Doctor Who – Season 11 Episode 4
“Arachnids in the UK”
Doctor Who takes the group back to where they started where they find themselves in the midst of a large spider infestation.
One of the strengths of Doctor Who as a TV show is that it can do pretty much anything. There are no real limits in terms of genre or tone so every episode can in theory be entirely unique while still fitting the framework of what Doctor Who is. Last week gave audiences a thought provoking emotionally resonant historical narrative and this episode goes down the route of comedy horror.
Spiders are an easy go to when it comes to inspiring terror as many people are terrified of them. Make them giant and then there’s a simple recipe for widespread fear in the audience. This is something the episode relies very heavily on at the expense of having a proper villain or even a compelling plot to hang itself on. For better or worse this is an episode about the Doctor and her companions basically running away from giant spiders for the duration with very little focus on crafting a satisfying narrative around that.
In some ways that’s absolutely fine as a piece of entertainment. After all people creature features are a beloved sub genre that people enjoy on some level so mixing up the tone of this show by throwing in an episode that amounts to a creature feature but with Doctor Who characters isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The downside being that an episode exists that isn’t particularly memorable or interesting.
This isn’t a bad episode as there’s a lot to recommend about it. The CGI on the spiders for example is passable enough for them to carry a significant creep factor. A degree of artificiality exists but on the whole they look fine and blend into the dimly lit atmospheric environments well enough. Anyone scared of spiders will most likely have trouble with some of the sequences here so once kudos to the production team for once again crafting a good looking episode.
With this being the first episode where the characters return to their point of origin there’s an opportunity to deal with personal issues. For Ryan and Graham this is where the loss of Grace really hits them because they are back to their normal lives instead of in the midst of a crisis. They both have their own ways of dealing with it that are equally valid. Ryan looks for companionship so takes Yaz up on her offer to go back to her place. Graham decides to go home and experience the place he once shared with Grace without her in it. It’s quietly effective to see him stand silently simply experiencing the emptiness that is now his home. Hallucinations of Grace almost haunt him as he tries to adjust to life alone. Bradley Walsh brilliantly conveys the sense of loss without words. Grief is so often overblown on TV shows so I applaud the display of subtlety here.
The Ryan and Graham relationship receives some attention. Ryan receives a letter from his father that he initially refuses to read. Once he does he finds that it contains an offer of going to live with him. The words “proper family” are used but Ryan definitely doesn’t consider his father to be proper family so is reluctant to uproot. It isn’t explicitly stated but the implication is that he’s starting to see Graham as his family and would rather stick with him. This makes for gradual movement on their connection and is nicely handled even if it’s interrupted by giant spiders.
Yas receives further development through the introduction of her family. It seems fairly standard and relatable as far as families go. Her father, Hakim (Ravin J. Gana) is affectionate and welcoming where her sister Sonya (Bhavnisha Parmar) is deliberately obtuse and directionless. Her mother, Najia (Shobna Gulati) has a larger role to play and is overly critical of her daughter’s life choices as well as not accepting the Doctor or Ryan at face value. This all helps make Yas’ family life feel more lived in and gives her so much more depth than she had in previous episodes.
Another character who features heavily is Dr. Jade McIntyre (Tanya Fear); a scientist who serves as the exposition machine who can deliver the answers to the questions the Doctor might have about giant spiders. Unfortunately the character fails to make an impression as there is nothing more to her beyond her knowledge.
There is an antagonist of sorts in the form of Jack Robertson (Chris Noth); an American businessman who has his sights set on the White House in 2020. Naturally most of what happens is his fault though not in a directly malicious way as the problem is more caused by ignorance and greed on his part than any deliberate attempt. There’s plenty about him to dislike such as condemning his assistant Kevin to death in order to save himself or the generally dismissive way he regards the situation and everyone around him.
Chris Noth is excellent at chewing the scenery though the character as written is a thinly veiled Trump analogue with values that the Doctor can easily oppose. His views on guns in particular are the opposite of what the Doctor thinks and this plays heavily into the episode when he shoots a spider that has grown too big to survive. He calls it a mercy killing but the Doctor correctly points out that mercy wasn’t the intent nor is he really capable of it.
Bizarrely he doesn’t suffer any consequences for his behaviour. This could be a comment on how untouchable the rich are in the world we live in and that people like Jack Robertson often escape accountability for problems they have caused. It would be a reasonable point if the episode had actually made it rather than implying it. Failing to address this one way or another robs the episode of a proper climax and it feels out of character for the Doctor to let such a man go on with his life without doing something clever to sabotage any possibility of him becoming President.
The end of the episode marks the official beginning of the adventure now that the companions are coming along willingly. It’s a great scene where the three companions make their case for joining the Doctor on her travels. Graham doesn’t want to sit home immersed in his grief and wants to honour Grace by travelling through time and space with the Doctor. Ryan wants the opportunity to have a more interesting life than he currently has and Yas really wants some time away from her family. The Doctor warns them that travelling with her isn’t as exciting and glamorous as they might think it will be as they will all come back forever changed by their experiences. This is a huge change from previous incarnations who were all too happy to bring people with them but this version of the Doctor seems to have realised the effect travelling through time and space has on those she travels with so wants them to be fully aware of what they’re getting themselves in for. Despite the warning their minds don’t change so she dubs them Team TARDIS and sets off on the next adventure. I suspect the companions will learn exactly what the Doctor means but for now they seem to be content with becoming different and possibly better versions of themselves.
A strong episode for characterisation that feels fairly forgettable because of the shallow creature feature plot. Returning to the point of origin allows the companions to deal with the issues they left behind. For Ryan and Graham that means coming to terms with Grace’s death. Graham adjusts to an empty house haunted by the memory of Grace and Ryan is conflicted over what family now means to him. Yas gains depth through the introduction of her family who feel believable as family units go with her mother as a bystander on the adventure.
The giant spiders look good enough and blend in with the atmospheric environments really well so anyone who happens to be afraid of spiders should be suitably creeped out by the episode. The antagonist of sorts in the form of rich American Jack Robertson is engaging in terms of how he chews the scenery. Having him be responsible for the problem through greed and ignorance is a strong idea. The lack of consequences faced by him could be a commentary on how untouchable the rich are in today’s world though the episode fails to make a point one way or another so it feels bereft of a climax. This episode marks the true beginning of the adventure with the companions all deciding to travel on their own. They all have valid reasons that make sense for them and the Doctor’s warning shows some growth for her as previous incarnations didn’t try to discourage this.
- a subtle and dignified portrayal of grief through Graham
- impressive visuals
- Jack Robertson as an antagonist through greed and ignorance
- the reasons given for the companions joining her on her travels
- the Doctor warning them of how much they will change through travelling with her
- a fairly forgettable creature feature plot
- the lack of a decent climax where Jack Robertson is concerned
User Review( votes)
We’d love to know your thoughts on this and anything else you might want to talk about. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter or just leave a comment in the comment section below. You’ll need an account for Disqus but it’s easy to set up. Don’t forget to share your rating in the “User Ratings” box
If you want to chat to me directly then I’m on Twitter as well.