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Do you want to live forever? The Lazarus Experiment In Perspective

Guest contributor Tomas Edwards looks back over the 2007 story – an under-appreciated gem?

The Lazarus Experiment

The Lazarus Experiment, I feel, is an unnoticed gem. In fact, I would go so far to say that it is one of the best Doctor Who episodes of all time. Why then, is it swept aside by so many fans? Why does it not achieve the levels of adoration that other episodes such as Blink and The Empty Child (which are both episodes I feel are inferior to Stephen Greenhorn’s masterpiece) are showered with? Why was it voted a part of the Nightmare Run recently on this very site? These questions have bothered me a lot recently, and whilst The Lazarus Experiment is not often directly attacked by fans, it is very rarely praised, which I feel is a great injustice.

“I’ve lived long enough to now that a longer life isn’t always a better one”

As is often the case with his era, I find David Tennant and the characterisation of the Doctor to be the high-point of the episode. Early on in the episode we have the Doctor walking around Lazarus’ reception, indulging in nibbles and having a very awkward – and amusing – conversation with Francine Jones, Martha’s mum. But, as the episode progresses, he becomes far more serious in his attempts to stop Professor Lazarus and warn him of the danger he has placed himself in. David Tennant’s acting is, as per usual, stunning, especially in his confrontations with Lazarus. Whenever I watch the climax in the cathedral I cannot help but shiver at how well Tennant conveys his centuries of sadness and grief, all the pain he has ever felt, using only his eyes and a few words. For me this episode contains one of the best performances from one of the best Doctors, and that is just one factor which makes it so wonderful.

“I am 76 years old. And I am reborn!”

Richard-Lazarus-mark-gatissThis episode revolves around a very interesting (well, in my opinion anyway) issue: Would you choose to live for ever? This has been played with in many previous Doctor Who episodes, such as The Five Doctors, not to mention media as a whole, but that doesn’t make it any less intriguing. As is often the case in fiction, immortality is shown to not be a very good thing at all, with the Doctor calling it a curse at one point. Professor Lazarus argues that so much more can be done in a longer life, with which the Doctor retaliates that “It’s not the time that matters, it’s the person”. Arguably both men have valid arguments, but personally I feel more inclined to agree with the Doctor. I for one would not want to stand by and watch everything and everyone else die (Although if everyone was immortal that would not be an issue), and feel eighty years would be more than enough time to do all that I want to. I also enjoy the fact that now Lazarus is younger, he has no wish to continue his love life with Lady Thaw, who naturally does not react well. This shows the damage such a change does not only to you, but to the people around you.

“You’re a joke Lazarus: A footnote in the history of failure!”

The main antagonist of this episode is a 76-year-old scientist, Professor Richard Lazarus, played by Mark Gatiss. He is a man trying to make himself young once more, for both profit and to escape death due to a promise he made to himself during the Second World War. I find his backstory fascinating, and quite sad too, although not to the level where we can forgive his actions. But all the same, he is one of the few villains blessed with an emotional death. I really like how his character changes over the episode: At first, we are presented with an arrogant old man, who is also a bit creepy, and seems a little too keen to get close to young women. When he rejuvenates himself, the arrogance remains, but he becomes slightly less twisted, and much more sophisticated. Then, after he rampages around Laz Labs, and is reborn, he becomes mad, even more obsessed than before. The arrogance is a constant in his character, but near the end it descends into insanity. Overall Lazarus is an excellent, and often overlooked, villain, who is an amazing addition to the ranks of the Doctor’s foes.

“He’s still changing…”

The-Lazarus-Experiment-monsterThe idea of Lazarus becoming an evolutionary option which we never became is a brilliant one in my opinion, but it is flawed. The genes would have had to have gone back very far (about five hundred million years if I’m correct) to re-evolve into that form, and I wonder why a great ape, or even some other sort of mammal was not used. But nonetheless the creature does look excellent, and I really love the way it kills. It seems rather fitting that Lazarus, so determined to stay alive, feeds by draining the life energy from others, people he deems as being “nothing”.

“Oh Martha Jones you’re a star!”

This episode sees Martha finally return home after her “one trip” with the Doctor. The scene where he takes her home and starts to leave is wonderful, and Freema Ageyman’s acting stays brilliant throughout the episode. She proves her loyalty to the Doctor yet again in this story, leaving her family to go and help the Doctor fight Lazarus, and risking her life with Tish to give the Doctor the chance to carry out his plan. I also enjoy how Martha’s medical training and scientific understanding is shown in this episode, with her recognising what is happening to Lazarus as impossible, a nice nod to the fact she is a companion who, like Sarah Jane, could have gone far without the Doctor anyway.

“Always the mothers, every time…”

The-Lazarus-Experiment-the-jonesMartha’s family had the tough job of following the loveably hilarious Jackie, the king of character development Mickey and Pete “Del Boy” Tyler (All of whom I feel are more likeable than the companion they are connected with). We got a brief look at this dysfunctional family unit in Smith and Jones, but here is where we really get to know them (Well, the three who are present). Admittedly I don’t think they are as good as the Tyler family, but I think they perform well here, and do their jobs nicely. Tish is a good character and seems like a nice person, although admittedly not very down to earth, and a little vain. She seems like, in a way, the Mickey of Martha’s family, the member who is most helpful to the Doctor, and almost like the companion’s companion. Francine is another good character – although how trusting she is seems to vary more than Lazarus’ appearance – and I like how after Jackie, who was loveable even when slapping the Doctor, we get a much harder, more steely woman, who can’t be won over by the Doctor quite so easy. Leo isn’t very interesting, but provides a little comic relief in a mostly dark story.

“This information comes from Harold Saxon himself.”

The story arc in Series 3 is, for me, the best we’ve had. The various threads are scattered throughout all of the episodes before they all link together in the epic three-part finale, but I shan’t digress any further into my love of Series 3, and focus only on what this episode did for the arc. It made us more aware of the presence of Harold Saxon, through both his funding of Lazarus’ experiments, and a mysterious man who seems to have a lot to say about the Doctor, and doesn’t hesitate to fill Francine’s head with these twisted views. Also, like The Long Game this episode turns out to be much more linked to the finale than we thought when we first saw it, with the entire thing being a trap set by Saxon.

Conclusion

So overall, I am left looking at all these wonderful elements and interlinking gems and I still cannot fathom people’s issues with this episode. I implore anyone who considers this episode average or under to swiftly rewatch it, and try and see all that is good in this excellent story.

Step back in time...

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87 comments
consultingtimelord63
consultingtimelord63

If someone needs to know why having everyone be immortal is a VERY VERY BAD BAD BAD idea then watch Torchwood Miracle Day....but I agree with much of thr other stuff stated here!

Jamesss
Jamesss

Personally I really didn't like this episode. I like what it tried to tackle but the execution was far from perfect.

Padaster
Padaster

Eh, I think the corny CGI worked to its advantage, seeing how uncanny valley looking the face is.

craig33
craig33

CGI does date badly. And yes, a solid story. I like it.

Diana van der Pluijm
Diana van der Pluijm

Apart from the crappy CGI this isn't a bad episode, as you so eloquently put it. Doctor Who has never been about top-of-the-range special effects, it's all about the stories. And the story in this one is, to me at least, one that is very good. Not amazing, but very good.

Oswald98
Oswald98

I think its a good episode with a solid central theme but it hasn't aged well. 

Homer Jay Simpson
Homer Jay Simpson

How I'm spending Easter Monday: Re-watching The Lazarus Experiment!

Seaborn W Deadman
Seaborn W Deadman

It really isn't a bad episode. The monster actually freaked me out, cheesy CGI and all. The sucking out life essence thing was particularly disturbing  and gross to me. Forget the more subtle psychological horror of the weeping angels and the silents, this episode is one of the nastiest, scariest things to come out of nu-who. However, I don't really believe this episode is above average. Kinda meh. Something about this episode bores me a bit and I don't know why...I'll admit series 3 was never my favourite, it took me awhile to get through because for some reason a lot of the episodes just failed to keep me hooked like the other series' did....42, Gridlock, Shakespeare code, this episode....just something that isn't my cup of tea. Might just be Martha. She's gorgeous and smart and all, but...she struck me as very whiny and a bit lacklustre. She really mostly just wanted to travel to hit on the Doctor, as opposed to wanting to see the wonders of the universe like most other companions. That really irritated me and damaged my enjoyment of series 3 on whole, although there are definitely some gems to come from this series. Blink, the Utopia Trilogy and Human Nature 2 parter were stunning. Anyways, just stating my personal opinions though, I don't mean to argue or disagree, I'll respect the views of others. It really is a brilliant article, very well written, detailed, and analytical, great job Mr. Edwards :)

craig33
craig33

Who would want to live forever eh? The only thing keeping me going is the thought that one day it will all be over. When I'm 463.

Randomizer462
Randomizer462

This is one of my favourites in Series 3 because out of the David Tennant era, this is my least favourite series.

WHOturnedoutthelights
WHOturnedoutthelights

I'm happy to see someone else recognizes one of the best recent episodes. When I first saw this one I was terrified by the slow build-up to Lazarus's transformation, and the monster IS scary.

Robertclose
Robertclose

"It really shouldn't take that long to reverse the polarity, I must be out of practice". Watched the episode again recently and that line made me laugh SOOOOO much. 

Oodkind
Oodkind

Well, nice article. But I still hate it! ;)

IceDaleks
IceDaleks

Fantastic article, couldn't agree more! Nice to see this episode getting credit where it's due!

TheOncomingStorm
TheOncomingStorm

Great article, you almost lost me at "I would go so far to say that it is one of the best Doctor Who episodes of all time." But I carried on, and although I still disagree with that statement, I can sort of see why you said it. I would agree that the Harold Saxon stuff nicely seeds into the finale of this series (which I like, though I know not many people do.) Martha's family I like (not Leo, he's just dull). So. The actual episode. I also agree that it's an interesting issue to cover but it could've been covered (IMO) in a much more interesting way. If you forget about the acting and the seeding into other episodes, then the plot of this story is a man (ok character, bit cliched) wants to live forever, turns himself into a monster, runs around a bit, dies. I know that's really stripped down and the backstory is quite nice but it's not something we see, it's not part of the story contained in the episode. The humour is nice, with Francine, but again, it's not part of the actual story. Basically, I think this one probably isn't mentioned much because while it's entertaining and the ideas and characters are all there, it's not actually (as I see it) a great episode. Fun and not bad, but not good either.



Timhogan
Timhogan

To answer the titular question, yes.  I've weighed out the pros and cons of living forever such as watching the people you care about grow old and die.  But one of my most favorite things about life is History and how far Humans have come in the last few thousand years.  And that is something I think about a lot, where will we be in 3014.  How far will technology have gone?  Will we be living in the stars?  Will we be living in cloud cities?  Will we still be driving to work on a monday at 9am?   These things are answers I would love to have.  I've read fascinating articles that talk about realistic Time-Travel in the sense that it may be possible to go forward in time, however you would not be able to return.  The example they used (and bare with me, I'm not a scientist so the numbers are not accurate, simply just used for example) But a train that would be sent around the world and gradually sped up over time to the point where it hits just under the speed-of-light would theoretically cause time on the outside to pass differently then inside the train.  So the theory is that you could spend (again random numbers to show the effect, not any mathematical actual numbers) you could spend 10 minutes on the train, and 10 years will have past outside.  However the problem is you couldn't return, so you'd have to live in this world 10 years later and that could pose a magnitude of problems that might makes people less then willing to even attempt it.  I however would seriously consider volunteering for a project like that, if they asked for it.  Because my curiosity is way to strong.  I would give up living 10 years in this world just to gain that extra 10 years I'd get to live as I'd be the same age as when I started.  Just to see what that 10 years offers us.  That is what I fear most about death, not the actual death itself, but not knowing what is going to happen next.

Nightmarish
Nightmarish

Amazing article! The Lazarus Experiment is one of my favorite episodes, I've always wondered why so many people dislike it.

Americanwhovian
Americanwhovian

I just want to say that taking into consideration DW torchwood and sja, that people of the DW universe go through an alien encounter or an invasion/apocolyptic event every other week and no one seems to notice, care, or remember.

Mark McCullough
Mark McCullough

Fantastic article Tomas . It's nice to see The Lazarus Experiment getting some praise for a change. =) 

chinnysandshoes
chinnysandshoes

I always thought this was an interesting episode with a good resolution. The scene the Doctor has with Lazurus at the end was one of Tennant's great moments of acting. His pain and sorrow, a long long life of loneliness, of watching so helplessly as you lose the ones you love.... We all must have had such thoughts before on what it means to live forever. It's a fascinating theme. Martha really showed her worth here too, as a brave and loyal companion. I would watch this episode many times over before favourites like The Name of the Doctor.

The_Horrors_Crimson
The_Horrors_Crimson

Living forever would be overrated when you think about it. It wouldn't matter how many friends you would make, or how many loves you would have. Everyone you know would die, then you would make new friends, they'd die too.You'd be stuck in an endless cycle of death.There would be nothing to live for, and that would be the worst thing, because you wouldn't be able to stop living. I think that in the end, Death is just as big a part of life as living is. And anyway, why should we be afraid of Dying?I believe in a God, but not one of any particular religion. I think that this God loves all his children, no matter who they are and who they love, because if we're all made from God, then God is a little bit of us as well (be it homosexual, asexual, pan sexual, bisexual... etc). But if there isn't a god, if this is it, then we weren't afraid of not existing when we didn't before were we? I certainly wasn't sat there not existing worrying about not existing. So what's the point in being afraid. Sorry for the long article, it's just got me wondering about Lazarus and the fear he must have felt, over, well, nothing. 












Deus_Ex_Machina
Deus_Ex_Machina

This is far from my favourite episode, but I agree with all of your points. Reading this made me think back to when I first saw it back in the day and was quite impressed by it from memory. It's not the greatest piece of Who fiction, but it's certainly a satisfying episode with an interesting message. Maybe it just lacked that extra little something that would have dragged it up to the top.

Malohkeh
Malohkeh

Good to see some appreciation for it. I've always had a soft spot for this story (partially because it was the first episode I ever watched live, instead of DVRing it).


There's some great ideas in it, and Freema, David, Mark, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Tish) all get a chance to really shine. The CGI was a bit naff, sure, but there's no need to let that distract from the overall story.

Badwolf2
Badwolf2

I wouldn't like to live forever it would be so boring

DaireConstantineOReilly
DaireConstantineOReilly

Other than the crimson horror, This is the only episode with No Aliens in in it, in the new series I mean.

DaireConstantineOReilly
DaireConstantineOReilly

It was a great episode, just like The Doctor and Thor, I would love to live forever I'd get to see flying cars and first contact [with aliens] , who wouldn't want to love forever or at least live for 1000 years. Mark Gatis can do no wrong, if writes the episodes or stars in them he still brilliant.

DW_girl
DW_girl

I am very thankful that you have written this article, so well done! I, for one, am in love with 'The Lazarus Experiment'. The first time I watched it, I was scared to death by the Lazarus creature (It is, to date, the only episode to have scared me as much as that), and even now, I still get the shivers. It's just the thought of him changing his genes to a creature that evolution rejected millions of years ago, but it is still positively human in origin. Just all out creepy, me thinks! Another part of the episode I love is the Doctor's way with words, quoting about immortality and such. The dialogue is really inspirational and makes you relate to Lazarus and The Doctor in such a poignant way. Hurrah, for The Lazarus Experiment, is what I say, an episode which never should have fallen into the nightmare run, but would have been well-deserving of its place had it been in the dream run.

Willywoo7
Willywoo7

I agree! I love these sorts of episodes even the ones that don't connect to the finale

Huknar
Huknar

I was always very fascinated by the idea of a genetic throwback. This for me always made this episode stand out. I think though this episode feels too short. Everything seems to be over so very quickly which is a real shame. But I will say that Martha's family was represented and acted incredibly well in this episode.

PK-S
PK-S

An excellent article, Tomas. You mentioned this a while back and I've been itching to read it so I'm glad it's up. Really great stuff. Although, I have one question. The photo placed next to "Always the mothers, every time"... who took that photo? And when? :P

loopeedeedo
loopeedeedo

Which is nicely considered in the Ender series written by Orson Scott Card.

TheBiPunishment
TheBiPunishment

Oh definitely. Name's good, but it has too many flaws to be of Lazarus levels of greatness.

Deus_Ex_Machina
Deus_Ex_Machina

"Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel" has no aliens, but it is set in an alternate universe, so I'll forgive you for not counting it. And technically Silurians aren't aliens, so "The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood" should count as well. By that logic, "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" might fit the bill to if Solomon is human, but I don't think he is as the human race still seemed pretty Earth bound in that one, not to mention the robots who's classification as Aliens is a little vague. And unless you count River as an alien, "Let's Kill Hitler" had no aliens, as the Tesseract crew were humans from the future.

TheBiPunishment
TheBiPunishment

Actually they both have aliens in it, but if we discount the Doctor then The Lazarus Experiment is the only one. (The Crimson Horror had Strax).

TheBiPunishment
TheBiPunishment

Glad you enjoyed it, and I agree, it is quite a chilling story.

DaireConstantineOReilly
DaireConstantineOReilly

Whe I first watched it, I thought the genetic Throwback this was a Los of B*ll*cks to be honest, suspension of disbelieve and all that I suppose.

Moxx
Moxx

That shifty Saxon bloke. He thought they weren't looking.

The_Horrors_Crimson
The_Horrors_Crimson

That is your belief, but it's not fact. There is no fact. We can only be 100% sure when we get there. Maybe your right. But maybe you're wrong.

Death could be anything. It's that simple.

TheBiPunishment
TheBiPunishment

Except for Mission into the Unknown, that had Daleks and Varga Plants instead.

PK-S
PK-S

@Moxx  [An ambulance crashes, there's a crack, a tear] Doctor: Uh-oh, trouble's a-brewing, I'd better go and find out what's going on. Come on, Martha. Martha: I'm coming, Doctor... Francine: Martha! Martha! Come back. The shifty Saxon bloke wants to tell you something. Martha: What, Mum? Francine/shifty Saxon bloke: BUT FIRST, LEMME TAKE A SELFIE.