Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Doctor Who (UK) - "Vincent and the Doctor"
Season Five - Episode Ten
"Vincent and the Doctor"
Review by David Lowbridge
You should never meet your heroes. Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare survived with their encounter with the Doctor with reputations intact and arguably enhanced. True, they were Cliff Notes versions of real life artistic legends but only the most snide English Literature professors would have raised bushy eyebrows in protest.
There were in-jokes for the adults though these never detracted from a strong adventure story. Both hinged around lost works: the unfinished novel The Mystery Of Edwin Drood was the inspiration for a Dickens- esque ghost story of "The Unquiet Dead" and the loss of Love's Labour's Lost made a tongue-in-cheek magguffin for "The Shakespeare Code". The tension at the heart of this week's "Vincent and the Doctor" was whether the Doctor and Amy would stop Van Gogh from committing suicide at the age of 37. Sadly, the episode wasn't remotely tense and if it had heart wore it on it's sleeve the begin with, wearing it out to finish.
The relentlessly earnest tone was completely at odds with 'Who'. Smith and Gillen tried so hard here, but, in a narrative which pivoted around mood swings and chronic depression, their vivacious banter came off as facetious rather than endearing.
It's a shame their hyperactivity didn't rub off on the director who adopted the languorous pace of a year in Provence rather than the three days depicted. Infuriatingly, the episode could have been a masterclass in dramatic irony; the Doctor knows why Amy's crying but she doesn't. However, Campbell went for the wide shot, showing off the (admittedly convincing) scenery rather than the vitally needed close up every time.
The majority of the blame can be laid at the feet of Richard Curtis, or rather Steven Moffat who perhaps felt intimidated about re-writing a household name. The worst elements of Curtis' style rear their heads here. Most destructive of all was the song-based finale which trivialised a moment that, without the soft rock mobile phone ad pap, could have had a chance of conveying the feeling of epiphany that was surely intended. As it was, Van Gogh came across as a whining sad sack rather than the tortured genius he had a right to be depicted as.
This could have been Blackadder Back And Forth And Back Again. Instead it's just a standout example of an 'artist' being given the whole palette to play with and daubing the first thing that springs to mind.
This is recognisably a work by Curtis, who has done some great television in the past. If you were being generous you could at least argue it's an auteur at work; or if you're being honest you could just say he couldn't be arsed.