Archive for August 2015
‘Vincent and the Doctor’ recently re-aired as part of BBC America’s The Doctor’s Finest. An accompanying website quotes writer Richard Curtis:
“I’m terrifically moved by the life and fate of Van Gogh. He’s probably the single great artist—in all formats—who received no praise whatsoever for his work. If you look back at Dickens[*], Chaucer, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci…all hugely famous in their lives. And then this one incredibly popular artist with no praise at all, literally selling the one painting. It was that thought which initially made me wonder whether or not we could use time travel to put that right.”
That is certainly Amy’s intention in the story. She thinks that by appreciating and encouraging him, she can offset his misery sufficiently to extend his life, allowing him to produce many more paintings and perhaps receive some long-overdue acclaim. The Doctor takes the direct route, bringing Vincent to the present to witness his legacy:
“… to me, Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly, the most popular great painter of all time. The most beloved. His command of colour, 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. No one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world’s greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.”
Sadly, Vincent’s illness is beyond the reach of a few words. Bipolar disorder** can’t be cured by kindness any more than heart disease can. Still, their visit was not in vain.
“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. 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.”
* The article mentions the Doctor’s visit to Charles Dickens occurring at a “relatively untroubled” point in his life. However, when Nine and Rose first meet him, Dickens is in fact in despair. His marriage over, he travels alone; he has begun to feel old, used up. “Even my imagination grows stale,” he says. “Perhaps I’ve thought everything I’ll ever think.” By the end of the story, he is of course reinvigorated by his adventure; it is implied that their ghostly encounter supplies the ending of Edwin Drood. He, like Vincent, does not live beyond his known span, passing just one year later; but as the Doctor says – in reference Rose’s experience of a man long dead in her time:
“We’ve brought him back to life, and he’s more alive now than he’s ever been, old Charlie boy.”
Doctor Who gives people life.
** The true nature of van Gogh’s illness remains up for debate, but the show depicts him as bipolar. Moffat-era Doctor Who is one of the few places on television where the experience of mental illness is treated with compassion and respect.
‘Flatline’ is a treat.
It has everything that makes Doctor Who great: it’s funny, it’s scary, there’s a serious undercurrent to the madness, and it is completely barking mad. Shrinking TARDIS! Two-dimensional murders! “2-Dis!” Clara begins to see the cost of lying – and its value. Left on her own she’s the Doctor at his best, and her cleverness makes it possible for him to save the day as only he can.
Both Capaldi and Coleman are strong in this story. Rigsy is a delight, and I’m so glad he’ll be returning. The monsters are scary, and beautifully rendered, and street art saves the day.
Another excellent entry by Jamie Mathieson. I wish we were getting more of him in S9.
What a breath of fresh air, after two uncomfortable episodes.
Moffat mostly fails when it comes to character stuff. For one thing, Doctor Who is not primarily a character kind of show. When Davies developed Rose and Mickey and Donna, he did it as part of the adventure, not as a side track. With ‘Caretaker’ and ‘Moon,’ the adventure is the side track and the character development – weak and inadequate as it is – takes center stage.
‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ is a return to proper Doctor Who. It’s beautiful to look at, it’s scary, it’s fun, it brings in all sorts of interesting people and gives the Doctor lots of theatrical speeches. The music is fantastic and the in-jokes a delight. It’s also sharply clever; the Doctor solves the problem with his brain, without need for weapons, with a little help from the ordinary people around him, just as it should be. Capaldi is at his best in this episode.
Clara isn’t bad either, in spite of being relegated to second string. Her care for Maisie and her mixed feelings for the Doctor are reminiscent of some of Rose’s early adventures. However, after raging at the Doctor for lying to her and making her lie to Maisie, she turns around and tells the biggest lie of all, to the two people she supposedly cares for – and who supposedly care for her – the most of anyone in the universe.
Still, ‘Mummy’ remains a spectacular episode, easily the best of S8 and one of the best of the series as a whole.
I look forward to ‘Flatline,’ where Clara and Mathieson get to shine.
‘Kill the Moon’ is problematic.
The science is unusually bad, even for Doctor Who, but that’s not the worst of it. The character stuff is just weird. The whole adventure is launched because Courtney for some reason cares deeply about what the Doctor thinks of her. This is odd because they have no relationship: he’s not her dad, he’s not her teacher, he’s just a random guy on staff who showed her some weird space stuff. Plus she’s fifteen and a rebel, so even if he did hurt her feelings, I don’t imagine she’d give him the slightest hint that she cared. Then Clara tries to force him to be nice to her, which makes no sense at all. This isn’t Eleven; this Doctor would refuse her demands just to be contrary, whether he meant what he said or not.
Off on the wrong foot to start.
The trip to the moon itself is cool. “What’s wrong with my yoyo?” is a lovely and hilarious scene. I did wonder why no one at any point asked how they got there. And I wish they’d come up with an explanation for the moon’s increasing mass that actually worked.
The exploration and adventure part of the story is just fine, but the conflict is a major problem. No one’s behavior makes sense. Why does Clara suddenly give over everything to the Doctor? She’s never had trouble taking charge before. Why does he bail when there’s a life at stake? Does he really have so much faith in Clara? Why do they think that asking the people of Earth – at least those experiencing night in the visible portion of the hemisphere – to vote makes any sense at all? First of all, how many people are even going to get the communication in the limited delivery time? Then, how many of them are going to bother to respond? And how is there any chance at all that every one of them would agree? The whole idea is a mess.
If the Doctor knew that the moon dragon was harmless, obviously he should have said, but as I pointed out above, this is not Eleven. He’s not kind, he’s not reliable, he operates according to his whim and doesn’t concern himself with his companion’s feelings. If he didn’t know, it’s uncharacteristic of him not to stay and find out. The choice of destroy or not destroy is too simple for Doctor Who; in nearly every bad-choice scenario, he comes up with a third way, or at least stays in the fight to the messy end. ‘The Satan Pit’ is a good example: faced with two bad choices, the Doctor acts on faith and is rewarded with the TARDIS. Here the Doctor walks away, leaving the choice to someone else – and don’t think he wouldn’t punish her cruelly if she happened to choose wrong. “I knew you’d make the right choice” is as patronizing as he’s ever been.
Not that that’s out of character for this Doctor. He’s kind of a jerk.
Still, Clara’s reaction seems out of proportion. Maybe because she should know by now that’s how he is. Maybe because it’s unlike her to be so helpless. There are a hundred more plausible ways she could have operated in this story. Of course, none of them would have led to a dramatic breakup scene; if that’s what they were going for, maybe this was the best they could do.
There’s good stuff in here for sure. “My gran used to put things on Tumblr.” Moon dragon. Captain Lundvik is a great character, and she and Jenna get some wonderful acting to do. But in the end I don’t understand why Harness gets a two-parter in S9 while Mathieson – of ‘Mummy’ – gets only a double bill with the Moff.
Of course, maybe for this fanboy, it’s an honor. What do I know.
Something else that After Life brought to my attention: the Eleventh Doctor’s kindness.
After their initial brief and chaotic meeting, the Doctor returns to Alice because he thought she looked sad. She is sad, terribly sad; he makes her a cup of tea, and in her words:
“He didn’t make silly remarks, or condescend, or judge, or pity, or act like he was the most important one in the room. He just listened.”
Of the modern Doctors at least, only the Eleventh Doctor ever listened. Only Eleven ever hugged a sobbing companion and offered words of comfort (‘Vincent and the Doctor’). Mostly the Doctor has no time for human feeling; only Eleven ever put aside his own self-importance to make room for another’s grief. It’s a trait he shares with his strongest influence, the Second Doctor.
From ‘Tomb of the Cybermen:’
- Doctor: You miss [your father] very much, don’t you?
Victoria: It’s only when I close my eyes. I can still see him standing there, before those horrible Dalek creatures came to the house. He was a very kind man, I shall never forget him. Never.
Doctor: No, of course you won’t. But, you know, the memory of him won’t always be a sad one.
Victoria: I think it will. You can’t understand, being so ancient… You probably can’t remember your family.
Doctor: Oh yes, I can when I want to. And that’s the point, really. I have to really want to, to bring them back in front of my eyes. The rest of the time they… they sleep in my mind and I forget. And so will you. Oh yes, you will. You’ll find there’s so much else to think about. To remember. Our lives are different to anybody else’s. That’s the exciting thing, that nobody in the universe can do what we’re doing.
No wonder Twelve was such a shock.
Last night I read the Eleventh Doctor’s first volume of collected comics, After Life. In it he picks up companion Alice Obiefune, whose life has fallen apart, and together they have some very Doctory adventures.
I’ve read the first installment of this book, the first issue of Eleven’s run, three times now, and it just keeps getting better.
It begins with the funeral of Alice’s mother. Every panel is shades of gray, like Alice’s life. Everything she cares about has faded away, leaving her numb and colorless.
And then the Doctor bursts into her life, full of bright energy and color, and nothing is ever the same again.
I’ve been reading a lot of comics lately, DW and Marvel and a scattering of other things, so I’ve looked at a lot of art. The art’s job is to carry the story, set the scene, even color the mood. Likenesses vary, and clarity, and attractiveness; some I like, some not so much, but for the most part the art is invisible. Like the words it creates an image in the reader’s mind and then vanishes.
The art in this issue is some of the most effective I’ve seen.
Not just the gray, and the color the Doctor brings. Alice’s face is incredibly expressive: her grief, her doubt, every emotion clear as if it were spelled out in words. The story is about emotion, and the art brings those emotions powerfully to the fore. Even for the mysterious character at the end, one of the most alien beings we’ve seen in Doctor Who, feelings are crystal clear.
It’s a good story too, a great arc. The rest of the book isn’t bad, but its beginning remains the best of everything.