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The Doctor: This isn’t about improving, this is about you and your customers living a little longer.
Lazarus: Not a little longer, Doctor, a lot longer.

(3.6: The Lazarus Experiment by Stephen Greenhorn)

The dream – more likely nightmare – of living forever has caught our imaginations since time immemorial. Classics of modern English literature such as Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray fire the immortalists’ dreams to high heaven, whilst many of the world religions patently offer a blissful life after death. More, a cursory glimpse of the ubiquitous Web will reveal the sheer variety of outrageous schemes which feed the hopes of those who view science, or perhaps pseudo-science, as the answer to life extension. Undoubtedly the quest for eternal life has inspired many a film and theatre piece in its time, not to mention its fair share of Doctor Who adventures. In fact, casting an eye over the series’ growing back catalogue it is not too difficult to find those beings, usually villainous in nature, who have become obsessed in one form or another with attaining endless, or near endless life.

One of the more recent examples is Professor Richard Lazarus, a human scientist whom the Tenth Doctor encounters in Stephen Greenhorn’s The Lazarus Experiment (2007). Unsurprisingly Lazarus does his best to live up to his New Testament namesake. On this occasion, however, there is no Biblical miracle with which to restore his waning vitality. Instead this twenty-first century immortalist relies upon the principles of science – principles which, it is later revealed, he has failed to properly research. In the ensuing events Lazarus performs a dangerous experiment upon himself that tears open his DNA, enabling him to rejuvenate his body by several decades. For a very short time all seems well, until the full horrifying effects of his ignorant tampering are shown. In breaking into the very building blocks of life Lazarus activates a long discarded mutation in the human genome, reshaping his body in fits and starts into a terrible, desperate beast of monstrous proportions. When Lazarus’ wrecked frame is finally extinguished it is as much a blessing for the fallen scientist, as it is for the world that his work threatened.

Driven in equal measure by hubris and greed, Lazarus is simply one in a long line of ruthlessly single-minded scientists who have sought to obtain immortality. In Peter Grimwade’s script Mawdryn Undead (1983) the tragic figure of the alien Mawdryn bares an even greater punishment for his life-extending ambitions. In willfully meddling with stolen Time Lord technology Mawdryn and his colleagues become condemned to a perpetual cycle of mutation and regeneration; in effect, a living death. To add to their torment the Time Lords abandon them to their awful fate, and their own people exile them aboard a space vessel trapped in an endless warp ellipse. Ironically – and quite understandably – by the time Mawdryn encounters the Fifth Doctor he desires nothing more than the very opposite of what his research had sought. An extraordinary coincidence of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewarts finally frees Mawdryn et al. from their doomed condition, and, in much the same way as Lazarus’, their end is assuredly a boon for all concerned.

Although his immortalist leanings are far less clear, Crozier, who appears episodes five to eight of The Trial of a Time Lord (1986), by Philip Martin, follows a line of research for his fiscally-oriented paymasters, the Mentors of Thoros Beta, which ultimately takes him into the murky waters of life extension. In discovering the means by which the mental content of a being may be transported from one body into that of another, Crozier presents his employers with the chance to live indefinitely – and in a variety of bodies to boot. Although his own position on this existential leap is not made clear, Crozier’s scruple-free mentality makes it highly likely that he would use his own invention to prolong his physical existence when the time had come. As with Lazarus and Mawdryn, Crozier’s ambitions take him to his apparent demise as the Time Lords ensure that his work is well and truly destroyed. Of Crozier’s personal fate the facts remain hazy, suffice it to say that his dark work is all but certainly over for good.

Not long after encountering Crozier the Doctor regenerates into his seventh persona, and very soon becomes entangled in a battle against the Great Architect in Stephen Wyatt’s Paradise Towers (1987). The master-villain in question, Kroagnon, had been disembodied and his brain buried deep inside a mysterious chamber in the basement of his illustrious final work. In the course of the adventure Kroagnon effects his escape by stealing the body of the Chief Caretaker. Although all is made aright in the end, and Kroagnon is eliminated, the means by which he briefly restores himself implies the possibility of life extension, on much the same scale as Crozier’s mind transference technology. Out-and-out immortality it may not be, but it is exceedingly close to it.

The Caves of Androzani (1984), by Robert Holmes, sees the fallen android engineer Sharez Jek holding an entire planet to ransom, purely on the basis of controlling its population’s supply of spectrox: a substance which enables its user to live almost twice their natural lifespan. Amidst gun-running and political corruption, obsession and betrayal the dull business of collecting and refining spectrox is prone to being passed over by the viewer. In point of fact, it represents one of the starkest instances in the series of humanity’s desperate need to postpone its mortal condition, if only for a little while longer. Still further, this fascinating subplot is tragically counter-pointed by the weighty body count which mounts over the course of the adventure.

The climax of this tale raises what is quite possibly the best-known example of immortalist ambitions in Doctor Who: regeneration. The Doctor’s gift of bodily renewal, when seriously injured or physically spent, has propelled the series from the backwaters of a season-long experiment in the early 1960s, to the status of veteran television science fiction programme it holds today. Whilst other series come and go depending on the televisual lifespan of a leading actor, ‘Doctor Who’ is utterly free of this disadvantage. The Time Lords’ capacity to literally rearrange their DNA so as to forge a brand new body, and on no less than twelve occasions, allows the average Gallifreyan to live thirteen life times. And, considering that a single incarnation of a Time Lord, if undisturbed by accident or illness, can last for probably one hundred Earth years or more, each Time Lord has the potential to outlive a millennium.

Bearing in mind that the concept of regeneration is one of the cornerstones of the series, it is little wonder that dreams and schemes bent on achieving endless life are the staple of a good many of its plot lines. In David Fisher’s The Leisure Hive (1980) a race of sterile and seemingly doomed aliens, the Argolin, are searching for a way to turn back the ravages of time. In the closing moments of the story the Tachyon Generator, the extraordinary device which lies at the centre of the dangerously obsessed Pangol’s ambitions, rejuvenates both Pangol and his mother, Mena, returning the former to infancy and the latter to the bloom of youth. What further possibilities the Tachyon Generator represents are unclear, but some degree of life extension is certainly evident.

If threatening the odd race or individual in order to avoid mortality appears extreme, imagine devouring entire planets for the sole purpose of recapturing one’s youth. In The Pirate Planet (1978) by Douglas Adams, Queen Xanxia employs her aptly named world to plunder the mineral resources of the poor unfortunate planets it smothers. Preying on senseless rock is one thing, but carrying out planetary mass murder for the sake of a single individual, who adamantly refuses to yield to the natural passage of time, is beyond the pale. And, if you’re keen on a good dose of righteous indignation, you won’t go far wrong in watching the Fourth Doctor giving it his all against the cybernetic Captain in Episode Three.

Neither of the Doctor’s greatest enemies, the Daleks and the Cybermen, is averse to sidestepping their physical limitations. Although the exact lifespan of a Dalek is somewhat vague, in Eric Saward’s Revelation of the Daleks (1985) the Great Healer – aka Davros – claims to be able to offer immortality to those unfortunate enough to become transformed into a new breed of Dalek. On the other hand, the Cybermen’s penchant for spare-part surgery is all about putting off death by replacing fragile organic components with longer lasting synthetic copies. What is more, if there is any trace of skepticism left over the folly of seeking endless life, one need only look to Davros’ creations and the Mondasian menace to understand that it is without a doubt a poisoned chalice.

On the subject of brushing aside the dangers of immortality, one very particular Time Lord, who becomes exceedingly greedy in regard to his already considerable lifespan, meets a decidedly terrible fate which makes plain the true nature of endless life. The Time Lord in question is Borusa, and he makes his final and most dramatic appearance in the twentieth anniversary special The Five Doctors (1983) by Terrance Dicks.

Borusa is portrayed over several adventures as a wily and astute Time Lord politician, and former teacher of the Doctor. Ruthless to some degree and well versed in Realpolitik, Borusa’s ambitions finally tip him over the edge as he strives to extend his presidency over Gallifrey indefinitely. To do this he sets about claiming the prize of immortality, which had been apparently discovered by the near legendary Time Lord, Rassilon. In actual fact Rassilon’s prize is a trap to ensnare those Time Lords dangerous enough to pursue such a blatantly corrupt course. Borusa receives his just desert in the end, and is transformed into living stone, immobile and imprisoned forever.

Another deviant Time Lord, the Master, has also done his best to avoid death, largely by snatching a variety of bodies along the way, and even trying his best to become the near omnipotent Keeper of Traken. In his most recent story to date it is revealed that the Master was resurrected by the Time Lords to fight in the Time War, presumably with a full complement of regenerations under his belt. Interestingly, it is during the earlier story The Five Doctors that the Master is first offered a whole new life cycle, in return for assisting the Doctor’s various incarnations in the Death Zone. Thus, the notion of extending a Time Lord’s allotted number of regenerations is nothing new; whether this sort of life extension option might become available to the Doctor at some future juncture remains to be seen.

One of the more recent immortalists in the series is Lady Cassandra O’Brien, who did her utmost to defeat the Ninth and Tenth Doctors respectively in Russell T. Davies’ stories The End of the World (2005) and New Earth (2006). Her need to stay alive at any cost is matched only by her deep-rooted sense of vanity which, after countless cosmetic surgery operations, leaves her with only a sheet of skin and a brain in a jar to her name. If that is not enough, she also employs an illegal psycho-graft machine to enable her to literally jump from one body to another, briefly inhabiting the body of the Tenth Doctor and that of his companion Rose Tyler, before resorting to the fragile frame of her force-grown clone, Chip. Cassandra’s patently damaged persona proves to be not all bad at the finish, when she finally recognizes the inevitability of death and relinquishes her hollow ambition.

Our last candidate is somewhat ironic, since technically he’s not an immortalist because he doesn’t deliberately pursue endless life. His name is Captain Jack Harkness and his death-avoiding condition is due to an incredible twist of fate. In the Ninth Doctor’s last episode The Parting of the Ways (2005), also penned by Davies, Jack is killed by a Dalek, only to receive the final act of the Time War when Rose, all but consumed by the Time Vortex, returns him to life with one crucial caveat: he cannot die. For all intents and purposes Jack is indestructible, and the Doctor’s attempt to evade him in the opening moments of another Davies-written adventure Utopia (2007) is symptomatic of the Doctor’s and the TARDIS’ inherent dislike of those beings that deny, or attempt to deny time. Although Jack’s final destiny is unclear, his comment during his final scene in Last of the Time Lords (2007) points to him living a long, but not endless existence. Should this be the case he is undoubtedly all the better for it.

Across time and space the Doctor has battled all manner of bug-eyed nasties and villainous foes, world-conquering dictators and murderous lunatics. In amongst this grim gallery of iniquity there stands the immortalist, a character that has driven many a writer’s imagination over the years, and who is sure to do so again in the future. And this seems fitting, as the future is what immortality is all about.

© Copyright Jez Strickley & Doctor Who Online, 2011.
Page Last Updated: 17/5/2011

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