Review: Doctor Who – 5×10 – Vincent and the Doctor

Perfection – almost

Vincent and the Doctor

In the UK: Saturday 5th June, 6.40pm, BBC1/BBC HD
In the US: Saturday 19th June, 9/8c, BBC America

Have you been affected by any of the issues raised in Saturday’s episode, such as life imitating art imitating life, giant space chickens following you, the memory of your ex- being wiped, or Athlete?

If so, you can either call the BBC or you can come talk about it in a supportive environment – full of spoilers – after the jump.

The Doctor, Amy, Vincent Van Gogh and a terrifying alien all feature in this stunning but heart-breaking adventure, written by Richard Curtis.

Was it any good?
Well, although I have reservations about it, in many ways it was a thing of wonder and delight.

The most wondrous thing about it was the direction by Jonny Campbell. My god, that was a beautiful piece of work. You could probably flag up a few movies that have tried to be that beautiful and bring art to life (The Girl with a Pearl Earring, Prospero’s Book), but this is first time that I’ve seen a sci-fi drama try to do it and succeed (I’m glowering at you here, Voyager).

Normally, CGI is a thing to be irritated by, but the recreation of ‘Starry Night’ to the narration of Tony Curran’s van Gogh was a thing of awe. Add on the sunflowers and the fields of corn, and you have some true moments of TV joy.

Then we have the acting. Much as Matt Smith and Karen Gillan have been showing off their acting chops of late, they definitely had to up their game in the face of the magnificent Tony Curran as top ginge painter, Vincent van Gogh. He went from joy to deepest misery and back entirely convincingly. If your tear ducts weren’t yet exercised, Curran would certainly have put a whole more pressure on them. And let’s face it, Bill Nighy’s explanation of why van Gogh was such a magnificenct painter should have added a hundredweight of extra emotion to that particular lacrimony.

The script
Overall, a wonderful structure that was full of meaning and metaphor, and let the Doctor finally do what we all would do, sooner or later, if we had a time machine – take a famous person from the past into the present to reassure him or her that history would treat them kindly. Unlike previous “and a very special guest appearance by <INSERT NAME OF FAMOUS PERSON HERE>” episodes such as The Unquiet Dead, The Shakespeare Code, and The Unicorn and the Wasp, there was actually a decent enough reason for the Doc to go visit van Gogh, who rather than be revered from the outset was treated mostly like a normal person, both by the script and the Doctor. The Doctor prefers less impressionistic paintings it turns out (more of that fuddy duddy 11th Doctor quality) and rather than explain to Vincent in another toe-curling speech just how great he is (a 10th Doctor quality), he got someone else to do it instead, which was a pleasing touch.

We also got a relatively convincing look at manic depression within the confines of the format (typical Richard “issues” Curtis) with the all-important ending in which van Gogh still kills himself, despite knowing how revered he will be. I liked that a lot – very bleak for family TV.

Other good things:

  • The sets: Well, Croatia, which was a whole lot more convincing as France than Venice
  • The gizmo: The Doctor has contraptions again!
  • Bow ties: Not cool, but good to see someone else wearing them (and wouldn’t Nighy have been a great Doctor?)
  • Amy crying: Were you crying too, as you realised she was sad for Rory even though she couldn’t remember him?
  • Niceness: Amy and the Doctor’s relationship, with Amy and the Doctor having more jumping up and down time together and Amy wondering why he was being so nice to her. Of course, the question is that now Rory has gone, what kind of relationship does Amy think she has with the Doctor? Did she try to snog him on the eve of her non-existent wedding? Has she been footloose and fancy-free the whole time? Does she think the Doctor is her boyfriend now? History has been rewritten – will it be rewritten back at series-end if we’re not getting any kind of relationship rewrite at this stage?
  • Vincent kissing the Doctor and apologising about the beard
  • Vincent’s reaction to the gallery of his work. Just epic
  • Chicken death scene

Not perfect
Nonetheless, there were a few flaws:

  • Space chicken: Interesting idea, the invisible monster (cheap in budget terms) who turns out to be blind and a bit frightened. Shame it was a CGI space chicken really. And why couldn’t the Doctor understand it sooner if it was sentient and could speak?
  • Amy: Suddenly, Amy loves art. Who knew? No pictures in her house that I recall, but hell, maybe she’s minimalist and has them all on her iPhone. Or maybe not having Rory around her whole life has changed Amy. But why the strange attraction to the much-older, bearded ginger Dutchman? Oh yes, Richard “Love Actually” Curtis is writing the script.
  • Violence: Was the Doctor really trying to twat the space chicken with a metal pole?
  • So little action: For a script that has lots of running around and lots of fights, there was really very little excitement, so little sense of urgency. Instead, everything was a bit flat or too comedic to ring true.
  • Athlete: Nice music, pity it drowned everything out worse than Murray Gold on full blast
  • Amy screamed: Yes, she actually bloody screamed.

And, please, we really need a few more scenes with Amy and the Doctor talking about their feelings. I’ve completely lost track, particularly in light of last week’s episode, of even why Amy’s travelling with the Doctor now, let alone whether she wants his babies.

The series arc
No cracks this week. Interesting. So the Doctor isn’t following cracks in time, or if he is, he took a breather (after finding out the TARDIS will be destroyed at some point) to take Amy on a literal guilt trip. What could be happening in the finale?

Pretty magnificent in a lot of ways, but really needed a bit more woomph in its action scenes and maybe just a bit more time with the Doctor and Amy talking.

Next week: The Doctor becomes James Corden’s lodger for the Doctor-light (and presumably Amy-lighter) episode.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.