Saturday, July 04, 2009

My Review of Doctor Who's 3x06: "The Lazarus Experiment"

Written by Stephen Greenhorn
Directed by Richard Clarke

Ageing is one of those things you really have zip all choice in and while you can combat some it’s effects with the right diet, exercise, beauty products and if seriously desperate a bit of the old plastic surgeon, is it always advisable? Those things can make you age gracefully enough but they don’t stop you from actually ageing so this week’s plot involving the change of ageing has disaster written all over it left, right and centre.

After facing Carrionites, Macra and the Daleks, Martha’s joy turns to annoyance when it’s suddenly time to come home and in a rather feckless stance, The Doctor does expect her to get on with her life. I think Sarah Jane articulated wonderfully last season that readjusting to life after what The Doctor has shown you are a hard thing to do but obviously The Doctor wasn’t paying enough attention to her.

Treating Martha like a one night stand makes you pity the would be doctor but at least she gets to have him on the Earth for an adventure when fishwife Francine leaves a message about Tish being on the TV.

Already one thing I do like about the Jones’ is that with Tish especially, the writers are going out of their way to show that their lives don’t necessarily revolve around Martha even if they do use her for emotional support. Tish’s TV moment is more to do with Professor Richard Lazarus, who has made quite the discovery that could change humanity as a whole.

Not only does that announcement keep in with this season rather anvil like theme of humanity and human nature but it’s enough for The Doctor to become Martha’s plus one at the big do Lazarus is holding, which of course has been organised by Tish herself. I liked Martha’s big sister back in “Smith And Jones” and by the end of this episode, I like her even more.

She’s a bright thing with a witty remark when her employer Lazarus tries to hit on her and she’s the first person to actually greet Martha and not treat The Doctor with disdain when he strolls up uninvited to Lazarus’ big bash, which is more than Francine did when clamping eyes on The Doctor. She looked at him as if he just took Martha’s virginity.

From the trailers we have seen since last December, we all knew what Lazarus’ big revelation would be so it’s no surprise that the minute he steps into a machine known as a Genetic Manipulation Device to a packed audience, the next moment he pops out as a man half his age and even though things had gone wrong beforehand and the machine was overloading, it looks like it’s victory in an instant.

But of course while both The Doctor and Martha could pinpoint the flaws in Lazarus’ new discovery, it didn’t take much for anyone else watching that they were significant flaws in his idea from the start. We live; we die and try as we might, none of us can evade death. On paper this may have appeared to be a solution but it was obvious that this machine would cause more damage than actual good.
For instance, Lazarus isn’t a very likeable man to start with as his conceit and lack of morals is what makes him a danger rather than a genius and having Silvia Thaw as his partner in crime was further proof that these two were up to no good.

Yeah they wanted to make a profit while cheating death and both of them ended up getting royally shafted as a result as Lazarus’ erratic DNA, which was cleverly acquired by Martha had him mutate into a scorpion like beast that sucked Lady Thaw dry after Lazarus had done his best to crush her hopes of a relationship between them.

I have to admit that this was my first gripe with this episode – the killing of Lady Thaw! Although Thelma Barlow gave a decent performance in this episode, she was more or less wasted in the entire episode by being snuffed within the first fifteen minutes. I know it would help Lazarus out by doing her in but still, what a waste of a character.

As for Lazarus, his tastes become more for the nubile when he lures Tish off to the balcony and before she learns what has happened to her boss, there’s a surprisingly intimate conversation between the two of them where Lazarus’ surprise of how things don’t always go the way you’d prefer them to, are effective. Tish is even great in her moments of her honest ambition as well.

Then before the girl becomes victim number 2, The Doctor and Martha arrive and of course, Tish makes the grave error in thinking her baby sister is trying to jeopardise her attempts of copping off until the realisation of a monstrous Lazarus has her legging it with her sister and the mystery man in a suit.

If we weren’t going to get an episode scripted by Mark Gatiss this season, then I suppose the only fair thing was to have the man appear in this episode and deliver a great performance as the deranged Lazarus and true to form, he doesn’t disappoint and rather predictably, his scenes with David Tennant are nothing short of electric to say the very least.

It’s a great thing that Gatiss is so brilliant as Lazarus because alien wise, the creature he has to transform into is one of the worst looking creatures we’ve had on Doctor Who this season. After the brilliance of the Judoon, Carrionites, Macras and the Human Dalek, this scorpion beastie looks well naff for words, so there are times when the acting carries the threat of the creature rather than the physical presence of the creature itself.

Suffice to say after barely escaping that things grasp, The Doctor, Martha and Tish are more or less trapped and soon enough scorpion beastie is snacking on all and sundry who do their best to escape but mostly fail in the long run as The Doctor saves Francine and Leo from getting eaten by goading Lazarus to chase him down. Well a Time Lord is going to be more delicious to a beast desperate to avoid death rather than mere mortals.

As back to reality episodes go, this is certainly a better one than the Slitheen two parter in Season One but Francine’s reaction to The Doctor having this hold over Martha is more or less similar to Jackie’s when Rose was on the scene. Instead of trying to understand, Francine slaps The Doctor but that’s nothing compared to what else happens.

Being tipped off earlier on by some mysterious bloke, I got the impression that when Francine was berating Martha for not knowing The Doctor very long that she was forcing Martha to choose between her family or this mystery stranger. Even when both Leo and Tish try to use reason, Francine doesn’t seem interested in understanding Martha’s attachment to The Doctor. Is it me or is this woman something of a control freak?

Elsewhere between rather pointless chase moments and taunting between Lazarus and The Doctor, it’s amusing to see that the latter’s plan to blow up the deranged scientist is a failure but the moment shared between him and Martha as she surprised him by coming to his aid is rather sweet.

When big explosions fail, the next option is for The Doctor and Martha to step into the Genetic Manipulation Device and do enough tweaks to have the thing spin wildly out of control and turn the monster back into the scientist. With fifteen minutes left in the episode, you just know that can’t be it and it isn’t as Lazarus manages to escape.

From what we learned about him in the space of a night, the only place of sentimental attachment for a rather cold and detached person like Lazarus was the very church he sought sanctuary as a child during the Blitz and while once again, The Doctor wanted to go solo and get Lazarus, back up wouldn’t take a backseat.

Amazingly not only did Martha follow him but so did Tish, which is also isn’t that shocking as she’s been the most vocalised Jones family member outside of her bolshy mother and soon enough she proves her worth every bit as Martha has done so far by being quite useful in times of crisis.

Once in the church, The Doctor and Lazarus more or less resumed their argument about the pros and cons of ageing and dying but this time round, the writing clicked a lot better and both Tennant and Gatiss played their dramatic strengths to perfection as did Freema Agyeman and Gugu Mbatha Raw.

The Doctor has been around long enough to emphasise the cons of staying alive forever to know that the pain of losing people you love again and again along with suffering yourself is not manageable stuff but with Lazarus’ arrogance of wanting to stay young, he views killing people and becoming a beast that he has no control over as worthy prices to pay. No need to point out that turning into the lame creature he does is no worthy price. He would’ve been better off if he had gotten a Plasmavore to have turned him in comparison.

With Lazarus refusing to listen to reason and Martha and Tish using themselves as bait, The Doctor using the noise of an organ times 100 to botch up the creature and his youth during a tense moment where Martha was nearly killed is reasonably good as you really don’t know for sure whether or not Lazarus is dead but you do know his anti-ageing product won’t be a commercial threat anytime soon.

However the real meat of the episode is in the last scene as with the TARDIS firmly parked inside Martha’s apartment, the breakthrough between her and The Doctor that would seal her continued travels in the TARDIS came and boy, it was satisfying.

The Doctor tried to blow Martha off and she finally stood her ground by more or less indicating that she was here for the full hog and after an amusing misunderstanding, I was glad The Doctor accepted her as full time companion. Martha has more than deserved to be a companion and The Doctor’s open fondness while keeping her at arms length has been dealt with nicely.

Of course there are several other things about this episode that really rock and all of them are connected to this season’s buzz words Mr Harold Saxon, who not only funded Lazarus’ scheme and probably has connections to Tish but the mystery man that had warned Francine about The Doctor is on his payroll. These bitty moments alone give the episode a bigger edge than the actual plot and will make you hunger for the remaining episodes just that bit more.

Also in “The Lazarus Experiment”

I liked how the opening scene was the TARDIS travelling through a vortex before arriving in Martha’s apartment. The Doctor actually knowing where he lands can be a rare occasion at times.

The Doctor: “One trip we said.”
Martha: “Well I suppose things kind of escalated.”

When Martha and Tish are around each other, Tish does actually look younger than Martha. Am I the only one who thinks that?

Lazarus: “It is an interesting perfume, what is it called?”
Tish: “Soap.”

Lazarus: “Ladies and gentlemen, I am Richard Lazarus and I am 76 years old. I am reborn.”
Lady Thaw: “He did it, he actually did it.”

I was watching this episode and I sort of laughed at her disgust over Mark Gatiss and Thelma Barlow sharing a snog. Kids eh?

Martha: “Commercially? You’re joking, that’ll cause chaos.”
Lazarus: “Not chaos, change.”

Lady Thaw: “We can be rich and young together.”
Lazarus: “You think I’d waste another lifetime on you?”

On a shallow note I have to commend the sheer hotness of David Tennant in a tuxedo and Freema Agyeman all dressed up. The Doctor was right about wearing a tux being an omen for disaster.

Martha: “Are you okay?”
Tish (re Lazarus): “I was just gonna snog him.”

Tish (re Martha/The Doctor): “Maybe she loves him.”
Francine: “She’s only just met him.”

It’s a pity we didn’t get to see Clive and Leo’s girlfriend there. Tish would’ve surely wanted the former there even after Analise ruining her brother’s birthday.

The Doctor: “The Blitz.”
Lazarus: “You’ve read about it?”
The Doctor: “I was there.”

Would Lazarus have remembered some things from “The Empty Child”/ “The Doctor Dances” even if not The Doctor, Rose or Captain Jack?

Lazarus: “I will be feeding soon.”
The Doctor: “I’m not gonna let that happen.”
Lazarus: “You haven’t been able to stop me so far.”

I loved that 90 second trailer at the end giving us spoilers for the remaining seven episodes of the season. We’ve got some much goodness on the way and that stupid Eurovision is delaying some of that for us.

Martha: “Thanks.”
Tish: “It’s your Doctor you should be thanking.”

Chronology: 12 hours since “Smith And Jones”, which is definitely better than a whole year anytime.

Not a personal favourite of mine, I have to admit. That being said “The Lazarus Experiment” does have a lot of interesting things to say on the nature of ageing disgracefully and with Martha finally knowing where she stands, coupled with the neat details about Mr Saxon, at least this episode kept us on our toes.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

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