The parade of “stand-alone” episodes continues for ‘Doctor Who’ in the infancy of the new season. For some, this will be a welcome change from the engaging-yet-hard-to-keep-up-with multi-episode story arcs of seasons past; for others, the “monster of the week” format won’t be quite engaging enough, based on what they’ve come to expect from their ‘Who.’ Where do our thoughts fall? Read on to find out!
WARNING: Spoilers for this episode of ‘Doctor Who’ lie ahead, obviously. If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t wish for any of its content to be spoiled for you, the time to turn back is NOW!
RECAP: Let’s put this out there straight away: I personally am fairly arachnophobic. Anything with more than 4 legs, really, just seems like overkill to me in the “it’s faster than me, so clearly it can come to get me” department. I understand that many spiders, particularly the ones featured here in “Arachnids in the UK,” are non-poisonous and usually don’t post a threat to humans. But when sci-fi and horror TV & films show me giant spiders than spin web-cocoons around people and eat them up – well, my issues seem fairly well-founded in my head.
So, we’ve established who the “villains” of this week’s episode are; the title leaves little to wonder. The action opens on our brave quartet flying by the TARDIS-ful through some rather trippy subspace-type visuals, before finally landing on present-day Earth – huzzah, the Doctor has gotten her three accidental travelers home! And they’ve returned just a mere 30 minutes or so after they all accidentally left during the events shown at the conclusion of the season premiere – well done, Time Lord!
Except all is not well in Sheffield and surrounding areas. An American businessman, Robertson (played by surprisingly high-profile guest-star Chris Noth), skulks around his newest soon-to-open luxury hotel, complaining about things not being as they should be – but clearly not totally talking about just the hotel itself. Yaz’s Mom is meant to be the hotel’s new General Manager – except Robertson unceremoniously fires her simply for being present in the hotel, something he clearly doesn’t want any humans to be right now. I wonder why…
Now that the Doctor has brought Yaz, Ryan, and Graham home, the band seems to be breaking up, as it were. All three companions seem ready to return to their regular lives, but before the Doctor pops off to explore time & space some more, Yaz invites her to her apartment – er, flat, sorry – for some tea, a proposal that the Doctor happily accepts. It’s clear that she’s not looking forward to the prospect of being alone on the TARDIS right now. A quick spot of tea in the world of the Doctor, however, quickly turns into an opportunity to solve a mystery, as it’s soon discovered that Yaz’s family’s neighbor has been cocooned and killed by a dog-sized spider living in her apartment. Let the yuck-fest begin.
The episode is spent with the Doctor trying to discern the genesis of these spiders. Are they alien? A conveniently-placed arachnid scientist tells us that they are domestic and (usually) non-harmful but obviously, this lot is a fair sight bigger than your average Daddy Long-Legs. And how does
Trump the generic-yet-aggressive American businessman fit into it all? I don’t want to spoil the whole thing for you, so go watch the episode already!
- While the episode was fun in a very “creepy” vibe, and certainly well-timed as the episode that aired right before Halloween, my biggest complaints with “Arachnids in the UK” are logic-based. And yes, I know that ‘Doctor Who’ has long been kitschy-style sci-fi, but the show does ask to be taken seriously these days, which means the plot should at least make sense or attempt to resolve itself logically. Here are a few of my biggest complaints this week:
- Matters of convenience, simply for the sake of making things easy for the characters: Yaz’s mother works at the giant-spider-central hotel! Yaz’s neighbor works in the lab that accidentally bred the giant spiders! Yaz’s Dad has toxic waste trash in his kitchen, but where the hell did he get it from if all the other toxic trash is buried underground? Graham’s house has a giant spider in it, but it’s gone and just left a “shell” so it’s no real threat to him, thank goodness! I can go on… but I don’t wanna.
- It was established that the huge spiders were out in the town – no widespread panic? The scientist says that there have been “strange spider activity” being reported for weeks – nothing on the news, though? The threat of the episode only seems to directly threaten the Doctor and the characters around her, which is the epitome of lazy writing.
- Noth’s Robertson was really a superfluous addition to the episode – perhaps present just so we have a “villain” to root against so we can feel more empathetic towards the spiders at the end of the tale?
- All in all, it feels like the character development (which is a true highlight of the episode, BTW) is being put front and center, but at the expense of the plot line, which is never a winning combination.
- The “human killing” of the spiders at the conclusion of the episode also felt like very lazy writing – especially when it’s been shown time and again that the Doctor & TARDIS easily have the ability to transport groups of beings elsewhere fairly instantly – there’s not a desolate planet somewhere or somewhen in the universe that these “harmless” spiders could have lived out their days?
- The companions begin the episode by being thrilled to finally get home… yet by the episode’s climax, all three seem very eager to rejoin the Doctor on more timey-wimey adventures – what happened throughout the course of this episode to effect such a large change? Nothing that I can see, but again, it’s the convenience of the plot that really drove the storyline this week, unfortunately.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: As you can see above, the major complaints with this episode revolve around plot inconsistencies and, I’ll just come out and say it (if I haven’t already), lazy writing. I do understand showrunner (and this episode’s writer) Chris Chibnall’s desire to move away from long-arching multi-episode storylines and into the more standard “monster of the week” format, but right now it just feels like the Doctor is just sort of… existing. There hasn’t been much surrounding her acceptance of/challenges with her recent regeneration, and there definitely hasn’t been any touching on the rather profound and life-impacting things that she/he went through just last season. Chibnall is listed as the writer of the next episode as well, before finally giving way to other scribes, so I’m a bit pensive about what next week will hold. Come back around our way in 7 days and we’ll talk all about it!
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor
Bradley Walsh as Graham
Mandip Gill as Yaz
Tosin Cole as Ryan
New episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ air on Sunday nights on BBC America.