Doctor Who always has a few historic episodes each season. One of the very best, was when Matt Smith’s Doctor met Vincent Van Gogh.
Historical episodes are always a challenge. It’s hard to hit just the right note. The audience doesn’t want a history lesson, but at the same time you can’t stray too far off the path or people scream inaccuracy. Most of the time the writers try for a campier episode, or else they end up with mediocre results if they tried to go for serious.
If the characters are not that well known, such as in “The Fires of Pompei” the more serious episodes work. When the characters are well-known…let’s just say that “The Unicorn and the Wasp” wasn’t exactly Doctor Who’s finest moment.
In 2010, Richard Curtiss, best known for Love Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral, decided to tackle a Vincent Van Gogh episode that dealt with artistic genius, mental illness, suicide, and aliens in a cathedral. Somehow, he pulled it off due in no small part of the talent of Matt Smith. The episode is cited as many fans favorite of the 11th Doctor.
One of the very best segments from the episode is the conversation that the Doctor has with Amy at the end when Amy realizes that, despite their efforts, Van Gogh has still committed suicide.
Amy: Time can be rewritten! I know it can. Come on! Oh, the long life of Vincent Van Gogh. There’ll be hundreds of new paintings.
The Doctor: I’m not sure there will. (Amy stops cold as she sees no change in teh gallery)
Amy: So you were right. No new paintings. We didn’t make a difference at all.
The Doctor: I wouldn’t say that. 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 final quote of the Doctor’s has been repeated countless times on fan-created tee shirts, GIFS, and Twitter backgrounds. This was one the the first sentimental moments of the 11th Doctor, and proved that Matt Smith could handle heartfelt as well as comic material.