Diary of an old cheeser

Hi there! Like other blogs, this is my chance to wax lyrical (some might say talk utter cr*p) about a) what's happening in my life b) all of my pet obsessions in particular music, tv, movies, books and other generally connected things, quite often of the retro, old and "cheesy" variety. Hence the title of my blog. Feel free to leave a comment if the mood takes you. There's nothing like a good chinwag about one's favourite topics and besides I love to meet new people! Cheers, Simon

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Nutty Professor

...could have been another name for last week's installment of Dr Who - "The Lazarus Experiment". Except it doesn't have quite the same adult ring to it. And it's already been used in a couple of puerile Eddie Murphy movies (miaow). However the perennial concept of the mad scientist, whose invention goes berserk, is familiar dramatic territory to many of us. In the latest episode Mark Gatiss played the aforementioned Professor, Richard Lazarus. Lucky Mark - he can now claim the joint distinction of having acted in AND written for Dr Who, his authorial contributions being last season's "The Idiot's Lantern" and "The Unquiet Dead" the season before! Not only that but he's also a been a longtime fan of Dr Who since the original broadcast of the show - so it must be a dream come true to be so closely involved with the programme now. Something I would aspire to myself!

Anyway, back to the plot...well, the Professor of the title claims that he "will change what it means to be human"! It transpires that Martha's sister Tish is actually working as Professor Lazarus' PA and the Dr, Martha, Tish, Mum Francine and brother Leo all attend a black tie event at Lazarus Laboratories. There they are privy to an unveiling of the Professor's new invention - a rejuvenation machine with the power to reverse the human aging process - with the Prof as the first willing "guinea pig". After the machine malfunctions and almost explodes, the Dr manages to halt it just in time for the Professor to emerge, apparently reborn as a much younger man. But the experiment hasn't gone as smoothly as the Professor hoped for and soon he mutates into a hideous, primordial monster...

On first viewing I felt distinctly underwhelmed by "The Lazarus Experiment". It was certainly entertaining enough, though rather predictable and derivative. On second viewing I liked it much more and picked up on lots of good bits I hadn't noticed first time round.

Certainly the concept and execution weren't desperately original, stealing ideas from horror movies like "The Fly" and the classic Victorian shocker "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde". The whole idea of an experiment gone wrong, whilst utilised many times before, has great dramatic potential and holds a kind of horrible fascination I think. It was a shame therefore that the Professor mutated into the monster so early on in the narrative - it didn't come as much of a shock and seemed to happen very quickly and suddenly. I think it would have been much more effective if we'd seen the Prof going through gradual changes, slowly turning into something monstrous, unable to control his transformations and - too late - realising the folly of his actions. Which leads to another point - the Professor didn't seem atall remorseful or worried that his experiment had gone so drastically wrong! Surely turning into a giant insect-like creature all the time was not the, erm, intended outcome of the experiment, rather, to stay young - so how could the Prof say that it was a success?! Was he totally delusional? In the climactic scenes he told the Dr that "avoiding death is part of being successful" but could he honestly claim that this was the way he'd wanted things to turn out? It didn't really wash.

I also thought that the scene in which the Lazarus monster went crashing through the party amongst all the guests was kind of silly - was it really sensible for him to "reveal" himself like that - surely he wasn't going to be accepted that way?

Anyway, that's the negative stuff out of the way. In spite of my misgivings, there was still a lot to enjoy. Cliched though the plot was, it was exciting to watch and there were some good scenes, dialogue and performances.

Mark Gatiss put in a great turn as the slimy and arrogant Professor, making for a convincing villain and it was clear that he was relishing the role. He did look rather camp and golden as his rejuvenated self. His perviness with Tish was amusing and unsettling and I liked his sparring scenes with the Dr, with each arguing their corner. And whilst he did ham it up a bit "I am 76 years old!!!" he never slipped into pantomime theatrics in the mould of say, Anthony Ainley.

Also interesting to watch - although sadly short on screen time - was the Prof's relationship with Lady Thaw, his business partner (and wife? In which case shouldn't she have been called Lady Lazarus? Eat your heart out, Sylvia Plath). She was again well acted by Thelma Barlow, who was primly posh and a million miles away from Mavis "I don't really know!" Wilton. Like her name, she seemed a brittle and cold sort but you couldn't help but sympathise when the Professor informed her that he wasn't attracted to her any more: "You think I'd waste another life time on you?" Nice. A real shame that Lady T got devoured so soon, as her character had a lot of potential! Going back to my earlier suggestion about the Professor's mutation process being a bit more slowly unveiled, perhaps they could have had Lady T gradually grasping the horrible truth of what had happened to her partner instead ...This would have worked much better than having her bumped off so quickly.

And lo and behold the Jones clan were back! As I said in my review of "Smith and Jones" I've had definite reservations about the inclusion of yet another family-of-the-companion in Dr Who. However this time round the Jones characters seemed to slot quite well into the narrative and their presence wasn't too obtrusive, thankfully!

Gugu Mbataha-Raw put in a decent enough performance as sister Tish and played quite an important part in proceedings. However what I couldn't work out was why she was so obviously repulsed by Lazarus in the early stages and then all over him later on. Or was this meant to exemplify the fickleness of her character - someone who obviously judged people by appearances and saw the Prof as her ticket to fame and fortune? On the other hand she did redeem herself at the end by helping the Dr and Martha to defeat the Professor/monster and - literally - giving Martha a helping hand to stop her from falling to her death. That's what sisters are for, eh?

Reggie Yates as Leo was good but woefully underused. He seems like the "nice guy" but wasn't given anything remotely useful to do in the episode. I can definitely see him as a potential action hero or strong man in the Captain Jack vein, so the scriptwriters need to push him in that direction. And mmm, what a cutie he is! Can we have a scene with Leo tied to a chair in his boxers, like Mickey, last season, please? Or stripped naked and probed by some perverted aliens? Perhaps Mr Saxon will have his way with him in the season finale. Okay I will desist now but one can live in hope...And come now peeps, you've got to let me entertain a few fantasies. David Tennant has never really done it for me...

I digress. Finally there was Adjoa Andoh as the over solicitous and not very likable Francine, mother of Martha. Like Jackie Tyler she's understandably concerned for her daughter's welfare and consequently suspicious of this stranger called the Dr but I found her something of a cold, hard-faced cow! Still I suppose you have to cut the woman some slack - if someone employed by a well known politician told you that the man who's hanging out with your daughter was bad news, you'd probably be a little bit bothered too. Francine's slapping of the Dr nicely mirrored Jackie's actions in Season One, leading to the Dr's amusingly wry comment: "All their mothers. Every time". Anyway I hope Francine sees the error of her ways and mellows a bit later on. Jackie at least came round to the idea of her daughter travelling through time and space with a strange fella. Francine doesn't know about the time and space bit yet though and one suspects she is rather too much on Mr Saxon's side. Talking of whom, I did like the references to Mr S and the revelation that he was the paymaster behind Lazarus' experiment as well as the fact that he'd obviously employed a lackey to influence people's opinion of the Dr. And why exactly is that we wonder? What's going on there? All will be revealed...

As for the rest of the story, there were some good action/chase sequences. And in a style that reminded me of "Alien" or "The Terminator", several occasions on which you thought the enemy was finished off for good but then - hey presto - sprang back from the dead. Firstly the Dr's failed attempt to blow up the Lazarus monster in the lab. Second the Dr's reversing the polarity (nice old school reference there!) in the rejuvenation chamber, seemingly turning Lazarus back into a dead human. And third, the monster's final proper defeat in Southwark Cathedral, sent plummeting from a great height by the hypersonicsound waves emanating from the cathedral's organ. Played by the Dr, always there to save the day. Incidentally the climatic bits in the cathedral were genuinely exciting, with Martha and Tish leading the lascivious Lazarus up the stairs to the bell tower for a gripping dangling-on-the-edge finale. Thank goodness the Dr pumped up the organ just in time. No comments, purlease.

And the monster itself? Welllll, whilst he/it looked appropriately revolting in a Seth Brundle-fly kind of way, the head that was grafted on to the the front of it did look very unreal and nothing like Mark Gatiss! It was good however that we were given a decent explanation as to why Lazarus kept mutating into this particular creature - a dormant gene in Lazarus' DNA that evolution had rejected millions of years ago, but now unlocked by the rejuvenation process - kind of like some prehistoric version of man gone wrong.

I liked the opening and closing scenes set in Martha's flat, which worked well as a kind of prologue and epilogue to the adventure and there was some nice dialogue between the Doc and Martha. This was supposed to be the point at which the Dr left Martha at home for good, but owing to the fact that Freema Agyeman is in every story this season we always knew this wasn't going to be the case! Freema was good at conveying Martha's sadness at being "left" by the Dr. The expression on her face as the TARDIS dematerialised, leaving her alone in her lounge, was genuinely sad. (Although for me her performance was nowhere near as strong as say, Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah-Jane, when the Dr leaves her behind for the last time in "School Reunion" - she did it so much better!) And it was good to see Martha's delight when the Dr subsequently returns, seconds later, his curiosity piqued by the news report in which Lazarus claims that he will change what it means to be human! The coda scene at the end provided an appropriate conclusion with Martha asserting: "I don't want to be just a passenger any more" to which the Dr replies: "Okay". And Martha, getting the wrong end of the stick, thinks he means, okay goodbye, when in fact his intention is the opposite! The Dr's admission "You never really were just a passenger, were you?" was a bit of a coup - blimey, does this mean that the spectre of Rose Tyler is finally going to fade away for good? About bloody time! I also forgot to mention in my review of "Evolution of the Daleks" that Martha's continual mooning over the Dr is starting to grate a lot - viz: the conversation she had with Tallulah where she admits frustration over not being able to compete with Rose - I wish they would just kill the subject dead once and for all!

As for the regulars, Martha was shown to be resourceful and using her intelligence yet again - the scene where she finds the controls that opens the doors to Lazarus Laboratories and her quick realisation that the Professor's kiss on her hand had provided an instant DNA sample. Like the Prof's kiss, those medical lessons have obviously rubbed off. She also proved to be quick-witted in acting as a distraction for the Professor, with her and Tish leading him up the bell tower after them. And it was also great to see Martha in a totally different outfit for a change - she looked gorgeous in that black cocktail dress with headband and her hair down. About time though- that red jacket and top she'd worn in all the previous stories must have been seriously grubby and stinky by the end of the Dalek story. As a trainee Dr one would have thought that Ms Jones understood the importance of hygiene!

David T was on form too. I think the only story where I've found him mildly irritating so far in this season was the opener, "Smith and Jones", the rest of the time he's been pretty good and he seems very established in the role now. The Dr's face-off scenes with Lazarus were good, with some excellent verbal exchanges that gave the story a serious, thought-provoking aspect. "It's not the time that matters, it's the person...facing death is part of being human" was the Dr's response to the Professor's declaration that a person can do more in 2 or 3 lifetimes. Particularly impressive was his long speech at the end, surely drawn from his own experience: "A longer life isn't always a better one - in the end you just get tired - tired of the struggle - tired of losing everyone that matters to you - tired of watching everything turn to dust. If you live long enough Lazarus, the only certainty left is that you'll live alone." Very poignant and a lesson to be observed there! Not only has the Dr lived for several centuries and changed his appearance some nine times, he's also seen his home planet destroyed. So he has to live with the knowledge that he's the very last of his kind. Yep he's certainly been through it. It's no wonder he chooses to have a companion to accompany him on his travels to ease the burden of loneliness. It was a pity then that this wasn't linked a bit more closely to that final scene with Martha - given the Dr's admission to Lazarus it would have kind of made sense for him to tell Martha that he needed and appreciated her company.

So whilst formulaic, derivative and predictable in some respects, "The Lazarus Experiment" still had enough elements to make it an enjoyable and entertaining story. I'm pleased to say that - in my view anyway- there hasn't been a single duff episode yet this season! Let's hope this upward trend continues.

Oh and one final thing - I loved the "teaser" trailer for the remaining stories this season, that was provided at the end. Kind of an apology from the Beeb for the fact that Eurovision was holding back Dr Who for two weeks. So I should hope! And wow, lots of interesting looking bits - scarecrows coming to life, sinister looking schoolboys, Captain Jack doing an athletic jump and asking if someone had just kissed him and...John Simm looking very scary in a gas mask, banging the sound of a heartbeat out on a table! What could that be all about?

Yep, this has been yet another extraordinarily elongated Dr Who review from yours truly, La Cheeser! Thanks for reading it. That's all folks! (Until "42" that is...)


  • At 12:36 am , Blogger TimeWarden said...

    Another name I’ve heard bandied about for “The Lazarus Experiment” is “The Lazy Arse Experiment” but they might just as well have called it “The Quatermass Experiment” and have done with it! Mark Gatiss is only the third person to both write for and appear in “Doctor Who”, apparently.

    I liked the episode more on second viewing, too, though not excessively so. I didn’t actually notice brother Leo being hit by the table, on first viewing, and it doesn’t really feature all that prominently so, when he’s picking himself up off the floor injured, I’m thinking when did that happen?!!

    Poor old Anthony Ainley comes in for a lot of stick! I never thought he was as bad as people make out, though definitely not in the same league as Roger Delgado. I wonder how John Simm will compare, if it is indeed the Master he’s going to play?

    Why would Simm give up appearing in every episode of “Life On Mars” just for a role in a couple of episodes of “Doctor Who” unless he is going to feature far more prominently than just the season finale?!! The Doctor is the last of the Time Lords. He has stated, quite categorically, that he would’ve felt the presence of another of his race, were they to exist, and that the Face of Boe is wrong.

    I’m also beginning to wonder if Martha will survive beyond this season? I haven’t heard that she’s had her contract renewed for next year! And, I’m pondering whether or not Kylie might fill the part of stopgap companion, as did Catherine Tate, in the next Christmas special?

  • At 10:46 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    Tim - Yes you're right, it did have distinct shades of Quatermass about it, as well as other "mad scientist" type stories!

    The Leo bit kind of passed me by too - about the only dramatic thing that happened to him, which isn't saying much is it!

    I think Anthony Ainley's portrayal of the Master got more OTT and hammy as time went on. In "Keeper of Traken" and "Logopolis" he was fairly reigned in but in subsequent stories he was allowed to become too much of a moustache-twirling meglomaniac! That said he still had his moments. And I think part of the blame lies with John Nathan-Turner. I'm hoping Mr Simm will be very good indeed, but at present we can't say if he's going to playing the Master or not...keep hearing rumours from both sides!

    I've heard that John Simm doesn't like being typecast and stuck in one role for too long - hence his leaving "Life on Mars" - so I don't think that Dr Who was the thing that prompted him to leave! But if he makes for a good villain, let's hope we do get to see more of him. And as for the Dr being the last of the Time Lords and the Face of Boe's comment, perhaps he meant something else when he said "You are not alone" - it doesn't just have to mean there's another Gallifreyan surely?

    Not sure about Martha coming back or not. As much as I've liked her she can be a bit wooden on occasion and I don't think she's quite as strong a performer as Billie Piper - I know I haven't mentioned this before! Not sure about Kylie as a companion though - too obvious and pandering to the media!

  • At 4:21 pm , Blogger Minge said...

    I'd like Martha's brother to turn homo. Any chance?

  • At 8:32 pm , Blogger Old Cheeser said...

    I bloody wish, Minge!

    Hey, perhaps that could be the subject of our next petition. Or perhaps we could write to Reggie Yates personally and ask him if he'd consider it?

  • At 11:26 pm , Blogger Minge said...

    Yes, we'll write to the BBC. Did you see Reg on BBC Breakfast a few weeks back? Phwoar! I found a tent pole in my pyjama bottoms!


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