"I've seen many things, my friend. But you're right. Nothing's quite as wonderful as the things you see."
— The Doctor
Written by Richard Curtis, comedy writer whose works include Blackadder
, Four Weddings and a Funeral
, and Notting Hill
; in his words, he wrote the episode so his kids can watch
The episode was followed on the BBC by information on suicide prevention, as the episode discusses Vincent van Gogh's suicide.
Not to be taken as a pronunciation guide — despite what the actors would have you think, it's not pronounced "Ven Goff".
Terror lurks in the cornfields of Provence, but only a sad and lonely painter can see it.
We start with a field of wheat. Something is running through that wheat and scaring crows. And someone is painting that field of wheat.Vincent van Gogh
's picture ends up in a Parisian gallery in the present day, to which the Doctor's taking Amy as a treat — since she is something of a fan of Vincent's — only the latest in a whole row of treat visits. She doesn't understand why he's spoiling her so much, and is still blissfully unaware that her fiancé is very dead and erased from history. The Doctor keeps up a perfect Stepford Smiler
act for her.
They look at The Church at Auvers
and spot a monster in one of the windows. The Doctor approaches a rather long-winded Bill Nighy
-in-a-bow-tie, named Dr Black, the museum's curator. Dr Black has been talking to a tour group about how Van Gogh churned out a whole load of paintings near the end of his life but had incredible unluckiness in actually selling
his work. He's enough of an expert on Vincent that he can place the time of the painting's creation to between the 1st and 3rd of Jun, 1890. That's just how good he is. The Doctor and Dr Black compliment each other's bow-ties for a bit, and the Doctor and Amy head to 19th-century Provence.
They arrive in a little town and set about finding Vincent. They soon discover him at a local café
, failing to sell yet another piece of his work, a self portrait, and attempt to engage him in conversation. Vincent isn't too impressed by the Doctor — he's had enough of the doctors his brother keeps on sending him — but is rather taken with Amy. Well, who wouldn't be? Thanks to her, he agrees to share a bottle of wine with them. He assumes Amy's also Dutch, because apparently according to the TARDIS, speaking French with a Dutch accent is the equivalent of speaking English with a Scottish accent. But just as the Doctor is clunkily trying to pursue the subject of the church, there's a scream.
Rushing to the scene, they find a very dead young woman and her distraught mother, who pins the blame on Vincent's madness. It's followed up by a barrage of stones, and the trio have to leg it. The Doctor invites himself and Amy as Vincent's guests.
It turns out that the monster is invisible, but Vincent can see it because of his intense synaesthesia. His impressionist painting, however, isn't accurate enough for the Doctor to identify the species. But he's got an old gadget in his TARDIS that can identify the original form of living creatures when given enough data. It renders the Doctor as the first and second Doctors respectively, and renders the creature as a giant four-legged Krafayis. The Doctor realises a bit late that it's the monster's reflection
in the screen that he's seeing, but manages to get away, with the gadget strapped to his chest like an elaborate Steam Punk
After chasing away the Krafayis, the Doctor and Amy offer to spend the night with lonely Vincent, and admire the works that Vincent believes to be worthless (but that they know will become art treasures in the future). Vincent wakes up the next day, stunned to see that the Doctor has prepared them breakfast, and Amy awaits outside surrounded by dozens of sunflowers. The two insist they will come with him tonight when he goes to paint the nearby church, themselves knowing the beast will appear there, and then will be out of Vincent's hair forever. Vincent crumbles at this, and locks himself in his bedroom, crying that people simply just leave him. Neither the Doctor nor Amy can coax him out of his emotional state, and prepare to go to the church alone.
As they are about to leave, Vincent emerges with his painting supplies, ready to help out. As they travel, Vincent confides to Amy that he senses something missing in her life and a great sadness in her, and decides that if she can soldier on, so can he. They arrive at the church, and Vincent starts to paint. The Doctor quickly becomes bored of waiting for something to happen, and just when he's about given up, Vincent spots the Krafayis moving about inside. The Doctor tells "Amy and Rory" — Amy and Vincent
— to wait.
As soon as the Doctor is inside, Amy and Vincent look to each other and merrily race in after him, with an "Amy, I love you!" from Vincent.
The Doctor has trouble tracking the invisible beast, and he and Amy are forced to take shelter inside a confessional. Vincent, staying back, describes the movement of the Krafayis to his friends, and the Doctor realises the beast is blind and wounded, left behind on Earth by its pack as dead weight. He tries to talk to it, but the Krafayis is too panicked to understand that the Doctor can help it. The beast starts to charge at Vincent, and he holds up his easel in self-defence... upon which the beast impales itself.
As the Krafayis dies, the Doctor races out to try to help it, but the wound is too great. Vincent realises that he and the Krafayis share a similar loneliness and along with the Doctor helps to soothe the creature in its final moments.
The three leave the church and lie down, hand-in-hand, on a nearby hill. Vincent directs them to the starry night
above, describing how he sees the heavens as a canvas. Both the Doctor and Amy are awed by this sight, as we see the realistic star-scape transformed stunningly into Van Gogh's painting. Vincent holds the hands of his friends close to him.
The next day, Vincent escorts them to the TARDIS, attempts to woo Amy into marrying him (to which she notes she's "not the marrying type
"), and says his goodbyes with a bit of sadness. The Doctor and Amy pause before entering the TARDIS, a knowing look in their eyes.
The next thing Vincent knows, he's inside a space ship
that go whoooosh
. And he's being pulled through the streets of Paris in 2010, into the same gallery from before. The Doctor ignores Vincent's questions about the strange technology he sees, instead dragging him to the Van Gogh display room from before, holding him back. Within Vincent's earshot, the Doctor encourages Dr Black to expound upon the greatness of Van Gogh's work. Dr Black holds the utmost respect for the painter, calling him one of the greatest artists of all time. Vincent, elated at this, feels tears welling up, races to embrace Dr Black and thanking him profusely for his compliments.
The Doctor and Amy return Vincent to his time; Vincent leaves the two, much much happier than a few hours ago as he returns home.
Amy insists they return to the present. Surely their actions have allowed Vincent to live out his life and create many many more works? Yet when they arrive at the museum, nothing has changed. All the same artwork is present, and Dr Black laments about Van Gogh's suicide at an early age. Amy tries to understand. The Doctor comments that life has good things and bad things, and all they were able to do is help give Vincent a few more good things within his short life. The Doctor demonstrates that the The Church at Auvers
no longer has the frightening creature at the window, and one of the sunflower still-life paintings now bears a small inscription above Vincent's signature: "For Amy".
Amy: If we had got married, our kids would have had very red hair.
The Doctor: The ultimate ginger.
- Alas, Poor Villain: By the time the Krafayis dies, everyone is more sorry for it than anything else.
- Applied Phlebotinum: The machine the Doctor uses to see the invisible Krafayis.
The Doctor: I thought you were just a useless gadget; I thought you were just an embarrassing present from a dull godmother with two heads and baaad breath — twice.
- Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?
- Attack Backfire: The Monster of the Week seemed to enjoy the sonic screwdriver.
- Badass Longcoat: Vincent, when standing up to the Krafayis in the church.
- Bittersweet Ending: The day is saved and Van Gogh realises his importance in the scheme of things. He still kills himself in the end, though.
- Cat Scare: "NOT THAT FAST!"
- Character Filibuster: Yes, Vincent van Gogh was an awesome, if insane, guy, Dr Black.
- Continuity Nod:
- The Doctor mentions his godmother had two heads. This could mean that the Doctor's godmother was an Aplan. Or she suffered a glitch in her regeneration as the Ninth Doctor mentions it can sometimes result in growing an extra head before he becomes the Tenth Doctor.
- While the Doctor tests his newest bit of Applied Phlebotinum, it scans his image and prints out pictures of One and Two.
- "Bow-ties are cool!"
- Ten mentions back in "Doomsday" that he was "there at the fall of Arcadia" during the Time War. Eleven has apparently just taken Amy there, though presumably not at the same time. Or he took her to the same-named region in Greece.
- Eleven saying that Amy and Vincent's child would've been the ultimate ginger.
- Department of Redundancy Department: The Doctor says he comes from "The Ministry of Art... and Artiness."
- Epiphany Therapy: Subverted. Van Gogh's depression is not cured by his time with the Doctor and Amy, and he still kills himself.
- Foregone Conclusion: Van Gogh's suicide.
- Foreshadowing: Someone in the museum mentions a doctor who took care of Van Gogh, the end of the episode has Van Gogh say that The Doctor is the only doctor to make a difference in his life.
- Freudian Slip: (To Amy and Vincent, mind you) "Amy, Rory!" "What?!" "Sorry."
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Apparently, the Krafayis enjoys one of the settings on the Sonic Screwdriver. The Doctor is suitably weirded out by this.
- He Is Not My Boyfriend: Averted; the Doctor is regarded as Amy's guardian, which fits the time period as respectable women didn't travel without an escort.
- Heroes Want Redheads: Vincent and Amy share a mutual redhead attraction.
Amy: If we had got married, our kids would have had very red hair.
The Doctor: The ultimate ginger.
- Heroic Self-Deprecation: Vincent has a problem with this.
- He's Back: After Vincent suffers through one of his episodes of depression, he returns, Badass Longcoat and Nice Hat in place, ready to go paint some monsters.
- Historical Hero Upgrade / Took a Level in Badass: Vincent van Gogh, Monster Hunter. He fends off the Krafayis with a chair and an easel. Yeah...
Vincent: Are you lookin' for me, sonny?!
- Historical In-Joke: Sunflowers are widely assumed to be Vincent van Gogh's favourite flower. When Amy tries to appeal to this, he reveals that he actually considers them a bit grotesque. Vincent is also revealed to be a synaesthete, meaning he hears colours.
- Hypocritical Humour: In-universe example; when the Doctor offers to buy Vincent a drink, Vincent angrily informs him "I pay for my own drinks". Everyone around him laughs derisively.
- In Spite of a Nail: Showing Van Gogh an exhibit of his paintings apparently won't change them much . Even the ones that are in the exhibit and that he hasn't painted yet.
- Mirror Scare: The Doctor first gets a look at the Krafayis this way.
- Mood-Swinger: Vincent
- Mood Whiplash: An episode featuring Vincent and the Doctor whacking an invisible alien with sticks and an inevitable suicide? Only Doctor Who...
- Nice Hat: Vincent has that marvellous straw hat. He even does the Indiana Jones "never leave the hat behind" thing while fighting.
- Not Named in Opening Credits: Well, any credits; Bill Nighy is completely uncredited for his role as Black.
- Name and Name: "Vincent and the Doctor"
- Neurodiversity Is Supernatural: There appears to be a link between Vincent van Gogh's madness/depression and his ability to see invisible aliens. Which one causes which is somewhat unclear, though. It's implied that he has Synesthesia, so it may be that his mind is interpreting other sensor information about the creature (its scent, the sound it makes when it moves) as visual data.
- Never Trust a Trailer:
- The "next time" trailer for this episode ended with a coffin topped with sunflowers, implying it was Vincent's. In the actual episode, it's the coffin of a girl whose death-by-Krafayis Vincent gets blamed for and who we never even see. That's also an example of how them having Shown Their Work. It's a reference to a lost painting he did of the same subject matter.
- In addition, one BBC trailer for this episode made it look like a Girl with a Pearl Earring type romance film with an artist being revitalised by a new muse. It was beautifully done.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Vincent whites out one of his canvases just to show the Doctor and Amy what the Krafayis looks like. The painting in question was, as a result, never part of Vincent's gallery as we know it.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Hand Waved and Lampshaded as a TARDIS translation quirk.
- Old Shame: Vincent has a gloomy outlook on all of his paintings, but even after his heart-warming glimpse at his artistic legacy "The Haystacks" are apparently still this for Vincent, who expresses embarrassment at seeing them hanging on the walls of a museum.
- Power Born of Madness: Vincent's state of mind allows him to see the Krafayis.
- Public Domain Soundtrack: The soothing music is the "Emperor Waltz" by Johann Strauss.
- Pyrrhic Victory: The death of the Krafayis.
The Doctor: Sometimes winning is no fun at all.
- Rapid-Fire "No!": Said by the Doctor when Vincent whitewashes a gorgeous painting he believes sucks to use as a drawing canvas, rendering it Lost Forever, when it would be considered of wonderful artistic value today. Amy takes the opposite route- she cups her mouth in shock and horror as she catches herself gasping, instead of getting vocal.
- Reality Ensues: Depression is a serious condition, and you're not going to fix it with any single gesture, no matter how big.
- Something Completely Different: As this is the more self-contained of the Doctor Who episodes we have seen all season, this one is without an appearance or the direct threat of a time crack. Although there are a few off-handed references to Rory; things like "Why are you being so nice to me?" and "I'm not the marrying kind" make more sense if you've been following the show.
- Squee: Amy upon meeting Vincent.
- Stereo Fibbing:
Vincent: (to Amy) I take it from your accent that you're from Holland, like me?
The Doctor: Yes. / Amy: No.
The Doctor: She means yes.
- Take That: A minor example where the Doctor vents that he wouldn't be having this problem with a non-impressionist, proper painter when Vincent's sketch of the Krafayis isn't good enough to work with the Doctor's alien profiling device. To cheer up Vincent as he paints The Church at Auvers, the Doctor also puts down Michelangelo and Picasso.
- Translation Convention: See below.
- Translator Microbes: According to the TARDIS, speaking French with a Dutch accent is the equivalent of speaking English with a Scottish accent.
- True Art Is Angsty: Gloriously anviliciously subverted in universe. Dr Black — Bill Nighy's character — who is an art expert, explains in Van Gogh's presence how the latter managed to "transform the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty" and "use [his] passion and pain to portray the joy and ecstasy and magnificence of our world". And this is why he is the greatest artist who ever lived.
- Very Special Episode: As close to one as you'll ever see in Doctor Who. The BBC voice-over during the closing theme advertises a suicide prevention hotline. However, it was very well received. To the point that it's frequently considered a favourite and is referenced as one of the great things Amy got to do on her tenure in her last episode.
- The World Is Just Awesome: Vincent's opinion of the universe, when he's not in his darker moods. As he explains to the Doctor and Amy:
Vincent Van Gogh: Look at the sky. It's not dark and black and without character. The black is, in fact deep blue. And over there: lighter blue and blowing through the blues and blackness the winds swirling through the air and then shining, burning, bursting through: the stars! [the sky gradually transforms into van Gogh's painting Starry Night] And you see how they roar their light. Everywhere we look, the complex magic of nature blazes before our eyes.