The one with flowers for Amy and a moving scene set to Athlete's "Chances".
The episode was followed on the BBC by information on suicide prevention, as the episode discusses Vincent van Gogh's suicide.
The actors, being British, use the British pronunciation, "Van Goff". In Dutch, the correct pronunciation is (in IPA) [ˈvɪnsɛnt vɑŋ ˈɣɔx]. "Gogh" is pronounced as a soft Southern Dutch guttural G (a bit like a gargle), then an "o" as in "or" (without the "r" sound), and finally the Scottish sound at the end of "loch". The museum guide's pronunciation of the name is closer to the Dutch.
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, 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-bowtie, 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 selling any of them. 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 how good he is. The Doctor and Dr. Black compliment each other's bowties 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. Who wouldn't be? Thanks to her, he agrees to share a bottle of wine with them. He assumes Amy's also Dutch, because according to the TARDIS speaking French with a Dutch accent is the equivalent of speaking English with a Scottish accent. Then, 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 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 steampunk rearview mirror.
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 waits 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 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 starscape 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 spaceship that's Bigger on the Inside with dials and levers that go whoooosh. Then 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".
The Doctor: The ultimate ginger.
- Actor Allusion: Tony Curran (Van Gogh) once played an Invisible Man.
- An Aesop: The episode explains that there are differences in how different people deal with depression or anxiety (the Doctor is shown to be more resilient than Vincent van Gogh). The Doctor also delivers a particularly touching Aesop at the end, when Amy discovers that their intervention failed to stop van Gogh from killing himself: "The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don't always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don't always spoil the good things and make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things."
- 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?: The Doctor asks Amy this, and she responds with food. He was thinking about something else.
- Attack Backfire: The Monster of the Week seemed to enjoy the sonic screwdriver.
- Author Appeal: Richard Curtis had been fascinated by the life of Vincent van Gogh. Though it was a subject he knew "quite a lot" about, he still read a 200-page biography of van Gogh, which was more research than he normally would have done if working on other projects; he took van Gogh very seriously. As such, he wanted to be "truthful rather than cruel" and refused to write any jokes about van Gogh's ears after he famously cut one of them off.
- Badass Longcoat: Vincent, when standing up to the Krafayis in the church, has a spiffy longcoat.
- Bittersweet Ending: The day is saved and van Gogh realizes his importance in the scheme of things. He still kills himself in the end, but he never forgot his friends.
- Breather Episode: This episode is much lighter following Rory's death and disappearance from time, with only a few oblique references to previous events.
- Brick Joke: When Vincent gives her a party kiss on the cheek, Amy advises him to shave before he kisses again. When he kisses Dr Black's cheeks, Vincent apologies for his beard.
- Call-Back: When Amy says goodbye to Vincent. After giving him a hug and a kiss, she mentions that he should trim his beard before he kisses some one again. Later, when Vincent is overwhelmed by Dr. Black's praise, he gives him a kiss on both cheeks. As he pulls away, Vincent mutters "Sorry about the beard."
- Cat Scare: "NOT THAT FAST!"
- Changed My Jumper: Why, no, Amy, miniskirts weren't in fashion in Arles, France, in 1890.
- Chairman of the Brawl: At one point, Vincent fends off the Krafayis with his painting chair.
- Character Filibuster: Yes, Vincent van Gogh was an awesome, if insane, guy, Dr. Black (though the speech itself still works).
- Continuity Nod:
- The Doctor mentions his godmother had two heads. This could mean that the Doctor's godmother was an Aplan. Of course, it could also mean she suffered a glitch in her regeneration, as the Ninth Doctor mentioned it can sometimes result in growing an extra head before he became 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.
- Ten mentioned back in "Doomsday" that he was "there at the Fall of Arcadia" during the Time War. Eleven has apparently just taken Amy 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."
- Double Take: After the Doctor, Amy and Vincent have left the museum, Dr. Black does a noticeable double take between the man who just hugged him and the portrait of Vincent van Gogh on the wall, and then decides that no, he couldn't have just met van Gogh in person.
- Epiphany Therapy: Subverted. Van Gogh says that the Doctor is the first doctor who has ever helped him with his condition, but his depression is not cured by his time with the Doctor and Amy, and he still kills himself. Notably, "The Pandorica Opens" adds a wrinkle to this: Van Gogh's final painting was the TARDIS exploding, and he took this to mean that his friends died with it. Thus, it was a personal tragedy that pushed him back into/further into depression.
- Foregone Conclusion: Van Gogh's suicide cannot be prevented. The Doctor knows and therefore is not surprised when it happens due to it being an established fixed point in time. The episode addresses this directly by showing the emotional impact this realisation has on Amy.note
- 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.
- The spiked legs of Vincent's easel are deliberately shown as he's setting up to paint the church.
- Freudian Slip: (To Amy and Vincent, mind you) "Amy, Rory!" "What?!" "Sorry."
- He Is Not My Boyfriend: Averted; the Doctor is just 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, very red hair.
The Doctor: The ultimate ginger.
- Heroic Self-Deprecation: Vincent has a problem with putting himself down because everyone else in his time period puts him down as well.
- 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.
- Hidden in Plain Sight: Crosses over with Paper-Thin Disguise. The TARDIS is camouflaged with contemporary posters to conceal it.
- Historical Badass Upgrade: Vincent van Gogh, Monster Hunter. He fends off the Krafayis with a chair and an easel!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, in his case 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.
- Improvised Weapon: In addition to his painting chair, Vincent also has his easel. The Krafayis winds up impaled on it.
- In Spite of a Nail: Showing van Gogh an exhibit of his paintings won't change them much . Even the ones that are in the exhibit and that he hasn't painted yet. It's wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, you know?
- Invisible Means Undodgeable: When the Krafayis first turns up, it smacks the Doctor around somewhat. The first time this happens, he's quite startled he'd thought Vincent's reaction to the monster was a psychotic break.
- Invisible Monsters: The Krafayis as a species are invisible, which gives them an advantage in hunting. Well, invisible to everyone but a Mad Artist and a Magic Mirror.
- Invisible to Normals: And Vincent van Gogh doesn't exactly fit the definition of "normal", now, does he?
- Irony: The Krafayis is a deadly predator from beyond the stars. However, only one is featured in this episode, which is quite odd considering how the Doctor describes them as pack animals. So why was it abandoned here by its pack? Because it's blind. That's right the predator that can't be seen by anyone else can't see anyone.
- It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": It's not discussed in the episode, but as mentioned above no one pronounces "van Gogh" the Dutch way, except the museum guide, who comes close. The other characters all use the British pronunciation, "Van Goff".
- Loophole Abuse: Van Gogh refuses to allow the Doctor to pay for his drink or pay for his painting so he himself can pay for his drink. Thus, Amy proclaims that she will buy a drink for herself and then share it with whomever she likes. Van Gogh finds this acceptable. note
- Magic Mirror: The Krafayis is visible in the Doctor's species-detecting mirror, a gift from a godmother no less! Although it's actually a piece of Sufficiently Advanced Technology.
- Mirror Scare: The Doctor first gets a look at the Krafayis this way, because only the mirror can reveal it.
- Mood-Swinger: Vincent can switch from moderate functional to inconsolable depression to battle resolve within a minute.
- Mood Whiplash: An episode featuring Vincent and the Doctor whacking an invisible alien with sticks and an inevitable suicide? Only in Doctor Who...
- Mythology Gag: The Krafayis liked one of the sonic screwdriver's functions, a reference to another story Richard Curtis and Steven Moffat worked on. note
- Nice Hat: Vincent has that marvelous straw hat. He even does the Indiana Jones "never leave the hat behind" thing while fighting.
- 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. It's implied that he has synaesthesia, so it may be that his mind is interpreting other sensory 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. This is also an example of Shown Their Work, as it's a reference to a lost painting van Gogh did of the same subject matter.
- One BBC trailer for this episode made it look like a Girl with a Pearl Earring-type romance film with an artist being revitalized by a new muse.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Vincent whites out one of his canvases 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. Both of them are equally horrified.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Justified and Lampshaded as a TARDIS translation quirk.
- Old Shame: Invoked Vincent has a gloomy outlook on all of his paintings, but even after his heart-warming glimpse at his artistic legacy, "The Haystacks" are still this for Vincent, who expresses embarrassment at seeing them hanging on the walls of a museum.
- Out-of-Character Moment: The Eleventh Doctor decides to confront the Krafayis by swinging a stick at it, apparently attempting to bludgeon it into submission. In other episodes, especially in the revival, the Doctor disdains weapons and always attempts to find a peaceful solution first. He is, however, trying to protect Vincent van Gogh (who's kind of important to the timeline). This can also be excused by him being under the impression that Amy's life was in immediate danger, and the fact that each new incarnation of the character is different from the last, including their tendency of using martial force.
- Power Born of Madness: Vincent's synaesthesic state of mind allows him to see the Krafayis.
- Public Domain Soundtrack: The soothing music is the "Emperor Waltz" by Johann Strauss.
- Public Service Announcement: A concluding message in the initial broadcast took the opportunity to give some information on suicide prevention.
- 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, when it would be considered of wonderful artistic value in his future. 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. Even when Vincent is shown how much people love his art in the future, it didn't stop his eventual suicide since he was still living in a time period without proper mental help for someone like him.
- On a less somber note, Vincent's sketch of the Krafayis is, while impressively detailed, still not accurate enough for the species to be easily identified by the TARDIS's computer banks. It eventually takes the Doctor donning a Magic Mirror to get an accurate enough image of the creature for it to be identified.
- Rewatch Bonus: Watching the episode with the awareness that the Krafayis is blind helps explain some of the creature's behaviour throughout.
- Running Gag: Bowties are cool enough that the Doctor and Dr. Black spend several seconds complimenting each other's.
- See the Invisible: Vincent can see the Krafayis possibly due to his mental health difficulties, and the Doctor later has a special mirror for seeing the creature.
- Field of Dreams: "If you paint it, he will come."
- The Doctor fights a monster by looking at its reflection, just like Perseus fighting Medusa. Even better, he passes a statue of Perseus holding Medusa's severed head in the museum.
- Richard Curtis gets in a nod to his own series: the TARDIS apparently has a "friction contrafibulator", referencing the Blackadder scene where Blackadder wishes Samuel Johnson his "most enthusiastic contrafibularities".
- Shown Their Work: The below-mentioned Small Reference Pools aside, the episode is generally well-researched in both Vincent van Gogh's life and the many symptoms of depression.
- Small Reference Pools: This episode doesn't touch on lesser-known facts about van Gogh, such as that all his works were inspired by Japanese wood prints and he had a huge collection of them in Paris.
- Squee!: Upon meeting Vincent, Amy unleashes her inner fangirl.
- Standalone Episode: As this is the most 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.
- 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 (who took on the Sistine Chapel despite a fear of heights) and Picasso (who needed to be reminded people have two eyes).
- Tears of Joy: Vincent is completely overwhelmed when he sees his exhibition in the future and hears Dr. Black appraise him, not knowing he's there, as "the greatest artist of all time." He's practically sobbing as he embraces Dr. Black, kisses his cheeks and thanks him profusely. (And, let's face it, the audience is doing this as well.)
- Translation Convention: According to the TARDIS, speaking French with a Dutch accent is the equivalent of speaking English with a Scottish accent.
- Translator Microbes: The Translation Convention is caused by the TARDIS' translation circuits this time with some accent-related quirks.
- True Art Is Angsty: Gloriously 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". It's not his pain that is beautiful, but how he used that pain to create positive beauty. This is why he is the greatest artist who ever lived.
- Very Special Episode: The BBC voice-over during the closing theme advertised a suicide prevention hotline. The episode's writer, Richard Curtis, even stated that he hoped it would help introduce Doctor Who's younger audience to the concept of mental illness so they would learn to be more patient with those afflicted with it as they get older. However, it's a very well-done example, with this episode often being seen as one of the best in the revived series' run, with it even being mentioned as a highlight in Amy's travels near the end of her run as a companion.
- Wham Shot: A particularly cruel one, in that their final museum trip reveals that Amy and the Doctor didn't save Vincent.
- The World Is Just Awesome: Vincent's opinion of the universe, when he's not in his darker moods, is that it is filled with wonder and beauty. 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.
- Wrong Name Outburst: The Doctor accidentally calls Vincent "Rory".
- Your Other Left: During the first appearance of the Krafayis, the Doctor tries to help Vincent fend it off. Vincent duly tells him where the monster is. The Doctor misinterprets it, and gets smacked through the air.