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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

‘Doctor Who’ blogging: “The Lazarus Experiment”

(intro to my Who blogging, please read before commenting / previous: Episode 5: “Evolution of the Daleks”)

This is like an old-style Doctor Who episode: the mad scientist who pushes beyond boundaries of whatever, and the Doctor must stop him, blah blah blah. It’s pretty standard, actually. Most of what’s really fascinating about this episode is on the periphery, or in the background, or doesn’t become obvious until you rewatch it after you’ve seen the entire season.
Like this: Mark Gatiss, who plays the mad-scientist guy Lazarus, is one of only three people who have both written episodes of Doctor Who — he scripted “The Unquiet Dead” in Season 1 and “The Idiot’s Lantern” in Season 2 — and who have also appeared in an episode. (Read more about Gatisshe’s a huge Who geek, and appears in the first YouTube clip here as “Mark.” He sounds like a hoot and a half.)

And these: Mr. Saxon this, Mr. Saxon that. How did Martha’s sister Tish get such a high-powered job when she’s obviously a bit dim? (Only a gal who’s a bit of a maroon could not be creeped out by “young” Lazarus, the perv.) All will become clear, but only by the end of the season — that’s very clever and cohesive writing. The Eliot quote that the Doctor and Lazarus share — “Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act… falls the shadow…” — there’s shadow falling here that’s only hinted at, and it’s a lot more interesting that the mere plot playing out before it.

Lazarus’s story, in fact, works best as yet another way to explicate the Doctor’s own, well, can we call is psychosis? That’s too strong, probably: but look, he cannot get past his loneliness and his alienation. “If you live long enough, Lazarus, the only certainty left is that you’ll end up alone.” “Some people live more in 20 years…” — the Doctor is talking about Rose here, isn’t he? And he can’t bear to dump Martha: he tries and he can’t do it. He’s tired of living, but maybe as long as he’s not alone he can forget that for a while…? It’s all terribly sad, and makes this new incarnation of the show actually about the Doctor in a way that the old show never really was.

I wonder, too, about Martha’s mother and the instant dislike she takes to the Doctor. Where is that coming from? I know, there are suggestions that she is merely concerned about her daughter being distracted from her studies, but she’s so vehemently against him that it seems like there must be something more at work. Why would she demand to know what the Doctor and Martha have “been busy” at? I mean, she thinks she knows what they’ve been busy at since, from her perspective, the night before? Does she intuit (as Rose’s mother did) that the Doctor is “dangerous” in the sense that he threatens to take her daughter away forever, that he’s more than merely a new boyfriend? And what does that Saxon operative (at least, that’s who I presume he is, the guy who whispers in Martha’s mother’s ear) tell her about the Doctor that really alarms her? What does she think she knows about him now?

Random thoughts on “The Lazarus Experiment”:

• Why doesn’t the TARDIS ever materialize in my bedroom?

• We can add James Bond to the other fictional universes — Harry Potter, Back to the Future — that we know are fictional in this universe too.

• “Look, they’ve got nibbles! I love nibbles!” Hee hee!

• It’s hard to imagine the Doctor as anyone’s plus-one…

• Hey, the Doctor likes being called, a geek, er, I mean, “obsessively enthusiastic.”

• I love a man who can pull off sneakers with a tux…

• Reversing the polarity… it was only a matter of time before that old chestnut showed up again.

• Doctor turns the organ up to 11! Hello, Kasterborous!

(next: Episode 7: “42”)

MPAA: not rated

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