIS is bigger on the inside. They arrive back at the Musée d’Orsay and lead him to the Vincent Van Gogh exhibit.

It is a revelation. The camera stays close on Vincent as he tries to take in the entire scene, a spacious room full of his paintings and of people looking at them. The Doctor strikes up another conversation with Nighy’s docent, while Amy maneuvers Vincent so that he can overhear. What do you think of Vincent Van Gogh? he asks, and the docent doesn’t hold back:

Well… um… big question, but, to me Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly the most popular, great painter of all time. The most beloved, his command of colour most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world, no one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world’s greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.

By this time, of course, Vincent is weeping and I have switched from weeping to the Ugly Cry. Just sobbing all over and laughing because I’m being so ridiculous. But what a gift! What artist (and by artist I’m including writers, musicians, etc etc — we are going broad here) doesn’t dream that their work will have lasting merit? Who doesn’t want to be studied a hundred and fifty years down the line?

This, of course, is what the episode is truly about. What does it mean to be an artist? What does it mean to be mad? How does one inform the other? Is there any chance to get perspective on your own work? What would happen if you did?

After they drop Vincent, happier than they’ve ever seen him, back in 1890 Provence, Amy wants a trip to the museum again, this time to see all the other works that Van Gogh managed to paint after his trip to the future. “Time can too be rewritten,” she chirps, as she dashes up the stairs to the Van Gogh room. The Doctor follows along behind her, because he knows the truth: Vincent killed himself after all. Time can’t be rewritten. Amy’s face falls as she skitters into the room and realizes that there are no new paintings. The Doctor leads her to the painting of sunflowers in a vase. Where before it had only Vincent’s signature, now it includes a small notation: “For Amy.” She made a difference, but it was not enough.

What would it matter if you knew your work had merit? That in the future, someone would call you the greatest artist in history? Would it change what you do now? Does madness always win in the end? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I appreciate that the show makes me think about them. And that is precisely why I became a fangirl for the first time.

Prizes! We’ve got prizes!

First, we have the grand prize: a box set of Series 6 (the most recent!) on DVD. I am not ashamed to say I have been coveting this for myself. But my inability to enter the contest because of fairness is your gain!

To enter the grand prize giveaway, please leave a comment with your name and email address. You may enter once at every stop on the blog tour, for a total of thirteen chances. The Grand Prize giveaway is limited to the US and Canada, due to regional restrictions on the DVD. Individual contests will close at the discretion of the author, but the Grand Prize contest will accept entries on any site until midnight CST on December 24th. We will post the winner on December 25th, and notify the winner via email.

I am also doing an individual giveaway! Any comment you leave on this entry (don’t comment twice! Your comment will count for both contests and I won’t count two entries, anyway) will enter you in a drawing for this goooorgeous necklace:

I mean, really. Could I give away anything else? The necklace came from the lovely Bohemian Craftsody on etsy. The contest for the necklace will end, like the contest for the box set, at midnight CST on December 24. I’ll announce the winner on December 25. (Edited to add: while the box set is US/Canada only, I will ship the necklace anywhere USPS ships.) Also, if you have never commented on my blog before I will have to approve you first! Please don’t panic — I’ll be approving as quickly as possible.

Thanks so much for stopping by my entry! Make sure to check out all the others as we count down to The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe.

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Comments

A chance to win something involving one of my favourite shows and paintings? I’m in! :D
Now that I’ve stumbled onto this blog, I will be sure to visit more often.

Oh, I did the ugly cry at the end of Vincent and the Doctor too. I halfway wanted Amy to stay and make gorgeous, mad ginger babies with him.

I’ve been trying to find an episode that will help me get my girlfriend into Doctor Who and I think this post has helped me figure out I should show her this one, so thanks a lot :D. Is the necklace prize open to outside the US by the way?

Milo, thank you for reminding me! I’ll update the post as well, but YES, I will ship the necklace anywhere the USPS ships, with the caveat that I have no idea how long it will take.

As for a first episode for your girlfriend, I think this would be a lovely one, as well as Blink with Ten. Depends on if she can handle being creeped out or not!

I feel like I do the ugly cry more often for Doctor Who than any other show! The end of every seasons seems to find me on the floor, weeping inconsolably and railing about my apparent madness…

Now THAT is a cool necklace. I was crying at the end of the Van Gogh episode, too. Along with many other episodes.

And in this episode there is also one of my favorite quotes of the show: “The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”

(And that necklace is FANTASTIC :P)

I’ve watched this episode three times now (twice within the last month) and I still cry every single time Vincent walks into the gallery, and then again when The Doctor and Amy go back

This was definitely my favorite one-shot episode with Matt Smith. At the end I was crying like a baby… I’m even tearing up a little reading your blog!

This episode is definitely one of the better in all of Season 5. I just recently introduced my wife to the joys of Doctor Who via Matt Smith. She couldn’t believe it when she came to this episode and just started crying like a newborn babe.

That episode, in particular, is one of the many reasons that I love this show as much as I do. No television show has ever made me get as emotional as Doctor Who has. Whether’s it the ongoing saga of Rose Tyler and the Doctor in the first seasons to the grandiose emotional storylines that Moffatt just seems to produce like a machine. I’m all in on this show.

There was a period of time while I was watching through Tennant’s era as the Doctor in which basically every episode had me going from “subtly” dabbing the tears from my eyes to openly weeping to full on Ugly Cry.

I LOVE this episode SO MUCH. Few things make me cry when I watch them (most of them involving animals), but this one… I teared up so much at the end when they take Vincent to the gallery. Best episode of the season. Not only thoughtful and heart-wrenching, but also, like you said, filled with beautiful visuals. This was also the episode that got me over my lingering doubts about Matt Smith’s first season. (After Tennant, I just couldn’t deal for a while and I wasn’t that into the first few eps of Smith’s season, though I liked his Doctor and Amy fine.)

Its amazing that you’re doing this! Great stuff!

This is one of my favorite episodes and you’ve described it and all the subtext beautifully. Thanks for that.

This episode has me in tears each time I watch it. I am sitting at work teary eyed just reading this entry to your blog. Thank you for bringing a little Doctor to my day!

Cheers!

This episode was THE inspiration to my final art project- It was just beautiful

Gorgeous necklace, and gorgeous description of this episode! I need to track it down. Thanks :)

Gosh, your post sums up exactly how I feel about Doctor Who and that episode in particular. Great work!

Vincent and the Doctor is my gateway episode. I offer this one to friends to get them hooked on the Doctor.

This episode is also considered one of the finest depictions of mental illness. It is so much so that it got my “not interested in Doctor Who” hubby to watch it (Hubby has a degree in psych). It’s so poignant and touching that ugly cry is inevitable.

Ok – I have a scary feeling I may be converted by the end of these 13 posts! That episode sounds heart wrenching and amazing…now you’ve given me something to talk to the husband about!

Gorgeous necklace, even with the box…in my first home of my “own” I designed an entire bathroom around a giant print of Starry Night.

I finally got around to discovering reddit and found your blog through it. You did a great job of describing the best episode of Season 5 and one of the best from NuWho. Thanks so much! :)

That necklace is beautiful,and this is one of my favorite episodes. I tear up every time I watch it.

YES. I love this episode. I cry every time. That’s not a proufound comment like the one I wanted to leave, but it’s all I have.

Oh, man, Vincent and the Doctor is one of my all time favorite episodes of Doctor Who, and not least because of its depiction of mental illness. How sometimes, no matter how badly you want to help someone who is in that kind of mental state, you can have only the smallest of impacts. I do think it meant something, even though he still killed himself in the end.

Also, that necklace is gorgeous WANTWANTWANTWANTWANT.

This is my absolute favorite episode – just the quote made me cry! Plus, that is a gorgeous necklace.

omg, i cried so hard at this episode. your write-up totally did it justice. <3

I almost started crying just from the recap. Great episode. Must watch it again soon.

Wow. Awesome discussion about a great episode.

Yes, that episode always makes me cry, too. And wow, that necklace…. I may have to BUY one if I don’t win it. :D

I can’t usually cry when I watch Dr. Who, because my 14-year-old is my watching buddy, and…it’s just best if I don’t. I don’t think I cried at this one, but I can’t help it when I watch The Girl in the Fireplace.

Eliza! Now I need chocolate! Really, that episode was so touching and you recapped it beautifully. I believe the episode is powerful because the things that make people unique and creative, also open them up to pain and sadness. We need all of these things to live and experience and create, but it can be hard–especially if someone isn’t getting any external support or reassurance of their gifts. A powerful episode that I want to watch again right now! Also, the necklace is A-MA-ZING. What a find. Off to shop now, myself…

I always cry at that episode, but it’s a mix of happy sad, if that makes sense. I sortof live by the doctor’s pile of good things and pile of bad things quote. It gets me through my worst days.

A friend of mine introduced me to Doctor Who a couple months back. Since then, I’ve watched the last five seasons (at the cost of my school work- still worth it). After I finished Vincent and the Doctor, I called him up crying. Van Gogh has always been one of my favorite artists, but now he’s also one of my favorite characters. I’m so glad to hear that I’m not the only one who was so touched by this episode!
(On an unrelated note, I did a sketch of the church sans-monster in my high school art class. It’s one of my favorites.)

I ugly cried for waaaaay longer than the acceptable allotted time. Beauuuutiful necklace!

Thanks for all the comments, everyone! It’s so nice to know I’m not the only Ugly Crier for this one.

This was truly one of my favorite episodes of the eleventh Doctor’s. It really showed Amy’s character, and her ability to care for others.

Oh goodness, just reading your entry on that episode made me start to weep a little. Which isn’t cool because I’m at work. So I had to do that eyes-closed, mouth scrunched weep. Sigh.

And I’m pretty sure I’ve actually seen that necklace, or one very similar, on my ventures through Etsy before and drooled over it! So. Beautiful.

I had this episode on at work the first time I watched it. BIG MISTAKE. I stayed after work so no one would see that I had been crying, lol!

I have to admit I cried during this episode. The writers of who just got everything about human emotions so right. Wonderful post!!

Thing 1: Yes, this episode brings on my Ugly Cry something fierce. I feel an amazing kinship with all the people here who have written the same… as if we should all get together, watch the show, bawl our eyes out, and then eat and hug. The moment when Vincent is listening to the docent, the room swirls around me. Compliments make me uncomfortable, and by the time the episode reaches that point, I’ve identified with Vincent so much that I’m just unable to hold myself together.

My husband has gotten away from watching Who since the end of Ten’s run, but this one and The Doctor’s Wife are the only ones of Eleven’s run that have made me say You have to watch this. And it is a perfect gateway to someone who’s never seen the show before, so self-contained and emotional. I’m just SO glad you wrote this and did it such fabulous justice.

Thing 2: Thank you for including that seller’s work; she is incredible.

The original purpose of Doctor Who was, indeed, to help make science and history more palatable to children. The first “historicals” were pure historicals (i.e., no aliens or “bug-eyed monsters”). They actually wanted to hold off on showing the first Dalek story because of this aversion to “monster” stories, but in a quirk of providence, it ended up being the second story shown–and it saved the show from early cancellation! The last true historical in this sense was, I think, Black Orchid in 1982.

Vincent and the Doctor was hands-down my favorite episode of new series season 5. So far, for me, the best episodes of the Matt Smith era have been written by big name guest writers: Vincent and the Doctor written by Richard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”, “Notting Hill”, “Black Adder” etc.), and The Doctor’s Wife written by Neil Gaiman (world-famous author). I don’t think there’s anything more I can say about the episode that hasn’t already been eloquently said by you. It is a masterpiece blending of Doctor Who sci-fi action, mystery, and fun, with the emotional/historical story of Van Gough and his struggle with mental illness. It certainly deserves to join the ranks of classic must-see Doctor Who stories.

You make me want to pay good money to see more!

Vincent and the Doctor. YES! The exquisite story of emotion keeps me coming back for more.

Been holding off paying to see the recent series until they are available on Netflix. Meanwhile, just getting caught up on the oldies is a major undertaking.

Like you, I absolutely adored this episode. I couldn’t stop crying when Amy took Vincent to the museum. Beautiful!

I love the doctor. One of my favorite quotes comes from the end of “Vincent and the Doctor”…
after Amy says “We didn’t make a difference at all.” The doctor replies with “…every life is a pile of good things and… bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things.”

What a great discussion of this episode! I am loving this blog hop. Also loving the chance to finally get my hands on S6 :)

Also, that pendant is absolutely gorgeous and I WANNNTS it!

Thanks so much for participating. This is fantastic!

Rebecca T
sonshinemusic at gmail dot com

Thanks so much for doing this! I’m having a blast reading all of these awesome Doctor Who posts. :D

The Vincent episode is one of my favorites, not just because I’m an artist and I love Van Gogh, but because it’s just a brilliantly crafted episode all around. You’re completely right that the art direction is fantastic. I loved the way they brough Van Gogh’s paintings to life. The whole episode is a feast for the eyes.

And yes, the Ugly Cry happens to me a lot when watching Doctor Who. It’s one of the unfortunate side effects of falling in love with a great series. ;)

OHEMGEEE!!!! I blogged about Vincent and The Doctor TOO! Here- http://domestictype.com/2011/12/reverb11-day-10/

ANyways, I hope you get a chance to read that post and here’s my email to enter as well solsonliebert at gmail dot com.

I found that episode to be quite moving as well. That necklace is amazing. Thanks so much for the giveaway!

OMG, please. Just READING this blog post made me tear up like twice. That episode may be the moment I started to let go of my intense, “YOU’RE NOT MY DOCTOR” feelings toward Matt Smith (I’m all Tennant, all the way.) Love.

That necklace is gorgeous, by the way! Great choice!

What a beautiful necklace!

The Vincent episode was the one that converted me as well. I was studying in England for a semester and everyone kept bugging me to watch an episode. “You can’t go to England and NOT watch Doctor Who on BBC!”

I was very convinced I could, and would do so happily.

But one night, my friend Katie dragged me down to the student lounge where all the locals were gathered. It was in the middle of Season 5, the first episode featuring those lizard people from the center of the Earth. As you can tell, the episode didn’t make much of an impression. I thought it was stupid and very reluctantly stuck around for the second part. I mean, c’mon, lizard people with toxic tongues? And clearly that’s a mask, people!

But somehow Katie managed to drag me downstairs again next week, and that’s when Vincent appeared. By the end of the episode, I was absolutely fascinated by the world of Doctor Who.

Yeah, the first time I saw this episode I cried like a three-year-old stung by a bee. It was also the episode that allowed me to persuade my thoroughly non-nerdy boyfriend to watch the series.

Name: Heather R. Holsclaw Email: hrholsclaw (at) gmail (dot) com.

Wow, stunning necklace. This episode is one of my absolute favourites!

erin(@)anatomyofaskirt(dot)com

I think it would take a heart of stone (or a really bad experience with an art history class) not to wind up bawling during this episode. It’s just so TOUCHING.

I believe, part of it, is while Vincent’s adventure with the Doctor and Amy was so amazing, it was also very brief. Who else knows about it? How long can you believe this adventure really happened or if maybe, it was just your mind tricking you once again? As hard as it is to swallow along with Amy that Vincent had killed himself despite the time travel intervention, it was also heartbreakingly realistic.

While I’m still not sold on Matt Smith’s doctor, there have been some exceptional episodes. This one definitely sticks with you

oh, what a lovely article!!! Totally made me remember how joyful it was to watch vincent hear the docent speak of his work and, as an artist, to imagine that… : D

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