50 for 50 — The Greatest Stories in Doctor Who History — #8

Having reached this far in the countdown without any conflicts, two now come along at once, requiring me to skip over The Mind of Evil and The Caves of Androzani to land on sixth place in my personal Top 50 – a story about an artist, which is itself a work of art.

One of the most important secrets of Doctor Who’s longevity and success must be that it’s the only show in TV history with this unique ability to transport you to a completely unexpected place from week to week, sometimes familiar yet futuristic, sometimes historic and alien, often threatening – but always different. Vincent and the Doctor is completely different and surprising, leading us into an exploration of the mind of a tormented man, as Richard Curtis tackles the subject of depression sublimely in this poignant piece of drama.

Tony Curran seems to be born for the part, putting in a landmark performance as the long-suffering Dutch painter, and the ambiance of the Croatian filming locations adds to the beauty of scenes specially created to mimic some of van Gogh’s paintings. It’s a very special moment when, as Vincent, Amy and the Doctor lie under the stars, the night sky transforms into stunning van Gogh style swirls and the Doctor makes the insightful remark that nothing he has ever seen is as beautiful as the things Van Gogh sees. Vincent’s awareness of hidden truths that others can’t perceive is a major theme of the story, and this extends not only to the pitiful Krayafis monster but also to Amy’s inner sadness due to the ‘death’ of Rory which has been obscured from her memory by that bothersome crack in the universe.

The Krayafis is blind, lost, lonely and confused and a clever metaphor for Vincent’s isolation and depression. The real monster, however, is the demon of mental health illness which for many people can never be tamed or eradicated and which is capable of taking a life. In Vincent’s case, although his life was hugely enriched by his encounter with the time travelers and the love that he developed for Amy, this sadly didn’t change anything for him in the end.

Some viewers may not have warmed to the utterly sentimental scene where Vincent is taken to the modern day Musée d’Orsay and overhears the curator (played so impeccably by Bill Nighy) telling visitors that van Gogh was probably the greatest painter of them all. I suspect however that the majority, like me, will have struggled to hold back a small tear at this point – even upon repeat viewings!

Vincent and the Doctor can only be described as one of the most creatively beautiful and touching stories that we’ve seen, and is a thoroughly worthy holder of our #8 spot. — Alan

Alan’s actual #8 — The Mind of Evil
Andy’s #8 — The Caves of Androzani
David’s #8 — The Sea Devils
Steve’s #8 — Genesis of the Daleks

Which story will be lucky #7 in our countdown?  Lucky for all of us we’ll find out … next week.