Once again for this series of Doctor Who, Blogtor Who is looking at all the nods and references to adventures which have gone before. This time its the turn of Arachnids in the UK. So even if you are not already a Mastermind expert on all things in the Whoniverse you can appreciate the little detail as well. Perhaps you are a very knowledgeable Whovian already but did you spot them all?
The Psychic Paper is Back!
Arachnids in the UK sees the return of a tool almost as important as the sonic screwdriver. The psychic paper has appeared in Doctor Who since its first appearance in The End of the World. It’s a remarkable history too, considering Russell T Davies originally intended it as a one-off throw away gag. Steven Moffat was so taken with the idea that he added it to the script for The Empty Child and Davies filtered it back into the other scripts to establish it as a core bit of the Doctor’s kit. Since then it’s become a regular feature. It doesn’t actually speed up the plot as much as you think. But it does make the Doctor’s 55 year history of getting complete strangers to follow their lead a bit more plausible.
It had a minor revamp in Series Eight, being smaller and mounted in a completely different wallet (a cosplayer’s insane attention to such details comes with the territory) before returning to its usual form. But it’s so far being AWOL in Series Eleven. That could have simply been down to the Doctor not having it in her pocket when she fell. But with Chibnall’s new broom approach to the show’s format, it was possible that it was gone forever.
Strangely, although the Doctor whips it out to shove in Jack Robertson’s face and identify herself as a crisis inspector, it doesn’t have much lasting effect. Robertson still spends the rest of the episode refusing to accept her authority. Maybe he’s just such an egomaniac and no authority figure would impress him.
Green Arachnids of Death in the UK
Arachnids in the UK features an oddly specific scenario that’s been seen on Doctor Who before. The ethics-optional CEO of a global corporation has created a new land development. They’re also promising a regeneration of the local disadvantaged area as a side effect. But the company has actually been stuffing dangerous waste down the abandoned mine shafts beneath it. With an unintended consequence that tiny creatures grow to gargantuan size, becoming a threat to the human population above.
In 1973’s The Green Death, the Doctor and UNIT face the giant maggots and flies that the toxic waste from Global Chemicals’ illegal dumping has produced. Forty-five years later and she and Sheffield’s finest are taking on giant spiders. These ones accidentally caused by JLR Disposal’s careless approach to the waste disposal contracts with the city. There are a couple of differences, of course. Global Chemicals are purely malicious and the BOSS in charge is happy to brainwash and murder its own employees – ultimately planning to try and take over the world!
Jack Robertson, owner of JLR, actually secretly comes to the UK to shut down the dumping when he finds out. Whilst he’s a terrible coward, he doesn’t actually want any of his employees to die. Similarly, he also wants to take over America as President but only to get rid of Donald Trump. Meanwhile the Third Doctor has no qualms whatsoever about wiping out the entire new species that’s been created as quickly as possible, but ten regenerations later she’s actually sympathetic to the confusion and fear the spiders must be feeling.
In short, Arachnids in the UK is The Green Death’s kinder, gentler little sister.
Arachnids in the UK, in Space, on the Moon, and at the Centre of the Earth
While The Green Death featured giant flies and maggots, not giant spiders, the Doctors met their share of them too. 1974 saw Jon Pertwee’s swansong as the Doctor with his final serial seeing him face The Planet of the Spiders. Similarly to Arachnids in the UK, the giant spiders of Metebelis III were originally normal Earth spiders, mutated by forces outside their control. Unlike those infesting Robertson’s hotel, their intelligence is also hugely expanded. Their mental powers are so vast in fact that they can even travel in time using only the power of their brains, if the conditions are right. They also keep a larder of webbed up humans who look remarkably like the ones seen in Arachnids in the UK.
It wouldn’t be until 2007 before the Doctor faced webby terror again, this time in the form of the Racnoss. Not true spiders, but rather to spiders what centaurs are to horses, the aliens were all but extinct. Their last nest turns out to be hidden at the centre of the Earth but when the Empress of the Racnoss tries to unearth them, the Doctor drowns them all by flooding them down the world’s largest plughole. Harsh. Just a few years ago he again encountered some not-actually-spiders giant spiders on the moon. This time in the form of the giant one-celled germs in Kill the Moon. But if it looks like a spider, sticks to walls like a spider, builds webs like a spider, and jump out of the dark to eat your face off like a spider… well, let’s call that a spider.
Die, Horrible Creature, Die!
An honourable mention also has to go to 1964’s The Web Planet. Despite the story’s name, and it’s a variety of giant ants, grubs, butterflies and caterpillars that populate the planet Vortis, the spider at the centre of events is purely metaphorical. When the Animus is revealed, it’s actually more of an octopus type thing. While Blogtor Who would be here all day if we included all spin-off media, a special exception has to be made for TV Comic #800 simply for being the worst characterisation of the Doctor in all licensed product. See the Doctor go all Jack Robertson on this giant spider above…
You Can Choose Your Friends, But You Can’t Choose Their Families
There was a time when companions’ families didn’t get a look in. When they did turn up like (like Tegan’s cousin and grandfather) it tended to be purely as a plot device. A lot of the time they’re only introduced in the first place to be killed off (as with Leela’s father, Nyssa’s father, Tegan’s aunt, or Adric’s brother) so the companion has no reason not to join the TARDIS team. Even when they’re only mentioned it’s strictly a matter of exposition. Like Jo’s Uncle getting her a job at UNIT or Sarah Jane using her scientist Aunt Lavinia’s ID. Only with Ace was her fraught relationship with her mother an actual source of character drama – and even then the only time she turns up is as a baby when Ace accidentally encounters the newborn in the 1940s.
With the introduction of the Tylers in 2005 the Doctor’s relationship with his companions’ families has become more central. He’s reunited Jackie and Pete Tyler in a parallel universe. Ruined the Joneses’ lives in a year of hell that only they remember. He’s also become an idol for Donna’s granddad and took Rory’s Dad on a trip to a dinosaur filled spaceship. He even travelled back in time to take the only existing photos of Bill’s late mother so she could have them.
Keeping up with the Khanses
But where do the Khans fall on this spectrum? So far they seem to most resemble the Joneses, only without the divorce and new trophy girlfriend. Yaz’s father Hakim is a bit silly but deeply loving. Her mother Najia is capable and professional but canny enough to know something is up with her daughter and the Doctor. Her sister is annoying and inappropriate in that way younger siblings are. In Arachnids in the UK, the Khans feel like a real family. Though, in almost the exact reverse of the old days, they’re so accepting and grounded it’s hard to see what story material they’ll be generating. Not even a ‘Stitch this!’ moment (though getting Yasmin back within half an hour rather than after twelve months probably helped).
In contrast, we don’t know much about Mr Sinclair – not even his first name. But his attempt to reconnect with Ryan and push out Graham as not Ryan’s ‘proper’ family seems like it’s going to cause drama down the line. It may also bring out a new side to this new Doctor. How will she react if her ‘fam’ comes under a different kind of threat?
These are the things that we noticed. Let us know what you saw if they don’t appear above.
The Doctor Who adventure continues…
Doctor Who continues this Sunday at 7pm GMT on BBC One and at 8pm EST on BBC America with The Tsuranga Conundrum by Chris Chibnall. Series 11 stars Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), and Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair). The Tsuranga Conundrum guest stars Brett Goldstein, Lois Chimimba, Suzanne Packer, and Ben Bailey-Smith, and is directed by Jennifer Perrott.
“RISK TO LIFE: ABSOLUTE.”
Injured and stranded in the wilds of a far-flung galaxy, The Doctor, Yaz, Graham and Ryan must band together with a group of strangers to survive against one of the universe’s most deadly — and unusual — creatures.
The first four episodes of Series Eleven, plus the ten previous seasons, are all available on iPlayer’s Doctor Who page.