Monday, December 9, 2013

Vincent & The Doctor

I enjoyed Vincent and The Doctor a little less this time than I did when I first watched it. I still like it, even with quibbles.

It benefits from a magnificent performance from Tony Curran as Vincent van Gogh at its heart. It helps that he does actually look pretty similar to how van Gogh actually looked, which is nicely signposted in that little moment where the Doctor holds up a van Gogh self-portrait in front of Curran's face and you find yourself thinking how alike they actually are. It's the strength of Curran's performance that enables the story to hang together as an emotional piece.

After all the monster in this, the poor lost, blinded Krafaysis is an aside. A thing included to make this feel like a normal Doctor Who story when it isn't. It's a Richard Curtis* story about van Gogh and depression. And about how a great man. A great and damaged man can twist his pain into something so wonderful as van Gogh's paintings.

I've been to the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. If my truth be told I think there's more great artwork in there than in the Louvre but everyone is a critic these days. I had never seen a van Gogh 'live' until then but when you do it is a sensuous experience of the first order. I never realised that colour could be so...colourful. The colours in his paintings fizz with energy and you find yourself wondering how people missed it at the time. How can you not see that this man is doing something absolutely astonishing. And, of course, this is now turning into a review of van Gogh's artworks and a consideration of what van Gogh means as an artist.

But then this story does that too. I love the scene where the Doctor, Amy and van Gogh lie on the ground in the night, looking up at the sky and van Gogh describes what he can see. You don't often get moments of great poetry in Doctor Who but that is one of them. I'd watch Vincent and the Doctor just for that scene really.

That and the scene where we get an insight into van Gogh's depression when the Doctor tries to hurry him along. Again Curran is truly heart-breaking in this scene. It's a little uncomfortable watch because it feels so true and the Doctor really, really doesn't know what to do to help.

Matt Smith is good in this, with the exception of his irritating childishness when van Gogh is painting. It's almost funny but the idea that the Doctor has to behave like a child in these circumstances doesn't entirely ring true. Especially as by this point you'd quite easily believe van Gogh would just wake him one for jabbering whilst he was trying to work. Thankfully the Krafaysis turns up in time for us to have a bit of fun.

The poor scared Krafaysis. Doctor Who doesn't often give consideration to fear when people die. Understandable really because with the amount of dying that goes on in Doctor Who it would become a completely different and rather bizarre programme if it did. But the Krafaysis is afraid and dying alone. Abandoned. Blind.

Then - as a reward - the Doctor and Amy take van Gogh to the future. To the Musee d'Orsay. To show him how he's valued in the 21st century and for a brief moment Doctor Who goes all Grey's Anatomy. I'm not sure really who this reward is for. The Doctor must know that van Gogh will still kill himself. Perhaps he's still trying to make it up to Amy for Rory's death that she doesn't remember but perhaps the real reason is revealed in the rather magnificent speech the Doctor gives Amy about life being made up of good moments and bad moments.

Van Gogh's suicide, despite his apparent validation, shows that there are some corners of the universe that even the Doctor cannot reach.

Add to that some rather magnificent design work by the art department that makes some of van Gogh's paintings really seem to live : the café, the interior of van Gogh's bedroom etc and there is some greatness in this story but for reasons I'm not quite sure of it affected me less this time than before. Perhaps I'm just getting more cynical in my old age.

I do know that once more Doctor Who steals the creative credit from an artist - see my quibbles previously in the blogs about The Shakespeare Code and The Unicorn & The Wasp (and my comments about Mary Shelley in Big Finish too) by making Amy give van Gogh the Sunflowers idea. Stop doing that producers of Doctor Who. It might be funny but it takes credit away from truly brilliant people and makes Doctor Who more like Goodnight Sweetheart. So stop it.

So to conclude in as sudden and as artificial way as possible I like this story a lot but there's something that I can't quite put my finger on that prevents it from being labelled a roaring success. I think it would have been a better story without the Krafaysis but then would it have been a Doctor Who story at all then.

Oh as it has just popped into my brain I did like the Scottish accent/Netherlands joke and the 'ultimate ginge'.

*I could waffle on about Richard Curtis but I think he's had enough comment to last a lifetime so I'm going to pretend for the purposes of this interview that he's just a jobbing Doctor Who writer. We can talk about Blackadder, Four Weddings and a Funeral etc another time. Next thing you know Doctor Who will be trying to get Tom Stoppard to write an episode.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Hungry Earth-Cold Blood

Hmmmm, I'm not sure what to make of that. A two-part story The Hungry Earth-Cold Blood sees the return of Homo Reptilia aka The Eocenes aka The Silurians.
Unfortunately they've had a makeover, which makes them seem less 'alien' and more 'Star Trek: Next Generation'. It's a lovely make-up job, it really is but it is less interesting than the originals. So there's an initial quibble for you.
I'm sure it's also film in the same place as Torchwood: Countryside, although that might be my imagination because it has a little of the same vibe and it is written by the same writer Chris Chibnall. Perhaps it's the Welshness of it.
Also I found the second episode awful in comparison with the first. What's the point in giving yourself two episodes if you're going to rush together the end of the story with a whoosh of convenience and farewells. Ah, but we have the season long arc to finish so we must spend a chunk of the episode pushing that along and killing Rory, for the first time. And removing him from existence. It's all rather rushed and despite Karen Gillen giving it her best Rory's death just didn't have the impact it should have done.
Perhaps though I am spoiled by knowing how it will all pan out in the end. Perhaps that has cooled the reaction. Perhaps but I suspect not. It's all so rushed and then we have to push it along a little more in order to sow another seed for the 'crack' arc. This is the problem with season long story arcs. If clumsily handled they get in the way of the story you are actually in and I think - in this case - that's what happens.

It's not all bad though. I like the Doctor's faith in humanity and his horror at Ambrose's (Nia Roberts) murder of Alaya (the Home Reptilia). Alaya, who like her 'genetic sister' is a Warrior, wants war with the apes and has spent time goading everyone - including the Doctor - into killing her in order to start a war. It's a sort of suicide for genocide. A reverse Spock.*

Alaya and Restac are both played by Neve McIntosh who has since gone on to be the Homo Reptilia of choice as Madame Vastra. Both her characters in this are of a nastier, more murderous inclination. They don't like apes and they want their planet back. They're not afraid to bump off members of their own race to do it. Or die. The end justifies the means.

McIntosh is pretty great actually.

Being a 'Silurian' story we get echoes of previous stories and a wiser, more peaceful Elder Eldane (Stephen Moore) is the other side of the Silurian character. He's looking for a peaceful solution to the problem. It's is Eldane's reaction to Alaya's death that convinces you that this will not end well. But in the end - and without much in the way of explanation as to why - Eldane trusts the humans and the Doctor enough to force his people back into suspended animation. Woo-hoo.

The guest cast is small and initially the two-part story looks like it is going to give us room for character development but then woosh it rushes away with itself so Meera Syal's Nasreen Chaudhrey realises that she loves Robert Pugh's (who I love btw - brilliant actor) Tony Mack but the whole thing seems as rushed in the end as Leela's departure in The Invasion of Time.

Oh but a big round of applause to Samuel Davies as Elliot for being a child actor in Doctor Who that isn't actually really annoying.

To cut this ramble short there's a good story in here somewhere with good characters but it doesn't quite escape from being squeezed by the need to fit a story arc. A decent-ish first episode is hamstrung by a rushed and disappointing second. Not horrible. Just eminently forgettable.

Oh and oh. Er, if this drill is has reached the furthest into the Earth ever then why isn't the planet screaming out its rage. Has nobody heard of Inferno.

*I knew what I meant by this when I typed it. I may have lost it afterwards but these are meant to be stream of consciousness, immediate reaction blogs so...and I still think I know. Sort of. Ish.