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, 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!”
This 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 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…”
Martha’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.
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.