TARDIS File 03-06: The Lazarus Experiment

TARDIS File 03-06: The Lazarus Experiment

The Big Idea: Martha and the Doctor are back in 21st century London, but goodbyes are cut short by a brilliant scientist on a quest for immortality, shadowy men on the Saxon payroll, and a mother who doesn’t take kindly to any of it.

What’s So Great…

  • The look of the story is quite striking, from the glamourous launch party to the filming in Wells Cathedral (doubling as Southwark).
  • The shadowy “B” storyline adds some much needed mystery to an overly familiar story; who is Mr. Saxon and why are his people manipulating Francine.
  • Mark Gatiss’ performance is both creepy and sympathetic, particularly his final scene with the Doctor
  • The Doctor’s interaction with Martha’s mother Francine is electric and actor Adjoa Andoh shines with a crisp and intelligent performance.
  • The scorpion-like monster that Lazarus becomes is quite creepy (ignoring the whole mass dispersal thing—science, bah!)
  • Both David Tennant and Freema Agyeman continue to strengthen their performances as the Doctor and Martha with an easy and comfortable relationship developing between the two.

Quick Bits of Trivia: The main structure of Southwark Cathedral dates from between 1220 and 1420. Thelma Barlow who plays Lady Thaw will be familiar to maqny CBC viewers as Mavis Wilton (nee Riley) a character she played for many years on Coronation Street. Both the Doctor and Lazarus quote T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Hollow Men”. The Doctor completes Lazarus’ quotation “Between the idea and the reality; between the motion and the act…,” with the line, “Falls the Shadow.”

Things to Geek Out About…

  • The idea of “reversing the polarity” was a bit of technobabble frequently used by the Third Doctor Jon Pertwee. Rather humourously, the Tenth Doctor claims to be out of practice using the technique.
  • The Doctor mentions having seen the Blitz first hand; a nice little reference to the Ninth Doctor’s adventure there in The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances.
  • “He’s my plus one,” is used by Martha when explaining the Doctor’s presence to her sister, echoing the Doctor’s explanation of Rose upon their arrival on Platform One in End of the World.
  • “He’s a science geek, I should have known,” surmises Tish about the Doctor.
  • Once again the Time Lord is slapped across the face by a companion’s mother (here Francine Jones gives him a good smack; Jackie did the same to the Ninth Doctor Aliens of London).
  • Writer/actor Mark Gatiss, who wrote the episodes The Unquiet Dead and The Idiot’s Lantern (as well as half a dozen-or-so Doctor Who novels during the 15 years between the “classic” and “new” series) appears in front of the camera as Professor Lazarus. There seems to be a BBC statute which states that Gatiss must take part in any revival of a classic horror or science fiction series: Gatiss also appeared in (or wrote for) the new versions of Randall and Hopkirk, Deceased, The Quartermass Experiment and had a brief role in Steven Moffat’s new series Jekyll.

Not to Complain But… When you’re using the old “the monster’s not really dead” device, at least try and imbue it with some original angle or quirk. Viewers could be forgiven for rolling their eyes at that point. And while we’re at it, how did the Doctor expect to destroy the Lazarus monster with sound waves and not make one third of the Jones family permanently deaf (or dead)? And between this, Evolution of the Daleks and The Runaway Bride, the old “use the sonic screwdriver on an object to amplify its sound to deadly effect” trick is getting pretty old.

All Things Considered… This story is very much an actor’s vehicle. Mark Gatiss shines as a man who vowed, while cowering in the vaults of Southwark Cathedral, that he would never allow death to take him. It’s a very simple character arc, and Gatiss tackles it admirably, stretching his portrayal of the archetypal mad scientist. His final scene with the Doctor circling is a tour de force, and he’s equally matched by Tennant who conveys the weariness of man who has lived for ages.

The plot by comparision felt a little lacklustre, and one can’t help but feel that if Davies himself had written the script there would have been a bit more humour and a tad more invention. Or perhaps if the whole thing had been set in the 1970s it might have benefited as a nice little period piece (a la BBC’s own Life on Mars).

Still, it’s quite obvious that there are plot points being activated here that will play out later in the season. Time will tell.

Line of the Week: “Don’t be ridiculous&mdasht;he biggest danger here is choking on an olive.”

Index of TARDIS Files

TARDIS File prepared by Scot Clarke

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