David is coming to New Who for the first time, having loved Classic Who as a kid. Tehani is a recent convert, and ploughed through Seasons 1 to 7 (so far) in just a few weeks after becoming addicted thanks to Matt Smith – she’s rewatching to keep up with David! Tansy is the expert in the team, with a history in Doctor Who fandom that goes WAY back, and a passion for Doctor Who that inspires us all.
We are working our way through New Who, using season openers and closers, and Hugo shortlisted episodes, and sometimes a couple of extra episodes we love as our blogging points. Just for fun!
Tansy and Tehani love this season so much we’re making David do more work – we’re changing up our usual plan and reviewing each episode, in sets of two.
This is one of my very favourite stories so far. It always ALWAYS makes me cry (sometimes in different places), and I adore it for so many reasons, the guest actors Tony Curran and Bill Nighy being two of them.
I have an innate fondness for this story because of what it did for my daughter. Raeli must have been six or so when she watched it. I hesitated over showing it to her at first because of the darker themes of suicide and depression, but she took to it beautifully, allowing us to have a conversation about mental illness that was very important.
She also fell in love with Vincent’s artwork through this story. I sent her outside at a party once to play with chalks on the concrete and she recreated about four different Van Gogh paintings. With the Doctor Who twist on each, of course. It was a beautiful realisation, and her interest in art progressed from there – I later found her a gorgeous picture book called Vincent’s Colours which pairs lines from his letters to his brother with images of the paintings he is discussing.
That is lovely Tansy – I think there is a great capacity for this sort of thing in Doctor Who, and when you consider its origins as an educational program, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised! Personally, I have a Doctor Who Van Gogh coffee cup which is just beautiful.
I thought the mental illness aspect was sensitively handled, and it was, for me at least, a believable portrayal. I have seen criticism about the ending, with people unable to understand why Van Gogh would still have committed suicide even knowing the legacy he leaves on the world, but I don’t have that problem. It’s horribly sad, but I also think it’s something that happens when people are gripped by such devastating depression.
I think anyone who can’t understand that ending is pretty naive about how mental illness works!
This story is held up often as one of those great ‘introduction’ stories that stands alone (like “Blink”) and appeals greatly to people with no Doctor Who knowledge, but I also want to comment on how beautifully it contributes to the season arc. Instead of a vague, hinty type of arc like Bad Wolf or Vote Saxon where the significance is only revealed in the finale, this season is paced beautifully with shifts and character developments every few episodes. So it’s broken up into The Amy Adventures, The Amy and Rory Adventures, and here the After Rory Adventures, in which Amy is grieving her loss without remembering it. The friendship she develops with Vincent, which starts out as her usual surface ‘flirting without meaning it’ but becomes much deeper, is really a special thing to watch and the scene in which he asks why she is crying is perfect. Also the bit with the sunflowers always makes me smile.
I really did enjoy this story, but I have to admit that it didn’t live up to my lofty expectations. When I saw the name of Richard Curtis I was incredibly excited because I have never seen anything he was involved in that I didn’t love and that didn’t move me (combine him and Hugh Grant and I am a mess!) and when Bill Nighy turned up it looked even more promising.
But, I found this to be a very uneven episode. There were some genuinely beautiful moments, and some heart wrenchingly sad ones, but also some parts that just fell a little flat. Fortunately, there is enough gold in here to tip the balance, and the last section is particularly emotional. Bill Nighy is brilliant as he delivers his speech describing Vincent’s achievements and it is hard not to be deeply moved by the raw emotion on display (even if the claim that Van Gogh is the greatest artist in history is extremely contentious). And then Amy’s realisation of the inevitably and weight of history, and her grief at the fact that they couldn’t save Vincent – I really felt for her.
Regardless of the writing aspect of the story, the visual design is extraordinary – the way that the characters actually move through so many set pieces which look like Van Gogh’s paintings and are often shot at specific angles (like the scene in Vincent’s bedroom). The street outside the bar, as well.
Not to mention the Who versions of his paintings! No wonder I have seen them on t-shirts and desktop backgrounds, they are amazing. I agree completely, Tansy, the whole episode is suffused with the look and feel of Van Gogh’s art.
It’s a gorgeous episode in so many ways, visually and in terms of heart as well; heartwrenching, funny, sad and even a little bit scary. It was actually one of the Hugo Award nominees for 2010, and though it lost out to the season finale, it definitely deserved to be there.
Also, anyone who has issues with the whole invisible giant chicken monster should definitely check out the corresponding episode of The Ood Cast which has a brilliant sketch about the ramifications of leaving a giant invisible monster corpse in a small country church … and of course a fabulous re-rendering of Don McClean’s ‘Vincent.’ [http://theoodcast.com/s02e14/#.Un7lWetSbEU]
It’s really odd rewatching this one now because I have just finished listening to the audiobook of James Cordern’s autobiography. His work in Doctor Who is only briefly referenced but I do feel I now have a greater sense of just how famous he was in the UK when he was cast in this episode, and why his presence caused almost as much trepidation and alarm among British fans as Billie Piper (the pop star!) and Kylie (the POP STAR).
Still, no one need have worried! Craig is a brilliant character, and Cordern plays him with so much heart. In fact, this story is all heart. Heart and football. It’s a wonderful showcase for Matt Smith’s Doctor, showing off his alienness and his humanity, and his capacity for friendship. While the Craig-Doctor friendship is the emotional core of the story, and tends to attract a lot of fan love, I don’t see nearly enough credit given to Daisy Haggard as Sophie, who works beautifully off both actors – the Debbie Reynolds to their Kelly-and-O’Connor! (I’ll leave you to figure out which one is Gene Kelly and which is Donald O’Connor).
This is hands down my favourite episode of the season, which is quite an achievement given how much I enjoyed the Angels two parter. This episode is just so much FUN! But, there is also a real emotional core to it. Funnily enough, if you sat me down with no prior knowledge and shown me this and “Vincent and the Doctor” and asked me which one Richard Curtis had written I wouldn’t have hesitated in picking this one.
It’s interesting you mention the trepidation surrounding Cordern’s casting, Tansy. One of the interesting effects of watching New Who so long after it actually aired is that I have been oblivious to a lot of the things people watching it at the time have experienced, whether waiting so long between episodes or the discussion of the latest rumours and news. As an example, the first I knew of Kylie being in a particular episode was when I watched it and thought, “Hang on – she looks familiar!”
So, I went into this episode with no preconceptions about who I was going to see and how they might play their role. I just sat back and enjoyed! Cordern is perfect in this, but he has an excellent foil in Haggard, who is exactly right for this and, as you say, plays perfect of both Cordern and Smith, who is also quite magnificent.
I’m with you, David – I felt like I’d seen “Craig” somewhere before when I first watched the episode, but didn’t know anything else about him – happens to me a LOT with Doctor Who guest stars!
He’s also now the voice of Little Charley Bear, which may be more familiar to any parents reading this post…
Fun fact, this story by Gareth Roberts is adapted from an earlier comic strip in which the Tenth Doctor moves in with Mickey. Yes, really! The football stuff (which many assumed was put in due to Smith’s history as a professional footballer in his youth) was an integral part of the original story, and the gag in which Matt Smith tries to use Craig’s toothbrush as a weapon is an inversion of the original joke – where Mickey picks up what he thinks is his own electric toothbrush and accidentally sonics all his teeth out.
*snort* I love your little pieces of Doctor Who production trivia 🙂
I do feel this is a near-perfect Doctor Who story as well as a near-perfect Eleventh Doctor story – my only quibble comes from an authorial blind spot. I don’t find all of the house’s attempts to lure its victims in is remotely credible – in the case of both of the first two victims, the situation seems straight out of a horror movie. I especially don’t believe that a woman on her own would go into a strange house if she heard a man calling for help without more information – women are simply too attuned to potential dangers. If it was more explicit that the voice was coming from someone very old or a child (as when Sophie is lured up – the only convincing one of these scenes!) then I would find it much easier to believe.
Agree! You might call triple-zero (or whatever the number is in the UK), but actually go into a house like that? Nuh-uh.
Of course, that is pretty much par for the course with any horror movie ever made, and still not as stupid as the behaviour of the characters in The Walking Dead!
This episode presents a master class in getting your audience to invest in a character. Within five minutes we know everything we need to know about Craig, and we are on his side. Little touches like the way in which he holds Sophie’s keys flesh Craig out more than slabs of dialogue ever could. And, this is one of the few episodes where I was made to feel genuinely concerned about what was going to happen to the characters, I really wanted a happy ending for everyone involved and I was honestly worried that Sophie wasn’t going to survive!
A fairly Amy-lite episode, and her part of the story was very peripheral to what was going on. I agree with what you said before about Sophie’s role, Tansy, but this one was definitely all about the “bromance” in terms of the main players.
It’s lovely seeing the Eleventh Doctor build a friendship from scratch, and the way he drives Craig crazy, creates so many problems for him, and then solves what’s wrong with his life. It really is the essence of bromance – that is, a story about platonic male friendship that is given the same narrative attention that a male-female romance usually gets. The Eleventh Doctor is actually totally channelling Katharine Hepburn from Bringing Up Baby – he’s the madcap chaotic one who breezes into Craig’s life and takes it apart piece by piece.
I’m a fan of the soccer scene…
OMG the soccer! It’s so charming and also moves forward the characterisation AND the plot of the story. A great scene. I know a lot of people (including me) assumed this was written in specifically because of Matt Smith’s brief history as a pro footballer, but the pub league bit was always in the story from the original comic.
A fair bit of New Who has been about the Doctor’s relationships with female characters, romantic or otherwise, so it is fascinating to see the Doctor learning how to be a bro! It’s definitely a different dynamic than with Mickey, or even Rory, and it’s a whole lot of fun. Perhaps part of that difference comes from the fact that, instead of them coming into the Doctor’s life, this is the Doctor becoming part of Craig’s. I did feel sorry for Craig a few times during the episode, because the Doctor does hog the limelight, but ultimately the Doctor learns as much from Craig as he does from the Doctor – and it is obviously that he does care for Craig’s well being.
I like that Craig is envious of the Doctor, but the Doctor himself displays absolutely no jealousy or even awareness that he might be a romantic threat to Craig and Sophie. It’s a far cry from Nine and Ten’s outright competitiveness with other young men and even implied sexual jealousy around Mickey, Adam, Jack etc. I love the innocence of Eleven, and how he can cause trouble and conflict simply by existing.
Craig’s constant outrage at the Doctor’s weirdness being accepted and embraced by others is quite a fascinating character trait.
Would it be fair to say that this episode has the most Doctor flesh since “Spearhead from Space”?
And no tattoo! Sad. But yes, I appreciate being able to add another Doctorish shower scene to the canon!
One of the things that I am not a huge fan of, but that you just have to deal with when watching New Who, is that when it comes to the Doctor’s gadgets it is definitely very soft science fiction. The sonic screwdriver may as well be a magic wand, and there a lot of things just thrown together without even paying lip service to any sort of science behind them. But, if you can’t just roll with that you are probably watching the wrong show!
I like to roll with it 🙂 I might be starting to get a bit picky about some of the handwavium, but you know what? That part of the fun!
I agree with you, David, but it never bothers me. I’m not really a fan of technobabble for the sake of it, and most of the ‘lip service’ science of the Classic Show was rubbish any way. Let us never forget the megabyte modem.
Overall this is a clever story and it’s very nice to see the Doctor playing with characters other than his regular companion. Given how many episodes in this season provide Karen Gillan some fantastic material, I think it’s fine to give Amy a break, and helps refresh us before we leap into the finale.
Having said that, rewatching this story after Season 6 brings a whole new light to Amy’s slight subplot. What exactly is going on in that TARDIS, and could there be someone there we don’t see/remember tossing the TARDIS around like that?
You mean, something rather quiet? 🙂 We’ll have to wait and see!
“Father’s Day”, S01E08
“The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, S01E09/10
“Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”, S01E12/13
Season One Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“The Christmas Invasion”, 2005 Christmas Special
“New Earth”, S02E01
“School Reunion”, S02E03
“The Girl in the Fireplace”, S02E04
“Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel”, S02E05/06
“Army of Ghosts/Doomsday”, S02E12/13
Season Two Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
“Smith and Jones”, S03E01
“The Shakespeare Code/Gridlock”, S03E02/03″
“Human Nature/Family of Blood”. S03E08/09″
“Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Timelords”, S03E12/13/14
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Spearhead from Space (1970)
Season Three Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
Classic Who Conversation podcast – Genesis of the Daleks (1975)
“Partners in Crime”, S04E01
“The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, S04E0708”
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, S04E0910”
Turn Left, S0411
The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End,S04E1213
Season Four Report Card – David, Tansy, Tehani
The Next Doctor / Planet of the Dead / The Waters of Mars
End of Time
The Eleventh Hour. S0501
The Beast Below/Victory of the Daleks,S050203
The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone,S05E0405
The Vampires of Venice/Amy’s Choice,S050809
The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood.S051011