Series 5, Episode 10 (Overall Series Story # 214) | Previous - Next | Index
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Having just watched "Arc of Infinity," taking this one up now felt like it could've be too soon for another episode with a space chicken. Especially a space chicken in an episode written by Richard Curtis, who wrote (among other things) Love, Actually. Which is another way of saying, oh boy, watch out, this could really be awful.
Although this story is well-loved in fandom and, generally speaking, critically admired, my instinct is to approach it skeptically, even though I remember enjoying it when it originally aired. That's not how I approach Doctor Who, especially not on first watch. I *want* to like it. Even if I've read unnerving things ahead of time, I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt. That doesn't mean everything gets a pass. There've been times even my wanting to like it, being willing to make allowances, I've been badly let down. Because I wasn't by this one, even though most of the signs pointing to I Should Have Been, re-watching it with an eye towards writing about it in what passes for criticism here I was sharpening the knives for dissection.
And, if we're frank, I think we have to admit it's emotionally manipulative, we should be chafed by having our heartstrings pulled so deliberately. Especially with that blandly symphonic pop encouraging us to revel in We're So Awesome, We Love Van Gogh (or, as it's pronounced in this story "Van G**clears throat**"), Not Like Those Dullards Back When When People Were Moronic Dirt Farmers. Our love is healing. Blah, blah, self-congratulatory joy.
And yet ... even knowing it's a cynical ploy, we fall for it when watching this story. Every. Time. Nighy's Black praising Van Gogh, while Vincent listens, tears welling, the music rising to a crescendo, the camera swirling, it's A Very Special Doctor Who Hallmark Channel Movie moment and my throat tightens and I want to hug Vincent and Black despite myself.
So how does that happen, because if it's that and only that, then there's a problem and we should be dismissing it as tripe.
How it happens is, I think, twofold: for one, Tony Curran as Vincent is more than just a set piece, -- though he's occasionally fetishized as one, shown with his self-portrait, just as we're shown the cafe and the painting, his room and the painting of it. "Look, we can put on TV things that look like Van Gogh paintings!" -- he effectively plays Vincent as both fragile and strong, manic and depressive, proud and humble; for another, there's mirroring going on and, for whatever reason, when we see characters negotiate the narrative by checking reflections, working off mediated images, recognizing themselves or others in ways they don't by just direct line of sight, there's something a little magical in how that affects me as a watcher of a story on a screen -- one who's not paying attention to the screen, but trying to understand the story in it, that puts me in a like mindspace with the character I'm watching, or an imagined like mindspace that I'm exploring at the prompting of a storyteller.
Weird, right? I mean, TV doesn't just get better because a character looks through a pane of glass and sees a thing on the other side of in the dark, while we see their reflection in the glass because they're in a lit room ... but when the story is also about how people see things, and how seeing these does powerful things to our minds, there are layers and kinds of reflecting going on (we call that thing we do where we think about an object of thought "reflecting") that can absorb the shock of the maudlin or elsewhere in a story, or re-frame it so we're more attuned to why it's successful at doing what it's doing ...
Watching this episode calls to mind again the Van Gogh that was found a couple years back with both the TARDIS and a Cyberman (well, that you could squint and sort of see) in it.
Thought I was on to a Doctor Who / Downton Abbey connection that others had missed, but no. I mistook Chrissie Cotterill for Lesley Nicol.
Had to look it up because it was escaping me while watching, the term for hearing color is synesthesia. This story suggests Vincent was synesthetic.
The line "If you paint it, he will come," sounded like a Field of Dreams nod to me.