This review contains spoilers for Episode Four of Series 11, Arachnids in the U.K. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, watch it and come back!
Word of advice, mate. Run now, ask questions later.
The TARDIS team return to Sheffield and Yaz’s family, where they find that something is stirring in the arachnid population of the Yorkshire city.
I am going to come straight out and say that I hate spiders. Maybe it’s the way they move, or the fact that they just have too many legs, but I have never ever liked them. According to multiple sources, this is either due to Tim Burton’s film James and the Giant Peach, or an animated TV series called Spider! Either way, give me a Doctor Who story about massive spiders killing people in Sheffield and I will find it terrifying. This is both the scariest episode we’ve had this series so far and another strong entry in the series. I found the story quite reminiscent of The Green Death, with some good social commentary.
Although the spiders add the terror, the real villain of the piece is Chris Noth’s Jack Robertson, the owner of the hotel and potential candidate for American election in 2020, fuelled by a decades-long hatred of Donald Trump. The parallels here are clear for anyone to see and there are even references to Russian interference and assassinations in here. Noth is despicably unlikeable, as seen by his treatment of Yaz’s mother early in the episode. Speaking of the guest cast, I really liked the character of Doctor Jade McIntyre, the spider expert and feel that her character really helps add some weight to the story, especially when they are discussing spiders in her laboratory and Najia Khan is a great mother in line with Jackie Tyler or Francine Jones in her concern for her daughter’s wellbeing.
The arachnids also look fantastic and benefit from Sallie Aprahamian’s direction and the dark hotel is a perfect environment for maximum effect. The plot does not include any alien interference but is more of a look at problems with modern society as the spiders have mutated due to harmful chemicals from landfill waste due to negligent businesses. Considering the issues I have with spiders, the fact that I felt genuine empathy for the giant spider when it is struggling to breathe towards the end. However, the image of a gigantic spider smashing through a bathtub is not one that I will easily get rid of. That is seriously the stuff of nightmare fuel.
The TARDIS team here build on last week and they feel like they are really starting to gel, and a pleasant surprise here was seeing that Graham was the character who was the first to ask if they could continue travelling with the Doctor. As Graham has been the one mostly moaning about the elements of time travel, it seems like he would like to find an alternative way to process his grief rather than staying at home. I liked the way that Graham’s visit home was handled and I don’t feel that Grace’s cameo in the episode is too long or overstated, and I completely buy why Graham would decide to carry on travelling. We also get a glimpse at Yaz’s home life here, spending most of the time with her mother, but also meeting her sister and father in the process, which is nice because it finally gives us some development of Yaz and why she is so keen to go travelling with the Doctor. Additionally, we are starting to see that Ryan and Graham’s relationship is improving, when Ryan talks about his father’s letter whilst they are spider hunting, which helps the feeling of this team really starting to bond. Whilst it is not a real surprise to find that Graham, Yaz and Ryan are still travelling with the Doctor, the moment where they ask the Doctor if they can continue travelling with her is really nice, and is a bit of an inversion of what we are used to seeing in Doctor Who. Usually, the Doctor will lead their companions away with promises of reckless adventure, but here, the companions come to her asking to be taken away.
Are you Ed Sheeran? Is he Ed Sheeran? Everyone talks about Ed Sheeran round about now, don’t they?
Speaking of the Doctor, Whittaker seems to really be getting to grips with the character here, and the script really helps here. It gives her some moments reminiscent of Matt Smith’s random tangents, which I really enjoyed and there are some really great moments of levity in this story again, similar to last week. Her Doctor is really starting to command scenes and her ability to spout technobabble is great and I’m looking forward to how this incarnation of the Doctor continues to develop as the weeks and series go on. The flash of steel that she shows when she refuses to answer Najia’s questions about her relationship with Yaz, but it really nicely turns back to levity and this really adds to her performance.
If I’d have to pick a flaw in this episode, it would have to be the finale, which I seem to be saying a lot this series. The climax seems rushed and we get no real satisfying climax to the story of spiders. We get the emotional heft of the death of the mother spider, but we don’t get a conclusive answer as to what happens to Robertson, the real villain of the piece. This is the biggest issue that I have with the story, along with the slight niggle of not knowing what happened to the spider in Anna’s apartment at the start of the episode.
Verdict: Our first truly scary episode of this series, which almost feels like it could slot nicely into any series of Doctor Who, with no aliens but a compelling human story. 8/10
Behind the Scenes
- The Doctor has faced off against spiders previously, in Planet of the Spiders, Jon Pertwee’s swansong as the Doctor in 1974. There have also previously been creatures similar to spiders, like in Kill the Moon or the Racnoss.
- This is the first appearance this series of the psychic paper, introduced in the 2005 reboot of the show.
- We also get our first glimpse in a while of the Time Vortex, which features multiple openings and looks beautiful.
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Chris Noth (Jack Robertson), Shobna Gulati (Najia Khan), Tanya Fear (Dr. Jade McIntyre), Ravin J Ganatra (Hakim Khan), Bhavnisha Parmar (Sonya Khan), Jaleh Alp (Frankie Ellish), William Meredith (Kevin), Sharon D Clarke (Grace O’Brien)
Writer: Chris Chibnall (Ninth story)
Director: Sallie Aprahamian (First story)
Best Moment: Either the moment with the spider bursting through the bathtub or the moment at the end where Team TARDIS are reunited.
I eat danger for breakfast. I don’t, I prefer cereal. Or croissants. Or those little fried Portugese…never mind, it’s not important…
What did you think? Let me know in the comments below. See you next week!