As fans well know, the original concept for Doctor Who first hatched in 1962 and realised in ‘63, was as an educational show for children. Doctor Who, to some extent, was envisaged as a platform to transport young minds through history – albeit wrapped in family-friendly sci-fi tin foil.
More than any other episode of the re-incarnated Time Lord’s adventures since 2005, Vincent And The Doctor is true to that early inspiration. How I love it for that, for its wide-eyed wonder and unashamedly emotional, sentimental, dénouement.
The historical, educational bent is not the only thing about the episode that will conjure up memories of a few of The Doctor’s earlier personas, though.
Penned by none other than Richard Curtis (do I really have to explain? Oh, okay: Not The Nine O’Clock News, Spitting Image, Blackadder I-IV, Bean, Notting Hill, Love Actually etc.) and directed by Johnny Campbell (Ashes To Ashes season 1 and Who‘s own The Vampires Of Venice) it’s a wholly pleasing, one could almost say life-affirming, non-sequitur for The Doctor and Amy as this thirteen episode series begins to wind up towards a finale. The Pandorica Opens in two weeks, ladies and gentlemen… Are you ready?
Despite reported problems with his initial script, what Curtis has crafted here – and what the BBC Wales creative bods have vividly realised – is an exquisitely important piece of fluff. Vincent And The Doctor is a shiny trinket, a tableau, an ornament that tells us more about the show’s central protagonists than it has any right to. It effortlessly affords insight, creates depth and splashes colour on the characters willy nilly. Stephen Fry is very fond of reminding people of Oscar Wilde’s sentiment that “all art is quite useless”. Vincent And The Doctor is utterly useless, absolutely art.
I actually cried, but I’m a sentimental old sod.
I could blow the entire plot to this episode right here and now, and it would mean nought to the wider story arc of Steven Moffat’s first season in charge of the Whoniverse (am I allowed to say ‘Whoniverse’ in public. Will I get lynched?). Like the artist whose life this fifty minutes of folly dips into, it’s a tale that stands in splendid isolation, a Whovian B-movie of a plot, which drops the unknowingly bereft Miss Pond and an increasingly frazzled Time Lord right into the picture.
Curtis brings to the script his witty dialogue, whip-crack shifts of tone and an innate sense for pathos. This allows Matt Smith, especially, to shine, firstly with a somewhat Bean-esque gangly physicality, before giving him a chance to shift gear effortlessly up to something more meaningful.
Gone are the awkward, fey, foppish eccentricities of the Doctor-Diplomat seen in parts of Cold Blood. In comes a distinctly Troughton-esque maniacal glint and mischievous tone, underpinned by the second Doctor’s slightly tortured and deceptive sides. I still can’t quite get a fix on exactly where this Doctor is heading. He really is, genuinely, a loose canon. But I’m starting to enjoy that about him, and I’m starting to enjoy the fabulously unhinged demeanour that Smith is delivering weekly.
What The Doctor remembers, but Amy can’t, is eating at him, slowly, subtly, and the script here reflects that perfectly. What damage, one wonders, is being done by what The Doctor doesn’t know, and can’t see coming?
Indeed, the theme of sight is prevalent throughout this instalment, in the paintings, in the concept of artistic ‘vision’, and not-least in the episode’s ‘big bad’. Indeed, mirrors and frames, compositions and interpretations permeate events here. What the characters can and can’t perceive, sight, the eye, and its relationship to the brain are once more explored.aAe you noticing a trend here? I certainly am.
Yes, to some degree, Vincent And The Doctor suffers from the same nudging and winking that blighted The Doctor’s encounters with William Shakespeare and Agatha Christie, and the annoying smugness that comes with being in on a joke is still there at times. However, the quality of the script’s dialogue, the performances – not least by a bravura Bill Nighy and earnest Tony Curran – the quality slapstick and one absolutely gorgeous piece of animation elevate this well, well beyond those outings.
No doubt some will moan for more dynamism and something a little more bombastic, but for me the lighter brush strokes on display here were just about perfect.
We’ll be back on Saturday night with the full, spoiler-filled review…!