Saturday, July 3, 2010
DW meets VVG - Part 2
You'll recall that on June 19 I posted about an upcoming episode of Doctor Who in which the Doctor and Amy meet Vincent van Gogh. I finally watched the episode in the wee early morning hours, courtesy of BBC America On Demand. It was actually one of the better episodes of the entire season, in part because they did strive for some sense of historical accuracy (despite the alien monster bit), even going so far as to pronounce his name throughout the episode in its Dutch-inflected guttural "Gogh," not "Go" as has become the custom around the English-speaking world. They even filmed segments of the episode in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, showing an imaginary special exhibition based around their wonderful holding of paintings by the artist. The pivotal picture in the episode, however, turned not to be Starry Night from 1889, but a less instantaneously recognized work which you see here, L'église d'Auvers-sur-Oise, vue du chevet (The Church of Auvers-sur-Oise, View of the Apse) from 1890, a picture that was one of my all-time favorites by Gogh when I visited the Orsay in 2006. I love the sinewy effect of the bifurcated road surrounding the gelatinous church, the shimmering effects of which make the building seem alive and thus a spiritual experience for the artist and viewer. In the episode, the Doctor and Amy discover in the painting a monster in the window of the church and realize something is wrong, so they hurry back to 1890 Provence where they are responsible for convincing a frustrated and melancholic Gogh to paint the church. Indeed, as the Doctor helps Gogh with his depression and encourages him to paint, he takes on the role played in historical fact by Doctor Gachet, who treated and befriended Gogh in the last year of his life. There are parts of the episode that are funny, like when Vincent proposes marriage and 12 children to Amy, and she ponders how all their children would have very red hair, but by and large it is a typical DW alien adventure story that, unfortunately, has a sad ending. After all, despite his artistic accomplishments, Gogh was troubled emotionally and did commit suicide, dying after a few days of intense suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1890. But according to DW, this happened only after the Doctor and Amy give Vincent a rare opportunity to realize the full potential of his art in a scene that is rather touching. There are some wonderful advantages to time travel after all.