Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

I'm really sorry, but I think this is the most unoriginal Doctor Who story I have seen.

The opening scene promises good things. Although Martha's surprise at arriving home after it's been so heavily foreshadowed is unexplained, their subsequent goodbye is done quite well, and the Doctor's line upon leaving and then immediately returning again is laugh-out-loud funny.


(pointing at the TV news) "No. I'm sorry. Did he say he was going to change what it means to be human?"

Unfortunately, the man on the news who he is pointing at pretty much gives away the next 40 minutes at the outset. He's caked in a ludicrous amount of 'old' make-up, he has a huge new machine that he is about to test on himself, and his name is "Doctor Lazarus". Hmm, now where do you think this could be heading?

Sure enough:



This hook, along with the rest of this episode, is so formulaic and predictable as to be straight out of a spin-off annual, or any other film or show that has already done this story to... err... death.

(I suppose I should point out that, in the Bible, Lazarus came back from the dead, Methuselah was the one who lived a very long time)

However, I was impressed that, although set on Earth in the present day, the show was actually doing an episode with neither zombies nor aliens in it. The political and scientific ramifications of Lazarus' device were strong enough elements on their own.

Until the guy's DNA made him keep turning into a gigantic monster and back again. As is usual, where his body got all the extra atoms from for this change is not explored. I've no idea what had happened to all the machine's earlier test-subjects.

Fortunately the Doctor destroys the machine that's rejuvenated Dr Lazarus. Unfortunately he does this at the start of the episode. I say "unfortunately," because about an hour later he and Martha get trapped inside it, when it's working again without any explanation, or indeed anyone remembering that it was just broken.

The CGI, while beautifully designed, is executed horribly. The London skyline looks both as beautiful and as unreal as a Disney cartoon. It might actually be real, but those two actors sure didn't look like they were standing in front of it. Maybe a still might have worked better than a pan? Equally, the CGI monster is truly horrific... except for the two-dimensional face stuck on the front.


I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, but there is more about this that I didn't like...

As expected, Martha's return to the present-day is almost a straight copy of clone-girl Rose's in The Aliens Of London two years ago. In both stories, the Doctor attempts to return Rose / Martha home 12 hours after they left. In both stories, we meet Rose / Martha's family, including her single-mum. In both stories, the single-mum disapproves of her daughter's relationship with the Doctor. In both stories, one of her family-members (Mickey counts) becomes a guest-companion for the tale. In both stories, shadowy authorities find-out about the Doctor's presence.

Clearly some of this is intentional – it was established in Gridlock that the Doctor is on the rebound from Rose – but the existence and actions of Martha's family and the shadowy authorities cannot stem from this. And I doubt that the writer of this episode has accidentally written the same elements again by pure fluke.

Second, those shadowy authorities...

Throughout the first series of the show's 2005 revival, the writers kept forcing the phrase "bad wolf" into the background of most episodes. Most of the writers apparently weren't told what it was supposed to mean. When its meaning was revealed in the final story of that series, almost every single instance in which it had earlier been mentioned did not make sense in retrospect.

In the following series (2006), the writers kept forcing the word "Torchwood" into the background of most episodes. By the final story that time, the top-secret organisation "Torchwood" only matched some of the contradictory references in retrospect.

This series, the writers are forcing the surname "Saxon" into the background of many episodes. With this episode, so far "Mr Saxon" has been: a soldier, a local election candidate in Wales, and now a financial investor. At the end of this series, due to the show's track-record, I very much doubt that he will turn out to be all three.

Finally, Mr Saxon himself actually appeared in this episode, whispering something negative about the Doctor to Martha's mum. Actually, he's probably not Saxon. I very much doubt that Mr Saxon has been cast yet, let alone written. However, an early scene between Lazarus and his wife foreshadowed that Saxon would be present shortly. At the end, the line Martha's mum said after speaking to him – "This information comes from Harold Saxon himself" – implies that, yes, that was Mr Saxon. I honestly don't think the writers are even aware that they've made this implication.


Apart from the non-diegetic cast-list at the end which credits him as just "Mysterious Man", there's nothing to suggest that this guy was anyone other than Saxon, and everything to suggest that he was. Only the fact that he just wasn't filmed as though he was a famous guest-star suggests otherwise.

Worse, whatever this guy's villainous agenda, he does nothing to stop, capture or kill the Doctor, and reveals nothing of why he should care about Martha's safety, or indeed why he speaks to Martha's mum instead of Martha herself.

So, assuming that I'm right and the guy was not in fact Saxon, despite the implications to the contrary, these are the questions I'm left hanging with:

1. What did the guy say to Martha's mum?
2. Why did he say it to her and not Martha?
3. Why did Martha's mum not tell Martha what the guy had said, neither in person nor in her answerphone message at the end?
4. Why was he concerned about Martha in particular?
5. Assuming he and/or Saxon is a villain, why did the guy not attempt to stop, capture, kill, or even chase the Doctor? Or at least steal the TARDIS? Or plant a tracking device on it?

I expect not one of these questions to ever get answered. I don't mean that to sound mean, I've just learnt better from watching the last two series.

I assume that the reason why Martha's mum believed everything a complete stranger told her was simply because she wanted to believe it, although this does not seem to be implied. Whatever the case, Adjoa Andoh does a brilliant job of playing the role - Martha's mum is quite chilling.

Final words must go in praise of two of other the actors though – Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mark Gatiss.

Despite the astonishing shallowness of her character, Mbatha-Raw as Tish makes the dynamic of the Doctor with two girl companions quite fun, and it's a bit of shame that she didn't stay on at the end, although I'm sure she'll be back.

Mark Gatiss – the author of the excellent Unquiet Dead episode two seasons ago – also does a fine job of playing the generic Dr Lazarus. It's very hard to believe that's really him under so much 'old' make-up, but at the same time a terrible shame that, no matter who is under there, the make-up doesn't look like any old guy I've ever seen.


One of these two people is going to get younger this episode – can you guess which?

Being a long-term fan of the show, Gatiss knows exactly how to pronounce words like "Doc-torrrr" with relish. The author who also gave the show last season's The Idiot's Lantern really did deserve a better script to perform than this though.

High camp with the Eurovision Song Contest next Saturday night...

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2 comment(s):

At 6:38 am, Blogger allison_klinesmith4 said...

i agree with you on a many of your points. i believe that leaving the words "bad wolf" every where was meant as more of a foreshadowing that went awry (though it was meant so that the term didn't randomly appear) but i think it might also have something to do with the time rift in season 5--a collapse of time that makes terms that aren't supposed to apear until years later. i also never realized that "torchwood" and "saxon were appearing in backgrounds, though i had HEARD teh term of torchwood crop up quite often. you must have some pretty sharp eyes. Marht'as mother scared the living dailights out of me, but she somewhat annoyed me too. i wish more people would trust the doctor a little sooner...it would certainly make his job easier :). the thing with this show is that, it does have a way of answering questions, but you have to REALLY pay attention, as it wont say it flat out. also, i don't think the Doctor destroyed the machine at the beginning...i think he was trying to keep it from exploding. anyway, i very much like your personal feedback..i learned quite a bit about this episode that i didn't even notice. i guess its all about strange foreshadowing...anyway, keep it up!

 
At 6:55 am, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Thanks for reading Allison, and for letting me know your thoughts. I also found Matt Smith's first season to be trying to sort some past storylines out, although to me this seemed to be happening retrospectively.

I actually kind of like it when nobody trusts the Doctor! (ῧ)

 

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