A Brush with Genius Doctor Who Confidential


A Brush with Genius

Behind-the-scenes of Doctor Who. The Doctor and Amy team up with artist Vincent van Gogh and actor Tony Curran takes a tour of the J Paul Getty Museum.


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This week, the Doctor and Amy take in a bit of culture and team up

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with Vincent Van Gogh.

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Come on, capture my mystery!

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Maybe you've had enough coffee now.

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And we canvas Richard Curtis about his latest work.

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I think if you're going to write something about an artist, Van Gogh is the most accessible artist.

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The cast and crew go forth to Croatia, with a cunning plan to reproduce a Van Gogh painting.

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We brush up on our art history in LA, with actor Tony Curran.

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If you stare at this long enough, you do lose yourself in it.

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Episode 10 tackles a problem,

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and a situation, more heartbreaking than probably we have ever encountered before.

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At the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff,

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the Doctor Who crew are setting the scene

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for a very unusual art class.

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Morning.

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Action. And action.

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So, this is one of the last paintings Van Gogh ever painted.

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Those final months of his life were probably the most astonishing artistic outpouring in history.

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It was like Shakespeare knocking off Othello, Macbeth and King Lear over the summer hols.

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The Doctor travels to the Musee d'Orsay and sees

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in a Van Gogh painting a monster peering out,

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and realises he has to go and talk to Vincent Van Gogh.

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-Wait a minute.

-What?

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-Well, just look at that.

-What?

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Something very not good indeed.

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Look, there, in the window of the Church.

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-Is it a face?

-Yes.

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And not a nice face at all.

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We were very lucky to get Bill Nighy to play the part of Dr Black,

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because he is somebody who you pay attention to.

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We needed people to listen to what he was saying about Vincent Van Gogh,

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pick up some of the relevant facts that were going to be important in the story.

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Sorry, everyone, routine inspection, Ministry of Art and...Artiness.

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-So, erm...

-Dr Black.

-Yes, that's right.

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Do you know when that picture was painted?

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Ah, well, what an interesting question...

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-I'm going to have to hurry you, when was it?

-Exactly...

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As exactly as you can - I'm in a hurry.

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Well, in that case, probably somewhere between 1st and 3rd June.

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-What year?

-1890, less than a year before he... killed himself.

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We have Richard Curtis writing episode 10, which is so exciting.

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He has written a fantastic episode about Van Gogh, and it is actually really quite different.

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It has always been an idea I loved,

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just sitting there in the back of my mind.

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So, the moment I started thinking about Dr Who, I thought, oh, I have got this story I would

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like to tell, because Van Gogh is pretty well the only really, really famous artist, almost in any medium,

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who had no acknowledgement whatsoever during his lifetime.

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I'm also interested in sort of depression, and the price you pay for that. So I'm interested in him

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as a human being, as an artist, and then I had this idea where I loved the thought of making him happy.

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Along with a flat pack Tardis, the cast and crew travelled to Croatia

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to recreate the French region of Provence.

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The job of manning the TARDIS during this 1,400-mile-long journey

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was given to facilities co-ordinator, Bob Gurney.

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How many miles left, Bob?

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509. It's a long, long way.

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Here we are in Croatia, filming episode 10, Vincent and the Doctor.

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There is this really cool scene, that's set in one of Van Gogh's paintings, the Cafe Terrace.

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So, they made up this cafe to look like the painting.

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And it just looked incredible. It really did look like the painting.

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In the scene I have a little book of all Van Gogh's paintings,

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and I was just holding it up to the scene, and it was just exactly the same, it was really cool.

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He will probably be in the local cafe.

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Sort of orangey-light chairs and tables outside.

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-Like this?

-That's the one.

-Or indeed like that.

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Yes.

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Creating Van Gogh's night cafe for the Doctor and

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Amy's first encounter with Vincent took more than just orangey light and a few tables and chairs outside.

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Searching for the right location and transforming it

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for this scene proved to be a complicated assignment for the art department.

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Creating the cafe was quite a long-winded process.

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We went around Croatia about four or five times,

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with a postcard book and a laptop with the image of the Cafe Terrace.

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And we eventually found it, and we were very pleased about how it ended up.

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We obviously had to put a big awning up.

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We had to change the windows, we had to do in-fills for the windows

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and the door, and also make a platform to put the chairs and tables on.

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And there's another blue doorway which we married in as well.

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And obviously, just a bit of foliage.

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Just matched up the painting as best we could.

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One painting for one drink, that's not a bad deal!

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It wouldn't be a bad deal if it were any good.

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I can't put that up on my wall, it would scare the customers half to death.

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Bad enough you being here in person, let alone

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looming over the customers day and night with a stupid hat.

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-You pay your money or you get out.

-I'll pay.

-What?

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Well, if you like, I'll pay for the drink.

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To paint a better portrait of the real Vincent Van Gogh,

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Dr Who Confidential joined Tony Curran at the Getty Museum in LA,

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to meet up with curator Scott Allan,

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and take a look at one of Van Gogh's most famous masterpieces.

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But California itself, it is an incredible state.

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And just to come up to the Getty here,

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I come up here quite often, just to...

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look at the art work,

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but it's an incredible place just to be, just to relax.

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Situated in the hills of Santa Monica,

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the John Paul Getty Museum owns and exhibits important major art works,

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and is home to one of the most valued Van Gogh paintings,

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the Irises.

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This was painted maybe about a year and a few months before he died.

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This painting was done at a particularly...

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-Low point, yes.

-..critical and poignant time in his life.

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In December of 1888, about five or six months before he painted this,

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there was that infamous episode in the south of France,

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where he cut his ear. He was hospitalised.

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He had a few more bad episodes in the coming months, and eventually,

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just out of his own fear of his encroaching mental illness,

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he checked himself in.

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-In many ways, part of his therapy was his painting.

-Absolutely.

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And the garden was one of, you know, a little corner of nature

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that was readily available to him in the asylum.

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And for the first month or so, he wasn't going outside the walls.

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So you can just imagine him encountering this little patch of flowers.

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He was in the asylum for one year, and he painted 130 canvases.

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So that is a lot, that averages, you know,

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a picture every two or three days. So he is painting fast.

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If you stare at this long enough,

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you really... It's wonderful,

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you do lose yourself in it, I find, anyway.

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I mean, you look at it in the context of the gallery,

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and the painting pops off the wall, compared to everything else, the intensity of the colours,

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and also the really sharp, graphic quality that everything is drawn with.

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-Thank you.

-All right, pleasure.

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All that remains for the Doctor and Amy to do

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is to show Vincent what becomes of his art in the future.

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-Where are we?

-Paris, 2010 AD and this is the mighty Musee d'Orsay,

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home to many of the greatest paintings in history.

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Because it was such an emotional, high point of the story,

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it was important to find a way of conveying

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exactly how this would impact on Vincent Van Gogh.

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To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence

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was not only the world's greatest artist, but also

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one of the greatest men who ever lived.

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I think he definitely would have been overjoyed to see

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that people appreciated his work, most definitely.

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Thank you, sir. Thank you.

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You're welcome.

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If you're going to write something about an artist,

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Van Gogh is the most accessible artist.

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That's one of the things that makes him loved.

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I think it's a brilliant depiction of depression,

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but it's at the heart of a wonderful, glorious, life-affirming Doctor Who fable.

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The only thing which might slightly seem complicated or oblique to a younger viewer

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would be the question of having a thought about mental illness.

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But it's such a big subject in our society,

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one in four people suffer from depression at some point in their lives.

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Maybe it's not a bad idea to try and introduce it young.

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We have here the last work of Vincent Van Gogh,

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who committed suicide at only 37.

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If anybody who watched it has gone away with that understanding,

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that they have to be considerate and patient and interested in people who have mental complexities,

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then that would be great to me.

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The real meat of the story is the Doctor meeting someone he can't save

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because he can't save people from themselves.

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That's beyond his power.

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Even though he can at times re-write time as Amy wants him to at the end,

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he cannot do it this time because, simply,

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the demons that assail Vincent are far beyond the Doctor's reach.

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That is very much what Richard wanted to write about and I think,

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daringly and beautifully, that's what's realised

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in this absolutely heartbreaking final scenes.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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E-mail [email protected]

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The Doctor and Amy team up with artist Vincent van Gogh, the cast and crew travel to Croatia to see if they can recreate 19th century France in 21st century Trojir, and actor Tony Curran takes a tour of the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles to look at one of Van Gogh's most valuable paintings.


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