The Lazarus Experiment
Originally transmitted 5th May 2007
With the sixth episode we are plunged back into Martha's world. A world of DNA experiments and mysterious men in black. Stephen Greenhorn takes the standard comic book cliches, invoking 'Spiderman' and 'The Hulk', pays homage to the venerable Nigel Kneale's 'Quatermass' and SF B movies such as 'The Fly' and then plugs it into the main themes now beginning to run through the series - what does it mean to be a human, is there hope in a callous age and can those blessed with the gift of immortality have real faith?
Richard Clark again shows how good he is with visual composition here with lots of tracking and overhead shots, a particularly stunning revolving shot (an homage to the 'Alien' films) as the CGI monster climbs the ceiling of the corridor, and some lovely bits and pieces glimpsing characters through arches and doorways in the cathedral. He gets a great deal out of the laboratory setting too, using reflections and back-lighting to great atmospheric effect. Another very handsome looking episode.
Book-ending the episode are two scenes between the Doctor and Martha, one where the Doctor simply feels it is time to let go and one where he finally understands that Martha doesn't wish to be left behind. In between these two points, we have a narrative in which Martha plays a significant role - being resourceful, using her skills and finally going back into the conflict to face the consequences and ultimately to the cathedral where she offers herself as bait to lure Lazarus to his destiny. I don't think the relationship between the Doctor and Martha is a carbon copy of the one he had with Rose. This is more about being an equal, facing the odds with intelligence but perhaps with a pinch of unresolved sexual tension. More Martha Peel to Doctor Steed, I think.
Underneath the monster runaround there's also a great deal more going on. Lazarus and his laboratory represent the scientific principle when it comes to extending life. To him it is a matter of DNA manipulation, patenting the idea and raking in the cash. The DNA manipulation machine is more or less Lazarus' electronic God. Aptly, when Lazarus takes his spin in the machine, he isn't resurrected and given new life but merely reduced to the function of the Grim Reaper itself, bringing death and destruction to himself, his wife and others. Rather than enhancing life, he subtracts and extinguishes it.
However, as Lazarus may see death as the end of the lane as far as the journey of life is concerned, the Doctor understands why the human span must end. Death to him is seen as a valuable experience for human-kind, one that he himself seems to crave here. He sees death as not just something the body must face but also as something the entire being must embrace. It's something he has been denied and where prolonged life is a curse in which mortals he has dearly known wither and die. Immortality is regret, sorrow and loneliness. Lazarus' transformation is an opening of Pandora's box in a literal sense when he uses the machine. 'Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be Orpheus in the Underworld' - cue dry ice and a personification of the circle of existence, the self-devouring worm munching up mankind.
The final showdown in Southwark cathedral, superbly played between Gatiss and Tennant, reverses the cold, analysis of the flesh as seen in Lazlabs for the echoing magnificence of faith's cradle. Where the lab is maybe Alpha, the cathedral is Omega - a physical playing out of life's paradoxes, of beginning and ending - and the cathedral with its stained glass, vaulted roof and resonating sound is where Lazarus has a chance to empty himself of his ego, abandon hubris and rely on faith and hope to see him through to the end of his days. It's continuing a religious theme, centred on the transformation of mortal beings through ascension and faith, first intimated in 'Gridlock'.
So, kudos to The Mill once again for their CGI monster. Not bad at all, particularly in the scene where it's scuttling along the cathedral roof. This and Gatiss' very physical performance helped us to imagine the transformation scenes without actually having to spend lots of money showing them. The make up for Gatiss was exemplary and he found ways to work with it to create the character fully and to the extent that in the end we understood Lazarus' folly and sympathised with his failed desire in the sad coda of the death scene.
It was a good, slightly old fashioned monster romp, with even a 'reverse the polarity' nod thrown in to underline the Pertwee vibe, and it often veered into camp with Gatiss (very Julian Glover like) and Thelma Barlow deliciously crossing swords. Martha's family were fleshed out effectively and her mother Francine, played with seething suspicion by Adjoa Andoh, provided a pleasant flash back to the infamous Jackie Tyler slap and offered a tantalising glimpse of future betrayal perhaps. Tish Jones was effortlessly provided by Gugu Mbatha-Raw and I'd like to see more of Leo Jones played by the lovely Reggie Yates. They all provided the necessary grounding for the Martha character, an indication of future loyalties, without ending up being a re-hash of the Tyler clan.
Tennant and Agyeman were excellent, the interplay in Martha's flat a specific treat, knickers and all! And finally, Martha is welcomed as a fully paid-up crew member after a string of episodes that have drip-fed us the unresolved nature of their partnership. With more mentions of Saxon here I get the impression that events are going to move up a gear now.
- Freelance writer and film and television researcher (for hire).
He has contributed to a number of books and websites about British archive television and cinema as well as recent television series including work for Moviemail, Frame Rated and Arrow Video. Publications include I.B Tauris's 'Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour - A Critical
Celebration of the Matt Smith and Steven Moffat Era' (2013) and 'Doctor
Who - The Pandorica Opens' (2010).
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