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Posted on Monday, July 12th, 2010

Dave!I am not a big fan of the new "Dr. Who" as portrayed by Matt Smith, but when I saw that last week's episode was pretty much being billed as "Vincent van Gogh, Monster Slayer" I had no choice but to set my DVR to record it. Vincent is one of my most favorite artists, responsible for my favorite painting of all time, and the idea of seeing him doing cool stuff in Dr. Who was too much to resist.

I was not disappointed. SPOILERY STUFF AHEAD, if you haven't seen it yet!

Admittedly, my expectations were pretty low... mostly because I fully expected van Gogh to be treated as a novelty throw-away character who was done all wrong. Imagine my surprise when a real effort was made to portray him in a sympathetic and realistic manner. Kudos to writer Richard Curtis for a great script!

The episode did indeed end up being a monster hunt, but that was almost secondary to Vincent's real-life story of torment and unappreciated genius, which was the real focus of the story...

Van Gogh Meets Dr. Who!

The casting was perfect, as they managed to not only find an actor (Tony Curran) who resembled Vincent van Gogh, but was also talented enough to play the more subtle intricacies of the tortured artist...

Dr. Who VanGogh Straw Hat

Van Gogh Straw Hat

The production values were amazing, as they faithfully recreated the world that Vincent inhabited, including his room at Arles...

Dr. Who Van Gogh Room

Van Gogh Room

No detail was too small, as the set designers even added a few touches to make everything seem like Vincent actually could have lived there. Like occasional glimpses of the irises and sunflowers that inspired so many of Vincent's paintings...

Dr. Who Van Gogh's Irises

Van Gogh Irises

Dr. Who Van Gogh Sunflowers

Van Gogh Sunflowers

And I thought it was utterly fantastic how they took the time to explain the wonderful way that Vincent sees the world. It was like an art appreciation moment...

Dr. Who Vincent Van Gogh Starry Night

Van Gogh Starry Night

But it was the ending that made the show so sublimely awesome.

The Doctor, feeling sad that Vincent lived a life of depression and pain in a time when his every effort as an artist was rejected, decided to show him a glimpse of the future. A quick trip in the TARDIS later, and van Gogh gets to see that one day he will be regarded as one of the world's greatest artists. It was a magical scene that righted a terrible wrong, and has to be my feel-good moment of the year so far...

Dr. Who Van Gogh

Dr. Who Van Gogh

Dr. Who Van Gogh

And then came Vincent's moment of vindication when The Doctor arranged for him to overhear what people thought of his work...

Dr. Who Van Gogh

Listening the museum curator (played by the ever-awesome Bill Nighy) talk about Vincent in a way that could have come from my own brain was an almost surreal experience...

"In a hundred words, where do you think van Gogh rates in the history of art?"
"To me, van Gogh is the finest painter in the world. Certainly the most popular great painter of all time. The most beloved. His command of color is 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."

Alas the ending was bittersweet but, where Vincent Van Gogh is concerned, it pretty much had to be...

Dr. Who Van Gogh

The entire episode was like a love letter to Vincent van Gogh and his beautiful art, and I loved every minute. Even when he was fighting monsters. Highest possible recommendation. If you didn't catch it on BBC or BBC America, you can grab it on iTunes (well, in the US you can... other countries may vary).

Many thanks to Steven Moffat, Richard Curtis, Edward Thomas, Tony Slater Ling, and everybody else who had a hand in this wonderful episode.

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Categories: Television 2010Click To It: Permalink


  1. Sybil Law says:

    Oh my – that episode would make me cry!!
    Must see it.

  2. Avitable says:

    I’ve been enjoying Matt Smith, but more importantly, Amy Pond is delicious.

    My DVR crapped out before the end of that episode, so I have to download it and watch it again. I enjoyed the parts I saw, though.

  3. Karl says:

    Totally agree, great episode. They did a fantastic job with it.

  4. Mik says:

    I have to say I have not watched Dr. Who regularly for quite some time, I think I’ve only seen two episodes featuring David Tennant when I was in the UK visiting the folks.

    But your description of this episode certainly makes me want to check out the latest Doctor, especially the episode you describe.

    I always enjoy watching Bill Nighy and Tony Curran.

  5. Badger says:

    Dude! Van Gogh is by far my favorite artist, Tony Curran is one of my favorite actors, and who doesn’t love Bill Nighy? When I sat down, completely unspoiled, to watch this episode a few weeks ago and saw that (a) it was about Van Gogh, (b) Curran was PLAYING HIM OMG GENIUS and (c) Nighy had a cameo, well. I think I peed a little.

    My favorite ep of this season by far. I’m okay with this version of the doctor but I am sick in love with Amy Pond. Best companion evah!

  6. Wade says:

    Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists too. His artwork is inspiring and charges me creatively. Although I have never watched anything Dr. Who, I’ll start with this episode. Thanks for the recommendation.

  7. claire says:

    I loved the ep. too! Such great production design. Love how it reflected Van Gogh’s paintings. And the starry night digital transformation? Very cool.

    Also greatly moved by his portrayal of Van Gogh’s mental illness and how he was treated because of it.

    a lovely speech by The Doctor to Amy at the end about the good moments in a life still having value despite all the dark times.

    I’m not entirely certain about the new Doctor either, but I like him a lot more than I thought I would.

  8. Mary says:

    Yay, I loved it, too! I welled up a little at the Starry Night scene. I actually wish there could have been more seeing through Vincent’s eyes, but that’s just me being greedy. It was beautifully handled.

    Tony Curran was just amazing, Bill Nighy is never anything less than awesome, and I have to say, I kind of love Matt Smith. Unfortunately that love does not extend to Amy, who is one of the most grating Companions I can recall.

    Is it Smith you’re not liking, or the season as a whole?

  9. Hilly Sue says:

    This was by far one of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who. It was beautiful and fun and since I am a huge fan of Van Gogh, it made me all teary at the end!

  10. Mik says:

    Just pulled up the episode on Cable On Demand and watching it now.

  11. Jeff says:

    Two thumbs up for a great episode. Thanks for the comparison pics, the attention to detail was great!

  12. Julie Q says:

    I had only managed to catch the last ten minutes of this episode, and was extremely moved by it, your post makes me mad that I didn’t get to see the whole thing.

  13. whitenoise says:

    I’ll have to read some of your other art comments and do some research because, as a non-artist, I don’t get Van Gogh. There’s that wonderful Don mcLean song and everyone raving about Vincent’s genius, but somehow I’m missing it…

    • Dave2 says:

      For me, Vincent’s art is the absolute most purest form of self-expression I have ever seen. He was not confined by other people’s reality, but instead painted the world as he saw it. In this respect, his world was utterly magnificent, his ability to create it was genius, and my appreciation for it grows every time I revisit one of his works.

      All that being said, looking at a picture of his stuff does not have the same impact as seeing it in person. 🙂

  14. mrs. hall says:

    oh my. must download this.

    any celebration of an artist like Van Gogh, must be watched!

  15. Cherry says:

    Having just watched the season finale a few days ago your post bought back such wonderful memories of when I watched it. It was such a joy to watch this ep and see all the tiny details that the writers put in. I too am a fan of Vincent and found this ep to be sad, happy, uplifting and tragic all at the same time. I didn’t want to like this season and the new ‘doctor’ but now I can’t wait for the next season. Matt Smith has down an amazing job of taking over such a complex character with so much back story. Besides who can resist a companion whose permanent wardrobe seems to be a miniskirt!

  16. karla says:

    I haven’t seen that episode (I’ve seen none) but just the IDEA of Van Gogh somehow knowing what he means to art now gives me goosebumps.
    Thanks for that post!

  17. Thanks, Dave! I’m not a TV watcher (nothing snooty – I just don’t have the attention span for it or something), but I saved this entry so I could grab the episode from iTunes. I love the artist and the painting and I just think I would enjoy it. I’ll give it a shot! :>

  18. Sybil, it’s a totally make you cry episode.

    What’s interesting is it was such an amazing episode and nothing really that significant happens to any of the major characters, it’s only really significant to the Vincent.

    It’ll be one of my favorite episodes for a long time.

    I loved, “I don’t really like sunflowers, why would I want to paint them” (or something like that).

    PS – Matt/Eleven has done some really campy things in some of the episodes (mostly the first one) but I think he’s grown into the roll a bit. And some of the non-sensical things he’s done, eventually make some sense.

    PS^2 – Vincent makes a short appearance at the beginning of episode 12 (I think this episode was 10).

  19. muskrat says:

    sounds really cool…hope to check it out online.

  20. mike says:

    The upcoming ep with the flatmate, the episode which convinced me that Matt Smith is a good Doctor, and the rest of the series just peaks from there… I like the new regeneration.

  21. jordan says:

    Hi i liked that doctor who episode i think that Karen Gillian is fit in it.

  22. Dilek says:

    I have watched this episode for tens of times. And each time i cannot stop myself and cry 🙂 and even reading this makes me feel the same. I did not know that i have established an emotional bond with the sunflowers i have been seen in our living room since i was born (it is a perfect replica of it) until i saw this episode 🙂

  23. Dudu Maroja says:

    Another episode that made me cry, this was just fantastic!

  24. Elizabeth says:

    This was the episode that got me hooked on Doctor who

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