Sunday, May 06, 2007

Doctor Who - The Lazarus Experiment

There's something about episode titles which seem to give the whole game away which sometimes make you wonder whether it's worth watching the thing or not. Here we have Professor Lazarus ... now what could he possibly be going to do? Die and come back to life again perhaps? It's a shame really, because this episode was really entertaining and one of the best so far. I suspect that Lazarus' name falls into that unique category of science fiction where all planets, alien races and names must define wholly the major characteristic of that planet/race/creature. So guess what the Planet Aridius is like? Arid perhaps? Give the man a peanut. And the inhabitants? Well they have to be Aridians don't they. And the Hungersaurs ... what might they be like? Hungry dinosaurs perhaps? Now ... a tricky one ... Doctor Phoenix ... now see if you can guess the plot of whatever episode of whichever science fiction series he appears in ...

Anyway, back to the plot, and The Lazarus Experiment was, as I said, a superb slice of Saturday evening entertainment. After the hole-riddled plot of the previous episode, something complete and watchable without saying 'Yes, but ...' after every scene.

We open with the Doctor returning Martha to Earth. Her reactions were spot on ... having enjoyed her trips with the Doctor she is in no mood to go back to mundanity, and the cheer when the TARDIS reappeared was immense. But what of the mysterious old Professor Lazarus and his wonderful machine?

The Doctor and Martha attend the evening's event, and it transpires that Martha's sister, Tish, is Lazarus' PR secretary and has organised the event. Now this does pose some questions. Given how close Martha and Tish are, it's strange that she never mentioned the Professor or his experiments to Martha. And that if she did, Martha didn't find it all a little odd and mention it to the Doctor or want to investigate further herself. And there was no mention of this groundbreaking event the previous day when Tish seems to have time to meet Martha for lunch and to go to an evening do in the local pub with her family ... I somehow think that for something as large and lavish as Lazarus' demonstration, poor Tish would be totally rushed off her feet the day before ...

Anyway, we get some name drops of Mr Saxon again: the old lady who seems to be Lazarus' main financial partner in the venture (and who also appears to have been with him all his life) says that Saxon is one of the main investors in the project. Oddly the lady isn't named until Martha refers to her later on as Lady Thaw. There's more Saxon to come though ... Thaw was wonderfully played by Thelma Barlow, her out of Coronation Street, proving that sometimes soap actresses can actually act.

I loved the reference to James Bond as the Doctor and Martha arrive, and it was a great shame that this wasn't carried forward into the incidental music, which was mawkish and out of place throughout the episode. I guess that the theme which kept playing was the 'Martha' one, but it seemed wrong and out of place for much of the story.

So Lazarus gets into his machine (a sonic microfield manipulator according to the Doctor) and is regressed to a young man. Meanwhile the Doctor falls foul of Martha's mum, Francine, who is way too overprotective and just nasty. How old is Martha? Isn't she able to make her own decisions as to who she sees? This just didn't ring true to me and edged the scenes way too far into soap territory for my liking.

Lazarus starts chowing down on food - he needs energy - and the Doctor is very suspicious. Shades of The Fly here I felt, and very nicely handled by both Mark Gatiss as Lazarus and David Tennant as the Doctor. Lazarus kisses Martha's hand and heads upstairs with his unnamed old lady.

As Lazarus transforms into a monster and sucks the lady dry, the Doctor and Martha use the labs to analyse Lazarus' DNA (from the kiss) and learn that his genetic structure is still changing. Next on Lazarus' list of munchies is Tish, and the Doctor and Martha arrive on the roof in time to save her, and to watch him transform into some huge scorpion-man thing with a human face and an expandible jaw (definite shades of Predator's monster in the jaw, as well as the alien from the Jeepers Creepers films, and some other films/TV shows that I can't recall the names of at the moment).

The chase is on! The monster gambols around the building after the Doctor, as Martha tries to get everyone out to safety. This is a great chase with some lovely CGI moments and a genuine sense of tension as Lazarus goads the Doctor in a whispery, papery, horrific voice.

While all this is going on, Martha's Mum is approached by a mysterious stranger (played by the unlikely named Bertie Carvel, but he does seem to be a real actor) outside - the same man who had earlier warned her of the Doctor in the reception - and he apparently tells her more about the Doctor ... very worrying and nicely handled, fitting season-arc stuff into the story in a way which was not intrusive.

The Doctor and Martha end up trapped inside Lazarus' machine, and the monster activates it. Luckily the Doctor is able to reverse the polarity (in a nice nod to the Pertwee years) and reflects the power back out again, apparently killing Lazarus (who reverts to young human form on death).

The ambulance arrives to take him away, and the Doctor enjoys a slap and a showdown with Francine before we hear the ambulance crash - the medics have been drained and Lazarus is on the loose again ... you see ... you can never believe that a man named Lazarus will actually be dead when you think he is ...

The Doctor tracks him to nearby Southwark Cathedral where he turns into a monster again chases Martha and Tish up into the bell tower while the Doctor plays the organ, the sound waves created - along with a little extra oomph from the sonic screwdriver - being enough to kill the Lazarus creature and send it crashing to the ground. I loved here the mention of turning it up to '11' - obviously the Doctor is also a fan of Spinal Tap. Also note the allusions to The Quatermass Experiment in the location.

So Lazarus is killed (but is he ...), and I wondered why he still looked like a young man when the Doctor gets to his body, but then instantly reverts to the old Lazarus ... didn't make much sense. If anything he should have been old all along ...

The crisis averted, and it's back to Martha's bedroom for the Doctor to offer to take her with him permanently ... well we knew it was going to happen, but again the interplay and reactions from Martha were excellent. They head off to new adventures, missing the telephone call from Martha's mum: she knows who the Doctor is and Martha is in danger ... and the information comes from Harold Saxon himself!

A great ending to a very entertaining and enjoyable episode. Mark Gatiss was simply brilliant as Lazarus, managing to bring pathos and a sympathetic element to a ruthless and driven character, and his interplays with David Tennant's Doctor were very well handled. The CGI was top notch, and the monster looked real for the most part. I suspect that the other actors could have done with a physical prop on occasion though, and the inclusion of this may have made it all just a little more real. However it was scary and nasty and I can't wait for the action figure ... well ... it has to happen doesn't it?

No Doctor Who next week due to bloomin' Eurovision Song Contest, but there was a trailer showing what's coming up ... scary scarecrows, Captain Jack, spaceships, the Sun, Martha separated from the Doctor, a man tapping a table with his hand ... it's all go! What's confusing though is that these are clips from several of the remaining 7 episodes, and not all from the next episode. I hope kids won't be too disappointed ...


Rob Stickler said...

'a man tapping a table with his hand...'

Terrifying though wasn't it?

I agree with you about Martha's Mother. Very soapy.

Realy enjoying this episode more with repeat viewings; Tennant and Gatiss are brilliant together.

That trailer really fired me up for the rest of the run. Cornell, Moffat, Chibnall and of course RTD. Chuck in Captain Jack and the Mysterious Mr Saxon and I think e're in for a stormer.


elliek said...

Heehee, I love Eurovision so will put up with the loss!!

Looking forward to Captain Jack :-)

Abu Yair said...

I finally have an ID so I don't need to be anonymous any more.

I watched "The Lazarus Experiment" on my way to work today. File sharing is a wonderful thing! I don't have access to BBC broadcasts, so it's been nice to be able to catch up with both the old and new series.

I agree with you that this episode was an improvement on the Dalek story. However, it was also extremely derivative from the Quatermass trilogy. However, while the Quatermass stories were developed over the course of three hours, here the narrative has to be crammed into 43 minutes. This leaves just about enough time for running around and one or two nice scenes.

In this episode, the finest scene was undoubtedly the one where Lazarus describes his childhood during the blitz. It was touching without being over-sentimental, and also provided the background to the denouement, though I found it more convincing as a reason for Lazarus's seeking sanctuary in the cathedral than as a motivation for his experiments. I am sure that writers were unaware of the irony behind the finale: the name Lazarus is derived from the Hebrew El 'Azar (>elazar > lazar + Greek -us) which means "God has helped". The ideal name for a man who tries to remake creation but ultimately seeks sanctuary in a house of God.

I was less impressed at the effects - not their practice but more their design. The mutations seemed a little exaggerated. I know that humans are genetically almost identical to mice, but giant cockroaches? It doesn't seem so likely. Furthermore, where did all that body matter come from?

Regarding Murray Gold's music, I agree that it was a little heavy handed at times. I wonder if it really wise that one person writes all the incidental music for the series. However, for personal reasons I prefer not to pass comment. I was at university with Murray Gold yonks ago. In those days he was trying his hand at student journalism and I was his editor. He subsequently got involved in theatre projects, which seems to have been a more successful outlet for him. I remember him as a very nice guy and I'm glad he's found such success.