The Falcon and the Winter Soldier doesn’t want to be a television show

falcon winter soldier anthony mackie sebastian stan malcolm spellman kari skogland captain america movies tv

There were plenty of criticisms to make of WandaVision, but there was also at least always the sense that showrunner Jac Shaeffer and director Matt Shakman wanted to make a television show, and on some level knew what they had to do to do that. There hasn’t been that same sense with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which – five episodes in and nearly finished – doesn’t seem to want to be a television show at all.

The contrast between the two is striking. Where WandaVision was consciously and deliberately episodic, each week evoking a different era of sitcom history, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is entirely serialised: episodes of the former felt distinct from one another in terms of style and aesthetic, while also having their own discrete plotlines too, but episodes of the latter have tended to blur together. The end of each episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier feels less like the conclusion of an individual, coherent whole that might stand on its own terms, and more like an act break in a particularly long movie. (Or, rather, that’s how it feels when it works – just as often they’ve felt much more arbitrary than that, a case of having reached the fifty-minute mark and not much else.)

At its best, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is built around a handful of big moments and individual ideas. Sometimes that works: the slow pan around John Walker, the new Captain America, his shield drenched in blood, onlookers filming him with their mobile phones, is one of the more striking images the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever offered. But for the most part, though, the series struggles to take advantage of the strengths of its medium. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is built around those big moments, yes, but otherwise it’s formless – there’s an emphasis on plot but little momentum, always moving forward but rarely going anywhere. The middle stretch of the series is sluggish and lethargic, spinning its wheels to fill the runtime and little else; the fifth episode, the strongest of the show, is the one that most feels like an actual episode of television, rather than fifty-minutes of moving pieces around the chessboard to set up for next week. In fact, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier often feels like the rare show that’d be improved by binge-watching it, with the weekly release schedule imposing breaks where it’d almost be better to let one episode lead straight into the next.

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It’s meant to be that way, of course.

Anthony Mackie described the series as “instead of a two-hour movie, a six or eight-hour movie […] cut up into the show”. Meanwhile, director Kari Skogland made a similar comparison, saying they “made it like a six-hour movie” then “kind of sliced it up at the perfect moments”. Part of that is just marketing. (Much like, presumably, showrunner Malcolm Spellman’s distinction between “regular TV” and “top-shelf, Marvel” content.) These comments are a statement of intent as much as anything else – a way for the debut series to emphasise its similarity to its parent cinematic universe, differentiating itself from television almost as a mark of prestige. But they’re also revealing about a lot of the structural choices made by The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and explains why the series is struggling to make an impact – it’s caught between two mediums and not doing an especially good job of being either. That six-hour movie feeling isn’t a fault, it’s a feature.

In fairness, it’s also possible, as has been widely rumoured, that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was heavily edited prior to broadcast to remove a storyline about a viral outbreak. That’s the sort of rewriting that could leave any show feeling formless, especially one already intended to be quite heavily serialised. Equally, there’s a sense that some of the structural choices the show made wouldn’t have helped much anyway: pandemic storyline or not, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier still left a lot of its character work to that fifth episode, with most of the series feeling like a preamble before getting to the story it seemingly promised. It’s the rythms and pacing of a film applied to the structure of a television show, without much thought devoted to how they’re different, and the distinct ways in which each medium works.

Eventually, there’s going to be a fan-edited version of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier that turns it back into a two-hour movie. More likely than not, it’ll rely quite heavily on the closing episodes, and condense down the opening three into something much sharper and more concise. That doesn’t speak to a television show that’s conscious of its medium, that takes advantage of what its medium can offer – both in terms of what longer-form storytelling can do, and what more distinct episodes can let the series do. Maybe the series would’ve benefitted from an episode more explicitly from the perspective of Karli Morgenthau, clarifying the Flag Smashers’ beliefs and motivations; maybe the series would’ve benefitted from a flashback episode about Isiah Bradley, akin to the HBO Watchmen episode This Extraordinary Being. Of course, it wouldn’t necessarily have to commit so wholeheartedly to that kind of discrete storytelling – but it would have been improved by taking advantage of what an episodic structure allows that a film doesn’t.

Ultimately, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier suffers for its structural choices. It’s never quite as entertaining as it could’ve been, it never feels quite as coherent or invested in its themes as it otherwise might’ve been. You get the sense that’s why the show hasn’t been a television phenomenon in the same way WandaVision was: week to week, it just doesn’t want to be a TV show.

Related:

WandaVision is an escapist fantasy, but there’s no escape from the Marvel machine

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter. If you enjoyed this article – or if you didn’t – please consider leaving a tip on ko-fi.

Sophie Rundle on Rose: A Love Story, the final series of Peaky Blinders, and more

rose a love story sophie rundle interview matt stokoe peaky blinders gentleman jack jamestown

“Matt [Stokoe, Rundle’s partner] wrote it, just for the exercise of writing and wanting to explore that genre,” she continues. “He very flippantly said ‘oh, do you want to be in it?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, sure,’ thinking, ‘Oh god. I hope it’s good!’”

“But then when he sent it to me, I just loved it. It’s such a clever take on a genre and a style that we’re so familiar with, the vampire story – you sort of think ‘well, I don’t know how you could put a fresh spin on that’, but then when I read his script, I just thought it was so smart.”

“It was so clever to frame it as this couple, one of them dealing with this life changing illness that’s all consuming. I hadn’t thought about that before, and I thought it was so tenderly drawn and it was such a beautiful musing on a relationship and what the burden of illness can do to a couple. I just loved it. So, he sent it to me and then I said, ‘Well, no, actually I’d really like to be in it’”

New interview! Spoke to Sophie Rundle about her new film Rose: A Love Story, coming to the end of her time on Peaky Blinders, and what she’s going to do next. This is another one for the Radio Times’ The Big RT Interview series, so that’s pretty neat too.

This is actually the second time I’ve interviewed Sophie (making her the first person I’ve interviewed more than once!) – the first was a couple of years ago now, about her Sky One historical drama Jamestown. Always really nice to speak to her, very thoughtful interviewee both times.

You can find more of my interviews here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter. If you enjoyed reading this piece – or if you didn’t – perhaps consider leaving a tip on ko-fi?

Inspired by Real Events: The Serpent, The Investigation, and true crime drama

serpent investigation review tahar rahim charles sobrahj jenna coleman tobias lindholm kim wall borgen netflix

“No-one’s said or written a word about him in years. Someone so vain must hate that. He pulls a stunt like this, and the world remembers his name.”

The Serpent, Episode 8

“Maybe it’s because the more civilised we become, the greater is our need to stare into the darkness.”

The Investigation, Episode 6

The Serpent and The Investigation each represent different extremes for true crime fiction. The former, a co-production between BBC One and Netflix, dramatises a series of murders committed by Charles Sobrahj in Southeast Asia during the 1970s; the latter, a piece of Nordic noir broadcast by BBC Four and HBO, depicts the police investigation into the 2017 murder of journalist Kim Wall. They make for interesting comparisons to one another – in part simply for being released in tandem, but largely for all the ways in which each stands as a rejection of the other.  Where The Serpent (named for its lead) places a charismatic killer at its centre, The Investigation (named for its process) refuses to feature or even name Kim Wall’s murderer, instead focusing solely on the slow and painstaking work leading to his eventual conviction.

On an immediate level, at least, it’s obvious why The Investigation’s approach holds an appeal. There’s always a certain tension inherent to any true crime project, be it documentary or dramatization – an underlying ethical murkiness, the discomfort that comes from treating real trauma and suffering as a type of entertainment. Arguably dramatization is worse: there’s no academic remove, no pretence made that this might be on some level informative or educational. Instead it’s lurid, even voyeuristic; it’s perhaps a little simplistic to suggest that true crime drama in the vein of The Serpent glorify the killers they centre, but it’s not that simplistic. Actors are hailed for their transformations, glowing profiles are written about how they confronted a darkness within themselves to evoke whichever celebrity murderer they’ve been tasked with portraying – there’s an assumed prestige to it all, a glitz and glamour (look at how much money was clearly spent on The Serpent, look at its prime-time BBC One New Year’s Day slot) that cuts against the inherent griminess that can’t help but pervade. That’s very much the model The Serpent operates in, seemingly almost despite itself: the non-linear structure, skipping back and forth between different perspectives on Sobrahj, is a clever conceit that could offer a route to interrogate his crimes without granting him protagonist status – but the series always returns to Tahar Rahim as Sobrahj, never quite able to break its gaze, forthright about who and what it finds most compelling about this story.

Watching The Investigation¸ the difference is palpable. There’s no attention-grabbing stunt casting, no recognisable actor made to look eerily (or vaguely) similar to the murderer – who is, pointedly, only ever referred to here as “the accused” – it’s all decidedly, pointedly low-key. Tobias Lindholm, who wrote and directed all six episodes, said he wanted to tell “a different kind of story here, not just another tale of a “fascinating” man who killed a woman […] a story where we didn’t even need to name the perpetrator. The story was simply not about him”. The Investigation is quiet and careful, as methodical in its writing as the process it depicts, and it’d be difficult to seriously argue that it’s particularly sensationalist or sleazy – compared to The Serpent, it’s aseptic. In lieu of focusing on the suspect, or depicting the crime itself in any detail, Lindholm centres the people affected (or tries to, at least).

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Immediately, obviously, The Investigation seems more respectful – more ethical – than The Serpent. Certainly, it’s clear that Sobrahj is the star of The Serpent, but that’s not the real contrast between them. They’re both true crime fiction, but they’re operating in different modes: The Investigation is a procedural, but The Serpent is a thriller, its dramatic engine predicated entirely on tension and suspense. Cliffhangers are built around capture and escape, the camera lingers on violent images; whatever else The Serpent might be, it’s not trying to be about Sobrahj’s victims in the same way The Investigation aims to be. You get the sense it almost was, or almost could’ve been, about Marie-Andrée Leclerc (Jenna Coleman) and Herman Knippenberg (Billy Howle) primarily, with Sobrahj a more marginal figure, but it’s as though the fascination with the eponymous killer was too great to ever really leave him. In turn, there’s something that feels almost exploitative about it, as is so often the case with true crime drama.

However, there’s an argument to be made that The Serpent at least is aware of what it is and honest about it, while that The Investigation – for all the praise its received – isn’t, in fact, quite so ethical as it seems. The Investigation doesn’t name Kim Wall’s murderer, quite pointedly so, but it strains to do so: it feels artificial. Worse, it almost feels as though the series is still mythologising him, because it doesn’t eschew the sort of cheap psychoanalysis that typifies the most lurid true crime – the suspect is offscreen, but talk of his serenity, of his temper, of his sex life, doled out via interviews with his friends and colleagues, only serves to position him as a figure of intrigue. (Perhaps notably, most discussion of the series has still focused on the killer, with some reviews affording more detail to describing the brutal crime than engaging with the show itself.) It’s as though The Investigation doesn’t believe in its own premise, leaving that central conceit feeling less like an innovation of the form and more like a marketing gimmick.

More to the point, it’s not like The Investigation isn’t still fundamentally a piece of entertainment built on a trauma. First and foremost, it’s a crime procedural: it’s not really a show about Kim Wall’s parents, who are supporting characters at best, their emotional lives an afterthought in comparison to the painstaking, glacial investigative work that makes up most of the series. Notably, the series approaches Wall’s parents by contrasting them with lead detective Jens Møller (Søren Molling, previously of The Killing and Borgen), framing their loss in terms of his strained home life – which is, reading between the lines, seemingly an invention on part of Tobias Lindholm. (In those moments, The Investigation resembles nothing more than a string of ITV true crime dramas, at this point almost a subgenre unto themselves, which all seem to be made with the same script.) That clichéd dysfunction is the weakest part of the series, and if the only way the series can engage with grief and trauma is through such tired, overwrought stereotypes, can it actually be said to be engaging at all?

The Serpent is the better piece of television, to be clear. It’s not perfect – the first half of the series struggles with glacial pacing, and its non-linear structure is presented in a needlessly confusing fashion that takes a while to get used to – but it’s more engaging than The Investigation ever manages to be, an actual drama series rather than an extended intellectual exercise. The series is well cast (much will be said about Coleman, Howle, and Rahim, and with good reason, but even the supporting roles impress, Amesh Edireweera in particular proving magnetic throughout) and it remains, in spite of itself, very watchable. There’s something to be said, too, for its story of an increasingly desperate, low-level civil servant investigating crimes the local law enforcement had been happy to ignore; it’s a stark contrast from the explicitly pro-policing approach taken by The Investigation. (Which isn’t to suggest that The Serpent is, for lack of a better word, ‘unproblematic’ – the patina of orientalism to its depiction of Southeast Asia makes that clear enough – merely that it offers a more complicated narrative than crime drama tends to, and to note that The Investigation doesn’t necessarily have the straightforward moral clarity it purports to.)

What’s striking about both series, though, and it’s something they share, is the sense that they’re both a little uncomfortable in themselves. The Investigation makes a laughable gesture towards psychoanalysing its audience, suggesting that if one is too happy or secure, they’re drawn to the catharsis of true crime – almost looking to the camera to insist it really is okay to treat a recent murder as ballast for television schedules, in fact not just okay but necessary, as though struck by the sudden insecurity that it might not be enough to just avoid naming the killer. There’s no attempt to understand that on a deeper level, to engage with the sensationalist journalism that drove interest in that particular crime: in the end, The Investigation proves superficial. Meanwhile, The Serpent ends by condemning the attention given to Sobrahj, insisting that he was doing it all for attention – all seemingly without noticing the irony of that insight being offered by this show.

That discomfort raises the question, ultimately, why either series actually exists. There’s a sense that each one stumbles around and just misses being a better programme: if they’d opted to be about something more than just one man (or his absence), if The Investigation put more emphasis on a media circus it only briefly acknowledged and if The Serpent had delved more closely, and more delicately, into the conditions that allowed Sobrahj to thrive. True crime is best when it uses its real-life subject as a lens to interrogate a much broader set of themes – something like The Assassination of Gianni Versace is surely the benchmark here (as well as being one of the few such series that could make a genuine, and convincing, case that it centres the victims). As it is, though, The Serpent and The Investigation taken together don’t just represent different extremes of the true crime genre, but are also a stark demonstration of its limits.

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter. If you enjoyed this article – or if you didn’t – please consider leaving a tip on ko-fi.

Christopher Eccleston on The A Word, his career highlights, and more

christopher eccleston interview the a word maurice autism peter bowker flesh blood let him have it

There’s an element of ease, because I’ve played [Maurice] for a while, so I have a sense of what the writer wants me to do with the character. I don’t really think about challenges, I just think about the pleasures of working with Pete Bowker’s writing. Obviously, Maurice is a bit of a departure for me: a broader, more comedic role than I’m known for, and I’ve really enjoyed trying to learn and understand comedy, because it’s a huge element in playing Maurice. I don’t think I’m a naturally gifted comic, so I’ve had to work hard to understand how that works.

And I think one of the virtues of the piece, certainly for audience members who have people in their family with autism, is they’ve been grateful that it’s not been treated in a very poker-faced, sanctimonious way, that we’ve normalised it with humour and lightness. It’s just a pleasure. It’s just a pleasure to have a job again, and a character that I love playing and a character that I’ve played for so long. No challenges, just all positives.

New interview! A career highlight for me, this – it probably would not surprise long-term readers of this blog to know that I am quite fond of Christopher Eccleston as an actor, so it was very exciting to be able to talk to him about The A Word. (Quite nerve-wracking, too; I think this might be the single interview I’ve been most nervous about, across the past five years or so of doing this.)

Got another interview about The A Word coming tomorrow, this time with writer Peter Bowker (who Chris spoke about at length in our interview). That’s another great one, I’m looking forward to sharing that one with you all.

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Eleven Years of the Eleventh Doctor: The Big Bang

doctor who the big bang matt smith karen gillan caitlin blackwood pandorica moffat haynes review

You know this is all just a story, don’t you? You know there’s no such thing as stars.

It’s more of a piece with The Pandorica Opens than it seems, of course. The Big Bang seems small by comparison to its predecessor, almost, but it’s full of that same inventiveness and confidence: the National Museum makes for a nice parallel to Stonehenge, the epic reduced to an archaeological curiosity in the face of the apocalypse. (Toby Haynes is still evoking the same Indiana Jones aesthetic as last week, but it’s more the epilogue to Raiders of the Lost Ark than the opening this time.) There’s something quite haunting about the Dalek, last week representing an unprecedented danger, reduced to nothing more than a shadow of a fossil in the face of a much grander existential threat.

Again, much like last week, this is a very polished affair: it’s as much a showcase for Toby Haynes as The Pandorica Opens was, and it’s easy to see why he was invited back first for A Christmas Carol and then again for the Series 6 opener. His direction is rarely ostentatious, but always evocative: the contrast between the green/blue light of the Pandorica and the orange/red lighting of the sunrise towards the end looks really, really good. (Haynes does a lot of nice, understated work with the lighting throughout, getting a lot out of the condensed daytime conceit – it’s subtle but atmospheric, giving the episode a sense of momentum and escalation without drawing attention to it explicitly.) There’s a real flourish and panache to this, making it an almost singularly impressive episode: it’s not necessarily the best of the Moffat era, but it’s surely one of the most satisfying to watch.

Which as much because of the writing as the direction, of course. It’s smart and funny (again, you can trace a lot of this back to Moffat’s sitcom work) and bold; even eleven years later, it still feels just as new and exciting as it did the first time around. You get the sense that “Something old, something new. Something borrowed, something blue” is an idea Moffat had been holding onto for years, maybe even building the entire series around it – surely the only reason it can’t be traced back to an old usenet post like A Good Man Goes to War’s origin of the word “Doctor” is because he was holding onto it so closely? Rightly so, in any case: it’s one of the most sweeping, triumphant moments of the series.

What The Big Bang is ultimately about, in the end, is healing – the universe isn’t just reset, it’s restored, and so are the characters. It’s what Amy does for the Doctor, remembering him back to life, and it’s what the Doctor does for Amy too.

Not, crucially, by bringing back her parents – she does that on her own, more or less. No, it’s returning to her wedding, in full view of everyone, representing years of doubts dismissed all at once: Amy’s imaginary friend always was exactly as real as she said. (There’s a callback again to the pain of The Eleventh Hour – “the psychiatrists we sent her to” – before that full circle moment, and it’s telling that we see young Amelia go through a version of that at the start of the episode.) That’s the real triumph and catharsis of that moment – not the Doctor surviving, because we always knew he would, but validating Amy once and for all.

They both share the same moral throughline, one that stretches back to The Beast Below and forward to Extremis, to declare without compromise the chance to tell a better story – because if it’s all a story in the end, why not make it a good one? It represents a breath-taking rejection of cynicism, in the end, an effortless dismissal of the sort of dour realism that would insist on misery and preclude something like this: insisting on stars. (In amongst all this there’s a nice resonance with The Doctor Falls, and what was almost the Twelfth Doctor’s final words: “Pity. I hoped there’d be stars.” It’s unlikely a conscious parallel – just the sort of echo you get when the same writer brings the same perspective to a show for seven years – but it’s nice little moment of poetry nonetheless.)

And so the episode ends with one last subversion of the Davies era format: “Goodbye” is less ostentatiously clever as “something borrowed, something blue” but it’s just as thrilling in its own way, Amy and Rory both embracing the Doctor – and Doctor Who – for one more year at least.

Related:

Eleven Years of the Eleventh Doctor

Doctor Who Review: Series 12 Overview

You can find more of my writing about Doctor Who here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter. If you enjoyed reading this review – or if you didn’t – perhaps consider leaving a tip on ko-fi?

Eleven Years of the Eleventh Doctor: Vincent and the Doctor

doctor who vincent van gogh tony curran athlete chances richard curtis jonny campbell review

You can almost feel his hand painting it right in front of you. Carving the colours into shapes.

The obvious Richard Curtis film to compare this to is, I suppose, About Time. Curtis was influenced by Vincent and the Doctor when he wrote and directed About Time, if only a little bit, and even without that link there’s a broad thematic crossover in terms of that time travel romcom and what Moffat had been doing on the show for a few years. When Vincent and the Doctor was announced in 2010, an episode from “Richard Curtis, writer of Love, Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Notting Hill” seemed unusual in a way that “Richard Curtis, writer of About Time” wouldn’t particularly. (The unusualness is a good thing, of course, and I think something Doctor Who would do well to reach for more often – an episode from Richard Curtis brings, if nothing else, a genuinely new perspective to the show that another episode from Mark Gatiss wouldn’t. Eleven years of hindsight obscures how unusual it was a little, makes it seem like a more obvious hire – or maybe a differently obvious hire – than it really was.)

What seemed a more interesting comparison, though, watching this back in 2021, was Yesterday. Written by Curtis and directed by Danny Boyle, Yesterday is about a struggling musician who wakes up one day and realises everyone but him has forgotten about the Beatles – he then revives his career playing half-remembered Beatles songs, becoming hugely successful as a result.

On the face of it the similarities are far less overt: there’s no time travel in Yesterday, for one thing, and its science fiction contrivances are throwaway details, not really something the film is particularly concerned with. (Although really you could make the case that’s true of Doctor Who most of the time anyway.) What it is, though, is about art in the same sense – the Beatles’ music rather than Van Gogh’s paintings, and approached from different perspectives, but there’s the same sort of lens being applied in each case, the same understanding of “art” as concept (and a product) in each.

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Vincent and the Doctor has taken some criticism for being overly materialist, framing Van Gogh’s art solely in terms its commercial value; it’s a very capitalist, very mercantile attitude, one that’d undercut a lot of the episode’s themes about depression. It’s a reasonable criticism, if maybe overstated sometimes – Amy’s “there’s going to be more paintings” is, I think, quite clearly moreso about saying that Vincent will have had the chance to paint more, rather than solely being an expression of desire alone.

Certainly, though, it takes a very populist view of art – Van Gogh’s art is validated by its mass appeal, validated by its enduring popularity. There’s an appreciation for his vision, yes, but that’s always hand in hand with this perception of his genius as something rooted in its reach: the fact it ends up in a museum, the fact that people will go on to love it and value it (both in an emotional way and, yes, an economic one). It’s the same underlining view of art that you see in Yesterday; you don’t get the sense that Vincent and the Doctor would value the work if Van Gogh had never found popularity, in much the same way that Yesterday can’t imagine a world where the Beatles aren’t popular. It’s telling that that’s something Curtis imposed on Yesterday when rewriting someone else’s concept, the sort of outlook you’d expect from a massively popular celebrity writer like Curtis. I don’t know that it’s a bad thing, necessarily; when you invite a new perspective onto the show, you invite their idiosyncrasies and their foibles too, and it’s interesting to engage with that critically.

(I do think the episode is invested in a genuine, if non-specific, appreciation of Van Gogh and his art. The episode doesn’t really have much of a vocabulary to engage with the art, beyond general observations about colour and passion – in fairness, nor do I – which does make me wonder how much Curtis actually likes Van Gogh himself, and how much of it is a sort of second-hand affection/sentimental attachment because he was his sister’s favourite artist. Which again might explain some of the underlying attitudes – he loves Van Gogh because his sister loved Van Gogh – or perhaps that’s just some superficial psychoanalysis.)

And of course, it’s not as though it’s just Curtis: it’s an attitude that’s inherent to the celebrity historical as a subgenre generally. They’re almost always framed in that way – there’s a similar aside in The Unicorn and the Wasp, about how Agatha Christie’s books are still being bought and sold long past the point you’d hope they’d be in the public domain, their popularity measured in sales again – which is probably as much a product of Davies’ own populist aspirations as it is that oft-criticised Great Man of History theory.

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More troubling, really, is that ‘mad artist’ stuff, the way it depicts Van Gogh as a troubled genius rather than a genius who was troubled – the episode doesn’t always delineate between the art and the depression in the way you’d hope it might. There’s a careful line between suggesting that Van Gogh processed his emotions through his art, and suggesting that his art was a product of those turbulent emotions; there’s a careful line there that the episode doesn’t always manage to walk gracefully, which is a shame.

Otherwise, though, it’s deft and sensitive. Indeed, for the most part it’s deft and sensitive I think, a really thoughtfully constructed piece that has a genuinely worthwhile “message”, for lack of a better word: just because you can’t “save” people, it doesn’t mean that trying to is without meaning on its own terms, or a failure just because you couldn’t “save” them. I’m not particularly inclined to speak to how Vincent and the Doctor handles mental health and depression as a whole – that’s been covered in more depth and with more authority by other people – but it is appreciated, if nothing else. There’s something nice about its directness, about how uncompromising the episode is in this respect; certainly it makes for an interesting comparison to Can You Hear Me?, an episode nominally about a companion dealing with the lingering impact of a suicide attempt so mired in ambiguity relatively few people actually understood it that way. (Speaking of Can You Hear Me?, I’d like to see Jodie Whittaker in Vincent and the Doctor – it seems it’d play very nicely to her strengths as an actor and a Doctor.)

That sense of being well-constructed extends past the thematic content; it’s a confident, well-made piece of television, with Jonny Campbell bringing an understated flair to the direction. Tony Curran is, obviously, really powerful as Van Gogh, and Karen Gillan gives one of her best performances too; there’s a nice throughline to this episode, positioning Van Gogh’s depression parallel to Amy’s forgotten grief, calling forward to a similar technique used in Series 6 and speaking again to how well constructed Series 5 is as a whole. Matt Smith, meanwhile, gets some nice material here too (I think he’d be quite a good romantic lead in a more typical Curtis project, actually), but more than anything else you get a sense of his generosity as a performer – he gives a lot of space to Curran and Gillan, willingly and skilfully stepping back into a supporting role in his own show.

Ultimately, it’s no surprise this episode appears so often on Doctor Who Best Of lists – it’s very much the sort of thing I’d like to see more of from the show.

Related:

Eleven Years of the Eleventh Doctor

Doctor Who Review: Series 12 Overview

You can find more of my writing about Doctor Who here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter. If you enjoyed reading this review – or if you didn’t – perhaps consider leaving a tip on ko-fi?