Remember in my Rosa review when I said “while I wouldn’t want all of my Doctor Who this blatantly educational” ? Well, I meant it, so I was kind of annoyed when “Arachnids in the UK” not only had one of the worst titles in Who history, but was also all about the effects of not properly disposing of waste… plus we got another heavy-handed, unsubtle Trump-a-like, which if you’ve read my review of Who audio story “The Silurian Candidate” you’d know how I feel about those! … So… yeah. Let’s take a look…
The Doctor finally manages to bring her friends home, but with more time alone on the horizon, she soon discovers that something unnatural has happened to the eight-legged population of Sheffield. Why have they converged on an unopened hotel, and why is there a man going around like he owns the place?
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
“Wait! Arachnids in the UK! Sounds like the classic album “Anarchy in the UK!”” …. “No it doesn’t.” “Oh yeah, right.”
The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) – The Doctor has managed to return her friend’s home, but did she really want to? Oh, wait, never mind, there’s an odd and unexplained crisis going on! Hooray!
Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole) – Ryan is happy to be home, though it hardly feels like it as he’s soon plunged into a bizarre adventure involving giant spiders…
Yasmin Kahn (Mandip Gill) – Yasmin is happy to see her family again, though less happy to find out that her Mum has been fired… and is surrounded by massive spiders…
Graham O’Brien (Bradley Walsh) – Graham is home at last… an empty home, where everything reminds him of his dead wife… What’s that? Giant spiders? Great! That’ll take his mind off of grief!
Jack Robertson (Chris Noth) – Jack Robertson is a caricature of Donald Trump, but with a more sensible hairline.
Najia Kahn (Shobna Gulati) – Najia is Yasmin’s Mum who works at a brand new, soon to open hotel… that is, until she’s fired by the head of the hotel’s company Jack Robertson. Oddly though, that’s the least of her worries…
“I don’t want to alarm you Mum, but I think there are arachnids here in the UK!” “Of course there is… there always has been.” “Oh yeah, right.”
One thing I will say about this era so far, the companions continue to be well fleshed out. Just like back in Russell T. Davies’ era, you see their family life and ground them in relatable reality, then see how they react to the bizarre. Yasmin’s family was every bit the bog-standard family type (funny dad, bratty teenage sister, kind mother) but that works well against Ryan and Graham, who despite not actually being related, are the only real family either have. Graham continued failure to deal with grief and Ryan’s hints of his unpleasant Dad go along way in getting me to care about them. The final scene, where they all agree to travel with The Doctor again despite the risks, each with their own reason, was really nice and cements the bond they all share.
“Making money and having guns, I am right? Wait a minute, you say something about the UK having arachnids? Why wasn’t I told about this?!”
Do you remember the Third Doctor story “The Green Death”? Where an evil company was getting rid of deadly waste down a coal mine and it caused the maggots to grow in size? Well, Arachnids in the UK is just that, but with spiders… and somehow an even more on-the-nose “evil businessman” character (although at least partial credit for not going with the evil A.I. controlling everything subplot!) Seriously though, just like that story, the environmental message was so heavy-handed that I may as well watch an episode of Captain Planet.
To make matters worse, here we don’t even have an ending. The spiders are herded into a safe room to die naturally, and then when they go to confront the massive spider queen they find it dying because it’s too big to breathe properly… which, I mean, scientifically makes sense but when has that been a thing on this show? For good measure Mr. Robertson comes in a shoots it dead anyway and once again exclaims how great guns are before leaving. Great.
Actually I haven’t really talked directly about him, have I? Another Trump clone, he talks about owning hotels and businesses everywhere and how he’s going to run for president, and generally how great guns are and how they’re the answer to everything… In other words, another message that’s gotten across as subtly as a brick to the face, cross-bred with yet another Trump-like character. One that doesn’t even get any comeuppance which makes me worried he’ll appear again and continue his extremely one-dimensional ways.
So in the end it’s people wondering about a hotel for an hour, dodging spiders of various sizes before we find out they’re a combination of scientific experiments and excessive landfills… and then they don’t even defeat it. Brilliant. To make matters worse, The Doctor here was at her most “just act like David Tennant and it’ll be fine”. Seriously, any spark of humour and originality we saw last week is gone, and once again Jodie Whittaker comes across as someone reading a script for a generic Doctor without putting any of her actual personality or spin on it.
“I don’t want to alarm you Ryan, but I think I see an arachnid… here in the UK of all places” “*sigh*….”
As mentioned several times already, this is a near-remake of “The Green Death”, which is funny because due to the title many people assumed this would have more in common with another Third Doctor story: “Planet of the Spiders”.
Apart from that and the fact The Doctor getting them back home was a plot point that had been spread across these first four episodes, that was it!
Rosa wasn’t subtle in its message, but it was sometimes beautifully told and well acted. This? This was a different message but so heavy-handed that it came off as preachy, and didn’t even give us anything else to go along with it. A Trump clone who at one point said “Why don’t you do what normal people do? Get a gun, shoot things like a civilised person” isn’t clever satire, it’s just… crap. The Green Death may have had the same heavy handed message, but at least it was fun to watch…