Doctor Who #759: The Lazarus Experiment

"People will sell their souls to be transformed like that."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 5 2007.

IN THIS ONE... Mark Gatiss guest-stars as an old man who makes himself young and turns into a giant scorpion.

REVIEW: Let's get it out of the way, I think this episode's A-plot is complete trash. A mad scientist who rejuvenates himself and just happens to be called Lazarus is way too on the nose, even in a season reveling in Biblical referencing. And Mark Gatiss is miscast in the role if they think they can sell Tish's sudden attraction to him after he goes from dirty old man to dirty younger man. Those scenes don't work at all. And it might all be acceptable if the science made any lick of sense, but changing someone's genetic code with SOUND, while meant to be a great big whopping clue that a Time Lord (Saxon) is behind all this because sonics can apparently do anything (and we wonder why the screwdriver became so overused in New Who)... well, I'm sorry but it's dumb. And so we have the equipment that runs his DNA chamber looking like the DJ table at Donna's wedding, and the creature succumbing to the Doctor's wicked organ grinding (which, I must say, is a piss poor climax, with the Doctor playing away while Martha and Tish miraculously survive a savage attack and almost falling from the tower). Couldn't "regeneration" have been the clue instead?

The monster itself, an ugly CG creation of the type we saw in countless Alien imitators in the 90s, is apparently an evolutionary possibility rejected by nature. Fine. Unfortunately, though it has a human face, it doesn't look anything like Mark Gatiss! Just a bad video game skin. Lazarus' transformations are equally annoying to me because they don't leave a trace. He goes back and forth between two disproportionate forms without leaving a mark or taking much time at all. Same happens when he finally dies and reverts to his original age in a split second. While I appreciate the fact they didn't try to do some kind of cheesy morph, it just doesn't ring true give the extremes his body must go through. But somehow, I'm used to this kind of thing in Doctor Who (the classic era certainly had some scientific lunacy). What bugged the most was actually how, after rejuvenating himself in front of a crowd, the party then turns into a gallery opening in which Lazarus is perfectly able to walk around, hae private conversations etc. without anyone accosting him. I know it's Tish's first event, but where's the media scrum? The so-called "clients" who want a taste of youth for themselves? The curious fans?

So why isn't this the lowest of the low this season? Well, I do quite enjoy the character moments. The greatest of these is Martha's disappointment over her "one trip" being over, and how, in the end, she refuses yet another "one more trip" offer. This is the character trait that defines Martha, more than the silly crush they've strapped her with - she won't take the Doctor's crap. If she's going to be a companion, it'll be on her own terms, not as a passenger, but as a member of the crew. Tennant and Agyeman make the moment where they completely misunderstand each other work, and for once, we don't get any overt mentions of Rose. The Doctor's moved on, and this is Martha's moment. The Doctor flattered by comparisons to both "James Bond" and "science geeks" (Tish's eye roll tells us Martha has a definite type). Martha once again managing her family, and the Doctor putting his great big foot in his mouth with Francine, a mom that proves even more protective than Jacke and a hell of a lot sharper. Even Lazarus' motivation for seeking immortality is a strong, believable moment. If only the plot had been as strong as some of the characterization.

SECOND OPINIONS: My original review was called Rubbish?, so it's pretty clear I didn't like it then either.

VERSIONS: An extended version of the tuxedo scene on the DVD has Martha fishing for compliments about her dress and the Doctor pulling out the first draft of the U.S. Declaration of Independence instead.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - It's a bad one, but Martha's journey and Martha's family make it worth watching now and again.


Madeley said...

Bloody awful episode, and thank god the second half of this series was way stronger than the first half, including the only Chibnall script I ever thought was ok.

Toby'c said...

As I've mentioned, this is one of my bottom three episodes of Ten's era, but like the others it still has enough going for it to get a 7/10 from me.

Siskoid said...

RTD's seasons always tended to be bottom heavy ("excellent bottom"). So in Series 1, the Slitheen and growing pains are up top, while Father's Day, The Empty Child and that huge finale are at the back.

Series 2, a series I largely panned, only really finds its footing in The Impossible Planet (thought it's still rocky after that).

Series 3, the worst is now behind us, but it's Evolution of the Daleks at the first 2-parter and Human Nature as the second, same scheme as Series 1.

Series 4 was the strongest RTD series, but still had clunkers up front like Planet of the Ood and the Sontaran stuff. The Doctor's Daughter has its problems. From Agatha Christie on, it's a delight.

Martin Léger said...

I remember not even finishing this episode.

Jeff R. said...

How can you say the worst is behind us with DobbyDoctor still yet to come?

But this episode is interesting in that it's where the anti-transhumanist agenda of RTD's who leaps from subtext to text.

Siskoid said...

Yes, well, there's that, but the overall stories aren't part of the worst.


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