WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUT THE DOCTOR WHO EPISODE ABOUND IN THIS POST
I found it interesting to compare the Gansovsky story Vincent van Gogh with the recent Doctor Who episode “Vincent and the Doctor.” In particular, I found the two works’ differing stances on the possibility of changing history very interesting. Gansovsky presents us with a reality in which it is extremely easy to change the past, as our protagonist finds out again and again. Doctor Who, on the other hand, is a show that has long argued that, no matter how you might try to change the past, the universe will generally course-correct, either by changing other events subtly to mimic the effect of whatever was changed, or, in at least one case, by sending in giant time-spiders to repair the timeline.
In the “Vincent and the Doctor” episode, the titular Doctor and his companion, Amy, travel back in time and meet Vincent van Gogh, very soon before he kills himself. The Doctor and Amy want to prevent Vincent from killing himself (and they want to help him kill an invisible space monster, but that’s not really relevant to this discussion), so they take him to the 20th century, to a Van Gogh exhibit at the Musee D’Orsay, in an attempt to show him that he will be well-known and appreciated one day. They make Vincent very happy, and eventually drop him off in his own time. Then they return to the 20th century, expecting to see that van Gogh lived much longer; however, they (especially Amy) are saddened to discover that he still killed himself.
There are a lot of topics discussed in this episode, including mental illness, artistic inspiration, and the importance of listening to the man going on about invisible space monsters; however, the main theme is one that recurs often in Doctor Who, which is that it is extremely difficult to change the past. This is in many ways the opposite message of Vincent van Gogh, the message of which is that it is very easy to change the past, but very difficult to know why you shouldn’t change the past. I don’t really know what this contrast means, or even if one story is more optimistic about human nature than the other (although, on the whole, Doctor Who is fairly optimistic about human nature, and Gansovsky really isn’t), but I think it’s something really interesting to talk about.