Shiny Shelf

Doctor Who: The Lazarus Experiment

By Jim Smith on 12 May 2007

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

‘Doctor Who’ newcomer Stephen Greenhorn peppers his first script for the show with allusions; some are to the series’ own past, while many are to the poetry of TS Eliot. The most important though are those to ‘Doctor Who’s spiritual forebear ‘Quatermass’. While the mass audience for what is currently one of British TV’s most popular programme’s may never quite grasp the referential nature of the Doctor confronting a genetic monstrosity within an ancient English cathedral (‘Murder in the Cathedral’ Hmmm) it’s something that series’ star David Tennant and this week’s principal Guest Star Mark Gatiss will certainly be aware of, given that having both appeared in BBC4’s under appreciated re-make of ‘The Quatermass Experiment’ a couple of years back.

These references anchor the episode but they also, if you’ll allow me to extend and mix my metaphor, hold it back. There are absolutely no surprises here. The plot is straightforward and mechanical and there are no subplots to speak of. We get to meet the lovely Martha’s family again, and see her shallow, suspicious Mother begin to resent the Doctor for, principally, the crime of being her daughter’s friend, but that develops at the same speed, and in the same location as the titular ‘Lazarus Experiment’.

One might perhaps have hoped for some greater sympathy in the production for Gatiss’ Lazarus, portrayed as a man whose objective of prolonging human life indefinitely is in and of itself wrong. Such an attitude is faintly luddite. It should be his methods, involving the deaths of others, and his intention to sell for profit what could be an astonishing boom for humanity, that make his experiment ‘evil’. Well, that and the fact that it goes wrong and he starts killing people, obviously. Unfortunately this isn’t dealt with deftly enough here to confirm it as a character note on the behalf of the hypocritical immortal Doctor, although an unusually subdued Tennant seems to try and make it so.

This attitude of “Everything has its time and everything dies” is the only thing in the episode that really bears the hallmark of ‘Doctor Who’s Exec Producer and saviour Russell T Davies. Elsewhere this episode joins the tiny number of episodes of the returned series (Steven Moffatt’s three, Matthew Graham’s one) that don’t seem to have been shaped, structurally, thematically and in terms of the kind of jokes told, by Davies’ uniquely personal take on the series. Even when dealing with things like the companion’s Mother slapping the Doctor’s face, this seems like a different version of the show. RTD’s overlapping dialogue is largely absent while the sexual (as apart from romantic) tension between the Doctor and his companion is far and above anything the series has yet played with. The Doctor dropping to his knees in front of the gorgeous, fabulously dressed, beautifully skirted Martha, while holding a vibrating phallic object isn’t exactly subtle, but it’s also one of this season’s stand out great moments thus far. And as the man says, she’s got really very nice shoes on.

A grace note missed here is that Southwark Cathedral, where the finale takes place, is a few hundred yards from the Globe Theatre, featured in the last story but two. More, it was there in 1599. It might have been nice for the Doctor and Martha to have seen it (as they would physically have been able to) in 1599 but not enter it until returning to 2008. The endurance of some of its buildings and locations is one of the most remarkable things about London and it would have been nice to have these two stories tied up in the way that ‘Aliens of London’ and ‘The Doctor Dances’ were tied together by use of the same, fictional Albion Hospital in two different times.

Lovely performances all round and a peculiarly soulful ending make ‘The Lazarus Experiment’ hugely entertaining and on the whole any quibbles minor ones. (Except for having to wait two weeks for the next episode because the sodding Eurovision sodding song contest, that fetid vortex of entertainment and human enjoyment beloved only of the terminally crap, naturally.)

Oh, and can we add Martha’s sister Tish to the TARDIS time-travelling contingent please? Ta.

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