Saturday, August 11, 2007

“Again with the mothers. It's always the mothers!”: Doctor Who

Writer Stephen Greenhorn, who penned this week’s episode ‘The Lazarus Experiment’, was instructed by show-runner Russell T. Davies to model the story on the typical Marvel Comics plotline: “a good old mad scientist, with an experiment gone wrong, and an outrageous supervillain on the loose.” After watching ‘Lazarus’, I found myself wishing that Doctor Who would start taking this straightforward and uncomplicated approach more often. It’s true that these days, many of the Marvel villains introduced in this simplistic manner are often ridiculed. Yet many Who episodes up to this point – especially those written by Davies himself – can often become bogged down in overly complicated explanatory stuff that no-one ever remembers anyway. So while ‘Lazarus’ is not among the very best episodes of season three, it shows that sometimes the most basic approach really is the best.

Lazarus himself is played by Mark Gatiss, a British TV vet who contributed scripts to Who’s first two seasons and now continues his heavy involvement. He is fantastic throughout the episode, although I especially enjoyed his pervy old man right at the beginning. Once Lazarus turns into a huge monster Gatiss is unfortunately sidelined, but his slimy charisma in the earlier scenes still deserves noting. The design of his monster self is hardly original, but it at least sticks to the principles of the script: simple = effective. Plus how could I bash a monster so big that it often fills up the entire screen? When it comes to Who baddies, bigger may not necessarily mean better, but it definitely ain’t worse.

From the point of Lazarus’ experiment going awry things proceed in a fairly predictable manner, but Greenhorn throws in a couple extras to keep things interesting. There’s the Jones family, who here meet the Doctor and get a first dose of the dangers he tends to bring with him. For me, the standout character of the family has always been Martha’s mother Francine, played by Adjoa Andoh, who tends to steal all of her scenes even when David Tennant is around. Francine is one of those mothers who feels her way is right and that she must always have control, a trait that comes to the forefront here when Martha chooses to stick with the Doctor rather than her family. Francine’s intense protectiveness is thusly used to the advantage of Lazarus' mysterious paymaster Mr Harold Saxon, with a similarly mysterious character informing her that the Doctor is “dangerous”. But more on that in the weeks to come.

And then of course there’s the Doctor and Martha. The episode starts with the Doctor bringing Martha back home, apparently with the intention of leaving her there and moving on. By the end, however, he acknowledges that she was “never really just a passenger” and they continue onto another wacky adventure. ‘Lazarus’ is the final acknowledgment that Martha is fully aware of the danger being around the Doctor has put her in, but she just doesn’t care. In other words, this is her last opportunity to bail - an opportunity which, considering what's to come, she might soon wish she'd taken.

Finally, just after the TARDIS dematerialises, Martha gets a message from her mother warning that the Doctor is going to get her killed. “This information comes from Harold Saxon himself!”, she proclaims. How amazing that one single line could bring on so much wonderment and so much excitement to Who fans everywhere. I know it had me practically salivating in anticipation.

1 comment:

Carrie said...

Oh, you tease me with the "more on that in weeks to come." I am fascinated by that mysterious character and can't wait to see how this story plays out. I can't wait!!!