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The Lazarus Experiment ★★★

Mark Gatiss guest-stars as a boffin who is monstrously transformed, and the Doctor falls foul of Martha's mum (Adjoa Andoh)

Published: Tuesday, 15th October 2013 at 3:06 pm

Story 183
Series 3 – Episode 6

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“With the push of a single button, I will change what it means to be human” – Lazarus

Storyline
The Doctor, Martha and the Jones family dress up for a launch party at Lazarus Experiments in London, where the elderly Professor Richard Lazarus promises a crowd he has perfected a rejuvenation process that will change what it means to be human for ever. Shortly after a younger Lazarus has emerged from his machine, he undergoes hideous mutations. The Doctor deduces that Lazarus has inadvertently activated dormant DNA, an option evolution rejected millions of years ago, and now he is a ravenous monster on the rampage…

First UK transmission
Saturday 5 May 2007

Production
October–November 2006. Main locations: Wells Cathedral, Somerset. Welsh National Assembly Building, Lloyds TSB, Cardiff National Museum and Biomedical Science Building in Cardiff. Studio: Upper Boat Studios, Treforest, Pontypridd.

Cast
The Doctor – David Tennant
Martha Jones – Freema Agyeman
Tish Jones – Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Leo Jones – Reggie Yates
Francine Jones – Adjoa Andoh
Richard Lazarus – Mark Gatiss
Lady Thaw – Thelma Barlow
Olive woman – Lucy O’Connell
Mysterious man – Bertie Carvel

Crew
Writer – Stephen Greenhorn
Director – Richard Clark
Designer – Edward Thomas
Incidental music – Murray Gold
Producer – Phil Collinson
Executive producers – Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner

RT review by Patrick Mulkern (published 5 May 2022)
The Lazarus Experiment is probably not going to be in anyone’s list of classics but it is an almost perfect slice of Doctor Who hokum. Decent villain. Huge, shonky monster. No hanging about and lots of dashing around. Quick simple hook at the start and a grand denouement in a sacred building.

The arrogant scientist with a big rejuvenating machine, which eventually turns him into a freak of nature in front of an appalled throng, reminds me of the Uncanny Tales and Astounding Stories comic books I used to pore over in the 1970s. If The Lazarus Experiment is derivative – and it is – it derives from the best: The Fly, most blatantly, and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; but also the mutant’s demise in a cathedral is lifted straight from The Quatermass Experiment; whereas the use of sonic waves to thwart the creature echoes the 1968 Who chiller, Fury from the Deep.

Mark Gatiss excels as the cruel, arrogant, deluded Lazarus – leching over Martha’s sister Tish in his effective aged prosthetic (not just wrinkly skin but with nasty teeth and lenses to tire his eyes). As the “youthed” prof, with clear complexion, Gatiss reuses his Dr Chinnery wig from The League of Gentlemen, and is bold enough to appear starkers on camera twice, albeit with legs decorously crossed.

As an evolutionary throwback, the monster might have been expected to be a gigantic baboon, but hey-ho! a hideous, thrashing scorpion with a human face and a gaping maw it is. It’s an ambitious CGI creation for 2007, several shades short of realism, which helps keep at bay the full horror of a John Carpenter-style The Thing. Weirdly, the most unpleasant aspect of the creature is when the human-form Gatiss twists his neck and shoulders with sickening bone-crunching sound effects.

Stephen Greenhorn, who’d created Scottish soap River City, pulls together his commission with efficiency, steered and no doubt polished by Russell T Davies. The showrunner wanted to bring Martha home (the Tardis lands in her flat, with her smalls on an airer), reset her relationship with the Doctor, and show us more of the Jones family.

The menfolk don’t fare well. The father is absent, and her brother Leo (Reggie Yates) only chips in from the sidelines, gets concussion and is largely redundant. Tish is delightful throughout though; her new job is the reason that the family are at the main event, and as the sisters race from the monster in Southwark (actually Ely) Cathedral in the climax, a part of me wishes both of them would join the Doctor on his travels. Gugu Mbatha-Raw has had a successful career since Doctor Who, with roles in Hollywood movies and US TV series, and in 2021 starred with David Oyelowo in BBC1 thriller The Girl Before.

Adjoa Andoh is, of course, magnificent as the fierce Francine, the protective mother, who views the Doctor first with suspicion, which quickly turns to loathing. Unlike Rose’s mum, Jackie, she is hard to warm to, which is the point. Andoh has also had much success over the years, notably as Lady Danbury in Bridgerton. Whispering poison in Francine’s ear is a pre-fame Bertie Carvel, popping up as “Mysterious Man”, a spook operative for the also (at the time) mystery-shrouded Mr Saxon.

As Lady Thaw, Thelma Barlow is a universe away from Dinnerladies’ Dolly and Mavis Riley, the wibbling nit she played in Coronation Street for 26 years. It’s a shame her ladyship is withered to a husk so early, but these 45-minute instalments move fast.

The version on BBC iPlayer retains the “back in two weeks” caption as, in 2007, the series took a break for Eurovision. It also marks a near halfway point and has a trailer for the rest of this season, which is simply steeped in riches. They certainly knew how to make – and sell – Doctor Who in those days.

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In 2007, RT spoke to writer Stephen Greenhorn, showrunner Russell T Davies and guest star Mark Gatiss.

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