Friday, June 08, 2007

After the first five episodes of the third series of Doctor Who we had The Lazarus Experiment in which a scientist has created a machine that will allow him to stay forever young and cheat death. Typically it's all gone wrong and, while the Doctor has that awkward first meeting with the mother of the young lady he's been running around space and time with. She isn't too impressed with him, even less so when The Bad Wol- ahem, Torchwo- I beg your pardon, someone working on behalf of Mr Saxon whispers something in her ear. This is a real by-the-numbers episode , while Mark Gatiss does what he can to try and make his Professor Lazarus more than just a one-dimensional monster he can't stop the special effects bods from turning him into a one-dimensional monster. It's also not a very convincing one-dimensional monster , possibly due to the decision to keep Mark Gatiss's face on it's head. Sadly this makes it look like something out of Quake or Unreal. It does give airtime to some of Martha's family, including her younger sister. As she seems to work as a PA I wonder if it's her, rather than her mother, that will be standing closest to the mysterious Mr Saxon come the end of the season.

Forty Two just didn't interest me. The Doctor and Martha end up on a spaceship that is diving into a sun within three quarters of an hour. The idea is that the story runs in real-time as they struggle to repair the ship and discover what exactly went wrong, while an unhinged crew-member goes around singeing everyone with his eyebeams. Possibly because it looks similar to the much better Satan Pit two=parter from last year, possibly because the script sacrifices building the characters in favour of clever-clever moments and ACTION! this episode is a big yawn. There's a lovely moment when Martha is in an escape pod which is accidentally fired towards the sun and the Doctor watches aghast, and Martha is put in a situation where she has to save the Doctor's life again but it's eminently missable.

This is followed by another two parter, Human Nature and The Family of Blood . This is possibly not only the best story in this season but maybe the best story in new Who or on television in the last few years. Chased by time-travelling bounty-hunters who want his 'precious bodily fluids' the Doctor lands the TARDIS in a pre-First World War English boarding school, using a previously unseen device which rewrites his DNA and wipes his memory, making him think he is a normal human school teacher, John Smith. Martha works as a maid in the school, waiting for enough time to pass so that their pursuers die of accelerated old age and then getting Smith to open his old pocket-watch and restore him to Doctor-hood. Unfortunately things don't go quite to plan. Yay! The bounty-hunters arrive and, being discarnate energy beings, take control of a quartet of humans and create walking scarecrows, as you do. Meanwhile John Smith finds himself falling in love with the school nurse Joan Redfern and the pocketwatch goes missing, stolen by a strange psychic little boy. When Smith doesn't want to believe he's an alien Martha has to keep him alive and out of the hands of the Family of Blood, find the pocketwatch then persuade Smith to sacrifice his life in order to allow the Doctor to return.

The prospect of the Doctor not being the Doctor did not initially excite me, the story emphasises character over action and at first I wasn't that interested in the Doctor falling in love. But there is real effort made to show that John Smith is not the Doctor so that by the end of the first episode I was won over. Then, in the second episode, the dilemma is not how to get the Doctor back but whether John Smith is willing to give up his life to let someone who sounds like a monster (and this is one of those Dark Doctor episodes) back into the world. The cast are all superb, but David Tennant, Jessica 'Spaced' Hynes and Freema Agyeman are great, as is Harry Lloyd as the 'son' of the Family, a by-turns charming yet utterly alien killing machine. By the time the Doctor returns it's more a tragedy than a triumph, the Doctor's involvement in events has caused the deaths of so many innocent people, but they rarely have to die to allow him to arrive in the first place. Tennant's body language as the Doctor, John Smith and the-Doctor-pretending-to-be-John-Smith are all individual and distinct. And the final scene where Nurse Joan meets the Doctor is a masterclass in emotional acting from the heart, while the Doctor can do no more than offer Joan the chance to travel the universe in the TARDIS with him she never makes it clear that she struggles to tell the difference between the Family of Blood (aliens that take the place of humans and dispatch their enemies without mercy) and the Doctor (alien that... you can guess the rest). Wonderful stuff.

Tomorrow it'll be Blink, the extra episode which the regulars don't get to be in it because of scheduling (only the BBC would give a show an extra episode each year but no time to make it).

Labels: ,


<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?