Growing up and living with a family of artists (past and present – hellooo, ancestors!), art has always dug itself a roomy, special compartment in my heart. But for me, it’s always the impressionists that have found their ways onto my walls. That is, Cassatt, Monet, Degas, and the slightly less predictable Renoir.

Vincent and the Doctor / BBC

But in the past two years I’ve become more aware of Van Gogh, and my appreciation for him has extended beyond his painting of “Irises”. (In March 09 I wrote the piece A Troubled Artist’s Words are Healing to this 20-Something.) When it comes to trying to buy a poster to frame for my Dad’s office, it’s Van Gogh I look to. And when it came time to feature a famous, historic artist, it’s Van Gogh that writer Richard Curtis and the Doctor Who team looked to.

On Saturday, “Vincent and the Doctor” aired, and proved itself to be a magnificent episode. I’m always partial to the historical episodes, although the modern ones can still seem every bit a fairytale. (I don’t like sci fi, but I like modern fairytales, which do seem to be sci fi.)

Vincent and the Doctor / BBC

…Was it a truly magnificent episode? I think that as a whole, it was a good episode. But the tiny notes the moments in the episode hit upon really built this into an episode that could be worthy of being in anyone’s top 20 Doctor Who episodes. Ergo, magnificent. Hell, brilliant! At first I was shocked, because art is so close to me I immediately wondered what my Mother would say if she knew they were once again playing around the history of a historical figure – and this time, one she cared about. But I shrugged that off, she’s not a DW fan, so I don’t need to care what she thinks about it. For me, as long as the series honors the memory of someone rather than making us hate them, I’m always very PRO the examination of the past and its inhabitants.

Doctor Who gave their own slant for an explanation as to why Van Goh had become so disconnected from reality. Without ruling out that he had depression, this episode also implied  it was because he had an imbalance of sorts that made him able to see things in the world that were not of this world (i.e. alien creatures). And because so many artistic people say they choose not to use anti-depressants because it dampens their artistic vision, could there be truth to that?  Do some people see so much more than us us  that it becomes a cursed affliction that people want to medicate into oblivion rather than have to live with it? Is that the price for genius and artistic vision? The greater the talent and scope of the artist, it seems the greater the risk for this imbalanced feeling would be.  Because what anti-depressants do is keep you from feeling any emotion too deeply, it makes sense that this type of drug would be used to treat those with major depressive disorders. If Van Gogh had been on them, we may have never gotten his art. But he lived a life of true suffering. Is there any “right” choice?

Amy took such a shine to Vincent, she really wanted to help him. But knowing what she did from 2010, could she have really felt okay encouraging him to give up painting and take some sort of drug of that time that could make him happy by taking away his heightened passion and vision along with the more tragic feelings he held?

Vincent and the Doctor / BBC

The alien in question was a Krafayis, and the fate it suffered made me teary. We assume too much, we (sometimes) defend too quickly without lending an ounce of understanding to a situation. Even though this alien wasn’t a real animal I’ve ever met (or ever could), my soft spot lies with animals.

In terms of honoring Van Gogh and fleshing him out as more of a person than the idea of a person, this episode was perfect. In terms of being a Doctor Who episode, this felt like a standalone that maybe didn’t cover all of the bases we’re used to.

According to a UK friend who has seen many episodes ahead of us in the US, the following Van Gogh quote is appropriate as a slight Doctor Who season 5 spoiler:

“How can I be useful, of what service can I be? There is something inside me, what can it be?” – Vincent Van Gogh

FYI: There are many who now say the truth about Vincent Van Gogh’s ear does not reflect that he cut it off himself. Much like Marie-Antoinettes alleged quote “Let them eat cake!” it’s ingrained into history never the less.

I suggest reading:

The Real Story Behind van Gogh’s Severed Ear

Who Really Cut Off Van Gogh’s Ear?

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