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Doctor Who and Vincent van Gogh

I just don’t get Doctor Who, the much-loved BBC TV series. However, I was curious about this weekend’s episode because it featured as its central character Vincent van Gogh, who regular readers will know is a particular favourite of mine. So I watched it.

I suspected that actor Tony Curran would make a rather good Vincent – which he did – and that the script, by Blackadder writer Richard Curtis, might offer a rip-roaring story of vision and illusion, passion and pathos (in a Blackadder Goes Forth sort of way) and perhaps even tackle some of Vincent’s internal demons. But I was seriously disappointed.

The script was so weak and went nowhere, and as a van Gogh aficionado the shocking errors in the chronology and geography of Vincent’s life were glaring, irritating and lazy. For example, the church in which Vincent, the Doctor and his sidekick end up to defeat the monster is not even in Provence. And where in Vincent’s life was this rustic farmhouse where much of the action took place?

Historical inaccuracy apart, the script went nowhere, which is such a shame, because there is so much fascinating stuff in Vincent’s life which could have made a rich seam for a great storyline. How about a monster which turns colour to monochrome? Or sunflowers which through Vincent’s vision become alive and dangerous on the canvas? Or Vincent’s inner demons which force him to do violent things like ear-mutilating?

There were some nice touches; actor Tony Curran made a cracking job of Vincent’s unstable, explosive fragility; the cackling Arlesienne women outside the café at the beginning wore the correct  costume; and the mock up of Vincent’s bedroom was great. And the CG which made the crows flap over the cornfield was wonderful as was the CGd starry night at the end.

But the overblown, syrupy, tear-jerking bit at the end where Vincent is seen in a 21st century gallery overhearing Bill Nighy sing his praises as the greatest artist of all time had me reaching for the sick-bucket.

The review in The Telegraph considered it weak. The review in The Guardian was slightly more generous.

7 Responses to Doctor Who and Vincent van Gogh

  1. Kurt says:

    I am not a follower of the Dr Who series, far too old now! But I was curious to see how they would deal with dear Vincent. Despite the silliest of stories involving some pointless invisible monster thing, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The inaccuracies didn’t matter. Just one thing really annoyed me: the lazy pronunciation of Vincent’s surname “van Goff”. I know a Dutchman might cringe at some English attempts at pronunciation but the actor was a Scot! He would have had no trouble at all sounding much like the Scottish ‘ch’ giving us something like: van ‘choch’ with the ‘ch’ sounds like the ‘ch’ of the Scottich word ‘loch’. That would have been a lot closer than GOFF!

    I liked the sick-making Bill Nighy in the gallery bit too! Sad, eh?

  2. thomas says:

    its not intended to be taken seriously, if you were a geek you would spot time space anomolies in the story…. if you want it accurate check out the history channel… if you want low budget entertainment keep with the BBC. Geeks think its one of the better episodes.. sadly because the character playing goff (ducks) was a very good actor compared to the doctor… personally I liked the end… where goff (ducks again) sees the future…

  3. Clive says:

    Oh dear, come on, I think you are being a trifle unfair to the poor old BBC here – this is science fiction not a history doco. Yes, the story was wafer-thin but I suspect that a LOT of kids watching (and some adults) had either never even heard of van Gogh or knew next to nothing about him at all; I imagine there were thousands of google searches seeking more information on van Gogh after this programme aired – actually it would be interesting to know exactly what the figures are. I also thought the programme makers made a valuable contribution into shining a little light on the issue of depression – how can that be bad?
    Personally, I found the ending rather touching (even if you could see it coming a mile off).

  4. David Brooks says:

    I’d been planning on waiting for the entire Doctor Who new series to be released on DVD before watching Vincent and the Doctor. But I saw that it was on Canadian TV at noon today and decided not to wait.

    I was very much looking forward to the episode given that I’m a great Doctor Who aficionado and know one or two things about Van Gogh’s life and art. I guess the episode left me a bit taken aback. First of all, I wasn’t used to the new Doctor Who elements (new Doctor, new TARDIS, new companion, new intro) so that left me reeling a bit. And the Van Gogh elements? The episode could have been so much better. I didn’t mind the whole invisible monster nonsense (this is Doctor Who after all—last season Agatha Christie was attacked by a ten foot wasp). I suppose I found the acting terrible, the story paper thin, the historical inaccuracies a bit grating and, surprisingly, the incidental music pure crap (in the past Doctor Who series it was the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Who’s doing the music now? Some 12 year old with a synthesizer?).

    The actor playing Vincent was okay—he certainly looked the part. But the Scottish accent was a bit off-putting. When he ran into the church to confront the monster he yelled out something like “Ach! Come out ye great beastie!!!” He sounded like frigging Groundskeeper Willie. Ouch.

    No matter. I suppose as your other postings suggest this was an episode more geared toward kids. At least they didn’t throw in that crap song by Don McLean. That really would have been the last straw.

  5. Kurt says:

    I was 15 years old when Mr McLean brought out that ‘crap’ song. How long would it have been before I would have eventually found VvG if it wasn’t for Don?

  6. Jane Tomlinson says:

    Probably not that long, Kurt. Vincent’s pics are everywhere and had been for decades before Don penned that little ditty.

  7. sandy says:

    I am a little stunned by some of the remarks – maybe everyone is taking it very seriously. Last week the episode was shown to a group of my French friends – on a large screen/cinema sound – and they were enthralled by it. My nephews class [9 yr olds] talked about Van Gogh for a whole afternoon the following Monday which to me was a good spin-off. Did you see the ‘Dr Who Confidential’ and the making of this particular episode? For a mid-evening slot on Saturday BBC this is an award winning show. The team behind Dr. Who go to great lengths to produce a good series and if you are not convinced just go to the RAH on the 24/25th this month to see the reaction to the Dr. Who Proms.

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