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Doctor Who 3.6: The Lazarus Experiment

May 5th, 2007 (07:56 pm)

Well, that was rather good.

I didn't find this quite as pleasing as Gridlock, but it was more rewarding to watch than Evolution of the Daleks; and for the first half of the episode I was losing patience with the relentless richness of the colourscheme and the broad-brush tone which I've appreciated up until now. However, after the half-way point there was a shift in the way this story was told which was pleasing and amplified the sense of threat. The move from the open space of the reception area in what was probably meant to be somewhere like City Hall on the south bank of the Thames (but was of course in Cardiff...), to the laboratories, to the corridors made the chase through the building progressively more claustrophobic. The decision to reduce the amount of incidental music once in Southwark Cathedral (actually, I've just learned on Confidential, Wells) was a welcome one.

A recent interview with Steven Moffat saw him make the point that RTD has deliberately set Doctor Who in the soap opera world - in the real world, he said, there is no way someone as clever as Rose Tyler could only have had one A-Level. The advantage of this method is that while the characters are caricatures and can retreat to this caricature level when a particular storyline is done with them, it can be surprising and effective when they move from this norm or when their traits are put at the service of the plot. Francine Jones's suspicion of the Doctor is similar to that of Jackie Tyler, and explicitly echoes it, with the theme of a grown-up child's safety being endangered, but her methods of control are different, based on ambition and 'focus', and this makes her prey for Harold Saxon. (I didn't notice the sound effect at the Mysterious Man's second appearance, with its connotations of mind control...)

The new series is now growing its own mythology, so that when Lazarus remembers the Blitz, the audience - and later, the Doctor - can relate to the events of The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. The nascent Tish/Lazarus relationship is a neat reverse of the Martha/Doctor one.

As for the monster... not as successful as the team wanted us to think, sadly. The weak point is the face, which has very little resemblance to Mark Gatiss. It was explained on Confidential that Stephen Greenhorn's script had called for a different kind of creature - something fast-moving that might be glimpsed, and only that, as a giant bird, or as a lizard - but RTD wanted something more tangible, perhaps to take on Primeval.

EDIT 22:25 I thought Freema Agyeman's performance and the writing for Martha much better this week. I also thought her make-up was softer and she looks very fetching in that dress. Martha improvises in her own way, too, taking much more of a lead, I think, than did Rose, who tended to act from the sidelines, slipping away to outflank the threat rather than confronting it straight away.

I thought that the plot worked as well. Motivation was present or could be extrapolated: Lazarus doesn't just want the extension of his life but a new one, hence the casting aside of Lady Thaw. I assume that he and Lady Thaw have been lovers for a long time but that they have never married, presumably because it was politically inconvenient for Lady Thaw to abandon her husband. Lazarus has been dependent on her - she has arranged the funding and may be his contact with Saxon - but rejuvenated, he can present himself to the world and to his self-esteem as a truly self-made man and be himself the patron of a younger generation. There's definitely a strand in this episode critical of the use of love affairs for advancement; in following the Doctor Martha is rejecting the power that comes with manipulation of other people and the accumulation of material things.

Wasn't the trailer for the second part of the season good? The imagery was remarkably powerful. The main selling points are the return of John Barrowman and Human Nature/The Family of Blood, with Derek Jacobi and John Simm/Mr Saxon as enigmas. I have the impression that Saxon might be ruling using Peronist measures - is it Martha's flat that gets blown up? Most things will be explained, hopefully in plausible technobabble.


Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: May 5th, 2007 08:24 pm (UTC)

I loathed the monster, but the episode itself was rather good (though I do think the 45 minute format made it seem rushed)

I'm also really enjoying watching the Doctor interact with a companion who is not just determined, but also academically bright (not that Rose was stupid, exactly, but Martha has a different quality of intelligence). I did want to slap her mother for failing to notice that the Doctor has saved her life - or were we supposed to put that down to mind control?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 5th, 2007 08:38 pm (UTC)

I don't think we need put it down to mind control; the Doctor, for Francine, is a random element who will endanger her daughter ascending along a determined career path. Francine is like a viewer critical of the format, who isn't amused by the chaos, death and destruction that surrounds the Doctor; and while from the Doctor's point of view he restores the balance of the humours any given situation, in many situations his surgery is crude.

I've always wanted to read into David Whitaker's explanation in the prologue to Doctor Who and the Crusaders, that the device installed by the makers of the TARDIS to prevent the ship materializing near any dangerous situations was broken, and if it were repaired "there would be no chronicles of Doctor Who" (or similar), as a suggestion that the TARDIS actually seeks out crises in which the Doctor can be involved, though I don't think Whitaker allowed himself to go that far.

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: May 5th, 2007 10:47 pm (UTC)

Ish. I can see that she'd be (legitimately) worried, it's just that, when asked to weigh 'someone random bloke claiming to speak for a politician whispered to me at a party' versus 'chap who I saw saving lives', I hope I'd go for the latter.

But I agree that the Doctor must look dangerous, from the outside. Well, he is dangerous - but to paraphrase either Lewis or Tolkien or both, it'simportant to remember that dangerous is not incompatible with good...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 5th, 2007 11:20 pm (UTC)

I have the impression that Saxon is more than a politician; he's the saviour of Britain, who has moved into the position Harriet Jones should have occupied as the author of 'Britain's golden age' had the Doctor not removed her (for entirely defensible reasons).

Posted by: ms_rebecca_riot (ms_rebecca_riot)
Posted at: May 6th, 2007 04:54 am (UTC)

is Saxon symbolic of a neo-nazi/ conservative figure & the Doctor symbolic of those other aliens of modern British life- refugees? I'm just wondering, having not seen the last couple of episodes...?

By getting rid of Harriet Jones, has the Doctor in fact removed the least worst of the two evils?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 6th, 2007 10:13 am (UTC)

I've thought before that the Hartnell Doctor and Susan were inspired by the post-war figure of the refugee scientist, left stateless after World War Two; the isolation of the Eccleston and Tennant Doctors has returned to that trend. There's something suggestive of the far right in Saxon, isn't there - daniel_saunders has pointed this out somewhere I'm sure.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 7th, 2007 12:27 am (UTC)

There's something suggestive of the far right in Saxon, isn't there - daniel_saunders has pointed this out somewhere I'm sure

Yes, I think it was in the comments on one of your previous reviews. That said, it goes without saying that a politician-villain in Doctor Who is of the far right (the only exception I can think of being Grover in Invasion of the Dinosaurs).

Posted by: louisedennis (louisedennis)
Posted at: May 6th, 2007 07:50 pm (UTC)

I think the key issue was seeing Martha "follow" the Doctor. I got the impression it was the sub-ordination that set her off and after that everything else is rationalisation of the dislike.

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: May 6th, 2007 08:31 pm (UTC)

Hm. I hadn't thought of that - you could be right. It would make the 'you've changed' line a lot more explicable, too.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 6th, 2007 10:39 pm (UTC)

That's what I was trying to get at with my mention of 'control' in my review, but I failed to recognise that Francine is much more determined and more able to manage her daughter's life than is Jackie, and expects her orders to be followed.

Posted by: ms_rebecca_riot (ms_rebecca_riot)
Posted at: May 7th, 2007 07:09 pm (UTC)

its the whole aspirational middle class career pressure mind control thing. yup.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 7th, 2007 12:23 am (UTC)

the TARDIS actually seeks out crises in which the Doctor can be involved

I have seen it suggested that, given the symbiotic, telepathic link between TARDIS and pilot, the ship may well actively seek out dangerous environments for the Doctor, responding to his subconscious desire to go to them. When he really wants to go somewhere, he usually manages.

Posted by: Pellegrina (pellegrina)
Posted at: May 5th, 2007 10:49 pm (UTC)

Woe! Do you mean the goodies in the trailer may not be until the end of the season? Curse their teasing ways.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 5th, 2007 11:14 pm (UTC)

The scenes from the spacecraft with the red glow are from the next episode, 42; anything with a 1914-ish appearance is from the pair afterwards, Human Nature and The Family of Blood; Derek Jacobi is from episode 11, Utopia, John Simm is from either episode 12, The Sound of Drums, or episode 13, Last of the Time Lords. John Barrowman is in episodes 11, 12 and 13.

Posted by: ms_rebecca_riot (ms_rebecca_riot)
Posted at: May 6th, 2007 07:26 pm (UTC)

well this is totally unrelated, but that's an adorable white fluffy dog in your user pics (George? My grandparents had a cantankerous, long lived cat of the same name, after the late King)
Samoyeds are my flatmates favourite dog, she used to have one, and it won prizes.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 6th, 2007 10:36 pm (UTC)

George is the one who appears with two much younger versions of me in my userpics; the Samoyed with the tongue is another dog whom we came across on holiday in Kippford, on the Solway Firth, last year.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 7th, 2007 12:20 am (UTC)

I didn't notice the sound effect at the Mysterious Man's second appearance, with its connotations of mind control...

I thought it was a 'sting' in the incidental music.

Most things will be explained

You clearly trust Davies and co. more than I do.

I'm surprised you didn't mention Gatiss' performance, easily my favourite part of the episode, especially his scenes in the cathedral, where he gave Lazarus a nobility which I'm not sure was present in the script.

Otherwise, I felt it was workmanlike as usual, with nothing horribly wrong, but little that captured my imagination or attention.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: May 7th, 2007 12:49 am (UTC)

You clearly trust Davies and co. more than I do.

I think that's well established!

I liked Gatiss's performance very much, though I wasn't pleased by the prosthetic - Lazarus looked older than my grandfather did when he died aged 90! Exaggeration of ageing for effect, evidently.

I'm beginning to find my attention caught by the 'what if?'s, and we seem to be having counterfactualities thrown at us frequently now, almost as if the old fans are being mollified with tales of what might have been if the budget hadn't been tightened, or the requirements for 7pm Saturday weren't so rigid. I'm thinking of the news in DWM that Evolution of the Daleks had a last minute rewrite with many elements being changed to avoid the dual climax of the lightning strike and a battle on the streets with Daleks and Dalek hybrids, deemed too expensive by Phil Collinson; and the original idea for the Lazarus monster being far less concrete than the scorpion-thing we saw.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: May 7th, 2007 01:25 pm (UTC)

Exaggeration of ageing for effect, evidently.

Yes, it went well beyond 'elderly' into 'grotesque'!

As to your comment about fandom paying attention to counterfactualities, I hadn't really taken notice of that trend, but it's unmistakeable once pointed out.

Perhaps as a result of communications being much faster than they were in 1989, and the unprecendented amount of information available via not just DWM, but Doctor Who Confidential, Totally Doctor Who and the official website, fandom appears to be cycling through the old pattern of 'polarised assessment -diametrically opposed polarised assessment - more balanced assessment' within weeks or even days, rather than years or decades, at least for individual episodes; the series as a whole tends to provoke more extreme responses.

I haven't read much of the latest DWM (I'm just finishing the latest Special), nor do I watch Confidential, but I'd be uncomfortable with the idea that the production team are deliberately pointing out what they wanted to do as a way of by-passing criticism, if that is indeed what they are doing. Similar comments from earlier production teams, usually years after the event, are not really taken into account by fans, and I feel uncomfortable with the idea that the current team deserve special treatment (either good or bad). If something wasn't possible, it shouldn't have been written. I know I've been complaining for the last month that the current team have been around too long and are resting on their laurels, but the converse side of that is that they should have an extremely precise idea of where the boundaries lie.

I remember Terrance Dicks being interviewed in DWM and pointing out the extreme pressures of time under which he wrote many of his scripts for the show, which were often last-minute replacements for other scripts. When the interviewer challenged him about this, saying the viewing public aren't told know this, Terrance conceded the point, saying it was just as well, otherwise they might say the hurried nature of the writing and production are all too visible!