Sunday, 13 June 2010


Doctor Who - Vincent and the Doctor (Series Five, Episode Ten).

What's in a name? Sometimes you combine such talents like, let's say, scriptwriter and novelist Neil Cross (Spooks) and actor Idris Elba (The Wire) and you obtain... nothing. Vincent and The Doctor is penned by Richard Curtis (Blackadder, Four weddings and a Funeral, The boat that rocked, etc) and in spite of all the love we have for his work we were a little suspicious after the fiasco of Amy's choice by Simon Nye (Men behaving badly, Reggie Perrin).

But Curtis's guest stint on Doctor Who is a welcome pause in the story arc formula after the epic but unequal Silurian two-parter. He fits his comedy and sentimental trademarks into an affectionate tribute to one of the greatest painters in the history of art, superbly executed by director Jonny Campbell.

1890, something is disturbing the tranquility of a wheat field and frightening crows while Vincent van Gogh (Tony Curran) is painting the scene. He knows what it is because his sensibility and his fragile state of mind make him the only one to see it. 2010, The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) visit Musée d'Orsay in Paris when the Doctor spots something in The church at Auvers painting which shouldn't be in it and decides that they must have an urgent conversation with the painter.

Vincent and The Doctor is neither a 46-minute biopic nor a documentary about Vincent van Gogh. Filmed mostly in Croatia, like the "Venetian" episode, it condensates key settings and moments of van Gogh's life in magnificent recreations of his works for story locations (Café Terrace at Night, The Bedroom In Arles...) or the sublime Starry Night sequence.

Tony Curran incredibly looks like Vincent van Gogh but incarnates how Richard Curtis feels the man and his art, expressing van Gogh's torments within the limits of a family show. A great character actor like Curran can do wonders with a good TV script, unlike his performance in that dumb Primeval series three episode where he was a medieval knight. And his scenes with Karen Gillan/Amy are fabulous.

Matt Smith has great comedic moments in an unusual understated mode, carefully avoiding to follow the steps of Hugh Grant and Rowan Atkinson. It's all about sense and sensibility here from the start of the episode to the beautiful final scenes in "Musée d'Orsay" (the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff) with Curtis alumnus Bill Nighy uncredited.

Maybe the creature should have remained fully invisible. Curran's van Gogh has a scene where the man fights the monster like Don Quixote fighting windmills. And too bad Richard Curtis had to indulge himself with the idea of the dedication. But Vincent and The Doctor is a masterpiece in its own right, one of the best episodes of series five.

Next time: James Corden. What's in a name?

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