Vincent van Gogh was an artist of some renown, at least after he died. He painted some interesting works and, according to many, revolutionized the art world. He may have been one of the greatest painters that ever lived. He also, according to this story, saw an invisible monster and painted it.
Cue the theme music.
Our story begins with Amy and the Doctor wandering around the museum looking at a van Gogh exhibition. She’s happy to be there, though wondering why the Doctor is being so nice to her lately (we viewers know this is because of what happened last week). As they wander the canvases they notice an odd looking alien monster in the window of a church that van Gogh painted.
At that point there’s nothing to do but go back to Provence and find the man himself, which they do. Van Gogh, here played by Tony Curran, is a fascinating figure. In many ways he’s the ultimate troubled artist and Curran’s portrayal of him is so strong that you could easily picture this as a man who could paint something like The Starry Night and then kill himself not long after.
Anyhow, the town they are in is troubled by a series of odd murders, and van Gogh himself is troubled by visions of a strange, invisible monster. Feel free to insert insanity metaphors however you like. Eventually the Doctor is able to see the monster, which naturally turns out to be an alien. You know what likely happens after that, but what was really lovely was a scene that happened about five minutes before the end. I won’t go into details, but suffice to say that I love that the Doctor tried what he tried and I love the fact that it still didn’t work.
Really there was a lot that worked wonderfully about this episode and nothing that I can really think of that failed. Curran’s performance as van Gogh was exceptional, and I liked Bill Nighy’s brief appearances as a van Gogh expert at the museum. The set design was also excellent, and the location filming in Croatia really worked to the show’s benefit. Plus you gotta love the bit with The Starry Night. Also, the geek in me also really enjoyed seeing the brief shots of the First and Second Doctors. By my count we’ve had three references to the First this series and two to the Second. Not bad!
This really was one of the best stories this season, right up there with “The Time of Angels” and “Flesh and Stone”. It was written by noted comedy writer Richard Curtis, famous for such things as Black Adder. Steven Moffat was also best known as a comedy writer prior to working for this series. Perhaps they should hire more comedy writers. It seems to work well for them.