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Sunday, 27 May 2007 - Reviewed by Adam S. Leslie

Now this is more like it; a beautiful, properly-paced old-style adventure that really shows up the frantic one-episode runarounds like 42 and Lazarus as the empty vessels they are - and this story actually has a decent central premise that makes it both unlike anything that's been attempted before, and oddly remensicent of the slow-burning more surreal adventures of early Davison.

A lot of the reason this 2-parter works so well, I think, is that it is finally structured like an old-school 4-parter (so far at least). Whereas some of the previous doubles have just been extended episodes 1 and 4, with the first half all slow build-up and the second collapsing into 45 minutes of frantic resolution, as it stands Human Nature is a perfect tradational 1 and 2, with the scary scarecrows arriving at almost bang-on the half way point in time for what would have been a cliffhanger.

Oh yes! It's all just so wonderful up to that point. The acting, the atmosphere, the delicately woven plotting, the nostalgic nods to the show's past. And just when you think it can't get any better, a bunch of scarecrows turn up and start rampaging about with their own patent Wizard-Of-Oz-gone-bad lollop. There's nothing scarier than animated scarecrows, not even clowns, so why it's taken them so long to mine this particular source of kiddy nightmares is a mystery.

Another important reason this story is such a triumph is that it's just so different. I've recently been bemoaning the profusion of urban-set adventures and lack of anything rural during RTD's reign, and bingo - a little English village, country folk, woodland... I've also been getting a bit bored by the regularity of alien invasions and large landmarks becoming illuminated, so again this is looking very promising in that respect. Only "The Family" themselves feel a bit standard, shooting innocent bystanders like the Judoon and generally over-acting in their first scene (all very high school drama class, the weakest moment for me), chewing their dialogue like any number of other invaders.

While we're on weak moments, the bit with the piano was silly but didn't overtly bother me. Only yet more Rose-based mooning soured the cream a little, but only a little. It passed quickly enough.

David Tennant was at his best yet, playing the likeably vague school teacher with total conviction; the scene with our hero coolly overseeing the machine gun practice, and authorising the young lad to be beaten by his colleagues were chillingly out of character. Two honourable special-mentions for me must go to Spaced's Jessica Hynes, who would make a wonderfully different companion were she allowed to stay on - the most enjoyable companions from the original series were often those from very closeted backgrounds having their eyes gradually opened by their travels with the Doctor; and a straight-laced woman in her mid-30s in the TARDIS would be a delight - and an unexpected left-field treat in the form of Murray Gold's score, not the usual metallic pomp and bombast at all. The strange piece of music which accompanied Martha's visit to the TARDIS sounded like a Burt Bacharach instrumental from the 1960s, while the waltz at the village dance was just lovely. Not to everyone's taste, of course, but I like that kind of thing.

So, on to the references. Nods to the past in Doctor Who have a habit of seeming either crassly smug (the horribly misjudged "new science fiction series" moment in Remembrance Of The Daleks), or just shoehorned in for the sake of it. Here they were perfectly balanced; the nostalgic trawl through memory lane combined with the Doctor-becoming-human plot, this almost felt like what the last episode ever would be like. I'm sure I haven't spotted them all, but these are the ones I noticed:

The biggest reference has to have been Mawdryn Undead: a regular character, having taken a post teaching in an all-boys public school, loses all memory of his past adventures; meanwhile one of the pupils is not all he seems. On the same track, the scene between "John Smith" and the young boy is very very reminiscent of a similar scene towards the start of An Unearthly Child. Then there's the cricket ball stunt from Four To Doomsday. The gag about Gallifrey being in Ireland is a reference to at least one Tom Baker adventure (I forget which). There's a musical nod to Remembrance Of The Daleks with the little girl. And the cockle-warming namecheck for Verity Lambert and Sidney Newman, which could have been toe-curling in the wrong hands. I'm sure there were many others too, and I'm equally sure other reviewers will point them out.

I'm almost nervous to watch next week's episode, I desperately don't want them to blow it. As it stands, I would say this was the best Doctor Who episode since the Davison era, perhaps even Hinchcliffe's Tom Baker years. I'm told this story comes from a spin-off novel predating the RTD era; if so it shows in the depth and richness of the adventure. The only depressing thing is that they could and should have been making stories of this calibre sooner. This is how it's done!





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Sunday, 27 May 2007 - Reviewed by Angus Gulliver

Last week I mentioned the series perhaps being stuck in fourth gear. This week, maybe, we shifted into top. If next week's "Family Of Blood" worthily wraps up this two-parter then we will have the most successful adventure of 2007 for the good Doctor.

As we all know, this story is based upon the 1995 novel by Paul Cornell. I was generously lent a copy of this by the friend we watched "Smith & Jones" with (Hi Chris!). Only after reading this did I seek out reviews, and I generally agree with those who feel there's a good story in there but the book concentrates too much on the Aubertides without making them particularly interesting characters.

Thankfully the premise seems to have been changed somewhat for the TV version. The Doctor must change physically and mentally into a human because he's being chased, and as a Time Lord could easily be tracked.

So we have John Smith, English public schoolteacher in 1913, as the clouds of war are forming. Cornell and director Charles Palmer skillfully get us into the story quickly, indeed I felt this episode established a lot of essential facts and packed in a lot of action quickly but without leaving the viewer feeling rushed. The marks, I believe, of a good writer and director.

The Doctor has "hidden" his real persona inside a pocket watch, which is found and briefly opened by one of his pupils, leading the alien Family of Blood (no mention of Aubertides) to locate him, The Family posess an (excellent CGI) mostly invisible spaceship complete with forcefield that is activated when anybody touches the ship. And they use spooky scarecrows as soldiers, these deserve a special mention for their design is truly un-nerving!

The Doctor (or should I say John Smith) begins to fall for Joan, and eventually invites her to a local dance where the aliens finally locate him...cue "scream" and the cliffhanger.

Regular readers will know I was not overly impressed with Cornell's "Father's Day" from 2005. I felt it was great dramatic television but had nothing much to do with Doctor Who. However, despite the main character being effectively absent "Human Nature" works much better. Like "Father's Day" it gives us a chance to focus on the companion, but with the Doctor still very much being the central character and crucial to the plot.

As the first of a two-parter, this does its job in an excellent manner. It was entertaining, I didn't catch myself clockwatching. It was scary in places, it was well written with observations on racism and sexism gently woven into a script that was correctly more concerned with telling a story. Roll on next week!

9/10





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Sunday, 6 May 2007 - Reviewed by Frank Collins

With the sixth episode we are plunged back into Martha's world. A world of DNA experiments and mysterious men in black. Stephen Greenhorn takes the standard comic book cliches, invoking 'Spiderman' and 'The Hulk', pays homage to the venerable Nigel Kneale's 'Quatermass' and SF B movies such as 'The Fly' and then plugs it into the main themes now beginning to run through the series - what does it mean to be a human, is there hope in a callous age and can those blessed with the gift of immortality have real faith?

Richard Clark again shows how good he is with visual composition here with lots of tracking and overhead shots, a particularly stunning revolving shot (an homage to the 'Alien' films) as the CGI monster climbs the ceiling of the corridor, and some lovely bits and pieces glimpsing characters through arches and doorways in the cathedral. He gets a great deal out of the laboratory setting too, using reflections and back-lighting to great atmospheric effect. Another very handsome looking episode.

Book-ending the episode are two scenes between the Doctor and Martha, one where the Doctor simply feels it is time to let go and one where he finally understands that Martha doesn't wish to be left behind. In between these two points, we have a narrative in which Martha plays a significant role - being resourceful, using her skills and finally going back into the conflict to face the consequences and ultimately to the cathedral where she offers herself as bait to lure Lazarus to his destiny. I don't think the relationship between the Doctor and Martha is a carbon copy of the one he had with Rose. This is more about being an equal, facing the odds with intelligence but perhaps with a pinch of unresolved sexual tension. More Martha Peel to Doctor Steed, I think.

Below the monster runaround there's also a great deal more going on.

Lazarus and his laboratory represent the scientific principle when it comes to extending life. To him it is a matter of DNA manipulation, patenting the idea and raking in the cash. The DNA manipulation machine is more or less Lazarus' electronic God. Aptly, when Lazarus takes his spin in the machine, he isn't resurrected and given new life but merely reduced to the function of the Grim Reaper itself, bringing death and destruction to himself, his wife and others. Rather than enhancing life, he subtracts and extinguishes it.

However, as Lazarus may see death as the end of the lane as far as the journey of life is concerned, the Doctor understands why the human span must end. Death to him is seen as a valuable experience for human-kind, one that he himself seems to crave here. He sees death as not just something the body must face but also as something the entire being must embrace. It's something he has been denied and where prolonged life is a curse jn which mortals he has dearly known wither and die. Immortality is regret, sorrow and loneliness.

Lazarus' transformation is an opening of Pandora's box in a literal sense when he uses the machine. 'Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be Orpheus in the Underworld' - cue dry ice and a personification of the circle of existence, the self-devouring worm muching up mankind.

The final showdown in Southwark cathedral, superbly played between Gatiss and Tennant, reverses the cold, analysis of the flesh as seen in Lazlabs for the echoing magnificence of faith's cradle. Where the lab maybe Alpha, the cathedral is Omega - a physical playing out of life's paradoxes, of beginning and ending - and the cathedral with its stained glass, vaulted roof and resonating sound is where Lazarus has a chance to empty himself of his ego, abandon hubris and rely on faith and hope to see him through to the end of his days. It's continuing a religious theme, centred on the transformation of mortal beings through ascension and faith, first intimated in 'Gridlock'.

So, kudos to The Mill once again for their CGI monster. Not bad at all, particularly in the scene where it's scuttling along the cathedral roof. This and Gatiss' very physical performance helped us to imagine the transformation scenes without actually having to spend lots of money showing them. The make up for Gatiss was exemplary and he found ways to work with it to create the character fully and to the extent that in the end we understood Lazarus' folly and sympathised with his failed desire in the sad coda of the death scene.

It was a good, slightly old fashioned monster romp, with even a 'reverse the polarity' nod thrown in to underline the Pertwee vibe, and it often veered into camp with Gatiss (very Julian Glover like) and Thelma Barlow deliciously crossing swords. Martha's family were fleshed out effectively and her mother Francine, played with seething suspicion by Adjoa Andoh, provided a pleasant flash back to the infamous Jackie Tyler slap and offered a tantalising glimpse of future betrayal perhaps. Tish Jones was effortlessly provided by Gugu Mbatha-Raw and I'd like to see more of Leo Jones played by the lovely Reggie Yates. They all provided the necessary grounding for the Martha character, an indication of future loyalties, without ending up being a re-hash of the Tyler clan.

Tennant and Agyeman were excellent, the interplay in Martha's flat a specific treat, knickers and all! And finally, Martha is welcomed as a fully paid-up crew member after a string of episodes that have drip-fed us the unresolved nature of their partnership. With more mentions of Saxon (Harold) here and an extended trailer for the second half of the series, I get the impression that events are going to move up a gear now.





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Sunday, 6 May 2007 - Reviewed by Rob Stickler

Despite the slight apathy I was feeling after last week's episode I had regained my Doctor Who excitement by mid-week, no doubt at least partly thanks to a shiny new issue of Doctor Who Magazine and a few sly episodes of Frontier in Space. Therefore all was right with the world again when I sat down to watch episode six of the third series; The Lazarus Experiment.

Fairly straight forward story but so well executed. The Doctor gets to be a proper science whiz and fiddle with wires and all that sort of boffin stuff, Gatiss was excellent as a baddie not so far from the Doctor's level of intelligence and I loved their scenes together. This episode makes Mark Gatiss only the third person to have written for and acted in Doctor Who since 1963. I bet he's pleased as punch (whatever that does mean). He must have been thrilled to be a part of an episode that homage's Nigel Kneale as much as this one does with all its science tapping into ancient horrors. Thelma Barlow was an unexpected boon in this story as I hadn't expected a great deal from her part. Lady Thaw was as much of a monster as Lazarus.

The monster was grotesque and well realised. Scrabbling along corridors and leaping across balconies. Very scary.

Mr Saxon's Evil Little Helper was a nice touch - really building him up aren't they. How long has he been watching the Doctor? Since Canary Wharf? Since the Sycorax invasion? Since the Slitheen? He must be very well prepared to take the Doctor on when he's good and ready. Whoever he is.

Not crazy about Martha's family but they serve their purpose. Considering her Mother seems to have an extra function as Mr Saxon's pawn I'm not thrilled with the acting so far; Adjoa Andoh seems to be a bit more Albert Square than the Powell Estate. Also it seems to me that Reggie off of radio one may as well not be in it so far. Why were they all invited to this experiment anyway?

Martha is brilliant and I much prefer her to Rose; and also that her relationship to the Doctor is very different. The Doctor manages to be rude or insulting to her at least once an episode - which I love. He's got a real edge to him now. She keeps making moon eyes at him though so I guess that'll be where it goes.

DT, free of the winking atavism of last weeks closing scenes, is splendid here. Cool and distant to Martha at the beginning; his interaction with Martha, her Mother, and most of all Lazarus is a pitch perfect pleasure. Best of all is the Cathedral conversation between Lazarus and the Doctor. 'You think history's only made with equations?' Lot's of great dialogue throughout the script.

With it's glossy look and fast pacing topped off with multiple climaxes, this story felt more like a good old fashioned SF blockbuster and I think that was the right thing to follow last weeks psuedophilosphical clunking imagery and Star Trek sentimentality. As a result I was already grinning all over my face when the episode ended...

AND THEN... there's the trailer. We're halfway through the series and at the risk of jinxing it I don't see what can go wrong with any of the remaining episodes, Jack, Saxon, Cornell, Moffatt, Chibnall, Derek frickin' Jacobi! If the scarecrows and spaceships and explosions weren't enough for you there's John Simm in a room full of dead or incapacitated people wearing a respirator and tapping the table. The scariest thing I've seen in Who yet.

Vote Saxon!





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Sunday, 6 May 2007 - Reviewed by Angus Gulliver

Phew...that was some ride! I am beginning to think I should hav docked the preceeding Dalek episode a point as 10 days on I feel less positive about it. But Lazarus didn't disappoint in any way.

It was great to see Mark Gatiss on screen, and he gave Doctor Lazarus a wholly believable aspect (though my wife thought the "old man" makeup was poor). I was expecting a kindly old gentleman but what we got was a creepy, smarmy, dirty old man - right from the get go you realise Lazarus isn't nice even if he obviously is not evil. That often makes for the best of villians, they are more believable if you can see they're not just bent on destruction. Lazarus has a motivation for what he is doing, and in the same circumstances many sane people might do the same.

We also got to see Martha's family for the first time since "Smith & Jones", but isntead of the soap scenes with Jackie Tyler we are treated to an altogether more satisfactory situation where they are attending Lazarus's great unveilling of his life's work.

And what of his invention? Something akin to a regeneration chamber funded by Mr Saxon...if the rumours are true Saxon might well have good reasons for funding Lazarus's reserach! It is worth pointing out at this juncture that I have been pleasantly surprised that Saxon has not been mentioned every other sentence this year, I felt there were far too many Torchwood references last year.

As we all know, Laz's experiment goes wrong and his DNA becomes unstable forcing him to change into a hideous monster...and back into the young Lazarus. I felt the monster was good, but not necessary. Some of the dialogue between the Doctor and young Lazarus was truly excellent, a treat in an era of modern soundbites and something we wouldn't have had from a Davies-penned script (though his humour in Gridolck was fantastic).

The twist, where we think Lazarus is dead with 15 minutes to go was well handled. I really felt we were going to go off on some other tangent, and hoped it wasn't a prolonged family scene chez Jones. When it became Lazarus wasn't dead after all that was a nice surprise.

Also wonderfully written and acter was the scene where the Doctor tries to leave Martha behind. I really found myself wondering if he was going to leave her! Given how well Martha's character is working out I was very glad he didn't.

The final scenes in the cathedral made for a thrilling climax, with the Doctor's organ playing quite an appropriate way to do away with the monster in a non-violent fashion.

Overall this was very strong, if not perhaps a classic. Stephen Greenhorn's script is among the very best in terms of dialogue and the pacing of the direction was superb.

8.5/10





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Sunday, 6 May 2007 - Reviewed by Vincent Vargas

When you mix together a lot of ingredients, you are going to get a dark brew, and this is what The Lazarus Experiment turned out to be. I am not sure if I know the exact recipe, but I think that first you add a healthy dose of Robert Louis Stevenson's Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, together with a dash of David Cronenberg's The Fly. Then you give the whole thing a classic biblical setting straight from the eleventh chapter of St. John's Gospel, and you throw in some obtuse quotes from T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land and The Hollow Men. You sprinkle the whole thing with some nifty CGI, some effective makeup and promising new characters just waiting to be developed in future episodes, and you have got a very entertaining episode six.

Doctor Lazarus is a mad scientist in search of the fountain of youth. Unfortunately for him, it does not come as easy as it does in Oscar Wilde's great novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. In that great decadent Victorian work, Gray does not actively seek youth by scientific means, it just comes to him one day via art and the kind of artifice that verges on magic. In The Lazarus Experiment, the title villain works towards similar results by using the time-tested traditions of sci-fi mad scientist research. For both Gray and especially for Lazarus, eternal youth carries some dire results, plenty of drawbacks, and the kind of side-effects that should make any rational thinking man of science throw out his bunsen burner and dedicate himself to less dangerous work. Lucky for us and humanity, the Doctor happens to be in attendance at the unveiling of Doctor Lazarus's creepy way-back machine, and he is able to thwart the horrible side-effect mutation that creeps into Dr. Lazarus's existence in the very same way in which Mr. Hyde often usurped the body of his literary better half.

The entire episode, like Wilde's literature, has an inescapable end of the century moldy air to it. It starts with the great old man makeup that transforms actor/writer Mark Gatiss (he is the author of one of my favorite Dr. Who episodes: The Unquiet Dead) into a seventy-six year old ready to be reborn. Throughout the episode we feel that we are nearing the end of something, but we are not quite sure what it is. The TARDIS's return to Martha Jones's apartment, at the start of the episode, for instance, is described as "the end of the line," and the show's denouement concludes at dark, empty, centuries-old Suffolk Cathedral with a monstrous Dr. Lazarus falling from the bell-tower ? the fall of Lucifer ? to the strains of a pipe organ, with all the stops pulled out that turns out to be the not too convincing deus ex machina of the story. By the way, this quasi-musical tour-de-force banging on the organ's keys and pedals is played by the Doctor with the kind of aplomb that would make the Phantom of the Opera really envious.

This episode delves further inside the relationship between Doctor and new companion, by exploring Martha Jones's family. We are introduced to her sister, who works for Dr. Lazarus, and we also get to meet Martha's brother and her mother. Mrs. Jones, portrayed by Adjoa Andoh, is one tough lady who, right from the start of the episode, seems to have made up her mind that the Doctor is just no good for her baby. In addition, a mysterious man named Harold Saxon, whom Mrs. Jones meets at Lazarus Laboratories, manages to completely poison her mind against the Doctor by revealing to her a secret that culminates in Mrs. Jones attacking the Doctor's face with an old-fashioned slap. The Doctor's precious comment about mothers as he rubs his sore cheek was the comedy highlight of this dark show.

The Lazarus Experiment turned out to be a heady, neo-baroque concoction that will surely set the stage for the upcoming episodes that will follow. By the looks of it, the episode that will air in two weeks promises to be one of the most memorable of this remarkable season.