Doctor Who - The Lazarus Experiment & 42
While the Dalek two parter was a bit of a stinker, its grand ambition and goofy charm encouraged continued hope for a series that didn't contain the annual two or three risible, cock-awful episodes. We'd started strong, faltered slightly, but were still riding a crest of goodwill to some extent. Then there was The Lazarus Experiment, the scripting debut and hopefully swansong of some prick called Stephen Greenhorn. The episode must have looked good on paper - fan favourite writer Mark Gatiss appearing in front of the cameras for the first time as a mad scientist with a special machine to wind back his own body clock. But the process has bestowed more gifts upon him than youth - he's also now prone to turning into a gigantic man eating scorpion monster thing, which I'll refer to from now on as "the shittest special effect ever", for obvious reasons.
Gatiss is acceptable as Dr. Lazarus, and his performance brings a certain dramatic weight to certain scenes that wouldn't be there otherwise, the actual writing being so flimsy and one dimensional. For some reason he's content to keep turning into the shittest special effect ever (which has to eat people to stay alive) - but when he keeps screaming in pain and being left naked and comatose on the floor by his unpredictable change-backs, his rhetoric about being "higher evolved" than everyone else sounds unconvincing. Every moment that the shittest special effect ever is on screen, any tension or drama is undercut by the fact that he just looks so, so, so laughably shit. Having a whole episode hinge upon the quality of one CG character in New Who is unwise to say the least - the CG in Who is best used when it's subtle, and this series has so far been wise enough to reel it in a bit and focus on prosthetic monsters and CG establishing shots. Except perhaps for the werewolf in series two, no episode has hinged quite so much on one special effect being decent. And not since about 1970 has a special effect in the show been so catastrophically handled.
I mean, how to even describe it. It's got a face, which looks nothing like Mark Gatiss, which periodically develops predator fangs. It wouldn't look out of place in a cut-scene from a computer game released in 1998. It's got the body of a weird scuttly insect thing, and it's the size of a bus, and it's unconvincing on every level. The explanation for its existence at all is strained to say the least, its defeat achieved via the use of the sonic screwdriver magnifying sound - how many times has this device been used lately? I mean, it's one thing to rely on the sonic screwdriver. It's quite another to rely on ONE FUNCTION of it. There's just a total lack of plot running throughout the episode - it has one red-herring ending about halfway through, and then another ten minutes of unrelenting nothingness until it limps to it's conclusion. The business of Martha joining the TARDIS team full time feels rushed and irrelevant. The Doctor's initial reluctance to offer Martha the position of full time Rose-replacement jars with his pleading Catherine Fucking Tate to come along at Christmas - it's inconsistent. Why would he ask a squawking harpy to come along, but keep trying to drop Martha back home when she's done nothing but act like a textbook Doctor Who assistant since he met her?
AND ANOTHER THING. I wish set dressers would stop showing "young people" as living in flats with LIME GREEN, SKY BLUE or PURPLE walls. Martha's flat is a horrible mess of clashing neon, like that flat on Eastenders that Gus lives in. WE DON'T HAVE GREEN AND PURPLE WALLS. We mostly have BEIGE WALLS. Because WHO CAN BE FUCKED PAINTING A SHORT TERM LEASED FLAT A LOAD OF STUPID COLOURS? Only dickheads, that's who, really.
It's sad that in its third run, Doctor Who can still turn out utter fucking clunkers like this. While the overall sheen of the production elevates this above some of series one's misfires, it's a curious feeling to be watching an episode of Who that has more effects budget than genuine ideas - its a total reversal of much of the original series' appeal. Although as previously mentioned, all the effects budget in the world couldn't have made the stupid gangly awkward spider crab Mark Gatiss mutant gaylord monster look anything other than totally, totally, totally spazzy and broken. And sadly it looks like more of the same will happen next year - Greenhorn is back, unless I can talk him out of it, for another "bloody" episode.
The less said about 42 the better. It's called 42 because it's like 24, ie, it's in real time. 42 refers to the length in minutes of yer average episode. It was soul draining enough to write a review of Lazarus that I'm only going to afford 42 this brief list of pointers.
- Chris Chibnall, writer of 42 and head writer of Torchwood, needs to be taken outside and dealt with, sharpish. That such a halfwit exerts such an influence over the current leading brand of British Science Fiction embarrasses me.
- I can forgive Who much of its apparent plagiarism as friendly nods to influences or inevitable similarities between sci-fi archetypes. But to be ripping off one of your own episodes from last series is a bit weak, and this episode looked exactly like "The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit".
- Foreshadowing is all well and good, and is being handled better in this series than last, but the "Saxon"-arc related scenes in this episode were exactly the same as the ones in the last episode, more or less. Yawn.
- David Tennant deserves a medal for his ability to make this toss engaging and sporadically exciting.
I award both episodes a big steaming turd out of five. But it's OK, because after these two, they're all BRILLIANT, more or less.