Tuesday 30 October 2018

Reviews in Time & Space: Doctor Who 11x04 - Arachnids in the UK

Doctor Who 11x04 - Arachnids in the UK

With space and time both neatly ticked off this week Doctor Who returns home for another present day adventure, and it's sure to be one that'll get certain fans' spines tingling. Arachnophobia sufferers beware, because there's Arachnids in the UK and in 2018 things are going to be looking a little more realistic than they did back in 1974's Planet of the Spiders. The fourth episode in series 11 was written by showrunner Chris Chibnall, and directed by Sallie Aprahamian.

After several failed attempts the Doctor has finally managed to get Yaz, Ryan and Graham back home to Sheffield, but before they say goodbye there's always time for a cup of tea with Yaz and her family. Meanwhile Graham returns home, making his first attempt to face life without Grace.

However when each of them discover giant spiders running amok, they find themselves converged at a new luxury hotel built by wealthy American Robertson. With human interference having led to the spiders growing to giant size, the arachnids are now at the risk of running freely across the city. It’s up to the Doctor and friends to deal with them as quickly and humanely as possible before anyone else gets hurt.

Four episodes in there's definitely a pattern beginning to emerge with series 11. Much like the previous episodes, Arachnids in the UK is another story that adapts a fairly stock science fiction plotline. Animals mutated to giant size by pollution and/or toxic waste is a cliché that's almost as old as science fiction itself, so what exactly can Doctor Who do at this point to make it feel fresh? The honest answer is actually not all that much, because as thoroughly enjoyable as Arachnids in the UK may be it doesn't even attempt to break new ground. Even the moral that the spiders, deadly as they may be, aren't the true threat and its fact a human that's the despicable one is a twist that dates back generations.

So instead it’s yet another opportunity for Doctor Who to attempt to dazzle its viewers with yet another display of character development, and thankfully the show is finally getting around to giving Yaz the focus she so desperately needs. Arachnids in the UK introduces us to Yaz's family, most notably her mother Najia (played by guest star Shobna Gulati) who joins the team for the majority of the episode's action. Admittedly it's more a case of fleshing out her back story rather than giving Yaz anything noteworthy to do, but with Ryan and Graham already having been giving significantly more to work with through Grace anything is welcome at this point. In some respects this episode might not have been the best place to give all the focus to Yaz anyway, because if there's anything abundantly clear here it's bloated the cast can potentially get. With the four leads already locked in a careful balancing act, the addition of a further three guest cast members (Yaz's mum, spider specialist Dr Jade McIntyre and the Robertson) definitely runs the risk of tipping the scales. A better focus on Yaz certainly didn't stop Graham from once again stealing the show though - his reactions to the things going on around him are as brilliant as usual, but the scene where he returns home and is "visited" by Grace really pulls at the heartstrings.

The spiders themselves are very well realised given some of Doctor Who's previous CGI exploits, and moments like them scuttling across floors and walls as well as the reveal of several webbed corpses gives the episode a potent horror element even for those who aren't particularly adverse to spiders. However as mentioned earlier they're not the true monsters here, and while Chris Noth puts in a good turn as Robertson the whole "morally bankrupt businessman" archetype feels a little too on the nose at times. The ending is a nice little turn but seemingly comes with absolutely no repercussions, which marks the second time the Doctor has had a go at someone and then the scene has just kind of ended (although the first time was for much less). It’s quite strange in that it makes the 13th Doctor seem much less inclined to involve herself in injustices, or at the very least not take action directly against people.

The rather abrupt ending does give way to a very touching scene where the three companions officially become part of "Team TARDIS", and it's these kind of moments that this series of Doctor Who has really excelled at. Bradley Walsh gives a fantastic performance as Graham addresses the fact he isn't ready to face grief in an empty home, while Ryan and Yaz also voice their belief that life with the Doctor is much better than what either of them have on Earth. What felt like the even bigger surprise though was the Doctor's warning of how the universe is often far from a safe place, particularly with how downtrodden she looked at the beginning of the episode when they were about to part ways. The Doctor warning their companions about the dangers of the universe isn't a new concept by any means, but here it felt less like the sales pitch previous Doctors have made and more one made out of genuine concern and understanding. It's an aspect I'm really coming to like about the 13th Doctor, and the group lever-pulling at the end was a great note to end on – cementing the familial aspect this new group of time travellers have.

Though perhaps the weakest episode so far, Arachnids in the UK makes up for its basic premise and predictable storyline with more of the great character moments that have already made this series of Doctor Who so charming. Now that all of the backstory preamble is officially over and done with, it's time for the series to amp up the threat level and prove that not bringing back any old enemies was something this series will benefit from. We're quickly approaching the halfway point, so all eyes are on The Tsuranga Conundrum to do just that.

1 comment:

Oar said...

An episode all about spiders seem pretty appropriate for the time of the year.