As opposed to “proper painters” like Gainsborough.
The Mysterious Mr. Quin
The Duchess cleared her throat.
“It seems quite easy to be an artist nowadays,” she observed witheringly. “There’s no attempt to copy things. You just shovel on some paint – I don’t know what with, not a brush, I’m sure –”
“Palette knife,” said Naomi, smiling broadly once more.
“A good deal at a time,” continued the Duchess. ”In lumps. And there you are! Everyone says ‘How clever!’ Well, I’ve no patience with that sort of thing. Give me –”
“A nice picture of a dog and a horse by Edward Lanseer.”
“And why not?” demanded the Duchess. “What’s wrong with Landseer?”
“Nothing,” said Naomi. “He’s all right. And you’re all right. The tops of things are always nice and shiny and smooth. I respect you, Duchess; you’ve got force; you’ve met life fair and square and you’ve come out on top. But the people who are underneath see the under side of things. And that’s interesting in a way.”
The Duchess stared at her.
“I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about,” she declared.
Vincent and the Doctor
I had to think about this one for a while, obviously. I watched it on the Sunday night after the All-Starr Band concert, and it deflated me completely… which isn’t to say I didn’t love it. I need to say right off that I did. I just don’t do well with having my heart broken so very often. Rory just died (and disappeared). While a light-hearted romp would have been wrong, I could have done without crying again.
The most important thing to say about “Vincent and the Doctor” is that Tony Curran was brilliant. Brilliant, brilliant casting –
Shockingly good, physically. For him to be a brilliant actor to boot is … cake. This was his episode – we and the TARDIS two were only visiting.
(Between this and my gushing about Alex Wong and Twitch on the main blog, I’m giving the word “brilliant” a workout. It’s nice when there are things that deserve it.)
I took no notes at all the first time I watched, just … sat there; I had to watch it again. And had to stop after the creature was killed… I just couldn’t face the rest of it right then. (Obviously, in the end I took rather a lot of notes, so this comes with the usual warning for me: I don’t write ’em short… )
Dr. Black (pronouncing “Van Gogh” with a k sound at the end): So, this is one of the last paintings Van Gogh ever painted. Those final months of his life were probably the most astonishing artistic outpouring in history. It was like Shakespeare knocking off Othello, MacBeth, and King Lear over the summer hols. And especially astounding because Van Gogh did it with no hope of praise or reward … (he continues, but under dialogue between Amy and the Doctor)
All I can think is thank God Theo was there at the end. Otherwise who knows but that all the work he did in those last months might have been tossed on a scrap heap somewhere…
Amy: Thanks for bringing me.
Doctor: You’re welcome.
A: You’re being so nice to me, *why* are you being so nice to me?
D: I’m always nice to you.
A: Not like this. All these places you’re taking me – Arcadia, the Trojan Gardens, now this – I think it’s suspicious.
D (looking uncomfortable): Wh – It’s not. There’s nothing to be suspicious about.
A: Oookay – I was joking! (Her eyes narrow) Why aren’t you?
Now she *is* suspicious – and he turns his, and her, attention back to Dr. Black, still speaking to his tour.
It’s good that they don’t have her jumping up and down about how much she loves Van Gogh’s work; it’s enough that coming to the Musée D’Orsay is as special as going to Arcadia (as in the Doctor having been there at “there at the fall of Arcadia” during the Time Wars – the reference I found places that in 2006) or the Trojan Gardens (Troy had gardens? Or is this ex-Earth?) – and that she knows the paintings and has favorites.
Dr. Black: Each of these paintings now is worth tens of millions of pounds, yet in his lifetime he was a commercial disaster – sold only one painting, and that to the sister of a friend. We have here possibly the greatest artist of all time. But when he died you could have sold his entire body of work and got about enough money to buy a … sofa. And a couple of chairs.
A few things here… First, “Starry Night”, seen clearly on the wall, is actually in the MoMA in NYC (and I’m fairly certain at least one of the others there is at the Met). I know this (about “Starry Night”) because I’m dying to go see it, soon – I never have been to the Museum of Modern Art, as most modern art gives me hives and I wouldn’t want to cause a scene by standing in the middle of a room and involuntarily saying “What the HELL is that? That’s a joke, right? RIGHT?!” Like I nearly did once in the Yale University Art Gallery’s modern section … Oh! The YUAG has “The Night Cafe”! Oh!! *ahem* Anyway.
I raised my eyebrows, just a little, at “possibly the greatest artist of all time”. My first nomination for that title would be Da Vinci, or Michelangelo. But after the episode, and after the bit of digging around watching the episode prompted, I definitely won’t argue the point.
Child 1: Who is it?
Child 2: It’s the Doctor. (The Doctor turns, as does Amy, a little startled – but the boy continues) He was the doctor who took care of Van Gogh (pronounced with the ‘k’ sound) when he started to go mad.
Child 1: I knew that.
That last line elevated that moment for me.
Amy excitedly heads for the painting of the Church
D: You can almost feel his hand painting it right in front of you. Carving the colors into shapes …
His voice trails off at the end, because he sees something. “Something very not good indeed”, which is becoming one of his catch phrases.
A: Is it a face?
D: Yes, and not a nice face. I know evil when I see it, and I see it in that window.
I wonder why the emphasis here, preparing the viewer for what is to come, that the creature is evil. Although it kills a little girl, by the end of the episode we’re feeling sorry for it. Almost.
The Doctor barges into the tour group, and flashes his slightly psychic paper, proclaiming himself on a routine inspection from the Ministry of Art. And Artiness. Oh dear. The Doctor’s a bit of philistine. Didn’t know that. He interrogates Dr. Black about when the church was painted.
Black: Somewhere between the first and third of June, 1890 [true] – less than a year before … before he killed himself.
D: Thank you, sir, very helpful indeed. Nice bowtie. (turns to Amy as he continues) Bowties are cool. (Her face reflects her opinion of this)
Black: Yours is very …
D: Thank you. (awkward…) Keep telling them stuff. We need to go. (takes off, Amy in tow)
A: What about the other pictures?
D: Art can wait – this is life and death. We need to talk to Vincent Van Goff!
Which is how he pronounces it throughout the episode. Which is how Vincent pronounces it, too.
Actually, Vincent shot himself on July 29, 1890 – “a couple of months” indeed. Oh. Oh dear. That hurts.
On a practical note, the time in this episode was skewed; he should have had half an ear by that point (he cut off his earlobe in 1888). And he did several paintings of the wheatfields right before his death, including the day he killed himself in 1890 – and apparently the wheatfields were painted from his cell in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence … the pointers in the episode could be that this was either pre-mutilation 1888 – and the Doctor nudged Van Gogh into painting the church early (I like that) – or it was 1890 and there are accuracy issues. (Not so much – but since Black pointed them toward 1890, that’s the one, I take it. Oh well.)
When it’s convenient to the plot, the Doctor arrives precisely when (and where) he means to … which leaves me thinking that if he had gotten Amy and Rory to Rio as promised, the latter would still be alive. The Doctor might have that in the back of his mind, too, given his “Amy! Rory!” slip …
So. They arrive precisely when and where he means to, and scare a cat in an alley, and go in search of Vincent, expecting to find him in a cafe, one with orange-y light – like that, in the painting. And like that, in a beautifully reconstructed setting. The Doctor is brushed off by the waiter when he asks after VVG, but the waitresses are more forthcoming, if nasty about it: “He’s drunk, he’s mad, and he never pays his bills.” The man himself emerges from the cafe trying to barter with the waiter for a drink – trying to trade his self-portrait in the straw hat for one more drink. But the waiter scoffs that he puts out the patrons enough when he’s there in person, he doesn’t want VVG “loomin’ over the customers in a stoopid hat”. I like that hat.
The Doctor interrupts with an offer to pay for the drink, or to buy the painting so that Vincent can buy his drink, and instantly he earns the suspicion of both men.
V: Exactly who are you?
D: Oh, I’m … new in town.
I loved the air with which he said this, sort of insouciant and I-know-something-you-don’t-know, and I-know-everything-you-know-besides, and that’s why he doesn’t say “Hello, I’m the Doctor”. After the exchange between the two boys in the museum, it’s perfect.
Bickering continues, as Vincent’s pride gets int he way of accepting anything from him – but Amy, who liked being called “cute” by Vincent, finally ends the whole thing by buying a bottle to share with whomever she wants.
V: That accent of yours. Are you from Holland like me?
A: No. Simultaneously, D: Yes.
D: She means yes. So – start again. (puts out hand) Hello, I’m the Doctor.
V: I knew it! (most certainly does not shake the Doctor’s hand, which lowers)
V: My brother’s always sending doctors – but you won’t be able to help.
Beautiful. And this goes toward the depression, too, as yet another external factor to exacerbate whatever the internal causes for depression are. In just the few minutes he’s been onscreen, it’s been shown that the cafe staff – not exactly the haute monde themselves – have complete contempt for him. He doesn’t have the money to buy his next drink – never mind food – and can’t get rid of a painting for even enough to buy a drink – in fact, if someone does buy a painting of his, he tells the Doctor, they’ll be laughed out of town. And now, in one sentence, he summarizes his illness: his brother keeps sending doctors – so there have to have been several – and none of them, none, have been able to do anything to make him any better. How devastating that must have been … Imagine the hope the first time a doctor showed up, already paid by Theo so presumably willing to give this his best shot, and the attempt to do whatever it was late 19th century psychology could do … and … nothing. And again. And again. Lather, rinse, repeat. And some of the treatments offered were very likely unpleasant – though at least there was no electro-shock therapy in the offing, thank God.
V: Your hair is orange.
A:Yes. So is yours.
A sort of a nod to the artist’s eye; anyone else, better socialized, would have said “red”, or “auburn”, or tried for a flattering word choice like “cinnamon” or, yes, “ginger”… Nope. “Your hair is orange.” I loved that Vincent was prickly and socially unskilled. I loved everything about him, in fact – it felt like the perfect depiction. He was one of those magnificent characters who are a joy to watch – and would be hell to live with. Vincent’s conversation spirals downward into trying to enunciate how his hair used to be darker, and the Doctor impatiently begins inquiries into whether there isn’t a church about somewhere that Vincent wouldn’t like to paint. Soon. Very.
A scream precedes a woman rushing in a terrible state into the cafe – her daughter, a young girl, has been killed, horribly, in the street. Fortunately, no one blames Vincent for killing her; unfortunately, they do blame him and his madness for somehow drawing whatever did kill her upon them. Rocks are thrown, and our three heroes flee. Turns out there was another killing not long ago. No surprise to the Doctor.
D: C’mon, let’s get you home.
V: Where are you staying tonight?
D: Oh! You are very kind.
And off he goes, leaving Vincent looking a bit poleaxed. Amy looks at him, giggles awkwardly,, and then scurries after the Doctor. Well done. They have to attach themselves to him, as he’s their only in for the monster, and this was a lovely way to do it.
D: Dark night. Very starry.
All right, all right, I love you. Happy? Don’t screw it up.
V (as they enter his room): Sorry about all the clutter.
D: Some clutter.
Indeed. A small museum’s worth of astonishing art hung randomly on the walls, and lying about everywhere interspersed with the tools of painting and the implements of trying to scrape out an existence.
A: Wow. I mean really. Wow.
And the paintings that aren’t hung, and the drawings, are scattered about like so many coasters. He plunks down the coffee pot on one, which nearly gives the Doctor a hearts attack, but they are just what he does, an (as Dr. Black put it) outpouring as ordinary to him as post-it notes and cash register receipts. He needs to paint, but the value of the product of his work has been proved to him to be so low that he just doesn’t care. He threatens to have a thorough clear-out, soon … There’s another element to the depression. His work is, basically, trash to everyone else, and has become almost so to him.
V (of the Doctor): He’s a strange one …
Pot, kettle …
The Doctor brings up the church again, and Vincent is, as seems to be the theme here, suspicious. All right then –
D: Let’s talk about you. What are you interested in?
V: Well, look around you. Art. It seems to me there’s so much more to the world than the average eye’s allowed to see. I believe if you look hard enough there are more wonders in this universe than you could ever have dreamed of.
(Small aside – I love the Scottish brogue on the word “universe”. Love.)
D: You don’t have to tell me.
Apparently Vincent plans to tell him, and at length; a cut indicates time’s passed, and Vincent is expounding, louder now and passionate, the tendons of his hands stretched and flexed with it.
V: It’s color! Color that holds the key. I can hear the colors. Listen to them. (the Doctor listens, like a small boy trying to hear sleigh bells at Christmas) Every time I step outside I feel nature is shouting at me- Come on! Come and get me! Come on!! Capture my mystery!
He has the Doctor by the lapels by this time.
D (softly, soothingly): Maybe you’ve had enough coffee now… How about some nice calming tea. Let’s get you a nice cup of chamomile or something, shall we?
He looks for Amy, who has stepped outside to look at the paintings that are everywhere out there as well, and just then she screams. The Doctor’s reaction is one of utter horror – not Amy too – but she’s all right. Something knocked her down, and she’s scared but unharmed. And the scene that follows is both wonderful and awful, as Vincent at first appears to be having some kind of fit (now even Amy and the Doctor have bought into the idea that he’s barking – and so did I, at first) – and then convinces them that no, he really is fighting off something that only he can see. Well, it wasn’t so much Vincent that convinced as the *whap* that knocked the Doctor several feet onto his back. Vincent successfully chases the invisible thing off, and convinces the Doctor to stop flailing about at the air with his stick … That was stupid. What was that in aid of? He had proof that Vincent really was fighting something other than inner demons – Amy and assorted objects were knocked over, etc. … what was the point of air-dueling? Anyway. Off the thing goes with a lovely galloping galumphing sound, and they return to the safety of Vincent’s rooms.
What did it look like? He’ll show them – Vincent snatches up a painting – lilacs, perhaps – and gessoes over it in a few strokes. Too late, the Doctor cries out “Oh – no! No! No … Oh. It’s just … that was quite good.”
Apparently, based on x-rays, did re-use old canvases quite often. Very very nice.
I love that it is made a part of Vincent Van Gogh’s specialness that he can see what others do not, not only in the ordinary world around him – colors coruscating and the humanity of sunflowers – but also in the extraordinary: not even the Doctor can see this monster without help.
The Doctor takes the sketch and makes his way – carefully – back to the TARDIS – which I needed to have pointed out to me has been redecorated. Sherlock Holmes I am not.
D (rummaging about in a closet): Right – are you in here somewhere? I can’t apologize enough! I thought you were just a useless gadget. I thought you were just an embarrassing present from a dull godmother with two heads and baaad breath. Twice. How wrong can a man be?!
– Godmother? Really? Interesting. And this is the second occurrence of two-headedness and “[something-or-other]… twice”. (It wasn’t “bad breath twice” last time too, was it? *goodsearch* Hm. No joy… ) And I loved the feel of his voice on the last line – that was, somehow, very Doctor Who.
He looks into the rear-view mirror of the contraption, sticking out his tongue, and it promptly identifies him – printing out from the TARDIS console typewriter a sort of receipt while at the same time the viewscreen shows – again – William Hartnell, followed by Patrick Troughton. It does not immediately recognize the sketch, trying to tell the Doctor it’s a parrot. Or a polar bear. (The production team’s tribute to “Lost”?)
D: This is the problem with the Impressionists … not accurate enough. This would never have happened with Gainsborough. Or one of those proper painters. Sorry, Vincent…
The gadget – which was a beautiful example of Steampunk – just had to think about it a while, though, because once the Doctor is outside again it produces an identification.
D: There you are, you poor thing. You brutal murderous abandoned thing. I hope we meet again soon so I can take … you … home… (it’s suddenly right behind him) Maybe not that soon.
He gets away, of course, and then has the living daylights scared out of him by Amy, and then they go home. I like that they provided breakfast; Vincent apparently didn’t what they call “eat” much on his own; one reference I saw said that he subsisted mainly on bread, coffee, and cigarettes.
He has identified the creature as a Krafayis, which sounds pretty horrible. Killing machines – wait: invisible killing machines. Wonderful.
D: Wakey, wakey – rise and shine!!
If he had just added one more line, I would have forgiven almost anything that comes after this: “Shake a leg, the weather’s fine!” That was #3, Jon Pertwee, in “Planet of the Spiders”, and it struck my fancy for some reason (and I have been known to say it to the dog on occasion since). I would pay money for them to have used the whole thing. (And the weather was fine…)
Breakfast is served, and Amy has a surprise for him… she has denuded some field of sunflowers and filled up every receptacle she could put her hands on, and sits surrounded by them smiling up at him in the sunlight.
A: I thought I’d brighten things up to thank you for saving me last night. I thought you might like, you know, possibly to perhaps paint them or something. Might be a thought. (I listened to this last line and “godmother” above at least three times each, and never could make out what they were. Thanks, internet.)
V: Well, they’re not my favorite flower…
A (disbelieving): You don’t like sunflowers? (she shoots a glance up at the Doctor)
V: No, it’s not that I don’t like them … I find them complex. Always somewhere between living and dying, half human as they turn to the sun. A little disgusting. But, you know, they are a challenge …
One the Doctor assures him he is up to. Disgusting? I wonder if any of that is in his writings…
D: If you paint it, he will come.
A Field of Dreams reference in Doctor Who. Will wonders never cease.
The Doctor explains to Vincent that the painting is significant, and will in a way draw the monster out, and then –
D: I promise you we’ll be out of your hair by this time tomorrow.
Vincent pauses halfway through the door, looking stricken. When he is gone, the Doctor continues, soberly
D: This is risky.
A: Riskier than normal? (I looked for sarcasm there – there was none. She was quite serious.)
D: Well, think about it. This is the middle (end) of Vincent Van Gogh’s greatest year of painting. If we’re not careful the net result of our pleasant little trip will be the brutal murder (drops voice to a stage whisper) of the greatest artist who ever lived. Half the pictures on the wall of the Musée D’Orsay (snaps fingers) will disappear. (he sits next to Amy, staring straight ahead) And it will be our fault.
A bit later, the Doctor knocks his way into Vincent’s bedroom, to find him prostrate on the bed, sobbing softly.
D: Vincent, can I help?
V: It’s so clear you cannot help. And when you leave and everyone always leaves I will be left once more with an empty heart and no hope. (wearily, he turns over, still not looking at the Doctor)
D (not offering a platitude – he does know this): My experience is that there is you know surprisingly always hope. (But he knows it sounds like a platitude – and that is how Vincent hears it.)
V (harsh): Then your experience is incomplete. I know how it will end, and it will not end well.
The Doctor can’t, really, argue with that. He sits, visibly thinking, and opts for heartiness.
D (slapping Vincent’s back): Come on. Come out. Let’s go outside.
Bad idea. Could have told him that.
V (shouting, voice breaking): Get out! What are you doing here?
The Doctor backs off, literally, and goes out to tell Amy they’re going to have to deal with this on their own. This was so incredibly hard to watch …
As they’re discussing, first Amy then the Doctor realize that Vincent is coming down the hall. He is wearing his wide-brimmed straw hat and his long duster, and looks like the sheriff approaching, having resigned himself to a high-noon shootout. He pauses to pull a thick brush from a jar, and the Doctor smiles. So did I – that was a wonderful image.
A: I’m sorry you’re so sad.
V: But I’m not. Sometimes these moods torture me for weeks, for months – but I’m good now. (he takes her hand) If Amy Pond can soldier on, then so can Vincent Van Gogh!
A (puzzled): I’m not soldiering on – I’m fine!
(she laughs, a giggle for proof of how fine she is. Behind the two of them, the Doctor – oddly gooseberry back there – watches, and his face is a study)
V: Oh, Amy. I hear the song of your sadness. You’ve lost someone, I think.
A: I’m not sad.
V: Then why are you crying? (Amy wipes her cheek with her free hand and is shocked to find that it is, in fact, wet) It’s all right. I understand.
A: I’m not sure I do …
– Which is odd, if Rory was erased completely. Here’s hoping.
The Doctor, again, changes the subject, and a moment later the conversation is stopped entirely as the funeral procession for the little girl who was killed comes past. There are sunflowers on the casket. I’d like that, and I’m not that fond of sunflowers either. I was so afraid that there would be another attack on Vincent as the mourners passed, but though the mother glared at him a little the procession passed without incident.
A: You do have a plan, don’t you?
D: No. It’s a thing; it’s like a plan, but with more grey bits.
Vincent sets up in front of the church, plunging the sturdy sharp legs of his outdoors easel into the soil.
D: And you will be sure to tell me if you see any, you know, monsters.
V: Yes. While I may be mad, I’m not stupid.
The Doctor just doesn’t know what note to take with him. It’s interesting. Normally he just plows ahead and never gives a thought to what effect his words or tone or actions might have on the people around him – but this is a) an ill man and b) Vincent Van Gogh. He’s trying to adapt to those two factors – and he’s not very good at it. He hunkers down next to Vincent.
D: No. Quite. And, to be honest … I’m not sure about mad, either. It seems to me depression is a very complex –
V (gently, raising a paint-stained finger): Sssshhhh. I’m working.
D: Well. Yes. Paint. Do painting. (he gets up and moves about a bit; time passes – and Vincent is surprisingly tolerant as the Doctor morphs into a bored four-year-old ) I remember watching Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel. Wow. What a whinger. I kept saying to him, look – you’re scared of heights – you shouldn’t have taken the job, mate.
(given the other problems I had with comprehending lines in this episode, I can only hope and pray that that was indeed “mate” and not … “Mike”…)
D: And Picasso, what a ghastly old goat – I kept telling him, concentrate Pablo! It’s one eye on either side of the face.
He name-drops Michelangelo, who is over three hundred years gone, and Picasso, who is about seven, and Vincent doesn’t blink. Well, he’s an artist. They’re adaptable.
It’s dark; there are owls …
D: Is this how time normally passes? Reeeeally slowly. In the right order. (he sounds thoroughly disgusted with the process) If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s an unpunctual alien attack.
And then there it is in the window.
D: I’m going in!
V: I’m coming too.
D: No! You’re Vincent Van Gogh! No.
V: But you’re not armed.
D: I am!
V: What with?
D: Overconfidence, this (pats briefcase with gadget) and a small screwdriver. I’m absolutely sorted. … Sonic never fails.
– Very nice.
D: Amy, only I think one simple instruction. Don’t follow me under any circumstances. (makes emphatic “eyes on” sign, at Vincent)
A (solemnly): I won’t!
The Doctor heads for the church. Vincent looks up at Amy.
V: Are you going to follow him?
A: Of course! [duh]
V: I love you.
I’m rather fond myself, of both of you. Even if following him is breaking a promise.
There is a Saint George frieze above the door to the church. The Doctor makes note of it, and straps on his gadget and goes in. (Saint George, though? In France? Isn’t he one of the symbols of England?)
He beeps as he goes, though I suppose he doesn’t at this point know that that’s a Very Bad Thing… Outside, Amy and Vincent watch the Krefayis – well, Vincent watches and Amy questions him about it, and when the creature whacks the Doctor (breaking his gift from his godmother), in they go. Vincent brings his chair with him, and goes from classic gunslinger to classic lion-tamer.
D: Where is it?
V (jabbing with chair): Where do you think he is, you idiot? Use your head! (Point. But wow. People don’t generally call the Doctor an idiot.)
The Doctor, behind him, aims the sonic screwdriver at the Krefayis, and asks after the result:
V: … I think he rather enjoyed it.
V: Duck! Left! (*whack*) Right! Your right, my left, sorry!
The three of them fend off the thing long enough to get into a room off the main church, and as they lean panting against the door,
D: Right, okay, here’s the plan – Amy, Rory –
D: Sorry! Vincent!
A: What is the plan??
D: I – I don’t know, actually, my only definite plan is that in the future I’m definitely only using this screwdriver for screwing in screws.
Which had better not be the case.
Vincent has an idea, and leaves for a moment. As the monster ravens and roars on the other side of the door:
D: I suppose we could try talking to him.
A: Talking to him?!
D: Well, yes, it might be interesting to know his side of the story. (there is a nasty squealing roar from the other room) Yes … though maybe he’s not in the mood for conversation right at this precise moment … (bang bang bang BANG) Well, no harm trying. (he turns, and raises his voice) Listen – LISTEN! I know you can understand me, even though I know you won’t understand why you can understand me. I also know that no one’s talked to you for a pretty long stretch, but please – listen. (it is rather quiet out there, which seems promising) I also don’t belong on this planet, I also am … alone. If you trust me, I’m sure we can come to some kind of you know understanding, and then – and then – who knows?
Unfortunately, the quiet from the other room didn’t mean that the Krefayis was listening – it meant that he had found his way out of the room and around to the window behind Amy and the Doctor – and has just crashed through it.
Vincent returns, carrying his easel, and updates them, quietly, on what the creature is doing: feeling its way along the walls of the room. The Doctor’s face changes.
D: I am really stupid.
A: Ohh, get a grip! This is not a moment to re-evaluate your self-esteem! (gosh, everyone’s hard on the Doctor in this one)
D: No – I am really stupid – and I’m growing old.
(Skippable mini-side-rant) I feel compelled to say here, briefly, that during the collapse of the thing with the Board-which-shall-remain-nameless I had a hell of a fight via private message and email with someone over just what the Doctor just did. I said something about “well, that was dumb” or some such, and she chastised me in no uncertain terms about putting myself down. It was as if I had called her stupid, or her child, or someone under her protection. I replied with “but – I –” and she let me have it with a story about how she used to do that and her counselor (of whatever stripe) helped her stop bringing herself down … She was deadly serious about it, all out of proportion to the seriousness of the original offense: if I do something stupid, I say so (sometimes to circumvent someone else saying so) – not to put myself down, but in a way in regret for whatever sparked it. The exchange actually got quite ugly, bizarrely enough, but I managed to put some kind of band-aid on the whole thing – and then she went off again about something else. And yet I wanted to go back to that board. That was dumb.) (The upshot of this is, basically, hey Jody: if the Doctor can call himself stupid if he has in point of fact missed something he shouldn’t have – then I certainly can. Nyah.)
On topic again – this is the umpteenth time the Doctor has referenced his age in this incarnation. There are so very many recurrences of phrases and incidents that I’ll be almost shocked if the cockamamie all-in-his-head theory doesn’t turn out to be true.
D: Why does it attack but never eat its victims?
– Um? I don’t know, why? What would that have to do with it being blind?
Vincent sets himself with the wicked pointed legs of his easel braced toward the creature as it charges him, and is briefly lifted off the ground when it hits the improvised triple spear. He only wanted to wound it … but it’s blind, the Doctor has deduced, and didn’t know to avoid the weapon, and it’s dying. And afraid.
V: He wasn’t without mercy at all. He was without sight.
It’s interesting, and telling, that throughout the story, from the first, Vincent never calls the Krefayis “it”, but only “he”. The Doctor usually follows suit, except for the never-eats line above…
D (reaching blindly for the dying creature): There there, sh… It’s okay … It’ll be fine …
The Krefayis goes silent.
V: He was frightened and he lashed out like humans will lash out when they’re frightened. Like the villagers who scream at me, like the children who throw stones at me.
What small part of my heart hadn’t already broken for him shattered right then.
Doctor: You know, sometimes winning … winning is no fun at all.
The three of them lie out on the grass, heads together. Vincent takes Amy’s hand, to his left, and holds his free hand toward the Doctor.
V: Hold my hand, Doctor. I’d have you see what I see. We’re so lucky we’re still alive to see this beautiful world. (The Doctor, his left hand firmly in Vincent’s, reaches up with his right to Amy, who is reaching up at the same time for him) Look at the sky. It’s not dark and black and without character. The black is in fact deep blue. And over there – (he points with his right hand, still clutching the Doctor’s) lighter blue. And blowing through the blueness and the blackness the wind swirling through the air. And then shining burning bursting through, the stars – can’t you see how they roll their light? Everywhere we look the complex magic of nature blazes before our eyes.
D (softly): I’ve seen many things, my friend, but you’re right – nothing quite as wonderful as the things you see.
V (caressing Amy’s wrist with his thumb): I shall miss you terribly.
And that scene is one of the reasons to have a television. One has to wade through a lot of garbage in order to find a few, a very few gems, but the gems make it all just about worth all the garbage.
I saw something out there – here, in fact – which seems to sound like what Vincent painted that night is much how the sky actually looked, before light and other kinds of pollution changed the sky’s character. I wonder. No one else seems to have had quite his vision – which is why I loved the idea that he alone could see the Krefayis.
Vincent: “There’s so much more to the world than the eye can see.”
As they are leaving, the Doctor gets a glint in his eye. He exchanges glances with Amy, and then yells for Vincent to come and join them – he wants to show him something… The something is the museum in the 21st century, and Vincent is gobsmacked. Which is nothing to how he feels when the Doctor sets his bow-tied friend Dr. Black talking about how important a figure Vincent Van Gogh is in art.
Dr. Black: … Glad to be of help. You were nice about my tie.
D: Yes – and today is another cracker, if I may say so. Well, I wondered, between you and me, in a hundred words, where do you think Van Gogh rates in the history of art?
Dr. Black: Well, um. Big question, but – to me, Van Gogh us the finest painter of them all. Certainly the most popular great painter of all time. The most beloved. His command of color the 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.
Naturally, this wrecks Vincent emotionally – at the time, joyously. (“Sorry about the beard.”) I can’t help but feel, though …. Could he have realized, then or later while painting, that there was nothing in that gallery past what he could accomplish in two months? That all of the paintings on the walls were either familiar or could be completed shortly?
“I still can’t believe one of the haystacks was in a museum – how embarrassing!”
After they drop him off home again, with a warm goodbye and a positive outlook for Vincent (though no engagement with Amy: “I’m not really the marrying kind.” Oh, dear), Amy demands they return to the museum –
A: Time can be rewritten – I know it can! (Hmmmm) Oh, the long life of Vincent Van Gogh! There’ll be hundreds of new paintings!
D: I’m not sure there will …
And there aren’t. A thing that has not changed is that two months after this he carried a pistol with him when he went out to the wheatfield to paint, and he shot himself in the chest when he was 37 and died two days later with his brother Theo at his bedside.
A: We didn’t make a difference at all.
D: I wouldn’t say that. The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things … hey. (holds her close) 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.
Yes. Certainly. But sometimes the greatness of the pile of good things can make the awfulness of the pile of bad things that much harder to bear…
Two things have changed – the Krafayis is gone from the painting of the church. And in a painting of sunflowers – which Amy approaches slowly, in a golden glow – where once it said simply “Vincent”, he has since added “For Amy”.
The Doctor whistles
A: If we had got married, our children would have had very, very red hair.
D (smiling softly: The ultimate ginger.
A: The ultimate ginge. (They both laugh, the sort of laugh that isn’t far from tears) Brighter than sunflowers…
And that’s the end of it.
It was a beautiful episode. Unlike others out there, I wholeheartedly approved of the ending – that Vincent was not miraculously cured to live to the age of 98 painting on his deathbed … that he added the inscription to Amy (imagine the fifty-seven academics who parsed and pondered and researched and came up completely unable to determine who Amy was) … That it wasn’t a happy skipping tale of merriment so soon after Rory. (Though, like I said, they could have not broken my heart and I wouldn’t have complained.)
Some idio – er, other blogger out there complained because the museum tour guide didn’t get worked up about the change to the sunflowers painting. Um? Really? That might be because as far as this bloke is concerned it’s always been there? TIME TRAVEL. If you’re watching Doctor Who, you might want to try to wrap your mind around the idea. He also got lathered up about the idea that Vincent apparently went back to a painting he had already done (the sunflowers were painted in 1888, The Church at Auvers in 1890) and added the inscription “for some Scottish bint” … I don’t know where to begin on that one.
Yes I do. If you think Amy’s just “some Scottish bint”, you need to stop watching. Now. And Van Gogh didn’t think she was Scottish – the accent he heard was like his, so she was from Holland. The Doctor said so. And her admiration of him did not go unnoticed. This was a man who was (at least in the context of this episode; I don’t know about reality) universally despised in his village, about whom it was said “He’s drunk, he’s mad, and he never pays his bills”. He didn’t get many dates, I’m thinking. And here’s a pretty girl from his own country who looks at him like that … Yeah. If, contrary to the timing of the episode, he had painted sunflowers, he might suddenly remember having done so, fully realized that Amy was from the future, and gone back to paint in “For Amy”.
I don’t remember if it was the same idi – er, blogger (I think it was another one) who said that the fact that Vincent still committed suicide after his glimpse into the future was ridiculous … It’s that statement which is ridiculous, though. The diagnosis in this episode was depression (or manic depression). Look at it from Vincent’s point of view: he’s had an astounding adventure, and slain a dragon, and met an amazing pair of travelers who appreciated him and helped him and let him help them. And now they’re gone. The thought of their leaving was enough to put him weeping in his bed before he’d known them all that long. The Doctor took him to the museum to give him hope … but he was ill, mentally and physically. He was alone. More than alone, he was despised by his neighbors, reviled; they banded together to have him shut out of his house by police. He couldn’t sell his work, and often went hungry. (It was Wikipedia said something about his diet for several years consisting of coffee, bread, and cigarettes, until his teeth loosened.) I can see that even knowing that in a hundred years he would be revered would do him little good – how did that help him in his present? It’s very easy to imagine the state of mind of a man in the throes of depression knowing that whatever his posthumous success, the day-to-day grind was just that: grinding. Impossible. Intolerable. And the only thing that would make it tolerable would be ending it.
It’s very easy to imagine that that glimpse of his future might even have been a factor in the suicide: why can’t people now see what the people then will? I don’t fit here… Nothing has changed here. Except me.
Also, being alone is one thing. He was usually alone. He wrote to his that he did not “need to go out of my way to try and express sadness and extreme loneliness”. If you have been alone, and then suddenly you have a friend – or, worse, friends – and then suddenly they are gone, the aloneness isn’t the same as it was before. Trust me on this one. It’s much, much worse.
His last words: “La tristesse durera toujours” (the sadness will last forever).
Again, thank God Theo was there.
I was hoping to post this over the weekend and follow it up fairly quickly with a post about “The Lodger”, but apparently someone at BBC America OnDemand decided to take the holiday weekend off – it’s not up yet. Hopefully soon.