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3 February 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 764: The Lazarus Experiment

Dear diary,

Series Three has always felt like something of an odd beast in my mind. When I look back on it, there’s a really good opening episode, a few good-but-not-great episodes in The Shakespeare Code and Gridlock, a run of appalling episodes from Daleks in Manhattan to 42 (inclusive), and then one of the programme’s strongest runs of episodes with the likes of the Human Nature two parter, Blink, and Utopia. In the end, it sort of fizzles out with a finale that I can remember liking but hardly loving. It’s always felt like a bit of a mishmash of very strong stories, nestled alongside very poor ones. But as has often been the way with this marathon in the last few years, on re-watch it’s not been anywhere near as black and white as that. Smith and Jones was still the great opener I could remember, but then The Shakespeare Code was an absolute blinder - and moved right up my list of favourites. Gridlock didn’t fare half so well, but even the two Dalek episodes surprised me by being really rather good. Sadly, The Lazarus Experiment hasn’t undergone a similar transformation (even if the elements are there, untapped, in its DNA… sorry, no, I am).

It’s fair to say that I wouldn’t, upon re-watch, call this story ‘appalling’ any more. Over the last 700-odd days, there’ve been only maybe a handful of episodes which I’d slot in to that category (and even then, I’d have reservations), and this isn’t one of them. I can’t hand-on-heart say that I’ve really enjoyed this one all that much, but there’s still lots in there that I have liked, and which have made today’s 45 minutes worthwhile. For example, there’s lots of dialogue in this one which I really like, including one bit that I’ve been able to quote verbatim ever since my only previous viewing, because I thought it was so beautifully crafted;

LAZARUS

I came here before, a lifetime ago. I thought I was going to die then. In fact, I was sure of it. I sat here, just a child, the sound of planes and bombs outside… In the morning, the fires had died, and I was still alive. I swore I'd never face death like that again. So defenceless.

There’s one or two other nice moments that stand out, too (I really like the Doctor and Martha’s various conversations around the subject of her leaving here), but none quite so much as that bit. It really moved me first time around, and I’m pleased to find it’s got the same poignancy today.

What’s pleased me the most, though, is Martha’s Mum. Martha’s family has never really worked for me. They’ve always come across as being a bit of a mess - especially when they’re outshone by the likes of Jackie on one side, and Sylvia and Wilf on the other. The dynamic is a good enough one (Mum, Dad, Dad’s Girlfriend, Brother, Sister), but they never felt as cohesive as I’d have liked. Part of that problem lies in the fact that - from their point of view - Series Three only takes place over a few days (meaning things like Tish’s frequent promotions and new jobs without mention in earlier appearances stand out more than they should). Another part of the problem is the availability of various people, meaning that when Reggie Yates couldn’t make the filming of the finale, they had to quickly script in a very brief scene to explain where he was. They’ve always felt far less rounded out than the other relatives of the Russell T Davies era.

But much as with the quality of these various episodes, it had become exaggerated over the years in my mind, and there’s a lot more to enjoy about the way Francine gets written here. I’d forgotten lots of little details like the Doctor knocking a drink out of her hand and the agent of Mr Saxon drip feeding her subtle warnings throughout the evening - in my head she’d just taken a dislike to the Doctor and then been approached by the government at the very end. I’m pleased to see that there’s a bit more to it than that. I’m also pleased to see that Leo makes an appearance in this one! I’ve mentioned above that they could only get Reggie Yates in for the single scene during the finale, but I thought that was the only other time he appeared after Smith and Jones! Granted, he doesn’t get a massive roll, here, but at least there’s a bit more to him that I could recall!

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