Doctor Who – “The Lazarus Experiment”

We had guests around last night so here’s my slightly belated review.

We still haven’t had that definingly good episode yet this season. You know what I mean: ‘The Empty Child’ / ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ episode that delivers on the usual Who front but also manages to transcend the sum of its parts and provide something altogether richer and more meaningful. Quite possibly this is because Steven Moffat’s episode doesn’t air until 2nd June (not to heap too much expectation on him).

Despite lacking anything truly substantial, however, the current year has so far been more consistent than either of the two previous years. I think this week’s episode is a great example of why. Here we have a pretty standard tale of a scientist who Wots of things that shouldn’t be Wotted, and becomes a monster. Shades of everything from Quatermass to The Fly. It’s a tired old story that could easily have feet of clay, and in many ways the plotting-by-numbers feels like it’s on auto-pilot. But as with many episodes this year the bare bones of the plot are overlaid with likeable, well-drawn characterisation and dialogue, and it’s those that make it fly.

David Tennant has really come into his own this year. I know some find him too shouty but I think he’s really nailing the part of the Doctor in a way that he kept missing last year. This year’s Doctor has a real authority and a compassion which are enhanced by, rather than subservient to, his eccentricities. He’s very good here. I particularly like his reappearance at the end of the teaser which is at once predictable, very funny, and perfect for the character.

Mark Gatiss does a fine job as Lazarus (aided by some strong old-age make-up that avoids most of the pitfalls of this kind of prosthetic) and this is because the character is given just enough humanity to avoid being a caricature. His reminiscences about World War 2 lend him a real depth in a short amount of screen time, and his conversations with the Doctor about immortality, while hardly searching, have a nice resonance – not least because of the Doctor’s own near-immortality and weariness.

The science is, as ever, beyond stupid and stuck in the realm of 1950s B-Movies. Like many of those films this is really a horror tale in SF clothing and not SF at all. However it rattles along pleasingly and the effects are decent enough to carry it off (if at times reminiscent of a particularly nice computer game rather than anything realistic).

The Doctor’s relationship with Martha is fraught with soap-opera elements but generally proving to be a breath of fresh air after last year’s cloying Rose dynamic. I was concerned that seeing her family would drag us back into soap territory but their screen time is always in the service of the story. I think Martha’s mother is surprisingly quick to judge given that the Doctor literally saves her life, but people aren’t always rational and it’s certainly true that the Doctor is a serious risk to her daughter’s health. Thankfully her anger and fear are more believable once bolstered by that nice Mr Saxon. It’ll be interesting to see what part she plays in the remainder of the season.

Watching the teaser for the next episode I swiftly came to the conclusion that it would be the most surreal episode ever. I now realise that it was actually a teaser for the whole second half of the season, which may explain why it seemed quite so insanely packed with different elements. While it’s impossible to get a clear idea from a random mish-mash of scenes, it does leave me with a good feeling about what’s still to come.

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