Doctor Who. Series 5, Episode 10: “Vincent and the Doctor”
BBC, 2010. Directed by Jonny Campbell, Written by Richard Curtis
Posted in Youtube by Doctor Who
Background: After facing the episodic monster with the help of Vincent van Gogh (Tony Curran), the Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) break the rules a little by taking the tormented painter forward in time, so that he can get a glimpse of the impact of his painting.

Themes: Philosophy of Art; the real meaning of “Success”; suffering and the meaning of life; suicide.

Teaching tips:

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) is one of the most important and beloved painters in history, yet also one of the most tragic. He struggled with severe mental illness during most of his life, prematurely ended with his suicide at age 37. His art received almost no recognition during his life.

Perhaps his struggle is romanticized in this episode, but the short reflection on Van Gogh’s place in the history of art (intensely delivered by Bill Nighy), brings up an important point for reflection. Van Gogh’s work expresses “joy, and the magnificence of the world”! How does one manage to do that?

It is a great clip to discuss the meaning of recurrent suffering (in the form, in this case, of chronic mental illness), the nature of hope and the possibility of joy and happiness when facing such suffering.

Before the clip is shown, however, I would recommend that you show your students some of Van Gogh’s paintings, and examine with them the emotions that they portray or bring up. In that way you will not be forcing on them one of the premises (that Van Gogh’s works express joy).

Questions for discussion:

  • Examine [x painting]. Write down 3 emotions/feelings that the painting “makes you feel.”
  • We know that Van Gogh’s life was riddled with suffering and misfortune. Why do you think he painted like he did?
  • When faced with suffering, do we have a choice in what feelings to portray, what emotions to “run with”?
  • Why does Bill Nighy’s character say of Van Gogh that he was “one of the greatest men who ever lived.” Why does he say that? Do you agree with his judgment?
  • Here’s a “Would you Rather” one: Would you rather be moderately successful in life, and then your work be forgotten? Or would you rather be ignored in life, but your work have a huge influence in history?

Also see:

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