There is no doubt that Martha has had some harsh treatment from the Doctor, but perhaps in the aftermath of the loss of Rose that is understandable. The Lazarus Experiment begins with the Doctor basically kicking Martha out of the TARDIS. It is very unusual to see a companion dumped in this way, especially such a promising one as Martha, which is an indication of the Doctor’s emotional detachment having lost Rose. A clue that this is still on his mind is his fear of wearing black tie: ‘whenever I wear this something bad always happens.’ It’s a slightly odd thing to say because in reality he could say that about just about anything he wears. We have only seen him dressed like this once before, in Rise of the Cybermen, but that was the adventure that started the chain of events that led to the Doctor being separated from Rose, so it is no wonder it looms large in his mind.
But a news report brings the Doctor back to Martha, and into the bargain comes her family. It is good to see them included as they have been under-utilised so far. Leo is still sidelined, but Tish is far more central to the plot. Superficially she seems like good companion material herself, but she also serves as a useful contrast to Martha: Tish is taken in by Lazarus (‘I was gonna snog him.’) while Martha cringes when he touches her, a measure of her intuition. Martha also takes control of the situation magnificently, getting as many people out safely as she can before going back in to help the Doctor. Perhaps it is this leadership, cool-headedness, bravery and faith in the Doctor that changes his mind about allowing her to travel with him. Francine is also great value here – it is very funny to see the Doctor acting all awkward and not knowing how to deal with her; she is also useful as a potential traitor to the Doctor, acting in what she feels are the best interests of her daughter. Considering the Doctor saves Francine and Leo’s life by distracting Lazarus, Francine’s treatment of him seems extremely harsh, but it works in the context of maternal instinct clouding her judgement.
The Lazarus Experiment benefits from an extraordinary CGI monster. It is perhaps the best-realised CGI big bad up to this point, certainly one of the best – the expanding mouth is very scary. If I was being really picky, the only criticism I would make is that the face does not really resemble Mark Gatiss very much, although human features are of course notoriously difficult to achieve realistically in CGI even now, and certainly were a major challenge in 2007 on a television budget.
It is fascinating to watch two lead actors who are also fans of Doctor Who themselves. At times one realises just how well they understand the series, such as when Gatiss says ‘No Doctor,’ spitting out his name with venom in such an old-school Doctor Who villain way. David Tennant really sells his big speech when he tells Lazarus what it means to live an extended life, losing everyone and tiring of the constant struggle. Give Tennant a speech like that, and you know he is going to make the most of it.
I’m old enough to know that a longer life isn’t always 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, Lazarus, the only certainty left is that you’ll end up alone.
It’s a recurring theme in Doctor Who, and there is a useful comparison here, because Lazarus wants a longer life for dishonorable reasons, mainly so he can reject his elderly wife and hit on young women (made clear in that wonderfully creepy and funny scene where he asks Tish what perfume she is wearing). The Doctor just keeps living so he can keep helping people. The universe needs him, but it doesn’t need a rejuvenated dirty old man. RP
The view from across the pond:
Writer Stephen Greenhorn gives us Doctor Who vs Giant Monster in The Lazarus Experiment. And how does that work out for us?
I am not a huge fan of giant monsters but I’m not against them either. I’ve seen Godzilla, Cloverfield, and countless other giant monster movies and have enjoyed them to various degrees. However, I’m a fan of Cthulhu and you can’t get a more terrifying giant monster than that! My issue with Mark Gatiss becoming one is that it makes no sense. I’m not saying Doctor Who has to follow strict scientific guidelines; it can do the fantasy-thing and I’m alright with it, but for a character to change, like a werewolf, there’s but so much physical mass that can be used to create the changed creature. A werewolf is larger than a man, but leaner; there’s the sense that mass is distributed differently but is ultimately the same basic size. Gatiss goes back and forth from human sized to giant scorpion sized. Where does all the extra mass go? Even if the bone density were to change and the skin extend, it just doesn’t work. Now, if the story is strong enough, you can ignore it. But there is a lot that doesn’t work for this episode, not the least of which is, like our other giant monster friends, The Macra, avoiding Scorpi-Lazarus should be as easy as stepping into the loo; the doors on the loo are never big enough for an elephant to barge in. That’s why we don’t have to put up signs saying “no elephants allowed” – they simply don’t fit. But somehow, Scorpi-lazarus gets around just fine, doors notwithstanding.
Fine, the episode offers a host of pros and cons. (And for those really attentive, I used that word with good reason). Tish, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, is beautiful and Gugu has been turning up all over the place. Black Mirror, The Cloverfield Paradox… she’s great. I’m happy to see her back and adding more to Martha’s family background. By contrast, her mother Francine, frightens me. She never warms the way Jackie Tyler did. I think she’s actually scarier than Lazarus in either form. The episode has a great message about living a long life and how a shorter life often appreciates beauty more. Of course, there’s something to be questioned about what it means to “live”. Does living entail doing amazing things or is it just about appreciating the life we have? Philosophy aside, the dialogue between the Doctor and Lazarus is wonderful. I’ve always been a fan of the cordial dialogue between the good guy and the bad; and it flows smoothly and believably between Tennant and Gatiss. And let’s not ignore the fact that Lazarus, a man who is trying to reclaim his youth, is named after a man who came back from the dead. This is something I often take issue with when used for creatures names. When a spoonhead has a spoon for a head, that’s just too “in your face”. But as the name is cleverly used and it happens to be a human name, I think we can accept the cleverness behind the writing. Especially as Lazarus himself makes a self-referential comment about it.
Then there’s another negative about the episode. The Doctor treats Martha very poorly. It’s like she’s an afterthought, a mercy-companion. He’s dropping her off even though she clearly doesn’t want to leave. Maybe he’s been playing with her the whole time, but that would actually be worse. His experience with humans for 900+ years should have taught him a thing or two about compassion; the very argument he’s making with Lazarus, mind you, but instead he treats Martha like she’s not really wanted. The attitude is unsavory coming from our hero. It’s also a sign of questionable writing. Unlike what comes later during Capaldi’s run, this is actually somewhat embarrassing for a season long companion. Adam didn’t get treated as poorly and he actually deserved it.
Overall, it’s not a terrible episode but it doesn’t really add to the overall story. It’s more fluff than anything else. The Harold Saxon references aside, which are little more than Easter eggs placed for the big season finale, there’s very little meat to this story. Almost like a giant scorpion monster came along and ate it up before we knew it was there! How ironic! ML
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