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June 06, 2010

Starry Starry Shite

Doctor Who: Vincent and the Doctor
Review by Neil Perryman

Vin1 First things first: the Krafayis is a terrible adversary. Not only does it look ridiculous, it's badly defined too. The Doctor's feelings towards it vary wildly, depending on which emotions need to be tweaked at the time. One minute it is a brutal, unforgiving pack animal that kills without mercy. The next minute it is a poor, disabled alien that has been cruelly abandoned and warrants our pity. But that would be boring, so they kill the bloody thing anyway.

Making it invisible made me disengage with the threat almost immediately. I initially hoped that the creature only existed in Vincent's mind; just how fascinating and challenging would it have been to watch the Doctor try to defeat a psychological demon haunting a tortured soul? Maybe Amy's love could have saved him, if she had only stayed behind, setting up a dilemma for an actress who's setting has been stuck on kooky for far too long now. But no, it really is a giant turkey running amok. A Giant. Turkey.

I'm not the biggest fan of the psuedo-historical star-***ing subgenre of Doctor Who but I really had to laugh when Den of Geek recently claimed that Vincent and the Doctor was a return to the show's educational remit. Really? So Vincent really did battle a giant turkey, did he? Is this what Reith had in mind: mixing the impossible with fact? Even when the protagonists actively attempt to screw with those facts? It's not exactly Marco Polo, is it?

And does this mean that Vincent wasn't mad after all? And when did a pack of these things land in France anyway? Has this thing been gobbling up (sorry) half of Europe over the last few months? Oh, sod the poor peasants - they won't amount to anything anyway.

sod the poor peasants - they won't amount to anything anyway

Vin3But this is the least of the episode's faults. If it had concluded after the slapstick battle with a gaint turkey (it never gets boring writing that) it would have been bad enough: smug, complacent, muddled and vaguely boring. But it didn't. It concluded with a blatantly manipulative scene that made me want to vomit. A scene so sugary and schmaltzy it makes Jerry Maguire look like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

The Doctor's decision to take Vincent to an art gallery in 2010 makes the artist's eventual suicide a few months later problematic, to say the least. I was hoping against hope that the final trip to the gallery would be set in a wildly divergent timeline with lots of new paintings by Vincent or even no paintings at all. Something odd and dangerous that could have had repercussions for a Doctor who seems more than happy to fiddle around with the timelines these days. Maybe a big crack on the wall where the sunflowers used to hang? But no, the self-indulgent trip in the Unappreciated In Your Own Time Machine has no impact on Vincent at all. 

All it did was make easily manipulated people cry.

And this review is written by a man who cries at the slightest provocation. I wept buckets when Vincent (no relation) lay down next to Jack at the end of Lost, even though I hated that episode too. I've cried over my fair share of Doctor Who as well, from Rose getting stuck behind that wall, to Madame de Pompadour popping her clogs and Adric plaintively wringing his belt (one of these is a lie) but I steadfastly refuse to cry at gunpoint. Especially when the first weapon in the text's arsenal is a power ballad by the band Athlete, a band who were recently described to me by a friend as a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of Coldplay (perhaps it's a subtle reference to City of Death but somehow I doubt it).

It has to be the most atypical and incongruous moment in Doctor Who ever. If this song was stipulated in Curtis' original script then I'm not convinced that he's actually seen an episode of Doctor Who; perhaps he simply stumbled across an episode of Confidential on BBC3 instead? What makes matters even worse is that I watched this in the presence of a Doctor Who virgin. What a way to introduce this show to someone - it's a bit like New Moon crossed with Bill and Ted. There's another one we've lost forever.

the self-indulgent trip in the Unappreciated In Your Own Time Machine had no impact on Vincent at all

Vin2Vincent then listens intently to Bill Nighy as he describes Van Gogh as the most incredible human being to have ever lived. Admittedly, Nighy's character is a little biased given that he spends most of his days waxing lyrical about Vincent anyway (although he can't pronounce his name right), but even so it's a bit much. Yes, he's a very nice painter and I'm sure the millionaires who have his work hanging on their walls are very grateful but don't push it. You'll be saying Agatha Christie is the greatest author who ever lived next. Only someone as fascinating as Nighy could have gotten away with this scene; he could make the telephone directory sound interesting, and this monologue is only a short step up from that. But if anyone was still crying anything other than tears of laughter when Nighy did that double take when he saw a man dressed as Vincent (bloody fans!) then there really is no hope left for you.

Or maybe, like me, you have decided that transporting a fragile, emotionally disturbed man on the brink of suicide into the future to be overwhelmed by an experience that he couldn't possibly explain to anyone else (especially those peasants who stone him in the street for being a bit odd) was an incredibly stupid thing to do. As far as I'm concerned the Doctor and Amy were responsible for this man's premature death. Vincent is told that he was unappreciated in his own life time. This means he will suffer decades of misery if he goes on living after being cruelly dumped by Amy (who he is obviously smitten with cos she's sassy, if you hadn't noticed). So he decides to end it all instead. Think about this the next time you weep into your tissues, Caitlin Moran.

So what's next? Why not cheer up Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by taking him to an eScale concert? Or maybe they could show Herman Melville his Amazon page after they defeat a giant, misunderstood space whale? Oh, they already did that one. I know! Why not take Guy Fawkes to a fireworks display and be done with it?

And an advice line? Seriously? I called it to complain about the episode but a very nice woman on the other end told me firmly but politely that I was wasting her time and that the phoneline was designed to help people who were effected by the mental illness that was explored in the programme. You know, that aspect that is handled so delicately and effectively by showing a man crying on a bed when he isn't chasing an invisible giant turkey, which actually turned out to be a real turkey after all. In more ways than one.

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