Friday, July 10, 2015

Important, But Unmemorable, “The Lazarus Experiment” Is Average Science Fiction!

The Good: Moments of character, Serialized elements
The Bad: Actors/special effects mix, Mundane story
The Basics: The Doctor and Martha Jones stumble into their usual amount of danger when they return to the present and encounter a mad scientist who is experimenting with reverse aging and it goes awry in “The Lazarus Experiment.”

In virtually all science fiction series, it seems like there is an episode that involves some alteration to a character’s aging. Rapid aging, reverse aging, these seem like very basic stories in science fiction. In the modern Doctor Who, the episode that focuses on that is “The Lazarus Experiment” and for a series that continually recasts its lead based on the nature of the alien protagonist, the concept of the episode is pretty well-executed. “The Lazarus Experiment” might be a mundane episode of Doctor Who on its own, but it fits into the overall arc of the third season incredibly well.

“The Lazarus Experiment” blends the usual aging (or in this case, anti-aging) story with The Fly and the concept of Time Lords. The result is an episode that has a Mad Scientist feel to it and the Mad Scientist is the Creature Of The Week. At this point in the season, the references to Saxon are being completely undisguised and in “The Lazarus Experiment,” we learn that he is the mysterious benefactor behind the research Lazarus is doing.

Twelve hours after he first took her away for her “one trip,” The Doctor returns Martha Jones to her home. Martha is let down by his willingness to just leave and finds that her mother calling to say that her sister is on television is more mundane than she is now accustomed to. The Doctor, though, decides not to leave when Dr. Lazarus promises to change what it is to be human. Arriving at the black tie event where Dr. Richard Lazarus is unveiling a new device (which The Doctor suspects is sonic technology), The Doctor and Martha encounter her family, who are somewhat cold to The Doctor. Dr. Lazarus uses his machine and de-ages.

Transformed, Lazarus confronts his financier (a liaison to Saxon) and he finds himself repulsed by her and her age. Soon, Lazarus reveals himself to everyone; the process de-evolved him and activates introns that make him into a new lifeform (while still maintaining much of his human DNA). Breaking up the party, at which Martha’s mother is told The Doctor is dangerous, The Doctor and Martha have to hunt down the creature Lazarus has become.

In many ways, “The Lazarus Experiment” is a Doctor Who remake of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “Genesis” (reviewed here!). While the Doctor Who episode does not explain Lazarus’s transformation explicitly as an intron activation, the jargon used is virtually identical. The final solution The Doctor comes up with is intriguing but hardly as scientific as the rest of the episode. It is, however, a very Doctor Who solution that is based more on brains than brawn (the final shot of Lazarus makes no real sense for the science of the episode, as explained).

There are some neat details in “The Lazarus Experiment” that work very well. Martha is disproportionately excited to see her mother (when she supposedly saw her the night before) and The Doctor flubs his way through niceties, realizing that he doesn’t really pay attention to the lives of his Companions outside his travels with them. Martha very cleverly gets a DNA sample by intercepting a handshake meant for The Doctor and that reaffirms the idea that she is smart and resourceful.

“The Lazarus Experiment” has Martha Jones at her most overtly affectionate for The Doctor and that plays well to the crowd that wants The Doctor to have a romantic relationship with his Companion. Even in this episode, it is hard not to see that Jones is having feelings and resisting them. Freema Agyeman does a decent job playing Martha as fairly conflicted. She has great chemistry on-screen with David Tennant and in this episode, she manages to find the right balance between smart and resourceful and lovestruck young woman.

Surprisingly, the worst performance in “The Lazarus Experiment” comes from Tennant in a background position. One of the key moments when the Lazarus creature rises up, Tennant’s eye line is completely wrong; he is supposed to be reacting, but he is caught looking in almost entirely the wrong direction. While this is not entirely Tennant’s fault, one has to wonder why director Richard Clark used that particular take in the episode.

Similarly, the special effect for the Lazarus creature is a somewhat poor execution of an awesome creature design. The lighting is very much off on the creature and it moves and reacts to its environment like a computer generated thing as opposed to an organic creature in a real environment.

The result is an episode of Doctor Who that is much more average than it is incredible. It is, oddly-enough, essential to the season of Doctor Who even if it is not extraordinary.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Third Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the second season of the Tenth Doctor here!

For other works that involve reverse aging, please visit my reviews of:
The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen
“The Counter-Clock Incident” - Star Trek: The Animated Adventures
“Too Short A Season” - Star Trek: The Next Generation


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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