Lend me half an ear and I’ll tell you how I plan to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Vincent Van Gogh’s passing. I’ll revisit this slideshow of his work:
The song is by Don McLean, but the female vocalist is Chyi Yu.
I’ll also watch “Vincent and the Doctor,” an episode of Doctor Who often praised for its sensitivity even by non-Whovians. The full episode used to be embedded here, but try instead this review containing SPOILERS:
Like the Star Trek Universe, the Whovian Universe is mostly secular humanist. Even so, in one Trek episode Captain Picard manages to utter these few lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:
What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!
Gods and angels have little place in Doctor Who; but what I find generally about the decline of faith and the advance of humanism also applies here: If we are made in the image of our Creator, then even having banished Him from our existence, we cannot help but mirror some of His qualities. And so, as human beings we discover compassion and empathy and take them to be human qualities, so vain are we.
Artists and other creative thinkers often discover transcendent qualities. They are no less transcendent even if mislableled. So, in “Vincent and the Doctor” it’s easy to spot compassion and empathy and be blown away by them.
SPOILERS: At the end of the episode, Amy Pond bounds up the stairs of the Musée d’Orsay convinced there will be hundreds of new Van Goghs because, after all, they changed his life, right? She’s so crestfallen to find that in spite of everything, he still killed himself at age 37. No new canvases.
In the final scene, the Doctor gives Amy some grief counseling about life being a pile of good things and bad things, and how “we definitely added to his pile of good things.”
Being an art documentary fanatic, I’ve seen quite a few about Van Gogh, but none seemed to capture so much of what we’ve come to feel about Van Gogh as this Doctor Who episode written by Richard Curtis. If there are comic flourishes to help offset the pathos, that’s to be expected since Curtis co-wrote Blackadder and The Vicar of Dibley.
So think of Van Gogh, watch “Vincent and the Doctor,” and if you’re moved to tears, consider that what you may be experiencing is God’s compassion refracted through the human mind.
And beware the goofy-looking monster! After all, Doctor Who is a kiddie show…