Returning to Earth to drop off Martha at the end of he allotted “one trip”, the Doctor find himself at the live demonstration and launch of Professor Lazarus’ rejuvenation machine, an event that you just know is going to lead to trouble…
With Martha firmly entrenched and accepted as a companion, it’s a good opportunity to re-introduce her family, and writer Stephen Greenhorn thankfully makes good use of the fact that Mr Jones is co-habiting with a poor stereotype and leaves them both out of the story. Which is nice, as it gives us a reason to empathise with the poor chap as the stuck-up Mrs Jones manages to be verbally and physically abusive to the Doctor before name dropping “Harold Saxon” on Martha’s voicemail as a source of information as to why the Doctor is dangerous.
Series 3 has been described as being about humanity, and what it means to be human. What better way to raise the question of humanity in a Doctor Who universe where Time Lords no longer govern technology than to extrapolate mankind’s twin desires of survival and beauty than to have the mysterious politician Mr Saxon sponsoring an experiment into human rejuvenation?
The event takes place in front of television cameras, and is put together by Tish Jones, Martha’s older sister. Coincidence? I think not. She’s quite an attractive lady too; a sentiment shared by the 76 year old Professor Lazarus who tries it on in both his original physical state of old codger and in his reborn guise. Mark Gatiss is expectedly superb as Lazarus, mixing a patrician arrogance as the rejuvenated Lazarus with a sadness that could only be borne of a long life devoted to the success of his dream of ending old age.
Ignoring the tax issues, writer Greenhorn instead raises the subject of loneliness, which nicely takes us back to the theme of the Doctor as a lonely angel. With all of these themes running through Doctor Who at the moment, it makes you wonder just how a new production team will approach the series when the time comes for Russell T Davies, Phil Collinson and Julie Gardner to move on. And will the next team issue dolls of themselves?
Seriously though, I feel The Lazarus Experiment will be looked back on fondly in later years. We see the official start of the “Saxon Conspiracy”, the introduction of Tish as a viable alternative to Martha, the Doctor literally sparring with Mrs Jones (use your fighting hand, Doctor!) and a CGI monster that has divided Doctor Who fans unlike no monster since the Slitheen.
Even among the Kasterborous team, opinion is divided. Brian A Terranova felt the Mill’s construct was poor, with the Lazarus monster failing to convince, whereas my own opinion was that it was quite a success, with its interaction with the set raising it above the Krillitane and into the ream of the werewolf from Tooth and Claw. There have been many comments about the face of the monster being a poorly mapped image of Mark Gatiss’ face, and while I’m not completely happy about this aspect of the creature, I see it as the only fault. I should add I’ve watched the episode several times, both on a 4:3 ratio TV and a widescreen TV, and neither of these resolutions disappointed.
With faultless direction from another Doctor Who newcomer, and good guest performance from Thelma Barlow as Lazarus’ life-time partner Lady Thaw. Gatiss showed his class in the scenes with Barlow, as both old and young Lazarus, and I look forward to more from Gatiss as both a guest actor and scriptwriter in future.
So, 612 words later, what have we learned from The Lazarus Experiment? David Tennant continues to impress, and again Mark Gatiss was excellent in their scenes together. Tish and Martha would make a good pair of companions for the Doctor, while Mrs Jones is clearly a miserable old sow. Mr Saxon has fingers in pies all over, as well as at least one shady associate whose job it is to spread lies and deceit about the Doctor. CGI can be quite divisive, and mid-season episodes in which nothing really happens much can be hugely important…
42 is next, but in the meantime I’m off to Finland with a Tissue Compression Eliminator to deal with Eurovision once and for all.