Doctor Who Review; ‘The Lazarus Experiment’
Of all the Doctor Who episodes I’ve reviewed, I’ve yet to go in-depth on any from third series. Out of the RTD penned seasons, I feel like this is the one most people gloss over, for reasons I’ll likely get into shortly. Despite this, I do think this seaon has a couple of gems to its name.
This isn’t quite one of them, but it’s still pretty cool.
The episode starts with The Doctor dropping his companion Martha at home. Normally an odd way to begin an adventure, but as it turns out there’s an experiment being performed both in and by one Professor Richard Lazarus, the age regressing effects of which catch The Doctor’s attention. The Doctor and Martha get themselves an invite to the unveiling and are fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to run into Martha’s family there.
Lazarus successfully manages to de-age himself by a few decades, but things inevitably go south when the process turns him into a blood hungry monster.
While not by any means terrible, the plot felt like it could have gone through another once-over. The explanation for how Lazarus’ mutated form makes about as much sense as the moon being an egg, but the real issue is the pacing. It slows down a bit in the second half, but this is definitely an episode that could have benefitted from fifteen or so minutes of additional screentime. Though the pacing is rushed, it isn’t at all forced, and all the elements that get reincorporated feel natural.
This is my first time talking about Martha, and it’s probably for the best that I pocked this episode since nearly every notable aspect of her character is present here in some way. I find that many fans consistently sell Martha short as the companion that’s “least interesting”. I myself was actually in that camp for a good long while before I realized that there was a lot about Martha to like, foremost among them being Freema Agyeman’s performance, that never fails to engage me. She also shows her fierce loyalty and protective instinct here, something that goes beyond helping The Doctor for the sake of a crutch. She’s not exactly the first companion you’d bring to a fight, but she’s probably up there with Rory as the most altruistic of the New Series bunch.
Easily the most annoying aspect about Martha is her relationship with the Doctor. She has a crush on him, for starters, and while that in itself is a bit grating in how it’s presented, it’s ultimately used to help grow her character. The real problem comes from how the Doctor treats her. This episode’s opening is the culmination of The Doctor offering Martha “just one trip”, with that return home being something held over her head in every previous episode. That whole thing is just groan-worthy for a number of reasons. If there’s one thing I hate it’s false starts/stops to a companions tenure, and that’s practically all the first half of Martha’s TARDIS time is. It’s all just a result of Ten still reeling over Rose’ departure, I get that, but while it makes Martha a better character in the long run for getting out of Rose’ shadow, it makes Ten look like an ass for putting her there in the first place. It’s just Davies holding Rose up as some sort of gold standard for companions, and considering how I feel about Rose, that obviously doesn’t make me a happy camper. I might be going unnecessarily long-winded with this, but it’s a sore spot for me when a character I like is given the shaft for the sake of one I don’t. It’s regressive, and though the “one trip” issue is put to bed with this episode (in a scene I find pretty heartwarming) the fixation with making her feel inferior to Rose isn’t quite.
I can’t quite bring myself to stay mad at Ten in this episode though, as he has quite a few great lines and scenes to himself, with David Tennant on top form as always. As usual, the confrontation with the villain is among these.
Also present in this episode is Martha’s incredibly dysfunctional family. Though they are characters I’m largely indifferent to, Martha’s Mother, Sister and Brother are all at their best and most sympathetic in this episode.
Richard Lazarus is likewise an aspect of this episode I don’t feel I’d given enough credit. While not the most fleshed out, he’s definitely not as shallow as he could have been, and his mindset and survival-oriented attitude is explained in a satisfying way that (along with his rather creepy skirt-chasing) makes him feel human, for lack of a better word. It’s certainly more interesting than just having him be a vain old man who wants youth for its own sake.
The editing is a bit weird, as are some of the shots, though once the action picks up the directing gets much mite fun to look at. The old age makeup in Lazarus’ introductory scenes is just silly, especially for a character who’s allegedly 76. With that said his monster form is effectively creepy, even if it isn’t integrated seamlessly. It’s one of the few times the show goes all out CGI for a monster of the week, and in this case I think it worked out.
As always, I dig Murray Gold’s score, and I especially appreciate the little fourth wall gag by having the musicians in-story play variations on previously used leitmotifs.
This is a story I think is as under appreciated as Martha herself, and possibly series 3 as a whole, even if it does suffer from a weak start and some majorly whacked-out science. It’s a mostly good looking and slightly scary adventure, with some great comedic lines and some really on point characterization.
It’s certainly a far cry better than the other Stephen Greenhorn penned story, which I’m sure I’ll inevitably talk about at some point.