I thought this was the first misfire of Series 3. Actually, I thought it was an idea with great potential, but was poorly written and executed. The idea, of the dangers of toying with nature—specifically of playing with human genetics in pursuit of otherwise laudable objectives—contained the seed of a great story. I would have lapped up a mature discussion of the desirability of playing with nature in the name of “progress”, and, at certain moments, this episode came close (for example when the Doctor confronted Lazarus in the cathedral), but the absolutely ridiculous mutant beast thing really made a mockery of any serious thematic arguments the writers were trying to convey. It was really so overblown and preposterous that it quite ruined the episode for me. I’ll give the episode points for having a good idea and a few genuinely good moments and instances of dialogue pursuing that idea, but the absurd Lazarus beast is the great, writhing, mutated elephant in the room which I’m finding impossible to ignore.
A secondary theme this episode dealt with (again, compromised by the Lazarus beast), was reversing ageing and life extension. Lazarus and his experiment reminded me of Aubrey de Grey and his exciting research into “rejuvenation”. Although I don’t agree with them, Doctor Who’s contribution to the debate surrounding this and other anti-ageing scientific research raises valid concerns that humanity might have about the proliferation of medical remedies to “defeat” ageing, by reversing its effects (as de Grey is looking at doing) or otherwise. The Doctor’s monologue on the curse of a long life was particularly good:
I’m old enough to know that 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 end up alone.
Again, this could have made for the theme of a really relevant and penetrating story, but it’s hard to take the message seriously when age-reversal technology is depicted as turning a man into a giant, freakish, murderous, stampeding beast.
I’m glad the Doctor finally gave in and took Martha on full time. He knew he wanted to, right from the start, and it was plain that his heart wasn’t really in it when he was going to leave Martha at the beginning. I think, rewatching Series 3 for the first time in a long while, that Martha is cementing her place as my second favourite companion of the revived series (after Amy). She continues to be brilliant—however, I’ve waxed lyrical about Martha in the last four reviews, so I’ll spare you this time. I thought Mark Gatiss was exceptional in this episode. I thought he was the right choice for the part: he’s very good at portraying the old man in a younger man’s body, while the more intense moments, such as that in the cathedral, he delivered impeccably.