Monday, June 7, 2010

Doctor Who: Absolutely Gonzo

I honestly don't even know where to begin with this extremely dense, complicated, beautiful episode. But first, I'd like to apologize. In my previous Doctor Who post I said this looked like mostly filler -- I was completely wrong, please forgive me. This episode also reduced me to tears every time I watched it (which was three times, total). Also, apparently I have been mispronouncing Vincent Van Gogh's name. I am sorry, my good sir. American ears, American tongue -- oh don't even ask. (Also, forgive the pic spam - the cinematography in this episode was exquisite).

I suppose I will start with the title: "Vincent and the Doctor" -- because it really is all about those two, though Amy, you were magnificent too. And also with a brief nod to the plot: I was astonished when the monster died a full twenty minutes before the end of the episode -- it's so rare where the plot isn't about killing the ep's Big Bad but completely and totally about the characters. It was delicious.

But, for the first time, the Doctor's usual "role" was given to a human. Normally, it's people who don't see what the Doctor sees, humans who fear to look out of the corner of their eyes. Usually, the Doctor, in his 907 years, has experienced more than one human could in their paltry life span.

But this time, it's Van Gogh who sees differently, who sees what the Doctor doesn't see. This, of course, goes beyond a mere monster, but to aspects of the Universe which the Doctor probably couldn't even imagine.

It was a fascinating role reversal -- the character dynamics/exploration was fantastic.

Vincent says,

It's color - color that holds the key. I can hear the colors. Listen to them - every time I step outside, I feel nature shouting at me: Come on, come and get me. Come on, come on: capture my mystery!

And it's beautiful how the Doctor tries to hear what Vincent hears:

Then, another physical manifestation of the two role reversals: Vincent intrudes into the Doctor's personal space in a very Doctor-esque manner:

And, Van Gogh says, through tears:

Doctor: my experience is that there is, you know, surprisingly, always hope.

Vincent: Then your experience is incomplete.

As I said, the character dynamics in this episode are astounding.

The second major element in this episode is that of sight -- who sees what and who doesn't. Coincidentally enough, even though the crack doesn't show up personally in this episode (or did I just miss it?), I believe the idea of it is still there. In the same way that the Doctor can't "see" (as in understand) the crack in the universe, so can't the Doctor see the monster, though Van Gogh can. In the same way that Amy can't "see" Rory, so can't she see the monster, though Van Gogh can see the sorrow of her heart in the same way that he can see the monster.

Vincent: If Amy Pond can soldier on, then so can Vincent Van Gogh.

Amy: I'm not soldiering on - I'm fine.

Vincent: Ah Amy - I hear the song of your sadness. You've lost someone I think.

Amy: I'm not sad.

Vincent: Then why are you crying? It's alright - I understand.

Amy: I'm not sure I do.

Such a beautiful exchange - my heart almost broke (it was also fascinating to see how the Doctor reacted to Rory's death -- besides accidentally calling Vincent "Rory," whenever Amy seemed to get cozy with Vincent he'd always interrupt or change the subject; just heartbreaking).

The third element of excellence is that this episode is very, very meta. It was all about exploring both art and story and the purpose of such pursuits.

The episode answers the question of what art is:

Vincent: It seems to me there is so much more to the world than the average eyes see -- I believe, if you look hard, there are more wonders in this universe than you could ever have dreamed of.

And, if you look hard enough -- you can find it, and show the entire world what they don't see, revealing to them the beauty of the universe.

Touching back on the first episode, people don't like seeing the things in the corner of their eyes. People cast stones at Vincent, describe him as mad, and even the Doctor at first believes Vincent is having a kind of "fit" when he faces the monster for the first time. And aren't all artists just a little insane? Don't we have to be -- to see what others don't? See, this is the importance of literature -- shedding light into an old, dusty world where people are content with the status quo.

The episode explores a flagrant literary device which has often become the Doctor's little I win button: the sonic screwdriver (otherwise known as the Golux of the Who-verse).

Vincent: But you're not armed!

Doctor: I am.

Vincent: What with?

Doctor: Overconfidence, this, and a small screwdriver - I'm absolutely sorted. Sonic never fails.

And then later (when the sonic most definitely failed), the Doctor says:

My only definite plan is that in the future I'm definitely just using this screwdriver for screwing in screws.

I just think it's cool that the writers-that-be recognized that yes, the sonic screwdriver is a plot device and they bloody well know it.

And what artist doesn't want to see his legacy, to know that somehow, they have shown the world something beautiful, that they have made the world a better place?

To me, Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. The most beloved, his command of color, the most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world - nobody had ever done it before.

And isn't that a beautiful sentiment? Isn't that what artists should try to portray, to express?

Remarkable Moments

I believe that there is a timey wimey moment in this episode. In the beginning, you hear the creature stomping, stampeding through the fields of wheat. Then it pans to Van Gogh painting the same scene -- but there is no creature in the painting, like there was in the church. So, could he always see beyond the crack (and he just chose not to paint the monster) or was there a point in time when he could not "see"?

Loved the bow tie exchange:

Doctor: Nice bow tie. Bow ties are cool.

Curator: Yours is very --

Doctor: Oh thank you -- keep telling them stuff.

See, fashion isn't only limited to girls (gender bender) but can be adorably geeky too.

I loved, loved, loved the Doctor's use of morphemes in this episode (it almost sounded a tish Whedonesque - delightful):

So -- Vincent, painted any churches recently -- any, any churchy plans?

It made the fledgling grammar geek in training go squee.

Right you're here somewhere! I can't apologize enough! I thought you were just a useless gadget, I thought you were just an embarrassing present from a dull godmother and bad breath and two heads -- twice. How wrong can a man be?

I think it's wonderful and adorable how happy and excited the Doctor is that he was wrong about something. Also? The godmother? Very fairytale -- all turned on its head.

This is the problem with the Impressionists - not accurate enough. This never would have happened with Gainsborough (sp?) or one of those proper painters. Sorry, Vincent -- you'll just have to draw something better.

There was so much good dialogue in this episode -- it's just hard not to quote the entire thing from beginning to end:

Doctor: Okay, okay. So now, we must have a plan - when the creature returns --

Vincent: Then we shall fight him again!

Doctor: Well, yes...tick.

Amy: You do have a plan, don't you?

Doctor: No. It's a thing - it's like a plan, but with more grey bits.

And Vincent is obviously armed with an abundance of enthusiasm. ;)

Oh, and the Doctor bored!

I remember watching Michael Angelo painting the Cistine Chapel. Wow! What a whinger. I kept saying to him, 'Look, if you're scared of heights you shouldn't have taken the job, mate.' And Picasso - what a ghastly old goat. I kept telling him, 'Concentrate, Pablo, it's one eye, either side of the face. Is this how time normally passes, really slowly, in the right order? It's one thing I can't stand it's an unpunctual alien attack!

Ghastly old goat definitely filing that one away for when an insult is required.

But notice how very clearly that the Doctor just doesn't seem to understand art -- not like Amy or definitely Vincent (more intriguing character dynamics!). I really love how developed Amy was in this episode as one of my fears following her forgetting Rory and therefore the integral parts of the past three episodes was that her character would de-evolve, but instead, she develops!

She has a fondness for Van Gogh (never knew that before) and, even as she's watching him, it is immediately obvious that she's grown up.

She brightened the place up for Vincent -- looking amazingly gorgeous, I might add.

But, even at the end, when she's so full of joy, excitement, and expectation --

Time can be rewritten! I know it can! Oh the long life of Vincent Van Gogh - there will be hundreds of new paintings!

And she realizes that he still committed suicide -- it's heartbreaking.

I'm just glad she went forwards, instead of backwards.

This is what? A church depiction of St. George slaying the dragon? I thought it was a nice parallel with Vincent actually slaying the monster and the Doctor concluding that --

Sometimes winning -- winning is no fun at all.

Of course, they discover that the Monster is blind, and afraid -- ultimately humanizing the 'monster' -- that, compared with the engraving, seems to implicitly challenge the viewers to question, to explore their inherent assumptions about the world: are the dragons in our lives really evil - or do we just think they are?

I really appreciated the Doctor saying,

I suppose we could try talking to him [the monster]. Well, yes, it might be interesting to know his side of the story. Yes. Well maybe he's not in the mood for conversation at this precise moment. Well, no harm trying.

It reminded me of The Forever War -- and notice how he didn't depersonify the monster; he used the pronoun 'him' instead of 'it'.

Another meta moment as the episode expresses what artists do, reveals the things they see that others don't -- utterly beautiful, exquisite -- poetically visual to an awe inspiring degree (and quite possibly one of my favorite scenes in this episode).

Vincent: Hold my hand, Doctor. Try to see what I see. We're so lucky we're still alive to see this beautiful world. Look at the sky - it's not dark and black without character. The black is in fact deep blue and over there - lighter blue. And blowing through the blueness and the blackness -- the wind swirling through the air and the shining, burning bursting through - the stars -- can you see how they throw their light, everywhere we look the complex magic of nature blazes before our eyes.

Doctor: I've seen many things, my friend - but you're right - nothing quite as wonderful as the things you see.

I adore how much love features in this episode in the dialogue, in the characters' physical interactions with each other...

Doctor: Anyway, Amy, only one thought, one simple instruction: don't follow me under any circumstances.

Amy: I won't.

Vincent: Will you follow him?

Amy: Of course!

Vincent: I love you

And, near the end when Van Gogh says,

We have fought monsters together and we have won. On my own I fear I may not do as well.

The Doctor gives him this beautiful hug:

And it's so sad because Vincent is right: he ends up committing suicide -- and that's tragic. Also, the Doctor looks this image. Sad.

Amy: We didn't make a difference at all.

Doctor: I wouldn't say that - the way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. Hey, the good things don't always soften the bad things but vice versa: the bad things don't necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things.

This is such a beautiful, beautiful sentiment. It gave me the weepies.

Vincent: [Sunflowers aren't] my favorite's not that I don't like them, I find them complex, always somewhere between living and dying.

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