Each week the Blogtor Who team give their first thoughts on the latest episode of Doctor Who. Here’s what we thought of series 11 episode 4, Arachnids in the UK.
Needless to say, this article contains massive spoilers, so only read on if you’ve already watched Arachnids in the UK.
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Spiders. And more spiders. Arachnids in the UK hits us with a number of threads – eco-responsibility, mutated spiders, a Trump-like greedy businessman, a bit of domestic with both the Sinclair/O’Brien family and the Khan family and confident, in-charge Doctor. This was the most balanced episode of the series so far with both the plot and the character development having equal weight in the episode. Chris Noth was perfectly cast as the amoral tycoon and future president Robertson. He definitely hammed up his role with relish. Yaz had more development this time as she interacted with her family at home. Shobna Gulati portrayed a gracefully and caring if somewhat nosy mother to Yaz and we now understand why her family drives her nuts. And Bradley Walsh demonstrated once again why he is in this series with another standout performance as Graham. The ending was a surprise given the method of resolution and lack of closure for the eco-disaster. But all in all a good solid episode.
Chris Chibnall really wasn’t kidding when he said Series 11 would be taking Doctor Who back to basics. This week though, instead of just adhering to the basic formula, he’s chosen to tap into one of our most basic fears: spiders! Even viewers who didn’t have arachnophobia before might well have developed it now – the titular arachnids were fantastically realised and utterly terrifying. Couple that with Chris Noth’s thoroughly unlikable businessman, and you’ve got the best villain(s) of the season so far. The episode’s plot was equally simple yet effective, even if it wasn’t always especially engaging. We did however get some much needed development for Yaz, and our companions are finally feeling like a properly established group now. Team TARDIS has arrived with gusto, and I can’t wait to see what the remaining six episodes have in store for them!
Arachnids in the UK as a title had this marked down as that sort of Doctor Who story. Bit funny, bit silly, Bit inconsequential. And that’s true to an extent. But it’s also scarier and more dramatic than I’d thought. The spiders are better realized, FX wise, then I suspect would have been possible even a couple of years ago and provide some genuinely unsettling scares. We also get more, and stronger, character stuff with Yaz’s lovely family and with Graham’s difficulty handling his grief that I’d have expected. Jodie Whittaker clearly relished some of the broader, daffier aspects of the Doctor. But the honesty of her Doctor continues to be a theme – has the Doctor ever given such a plain laying out of the downsides of life in the TARDIS before accepting people aboard? Usually they strike an almost seductive tone. Only Robertson and the Doctor’s clash seems artificial and unsatisfactory – – is suffocation really a more ‘humane’ death than, essentially, firing squad? Though kudos to Chris Noth for cutting loose and having such fun with the part after decades of playing high drama of one kind or another.
As much as it pains me to admit, I have to say that this wasn’t my favourite episode of the new series thus far. The concept of the episode itself (‘giant spiders are taking over Sheffield’) was no doubt intriguing, and I can’t deny as a pretty big arachnophobe it did make me jump several times, but I didn’t find it nearly as engaging as the previous three episodes, especially after the brilliance of last week’s episode. It felt as though the tone was a little all over the place – at times very suspenseful, emotional, at some points funny bordering on the absurd (spiders dancing to Stormzy, anyone?) As well as this, despite being such a well-known guest star, Chris Noth was sadly pushed into a caricature-like role as ‘typical American businessman who just wants to shoot everything’. Having said all that, it was great to get more of an insight into Yaz’s home life. It was a welcome return to the more domestic moments we haven’t really had since we met the Tyler and Noble families back in Series 1 and 4 respectively. It’s always fun to see the Doctor try act ‘normal’ around their companions’ friends and family. It was also truly heartbreaking to see Graham return home to find echoes of Grace still there. Even if this week’s wasn’t the best story, by its end it showed us how important the Doctor has become in each of her companions’ lives, and it truly cemented them as a team. After the Doctor’s warning about the dangers of travelling in the TARDIS, it’ll be interested to see how far this bond is tested in episodes to come…
Returning the companions home for the first time always means the status quo for the series is going to be reaffirmed. But at the episode four mark it still feels like this show will continue to surprise us with its characters. Yaz got some long overdue development and, while I still think there’s a way to go, this episode was a great starting point for future episodes. The Graham and Ryan relationship, which for me is becoming the emotional core of the series, gets some nice progression too and it’s nice to see that it’s become less one-sided since they left Sheffield. Even if that was only half an hour ago.
Creepy Giant Spiders killing people on the weekend before Halloween? What perfect timing! The plot is teased for a bit before kicking in fulling once The Doctor, her friends and some others get trapped by the spiders in the hotel. The dynamics here reminded me a bit of Voyage of the Damned, with the Doctor leading a group of people on a mission to survive in a confined space and with one of that group being far from sympathetic. There were some tense moments although the resolution seemed a little bit anti-climatic. The guest stars were a mixed bag. Chris Noth was a big score for the programme, having been a constant presence on US tv for the last 30 odd years (Law and Order, Sex and the City, The Good Wife) and was perfect casting as the ruthless and mean business man/ presidential candidate Robertson. Shobna Gulati was very effective as Yaz’s mum Najia, along with Yaz’s sister, in showing the audience why Yaz found her family frustrating. It was good that we finally got Yaz’s family dynamics properly explored as she has been rather forgotten in the character development front in previous episodes. And I can’t not mention Graham’s return to his house – once again showing why Bradley Walsh was perfect casting for this role as he pulled off the genuine and heartfelt emotion perfectly here, plus it allowed for the very brief return of Sharon D Clarke as Grace.
I suspect in the grand scheme of the whole season this will look like a very average episode, and it certainly could have been scarier, but it was a filler episode that was probably needed none the less.
Blimey, if you weren’t afraid of spiders before this episode, you will be now! The arachnids of the title were superbly done. Also superb was this week’s guest star Chris Noth as definitely not Donald Trump. Noth’s turn as the gun-toting, egotistical, megalomaniac, cowardly ecological hazard-causing, hotel owner planning on running for President in 2020 is nothing short of fabulous. He must return! Back with Team TARDIS, it was good to meet Yaz’s family – lovable dad, slightly annoying little sister, and brilliant mum Najia (Shobna Gulati on tremendous form). This episode feels the most assured this series so far. The TARDIS team really feels like a team here and it’s notable that it is Graham, Ryan and Yaz who have to convince the Doctor to take them with her at the end. The growing dynamics of the team (or fam?) – Graham and Ryan’s developing relationship in the face of their grief, and Yaz and the Doctor’s growing friendship – are moving along very nicely. Comedy highlights this week- “Are you Ed Sheeran?”, Stormzy saves the day, and “I have no more Kevins.” A funny and satisfying instalment.
The most confident episode of the series so far. I felt the balance of the character arcs and the spider plot were handled better than previous episodes, and Chibnall’s storytelling and ideas are starting to become clear. Every episode seems to contain something which may have a recurring element. This episode featured probably the best CGI I’ve ever seen on the show, how amazing did those spiders look? I’m sure arachnophobes will be having many a sleepless night after that. The plot still suffers with exposition to ensure it has time to fit everything in, but that episode was so much fun maybe I forgave that a bit more readily this time around.
You can watch Arachnids in the UK now on BBC iPlayer.
The next episode of Doctor Who – The Tsuranga Conundrum – on BBC at 19:00pm on Sunday 4th November.