It’s halloween. There’s monsters loose around a hotel. Who you gonna call? Team TARDIS! This week saw the Doctor and her friends dealing with some oversized creepy crawlies, but what did our team make of Arachnids in the UK? Let’s find out…
Zoinks! Like Doctor Who, where are you?!
A gang of protagonists running round a spooky looking hotel chasing giant spiders, while the main villain turns out to be a disgruntled businessman. For me, Arachnids in the UK felt a little bit Scooby Doo, but there were still some things to enjoy.
In this episode we got to meet Yaz’s family. Whilst none of them really have the humour of Jackie Tyler or the likability of Wilf, it’s still nice to have that family connection, especially after Ryan’s nan has popped her clogs. Speaking of which, it was a nice touch having Grace appear in this episode to comfort Graham. When she died, I was worried that her earlier status as ‘recurring character’ meant that Chibnall would go all Moffat on us and bring her back to life, so I’m glad she’s just a ghost.
We also got to see the Doctor in a domestic environment. Whittaker excels at portraying the Doctor trying to socialise, even if it does fall into the Series 11 trait of making it blindingly obvious what the message is with the “Am I being weird now?” line.
I thought the idea of mutated spiders being the threat of the week was rather neat, once again making it more relatable and proving you don’t necessarily need aliens to make a good episode. They were pretty scary – my mother spent the first 10 minutes covering her eyes and then left the room – and certainly improved upon 1974’s Planet of the Spiders.
However, the resolution of trapping them all in a room to die seemed a little out of character for the Doctor. I’m someone who always tries to be nice to all creatures, no matter how terrifying they may appear, so I would’ve liked to have seen the Doctor come up with a better plan – maybe to sedate them and drop them on another planet?
Of course, the real villain of the week was the hotel’s owner, Jack Robinson. Instantly dislikable, the character follows in the footsteps of other maniacal businessmen such as Solomon and Mr Halpen – characters you love to hate. Sadly though, he’s revealed to be a caricature of Donald Trump – a character I’ve given up on bothering to hate – with yet another in a series of political/cultural messages that has been spelled out to make it incredibly obvious to the viewer what is being said. I miss Doctor Who‘s subtlety.
In fact, as we go further into the series, there are certain traits that seem to be cropping up in all of the episodes. The Doctor brandishing her sonic in an overly theatrical manner, inclusivity being crowbarred in (“I’m your niece’s wife”) and the protagonists being the only people around. That last one is particularly bugging me, as there never seems to be any crowds of people or background characters that could be affected by the story. Apart from in Rosa, we never really go beyond the TARDIS team, the villain and handful of supporting characters. While this initially worked for the first couple of episodes so that we could get to know the new Doctor and her companions, it does feel like there’s not a lot of world-building going on, making it harder to relate to. The threat always seems limited to the surrounding area, and from the ‘next time preview’ this looks to be the case in episode 5.
Overall, this episode – as with The Ghost Monument – had an interesting premise, but ultimately falls a bit flat. This series has been hit and miss so far, but I’m still holding out hope that it improves.
Originally, I wasn’t sure about Arachnids in the UK. From the trailers I thought it would be a cliché “laboratory experiment gone wrong.” Fortunately though, the episode had a great sense of mystery and intrigue to what was actually happening and the solution was also very well crafted and made sense. Although, there was some loose ends that could’ve been tided at the end. The episode also seemed to be well supported by science as well – with accurate information about spiders and mines.
It was nice seeing Yaz’s family, but it was a bit disappointing that they didn’t play a bigger role in the episode – we could’ve had the spider in their flat. However, the other characters such as Dr Jade McIntyre, Yaz’s mum (Najia) and Jack Robertson were really enjoyable and well developed. It was nice to see a sort of expert with the Doctor, but it could’ve worked better if she explained the spider details rather than the Doctor.
Jack Robertson was certainly an interesting character, but I didn’t see the need to make him as political, I thought that a businessman that only cared about the bottom line was good enough. Saying that though, the line “shoot things like a civilised person” with the music sends shivers down my spine. Well, and the spiders. And the fact that he just walked away at the end, strengthened the unlikeness of the character. It was nice that the spiders weren’t portrayed as monsters, and the CGI was pretty good (and scary.)
However I felt the episode could’ve done more as it had great potential. They could’ve hint at the involvement of JLR Disposal, maybe by having their logo somewhere in the lab. Also I felt that they could’ve had more locations (especially as it was named Arachnids in the UK and such a large cast.)
Overall, I thought it was a good episode, could’ve been better but still very enjoyable. I also think it’ll be an underated episode, but we’ll see about that.
Let me start this review by saying: I disliked this episode a lot. Here, I said it!
I love a good Halloween episode, and this one looked promising. We have giant spiders (matching the dead spider like TARDIS interior), a villain who resembles Dracula, spider webs everywhere and (almost) a spooky atmosphere. But most importantly, we have Ryan creating shadow puppets (around 19’19 for those who missed it).
So why am I complaining? It started with the sickening travel from the TARDIS in the vortex. While it conveys the right impression (a bumpy travel), the graphics are just painful to watch, like a videogame gone wrong.
Then, I thought UNIT was involved. The music used when we first encounter our Dracula like villain (and Yaz’s mom) made me hope that UNIT was back (sadly it wasn’t). Speaking of UNIT, can someone tell Chris Chibnall that all scientists don’t look like Osgood.
There are a few things that I really liked about the episode, so before I get all negative, here is some positive attitude towards this episode:
- Graham: I absolutely love his character (and the fangirl here felt like hugging him during most of the episode). Bradley Walsh is doing a fantastic job (I know, I said that already, but I have to say it again!), and I tend to agree with some voices who say he would have made a brilliant Doctor. I think he could have been a great Doctor indeed.
- Team TARDIS: the companions work great together, you can feel a real bond between them, and they totally deserve the “Team TARDIS” title. They are a team, they are friends, they are family.
- Shadow puppets: what do you do when you’re bored? You watch what happens in the background. Ryan doing shadow puppets (including a very scary spider) is my absolute favourite scene from this episode.
Now… about what I disliked…
First, I’m not watching a science-fiction show to get political opinions in every single episode. How many times are we going to have the anti-Trump speech? Like Nardole would say “I heard you the first time.” It’s okay to take a stand, but ruining a script just because you want to make an anti-Trump episode, that’s taking it too far. Robertson is clearly a caricature of Trump, sadly he drags the Doctor down with his storyline…
Second, the Doctor. The more I think about it, the more I get convinced that deep down, Chris Chibnall wanted to hire David Tennant for the part. Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is the Tenth Doctor all over again, and it would be okay if the whole point of Series 11 wasn’t to be entirely different. You simply don’t advertise on change if you turn the Doctor into a copycat of himself/herself. Most of the time, I feel this urge to slap the Doctor, or tell her to stop waving her sonic like a mad woman. Also, does she have so little charisma that her companions need to tell the villain that she is in charge? Since when does the Doctor have to justify himself for being in charge?
But what really appalled me was that she committed mass murder, and that she seemed to feel okay about it. Those spiders were unwilling victims and she condemned them to suffocate into a room. I would go as far as to say that humans were directly responsible for the spiders’ mutation and therefore the spiders were the one who deserved to be saved. That part of the storyline doesn’t sit well with me, mostly because the Doctor is going for the easy solution (kill them all), before realising that “Oh, no, that spider is so big, it is going to die anyway.” The ending was yet another caricature (let’s use guns because we can), and I fail to see the message this episode was supposedly meant to convey.
As you can tell from this long review, this episode is a huge disappointment to me. But on a brighter note, I don’t give up hope just yet! And I’m willing to keep an open mind about this series.