Cold Hearts and Hot Heads: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series Three, Part Three

We’re back, with our New Doctor Who rewatch! This week we continue Series Three, looking at two episodes: The Lazarus Experiment and 42. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not watched these episodes!

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In The Lazarus Experiment, the Doctor returns Martha Jones to her home as promised, though she isn’t happy about it. He’s just about to leave, when a news broadcast catches his ear: an elderly man named Richard Lazarus promises to change what it means to be human.

As it turns out, the man is the employer of Martha’s sister, Tish; and as family of staff, Martha has a “plus one” invitation to attend Lazarus’s party that night, at which the elderly scientist will unveil his accomplishment. She takes the Doctor as her “plus one”; this is not well received by her mother, who is suspicious of the Doctor. While they talk, Lazarus arrives with his partner, the equally-elderly Lady Thaw, and begins his show. He steps into a high-tech chamber in the center of the party, and after a near-explosion and some timely intervention from the Doctor, he steps out—changed, it seems, into a man a good five decades younger. The Doctor has a word with him, but is interrupted by Lazarus’s sudden, ravenous hunger—an energy deficit, as the Doctor notes. He has concerns about the outcome of the experiment, but Lazarus excuses himself.

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The Doctor and Martha check Lazarus’s DNA as scanned by the machine, and find that it is undergoing sudden, ongoing mutations. Alarmed, they go in search of him. Meanwhile, upstairs, Lazarus talks with Thaw, who expects to become young with him and build an empire at his side, but he rejects her as beneath him. Suddenly he transforms into a large, scorpionlike creature, and attacks her. The Doctor and Martha arrive to find him gone, and Thaw’s corpse drained of all life energy. Lazarus, back in human form, goes down and locates Tish, and escorts her to the roof to look at the view; trailing behind, the Doctor and Martha have an encounter with Martha’s mother, and then follow them. The Doctor confronts Lazarus, who transforms again; he chases the Doctor, Martha, and Tish downstairs, tripping an alarm on the way. The alarm causes a security lockdown, sealing the building. Lazarus arrives at the party, killing one person right away and causing panic in the others. Martha borrows the sonic screwdriver to get a door open, and everyone escapes while the Doctor leads Lazarus back through the building; but Martha defies her mother to go after him. Meanwhile, a strange man warns Martha’s mother about the Doctor.

The Doctor and Martha hide inside the machine, and the Doctor begins modifying it. Lazarus starts the machine to drive them out; at the last second, the Doctor reverses the polarity, causing its sonic wave to focus outward instead of inward, striking Lazarus. It makes him human again, and knocks him out. Martha’s mother confronts the Doctor as Lazarus is taken away in an ambulance; but they are interrupted as the ambulance crashes down the street, and Lazarus escapes. The Doctor, Martha, and Tish chase him into a nearby church, where he used to hide from the air raids as a boy. The Doctor sends Martha and Tish to prepare to lead Lazarus into the bell tower, while the Doctor tries to talk him back to sanity. He is unsuccessful, and Lazarus chases the women into the tower. The Doctor plays the pipe organ, using it along with the sonic screwdriver and the tower’s acoustics to disrupt the sonic field that caused Lazarus’s transformation. He falls to the floor of the church, and reverts to his original, aged form, dying as he does so.

At the TARDIS, the Doctor offers Martha another trip; she declines, until he tells her she is more than just a passenger. She departs with him, just as her mother leaves a message on her phone: the Doctor is dangerous…so says Harold Saxon.

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I’ve always felt that this episode works best if viewed as a commentary on the topic of regeneration. It isn’t particularly heavy-handed about it, but viewed a certain way, it paints the Doctor as somewhat arrogant regarding his place as a Time Lord. He never directly mentions his species here, or even uses the term “regeneration”, though he alludes to it. Still, that’s clearly what Lazarus is getting at—a form of regeneration that would apply to humans—and the Doctor doesn’t take it well. He’s quick to point out that facing death is a part of being human [emphasis mine], even though he himself can elude it. It’s a message that’s reinforced by the situation itself; Time Lords can safely regenerate, but when Lazarus tries it, his body can’t handle it, and terrible things happen. One would expect the Doctor to be a little more sympathetic; after all, it’s the other Time Lords—whom he frequently clashed with—who think that their lifespans, regeneration, and mastery of time make them superior to other beings. However, the Tenth Doctor will follow a disturbingly similar path throughout his life, if gradually. Here, he confronts the matter of regeneration; here, as well, he comments about his age (though again, not directly) and the wisdom he gained from it; and we are all familiar with what mastery of time will do to him, as The Waters of Mars will eventually establish the “Time Lord Victorious aspect of his character. I don’t like to be heavy-handed with religious metaphors in Doctor Who; but if the Doctor is seen as a destined, almost messianic character at some points (admittedly, more as Eleven than Ten, but still), then this is his three-part temptation playing out; and he has to eventually overcome all three parts before he can become the prophecy-laden Eleventh Doctor, who will eventually cheat death, and become (possibly) functionally immortal.

Martha’s family comes to the forefront here, and they are still as unpleasant as ever; or at least, her mother is. She’s doing what she does for the sake of her daughter, which is admirable; but she’s making the wrong decisions, and there will be consequences. She is the gateway to the series-arc “Mr. Saxon” references here; she becomes involved with Saxon’s agents, who are aware of the Doctor. It’s a bit anticlimax now that we all know who Mr. Saxon is; but at the time, it was quite intriguing. We get several such references here, not only from Martha’s family, but also from Lazarus and Thaw; this series has the unique challenge of developing an arc that is bound to a few short months on Earth, while having offworld episodes, and so they make up for the last few episodes by having multiple references here.

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There are only a few references to past stories here, other than the Saxon references. The Doctor reverses the polarity, which the Third Doctor often did (and Ten and Eleven will do in Day of the Doctor). He mentions that bad things happen when he wears the tuxedo, as in Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel. The events of Smith and Jones are mentioned as being less than a day prior to this story. Martha mentions Shakespeare (* The Shakespeare Code), New New York (Gridlock) and old New York (Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks). The Doctor mentions being present in the Blitz (The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances; also the novels *Illegal Alien and Just War).

My major complaint here is that this story plays fast and loose with science in some conspicuous ways. Altering DNA cannot instantly change physiognomy or physiology, although it can produce changes over time; but Lazarus changes instantly, several times, in both age and form. As well, he gains and loses mass instantly; the Doctor handwaves this a bit with a comment about stretching himself thin as the cells triple, but it’s still difficult to believe, especially as the monstrous form is noticeably heavier than the human form.

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In 42, the Doctor alters Martha’s phone to have universal roaming (but not in time to catch the message her mother left at the end of the previous episode). The TARDIS is then caught in turbulence, and lands, as a distress signal comes in. They are on a cargo ship…and in 42 minutes, it will crash into the star below it.

The TARDIS is in a vent chamber, which fills with superheated air and can’t be accessed. The Doctor offers to fix the ship’s engines, and runs to the engine room. He discovers the ship has been sabotaged. The captain, McDonnell explains the situation to him, but she doesn’t know who did it. However, part of the sabotage included the activation of security protocols; and now, twenty-nine deadlocked, password-protected doors lie between them and the auxiliary controls that can save the ship. The Doctor sends Martha and another crewmember, Riley, to unlock the doors one at a time—and he goes with the others to the medical bay. And time keeps ticking away.

McDonnell’s husband, Korwin, is in the medical bay. His temperature keeps rising, and he shouts about burning inside; he won’t open his eyes. The Doctor orders him into a stasis chamber which will cool his body and sedate him.

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The passwords are actually security questions—trivia, for the most part. Martha calls her mother for answers at one point, and argues with her. The Doctor goes to work on the problem; Abi, the crewmember left with Korwin, is stunned to see him awake, and calls the Doctor. Korwin tells her to “Burn with me!” and opens his eyes, revealing a bright light that kills her. Korwin puts on a helmet with a dark visor. The Doctor and McDonnell find that Abi was vaporized; the readings she got on Korwin reveal he has been taken over by an alien life form. Korwin, meanwhile, kills another crew member.

The Doctor realizes Korwin can’t be saved, but McDonnell won’t accept it. Elsewhere, Korwin takes a third victim, Ashton; but instead of killing him, he spreads the infection to him. Ashton dons a similar helmet. Ashton confronts Riley and Martha, but they escape into an escape pod. Riley keeps Ashton from jettisoning the pod, as Martha warns the Doctor. Korwin confronts McDonnell, who tries to get through to him; another crew member, Scannell, releases coolant onto him, temporarily freezing him. Ashton is affected by it as well, and abandons Martha and Rile, but smashes the launch panel, jettisoning them as the Doctor watches. They fall toward the star.

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Martha calls her mother again, to say goodbye; and we see that she has an official-looking eavesdropper in the background. McDonnell gets Ashton into the stasis chamber and freezes him. The Doctor goes out onto the surface of the ship beside the airlock, and activates the magnetic recall, pulling the pod back at the risk of his own life; but he looks on the surface of the star, and realizes it is alive. When the pod arrives, Martha discovers that the living stellar matter has invaded the Doctor, like Korwin and Ashton; he is holding on, but barely, as it burns him and tries to take control. Riley and Scannell run back to work on the sealed doors. The Doctor gets Martha to put him in stasis; the cold killed Ashton, but the Doctor can handle it briefly. He tells her to go dump the fuel, which was supplemented from the star by the ship’s (illegal) fusion scoop system. The fuel contains living matter, which wants to return to the star. She freezes him, then goes.

McDonnell finds Korwin. She admits that this is her fault; she ordered the fusion scoop to be used. She embraces him, but jettisons the two of them out of the airlock, sacrificing herself to end the threat. Meanwhile, the Doctor escapes the stasis chamber, but loses control to the entity inside him. Martha reaches the controls with Riley and Scannell, and vents the fuel; as the reserve tanks engage, and the ship escapes the gravity well, the entity leaves the Doctor as well, returning to the star.

Once safe, Riley and Scannell send a distress signal, as they lack the fuel to complete their journey. They resolve to tell the truth, and admit the illegal use of the scoop system; as the Doctor points out, the star is alive, and deserves protection. As they leave in the TARDIS, Martha calls her mother to apologize for hanging up earlier. Her mother tells her it is election day, and begs her to come home for dinner, to which Martha agrees. After the call, the eavesdropper collects her phone, and expresses Mr. Saxon’s gratitude.

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42 has always been one of my favorite Tenth Doctor episodes. (I will admit that, on first glance, I expected it to be a Hitchhiker’s Guide reference…) It’s the first—and as far as I know, only—episode to function in real time, with the plot taking no longer than the running time. It’s a clever device, but one that could easily become gimmicky (for reference, see some of the insanity that 24 got up to in its later seasons). Here, it gives the episode a great deal of urgency, and shows us what the Doctor and his companions can do under pressure. That’s a role that David Tennant plays very well, possibly topped only by Matt Smith (disagree if you like, but Smith was great at fast-moving, rapid-fire stories). I understand that there is a prologue available in the form of a short story, but I haven’t read it; having only discovered its existence while researching for this post, I’ll try to find it later. While the idea of a living star is far-fetched, it would be used again in modified form in The Rings of Akhaten. More compelling are the flame creatures that result from possession here. They’re menacing, utterly deadly, and impossible to reason with; in short, everything that makes a good one-shot monster. I wondered if their method of killing is a historical reference to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; historically, those explosions left a sort of shadow of some of the victims on the walls behind them, much as we see with the first death here. (I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but I’d rather leave it vague; such references can be very sensitive, even after several decades, and I’d rather not disrespect anyone.)

We don’t know the name of the ship for sure; one of the trivia questions seems to indicate it may be the Pentallian, but there is also a component of the ship called a “Pentallian Drive”, which dates all the way back to Revenge of the Cybermen (Pentallian drives were part of Nerva Beacon’s transmat). The illegal fusion scoop is an interesting concept; though we don’t see it in action here, it seems to be very similar to the stellar refueling system aboard the Destiny in Stargate: Universe. The ship’s spacesuits are the same as the ones used on Sanctuary Base in The Satan Pit; this story is set in the 42nd century, which may be the same as The Satan Pit. The spacesuits will appear in several other episodes, but mostly owing to the fact that the Doctor kept his; therefore there isn’t necessarily a connection with any other time period.

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The Doctor starts to tell Martha about regeneration here, but doesn’t complete the explanation; it won’t matter to her, as she will not be present for his next regeneration. He reveals that he can handle cold temperatures down to -200 C, if only briefly; this was first seen with the First Doctor, waaaaay back in The Space Museum. He can also handle high temperatures briefly, as well as the attendant solar radiation; ironic, as radiation will eventually kill him, but nothing new (see also Smith and Jones). His math skills are considerable, as he rapidly solves a series of happy prime numbers. He also, again, demonstrates the ability (unintentional, I’m sure) to inspire people to sacrifice their lives; McDonnell dies in the same manner as Katarina once did (The Daleks’ Master Plan), though in heat instead of cold. There’s another Saxon reference, despite the future setting; Martha’s mother deals with Mr. Saxon’s agent, who mention his name. (We’ll see that character again, as well.)

I really don’t have any complaints about this one; as I said, it’s one of my favorite episodes. While it doesn’t contribute much outside of itself (that is, to the overall arc), it’s simply a good story at a reckless pace. Go watch it, and enjoy!

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Next time: Three more episodes, as the following week we’ll tackle the three-part season finale. We’ll be watching what are widely regarded as some of the Tenth Doctor’s best episodes: Human Nature, The Family of Blood, and Blink. See you there!

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

The Lazarus Experiment

42

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