Episode 3.06 “The Lazarus Experiment”
Written By: Stephen Greenhorn
Originally Aired: May 5, 2007
Synopsis: “The famous Dr Lazarus has appeared to discover the secret of eternal youth – but do his experiments hide a sinister secret?” (Wikipedia)
The pre-title sequence is quite interesting for what it reveals about our two protagonists. It ends on a hilarious note, but before that it shows us just how little the Doctor understands who Martha has become to him. After all of their adventures thus far—saving a hospital on the moon, helping Shakespeare fight off space-witches, liberating the citizens of New New York, thwarting the Daleks in the Depression—the Doctor still thinks this has all been part of his one “ride” he promised her as a thank-you in Episode 3.01 “Smith and Jones.” He takes her home, expecting to just drop her off and return to his private travels. And Martha, displaying extraordinary emotional strength and reserve, accepts this. Oh, she is hurt, make no mistake. She’s incredulous at first. She has become much more than just an incidental traveler, and the Doctor should know better than to treat her as one. Without meaning to, he insulted her. Continually oblivious to her feelings, he mistakes her incredulity as referring to his ability to return her to the very day after she left home. And in a very quick space of time, Martha comes to grips with this, and thanks him. Very sincerely, looking him straight in the face, she says “Thank you, for everything.” “It was my pleasure,” he says, smiling, and walks into the Tardis. The magnificent machine whoosh-whooshes, and disappears.
This isn’t one of my favorite episodes, by any means, but it has some strong points. Dr. Lazarus is very well-acted by Mark Gatiss (a sometimes-writer for the show). He draws out some pathos from the idea of this man who so desperately wanted to cheat death and return to his youth so that he could have more lifetimes to accomplish all the wonderful things he wanted to do. And the climax in the cathedral is pretty neat. The Doctor has a good conversation with Lazarus, and for a short while there is hope of redemption. When that fails, and the raging monster is back, the Doctor manages to defeat it by the strategic amplification of music from the church organ. To call the fact that this works a stretch is an understatement, but it’s kind of cool nonetheless.
Alas, the weak spots are quite glaring. Firstly, I was disappointed that the plot about Lazarus seeking youthful regeneration so quickly took a back seat to one long monster chase, which isn’t nearly as interesting as the stuff before. The story as a whole ends up being pretty simple and shallow. And the monster itself is both ugly and utterly nonsensical. I really wish Greenhorn had just stayed with his first idea instead of trying to blend to different types of stories.
My second objection is the ridiculous evolutionary aspect which is used to explain why Lazarus is suddenly turning into a huge inside-out lobster-spider-thing. Somehow Lazarus’ reverse aging process unlocks in his DNA a “rejected potential” lifeform that the supposed evolutionary ancestors of humans could have evolved into, but happily didn’t. Somehow, this DNA got “activated,” thus causing the man to involuntarily turn into a monster or back to a human. Even evolutionary scientists should scoff at this, much more those of us who reject the theory of biological evolution. Sure, this is science fiction, but it’s so ridiculous and given such a cursory explanation that the whole episode feels really weak because of it. And it’s so unnecessary to the initial story about Lazarus seeking to cheat death! So much could have been done with that premise, but Greenhorn seems to have preferred a simple monster chase.
Two more observations. One, we meet Martha’s family again for the first time since “Smith & Jones,” and they are mostly unlikable. Her sister shows some warmth and good sense, but does not have much to recommend her. And her mother has the dubious honor of being unlikable despite having completely understandable and justifiable reasons for her actions. Mrs. Jones, you see, is hugely suspicious of the Doctor for whisking Martha away without any notice or explanation, and she spends the whole episode constantly nagging Martha about it and giving the Doctor dirty looks. We also notice that Mrs. Jones is constantly being fed anti-Doctor sentiments by discreet tuxedoed agents claiming to work for a mysterious Mr. Saxon. Interestingly, what these men say about the Doctor is generally true—that death and destruction follow in his wake, that his Companions don’t always live, etcetera—but naturally leaving out the fact that he’s always trying to save the day from evil influences. Anyway, the point is that Mrs. Jones is understandable, but annoying and unlikable, and we think back to Series 1 and 2 and marvel that Jackie Tyler managed to convey all the same concerns about the Doctor while still being lovable and tender.
The second observation is a very nice one. At the end, the Doctor finally accepts Martha as a full Companion. He takes some prodding, though. At first he only offers her another “last ride” as a thank-you for this adventure. Martha, sensibly, says no, it’s all or nothing, this time. She can’t let herself continue to suffer the emotional uncertainty of being always seen as a temporary passenger in the Doctor’s eyes. She’s absolutely right about this, and fortunately the Doctor realizes this, and gives her the full position. Martha, always gracious, accepts happily and without bitterness regarding his previous insensitivities.
The Doctor: There’s no such thing as an ordinary human.
Lazarus: [sneers] You’re so sentimental, Doctor. Maybe you are older than you look.
The Doctor: [solemn] I’m old enough to know that a longer life isn’t always a better one. In the end, you just get tired; tired of the struggle, tired of losing everyone that matters to you, tired of watching everything you love turn to dust. If you live long enough, Lazarus, the only certainty left is that you’ll end up alone.
Lazarus: That’s a price worth paying.
The Doctor: Is it?