TV: Doctor Who: S11 E04: Arachnids in the UK (2018) - Reviewed

Less than a week ago I was telling a friend how I never really had a problem with spiders until re-watching the Jeff Daniels classic, Arachnophobia, and this week we get an episode of Doctor Who -- Arachnids in the UK -- about giant spiders slowly taking over Sheffield. I guess I was asking for it, eh? 

While I found last week’s episode, Rosa, to be more of an imitation of another show, Arachnids in the UK was a lot of fun, even if it was not completely original. It also managed to deliver the goods in terms of emotional arcs for the Doctor’s (Jodie Whittaker) companions, specifically Graham (Bradley Walsh) who is still mourning the death of his wife, Grace (Sharon D. Clarke). There is some truly lovely imagery when Graham returns to his home to find remnants of Grace, even going so far as to have imagined conversations with her about meaningless things like what day of the week the recycling is done. While the Doctor has successfully returned Graham, along with Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Yas (Mandip Gill) to Sheffield a mere half hour after they originally left, time has continued to pass for these characters. Returning home, at least for Graham, is a sign that the healing process has only just began, if it has at all. 

It is not long before things start to get weird, in true Doctor Who style. There’s a mysterious hotel with a Trump-like figure, Jack Robertson (a wonderful Chris Noth at his most despicable), at its center, protecting some sort of secret, while Yas’s neighbor seems to have been killed by a giant spider. Before long, the companions reunite with the Doctor at the previously mentioned nefarious hotel, and the spiders begin to… invade.

Arachnids in the UK is yet another example of how politically charged this season of Doctor Who has been and will likely continue to be. Noth’s Jack takes zero responsibility for his actions, which have ultimately led to the spider infestation, and his way of doing carrying out justice involves guns payoffs; characteristics which sound eerily like that of our president. There are even a few direct callouts to Trump, with Jack saying that he’s running for president in 2020 because of his hatred for the guy. Takes one to know one, I guess. 

The other thing Arachnids in the UK does really well is add humanity to an otherwise inhuman story. Every incarnation of the Doctor has cared about people and creatures from our worlds and many others, even if some (like Capaldi’s Twelve) did not always like to admit it. Whittaker’s Doctor is much more up front and matter of fact about the so-called differences that separates us from one another  -- as seen in last week’s episode -- and us from what most of us probably think are ugly, terrfiying insects. It’s refreshing to see how simple it could all be if everyone had the same beliefs as the Doctor: we are all simply beings living in the universe. We may look and act different and we may not even be the same species, but in the end we’re all in this together so we might as well get along. 

That sentiment is what Doctor Who has always been and represented for fans and non-fans alike. She is a beacon of hope that has the ability to affect and impact real, positive change. At least that’s what we hope for week-in and week-out. It’s a shame to label it science fiction when we live in such a state of political turmoil and hatred of and for those with different views than us. All of this is to say that this season of the show is politically charged because it needs to be. How could it not? The fan outrage over a woman becoming the Doctor (as I alluded to in last week’s review) is beyond absurd. It feels like exactly the type of backwards-thinking world, or even parallel universe that the Doctor herself would and has encountered on the show in the past. Rather than shy away from it, creator Chris Chibnall, who also wrote the episode, has embraced it and worked into the show’s original and new mission statement: This is how it is and how it should be. Let’s aspire to be better than we are. Let us be the people the Doctor believes we are. 

In this case, these spiders are confused and acting aggressively precisely because of the humans like Jack who don’t care about the repercussions of their carelessness. Unsurprisingly, the Doctor is on the side of the spiders. Rather than reacting out of fear, she tries to understand them and work with them to solve the problem, not against. By the end of the hour, all three companions have clearly had their fill of a world gone mad, each for different, yet equally understandable reasons. The potential danger that the Doctor warns everyone about sounds more appealing than the realities of modern day living. 

The most human element in this episode aside from our heroes, in other words, are the spiders. Humans, and their lack of empathy (represented by Jack), are the biggest monsters of all. Thank God we have the Doctor to bring out the best in us. 

-Matt Giles