Today marked a return to a more normal schedule, after a precious week of being with Greg’s dad before his passing. I worked this morning, in the heavy rain and lightning, showing property to a fun young couple who braved the weather. This afternoon, I had time to get back into another aspect of my schedule that has been so fun this summer….watching Doctor Who with Dayan. As surely as I needed rest for my weariness, after an emotional 10 days, and a return to my work schedule, I needed this time with my grandson.
The episode that captured me and pierced my heart is titled Vincent and the Doctor. Dayan told me it is one of his favorite Doctor Who episodes. After watching, I can see why. The 11th Doctor, played by Matt Smith, and his companion Amy Pond, portrayed by Karen Gillan, travel to France to meet legendary artist, Vincent Van Gogh. Spotting an evil looking face in one of Van Gogh’s paintings in a museum in current time Paris, The Doctor is concerned about the intentions of the creature Vincent captured in his painting, and wants to talk to the artist.
Vincent, wonderfully fleshed out by Tony Curran, is a ridiculed man in his hometown, tormented, struggling with low self esteem and depression. And he is brilliant, creating an enormous body of work, compelled to paint. No one appreciates his style of art. The Doctor and Amy are delighted to meet this man whom they admire, and they are touched and concerned about his mental and physical afflictions. In spite of his manic behavior, he is charming and curious and willing to assist the time lord in hunting down the alien beast who has become trapped on Earth. Only Vincent can see this creature. Others just assume the creature is imaginary and part of the painter’s madness.
In the end, the beast is dispatched, and not without some sadness as The Doctor realizes it was alone and afraid. With the artist and his community safe, the pair from the future prepare to leave, but first, they have a powerful surprise for Vincent.
This is one of the episodes that makes me deeply appreciate Doctor Who, and my grandson who introduced me to this series. All the fictional elements aside, what I loved about Vincent and The Doctor is the way Van Gogh was portrayed as a troubled man who saw the world differently. He didn’t perceive in a wrong way. He saw with fresh eyes and captured nature and people in new and exciting ways. Vincent excitedly tells The Doctor and Amy that colors call to him. He can hear them and see them move and swirl in ways that must be painted to be explained. Vincent paints because he must and he is passionate about his work, even though he seems to be the only one who is.
When Amy and The Doctor show amazement and appreciation for his paintings, Vincent has a difficult time accepting their praise, being unaccustomed to such compliments. The pair gently encourages the artist to keep going, keep painting, keep living. The Doctor has visited the artist just a few months before he commits suicide. Amy hopes that by encouraging Vincent, appreciating him and befriending him, he might live longer, creating more beautiful paintings as a result
The final scenes undid me. Unable to convince Vincent that his works are magnificent, The Doctor and Amy return to the Paris museum, in the present time, taking the artist with them. As they lead him to the Van Gogh room, Vincent is amazed, eyes wide as he looks at all the art around him. He is surprised when he finds himself in a popular exhibit of his own work. His paintings are hanging in places of honor on the wall. Crowds of people are admiring his work.
The Doctor asks the curator, played to perfection by Bill Nighy, to describe Vincent Van Gogh, in 100 words. The curator, Dr. Black, gives an emotional recitation of the value of Vincent, as an artist and as a man, calling him the greatest of the painters. Vincent listens, with his back to Dr. Black, tears flowing to hear someone speaking about him and his work in such a way. He returns home, excited about painting, and Amy is sure he must have lived longer and created more great works of art. She tearfully discovers on her return trip to the museum that Vincent still died at the age of 37, and did not create additional paintings. Crying, Amy wonders if they made any difference in the troubled artist’s life. The Doctor answers that “good things can’t remove the pain of bad things, but bad things can’t spoil the good things, and we certainly added a large amount of good to Vincent’s life.”
What an episode to ponder. I’m not a crier, but by the end of this story, Dayan and I both suddenly had the “sniffles”. We talked about this one, and how important it is to appreciate others and let them know that we do. It is also so vital to do what we are passionate about doing, whether anyone appreciates us and approves of our work….or not. The sorrow of Vincent, his madness even, did not stop him from creating. Lack of admiration and respect did not deter him. His ability to see differently produced such magnificent works as Starry Night, which was portrayed beautifully in a scene in this episode. I am grateful that the man painted with such abandon from his heart and his imagination, in spite of, or because of, his deep pain. Well done, Vincent. I hope somewhere tonight, you can feel my sincere admiration.
If you only ever watch one Doctor Who scene, watch this one!