THIS EPISODE TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE TV
EPISODES "THE INFINITE
QUEST" AND "42."
'THE COMPLETE THIRD
EXCLUSIVE DVD BOX
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
MARTHA RETURNS HOME,
BUT HAS TO SAVE HER
FAMILY FROM THE THE
5TH MAY 2007
After bestowing nothing but praise upon each of the first five episodes this year, this week I made a point of watching The Lazarus Experiment with a particularly critical eye. But even so, whilst there were one or two things that I was not especially happy with, on the whole though I found this one to be another good, solid episode. It may not be up there with some contemporary classics, but it was still the best thing on British Television all week by light years.
I think it was in the pre-season
Radio Times where I read that
Russell T Davies wanted this
episode to have a ‘comic book’
feel, and if that is the case then
it is a sentiment that has been
transferred onto the screen. Doctor Who Confidential dwelt heavily on The Lazarus Experiment paying homage to the James Bond movies, but tuxedos and gadgets aside, that was not really something that I bought into - Bond is not Bond without scantily-clad women and guns, and neither are on the menu here. The comic book vibe, however, I did get. The beautiful settings – first the avant-garde Welsh Senate Building (‘a laboratory in London’) and then later a haunting Cathedral – both had DC or Marvel stamped all over them, and even the characters’ names reeked of the genre.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am Richard Lazarus. I am seventy-six years old and I am reborn!”
Thelma Barlow’s (Coronation Street) role as Lady Thaw is much smaller than I’d expected after all the publicity. Unlike old ‘Mavis’ though, Mark Gatiss (The League of Gentlemen)
is given ample opportunity to shine here. The chance to star in his favourite show has been something that Gatiss has waited a lifetime for and, although he may not have been cast in the dream role itself, here he gets to sink his teeth into a quite sinister role that could have been (and probably was, thinking about it) written just for him.
The sparring between Gatiss and Tennant is an absolute delight to watch, especially so for someone like me who loves The League of Gentlemen. Their banter reminded me of how I felt watching Simon Pegg and Christopher Eccleston verbally batter each other in The Long Game, an episode with which The Lazarus Experiment has much in common.
When in prosthetics, Gatiss is indistinguishable from any seventy-six year old that you might see in the street. His voice and gait also help to get across his character’s age. However, following his transformation I did have a bit of difficulty taking Lazarus seriously – why in the blue hell did they make him look like Doctor Chinnery? I kept expecting him to stick his hand up a cow’s backside!
Richard Clark’s direction has to be praised though, as do the sterling efforts of the boys at the Mill. From start to finish The Lazarus Experiment is visually spectacular. The CGI is top notch; not just in relation to the obvious, but also in relation to some of the scenes inside the Cathedral and even the eponymous experiment itself.
I hope I’m not being unduly harsh in saying that it is the effects that carry this episode – the way that the monster’s mouth opens outwards; the horrific, calcified remains of its victims; that breathtaking corridor chase that sees the monster spin around 360º as it runs after the Doctor. Some of the shots in the episode are on a par with those seen in Tooth and Claw last year. In fact, my only criticism of the effects here has to be that the monster’s mouth
does not seem to move very well at all with the dialogue – they cut away from the monster speaking very quickly. All the same, such a small detail could not detract from such a first-rate effort. I have a feeling that the Lazarus monster is one destined to be long-remembered. Do you remember the one with…?
This brings me to my main gripe with the episode. The Lazarus Experiment is a good old-fashioned monster mash, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that. However, in terms of plot there seems to be very little going on. Stephen Greenhorn has really made a lot out of the drama stemming from the presence of Martha’s family, but the science-fiction element that
is driving the story is rather basic indeed. Greenhorn may touch upon Lazarus’ reasons for wanting to live forever, but his back-story is rather predictable and, if I’m brutally honest, dull as dishwater. Gatiss deserved better, really.
“A longer life isn’t a better one. In the end you just get tired. Tired of the struggle.
Tired of losing everyone that matters to you. Tired of watching everything turn to dust.
If you live long enough, the only certainty left is that you’ll end up alone.”
That said, Greenhorn very interestingly reveals the mysterious Mr Saxon’s hand in events, further fuelling the intrigue surrounding this character. If the rumours about his identity are true, then his interest in Lazarus’ work is hardly surprising considering how he’s always
so desperately clung on to life in the past. Looking back on this episode at the end of the season, I wouldn’t be surprised if - as with The Long Game - it came to light that there was much more going on here than meets the eye. As a stand-alone episode though, I have to say that the story feels a little lacking.
But as I’ve said, what this episode lacks in plot it more than makes up for in spectacle. The final showdown inside Suffolk Cathedral is a thing of beauty in so many different ways. The Doctor’s eloquent dialogue. The quasi-religious imagery of Lazarus naked in the shroud. Martha hanging from the bell tower. The Doctor’s nod to Spinal Tap: “We need to turn this
up to eleven...”
“He’s dangerous. There are things you should know.”
Turning to the larger ‘Martha’ story arc for a moment, The Lazarus Experiment marks some-thing of a watershed for the character. This episode sees Martha return home for the first time since she begun her travels with the Doctor, and it also marks the first appearance of her family since Smith and Jones.
In direct contrast to his navigational cock-up back in Alien of London, here the Doctor gets Martha home within twelve hours. He still manages to earn himself a slap from the mother though – “all their mothers. Every time” – as throughout the episode she has some sort of ‘secret service’ bloke whispering in her ear about the Doctor and how dangerous he is.
This notwithstanding, Francine comes across as being very unlikeable in any event - I can certainly sympathise with Martha’s Dad! Even in her fiercest moments, Jackie Tyler was always loveable. Adjoa Andoh (Year of the Pig) portrays Francine as much more austere than her predecessor; a much tougher nut to crack in many ways.
Martha’s sister Tish is also given quite a bit of exposure in this episode, and whilst she is
not as severe as her Mother, she comes across as a bit ‘up herself’ and even a bit shallow. Prior to Lazarus’ transformation, Tish won’t even give him the time of day, yet as soon as he becomes a handsome young man, she’s all over him!
Such odious qualities are offset to a certain degree though by her being there to catch Martha when she falls (literally) during the episode’s climactic scene. And I suppose it is
still early days - Jackie, Mickey and Pete had two full years to endear themselves to the audience, and so the Joneses certainly have a difficult task in trying to replace them.
I enjoyed the episode’s final scene very much. It sees Martha become a proper companion as opposed to a mere passenger, much in the same way that Rose “signed-up” properly at the end of World War Three. “Okay”, says the Doctor, nodding towards the open TARDIS door. “Well, you were never really just a passenger were you?” And so off they go; off into
the 42nd century.
“I’m begging you. I know who this Doctor really is.
I know he’s dangerous; you’re gonna get yourself killed! Please trust me.
This information comes from Harold Saxon himself. You’re not safe.”
On a final note, I’d just like to say ‘bloody Eurovision!’, though I suppose that if you do have
to stall the season for a fortnight, then this episode’s semi-cliffhanger is a tantalising enough way in which to leave things, especially when combined with a dazzling trailer for the rest of the season.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
When is now? This episode is set the day after Smith and Jones (2008).
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