The Lazarus Experiment

Posted in Episode by - April 28, 2016
The Lazarus Experiment

Aired 5 May 2007

Holding onto youth and vitality is one of the key cornerstones of modern society, and that notion forms the backbone for ‘The Lazarus Experiment,’ an enjoyable if straightforward monster tale that gets the series back on stronger footing after the relative misfire of the Dalek two-parter.

The straightforward nature may be slightly offputting to some, but ‘The Lazarus Experiment’ certainly manages to channel and evoke the Pertwee era with a modern twist. Here, once more, a scientist on Earth disregards the Doctor’s warnings about messing with forces of nature, a good deal of running around and racing against the clock when the experiment goes wrong then following.

Mark Gatiss plays Professor Richard Lazarus, a genius of advanced age who still holds enough influence to throw a large party to show off his reverse aging machine while boasting about himself. Martha’s sister, Tish, is his public relations assistant, and she’s also the subject of some unwanted attention from Lazarus, which becomes a bit more forward once he uses his machine on himself and seems to forget about his long-time wife.

Of course, in life and especially in Doctor Who, prizes as alluring as immortality come with a cost, and Lazarus soon finds that his DNA has been mutated, several dormant genes from throughout the ages suddenly reawakening and transforming him into a giant scorpion-like creature. Still, instead of wanton villainy, Lazarus simply has an instinct to live and survive, and there are some intriguing discussions about his wartime past and why his desire to live is so incredibly strong. To him, his status and power truly are secondary notions, and that helps to distinguish him from typical villains. This contrasts nicely to the greed of Lazarus’s wife and those who chastise the Doctor for ruining their enjoyment of the party by constantly yelling warnings, but the moral messages throughout are still clear.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this episode is the speech the Doctor gives about how a longer life is not a better life, and Tennant effectively explores some darker aspects of his character while discussing how tiring it is to eventually lose everything he holds dear. In fact, both the Doctor and Martha are on top form here, and Gatiss effectively gives a nuanced performance in a role that could have so easily been overplayed. Tennant and Agyeman have had great chemistry from the start, and ‘The Lazarus Experiment’ writes them more as colleagues instead of in the almost standoffish relationship that the Doctor has created for them in earlier episodes as he copes with the loss of Rose. Martha gets to show some true initiative and intelligence here as well, getting the DNA sample from Lazarus that proves so vital to the resolution.

Unfortunately, Martha’s mother still comes off as too churlish to be believable, constantly talking poorly about Martha and giving scowling looks as she mistrusts the Doctor. Francine’s actions unfortunately portray no sense of family and love, and her willingness to believe a stranger about the danger the Doctor poses is very telling of her character.

A few missteps aside, though, ‘The Lazarus Experiment’ offers an effectively traditional story that with a creepy monster blatantly leaving remains behind. The CGI does fail the monster at some points, but the direction of Richard Clark truly heightens the menace and urgency of the situation. The ultimate solution to defeating the monster may seem a bit arbitrary and as if it is coming out of nowhere, but it’s still quite well done and adds to the cathedral setting very well. This may not be number one on the list of favourite episodes, but it certainly one of the ones that most successfully ties back to the classic programme, the Pertwee era especially.

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