Doctor Who Review: The Time Lord Goes Dutch

June 4, 2010 by  
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DOCTOR WHO: Saturday 5th June, BBC1, 6.40pm ALERT ME

BBC bosses must have been delighted when they managed to persuade Richard Curtis to write and direct the famous Time Lord. After all, it’s quite a coup to secure the services of a man who has produced some of Britain’s best loved entertainment over the past two decades.

This week’s episode sees the Doctor travelling backwards in time to 1890 where he makes a desperate bid to save Vincent Van Gogh’s legacy. While traipsing through the Musée d’Orsay, the Doctor spots a strange looking creature lurking in the window of Van Gogh’s ‘The Church At Auvers’ and deduces the Dutch painter is in great danger – and so too are his canvases. Taking the life and artwork of Van Gogh as inspiration for the set design and narrative, the aesthetic is certainly impressive.

Various Van Gogh paintings are physically recreated in a string of references ranging from his sunflower period to ‘Cafe Terrace At Night’ where the Doctor and Vincent first meet. In a spectacular sequence the Doctor, Amy and Vincent are lying on the ground looking up at the moonlit sky. All of a sudden it slowly morphs into Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ and is genuinely beautiful to watch. It may also be the best scene Curtis has directed in about a decade.

In keeping with Doctor Who’s recently developed tradition for self-aware irony, any bafflement as to why Van Gogh speaks with a Scottish accent is dispersed by his enquiring after the source of Amy’s dialect: “That accent of yours – are you from Holland like me?? It’s a neat gag but sets in motion a tendency for jokes that may only appeal to adults. Indeed, further references are made to the Doctor’s preference for Thomas Gainsborough as opposed to the impressionistic stylings that characterise Van Gogh’s work. Quite how much a younger audience will appreciate these ‘high-culture’ one-liners will depend on their knowledge of art history which I think I’m safe to assume isn’t terribly much. Despite the inclusion of a krafayis (an alien whose species is so unforgiving they abandon each other to fend for themselves on strange planets) I doubt it will be enough to keep the kids gripped during an episode whose dialogue seems firmly aimed at older teenagers or adults.

Curtis’ signature stamp has been firmly pressed onto ‘Vincent & The Doctor’, most notably in the episode’s conclusion that bears all the hallmarks of his rather saccharine predisposition for moments of high emotion accompanied by a swelling-crescendo-of-strings driven pop song. If you have previously found these elements of Curtis’ oeuvre to be thoroughly irritating prepare to be enraged again.

This was the first episode I’d ever watched of Doctor Who and would be glad to watch it again, especially when considering the weak opposition it faces on Saturday nights. However, I was left wondering who exactly the episode had been directed at. Under the impression this was a kids’ show I was surprised by its content which I perceived to be better suited to an older audience.

Laurie says:

I’m still confused with his scottish accent. Any explanation?