Doctor Who: Arachnids in the UK

The Doctor: "I eat danger for breakfast... I don't. I prefer cereal. Or croissants."

As it goes for many people, I am not a fan of spiders. I expected to hate this episode, or at least get creeped out by the spider stuff. I was pleasantly surprised on both accounts.

I guess I should start with the spiders, since they were arguably the star of the show. While the effects were decent, I never got the sense of life from them. Also, they often were more comical than threatening, but at the same time sympathetic. I didn’t want the Doctor to be a party to killing the spiders off, instead I wanted her to figure out how to save them. I guess the reasoning for killing them was simple; unchecked, they would all grow up to be as large as the mother spider, and die horribly from asphyxiation, so a merciful death would be to lock them in a room where they will starve or eat each other, or die of asphyxiation... hmmm.

This was almost a Yaz episode, and while we did learn more about her, I don’t feel like the story focused on her as much as her family. Najia and the rest of Yaz’s family were fine, although drawn a bit basically. Her dad is a bit of an eccentric goof, her sister is a brat, and her mother is the hard working one that Yaz is closest to.

We spent even more time with Graham, and Grace as he dealt with his grief. I really loved the way they dealt with his pain too, having Grace speak to him as he walked around his empty house with her ghost literally haunting him, it was emotionally perfect and gave him just the right motivation to leave with the Doctor. Also, the subplot involving Ryan's father writing him a letter about Grace, instead of showing up like he cared, illustrated that although he doesn't always show it, Ryan is closer to Graham.

Spiders are cool, aren't they?

The Doctor finally clicked for me too, in a big way. She was fun and quirky, strong and heroic, but above all compassionate. Basically, Jodie finally found her footing as the Doctor. Gotta say, finding the character only four episodes into her first series is pretty good as far as new Doctors go (Eccelston and Smith were pretty good right away, Tennant took a couple of episodes, and Capaldi I didn't warm to for almost a full season). I also loved how the Doctor clearly didn’t want to go off in the TARDIS alone, but she also didn’t ask them to go with her. Instead her new TARDIS team stepped up and chose to go with her. The choice didn’t rob her of any agency, and gave the companions a strong sense of purpose.

That leaves really only one thing that didn't work for me, the plot. Or rather the distinct lack of plot. This episode was a string of events linked together by our characters as they struggled to understand nonsensical science about spiders... and what am I talking about, this is Doctor Who. It does boggle the mind that the writers decided that toxic trash and cast off experimental spiders were in any way plausible, or maybe they were just looking for a fun monster of the week, so in that way they succeeded.

I have to give a big shout out to Chris Noth who gave us a wonderful performance as Robertson, a corrupt, selfish, rich businessman with political aspirations, (who might also be on the spectrum). Robertson was also an unfortunate and disturbing portrait of how the rest of the world must view America right now.

Bits:

Was it just me, or does the new interior of the TARDIS kind of look like a dead spider?

Dr. McIntyre felt a bit superfluous. While essential to the plot they could've written this story without her, and just had the Doctor just figure things out.

So, if they had only been gone for half an hour, that means the spider situation started before the Doctor even entered their lives.

Quotes:

Yaz: "I love my family but they also drive me completely insane. I want more. More of the universe. More time with you. You're like the best person I ever met."

The Doctor: "Spiders are roaming this hotel, searching for food. We're going to lure them in here with the promise of food. Then deal with the spider mother in the ballroom. Ah, that sounds like the best novel Edith Wharton never wrote."

Najia: "Do you know the worst thing? Bits of this is leaking out above here. It's in my kitchen. My husband's right. It's a conspiracy. Do you have any idea how annoying it is when my husband's right?"

Robertson: "You are not authorized to go in here!"
The Doctor: "Dude, I have all the authorization I ever need. (to Yaz) I call people 'dude' now."

The Doctor: "You can't be President if you fired Yaz's mum."

The Doctor: "You really like junk. Are you collecting it, like stamps?"

Robertson: "I am Jack Robertson and this is my hotel, just one hotel in an incredibly successful chain of hotels which is just one small part of my business portfolio as featured in Fortune Global 500. Does that ring a bell?"
The Doctor: "Should I look impressed right now? Is that impressive?"

The Doctor: "Look at your views! Never had a flat. I should get one, I'd be good in a flat. I could get a sofa. Imagine me with a sofa. Like, my own sofa. I could get a purple one and sit on it. Am I being weird?"
Ryan: "Little bit, yeah."
The Doctor: "I was trying to do small talk. Thought I was doing quite well."
Yaz: "Needs work."

Fun, perhaps unintentionally funny, surprisingly tragic and all around decent.

2 1/2 out of 4 Spiders in Robertson's Hotel.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

9 comments:

An Honest Fangirl said...

I really didn't like this one. Mostly because of Robertson. A super wealthy hotel owner who was also corrupt, selfish, generally an awful person, wants to be president and told someone "You're fired" twice in the opening? No thank you. Subtly was obviously not the name of the game this episode. His character didn't even go anywhere or do anything. When he killed the Momma Spider, I expected the Doctor to retaliate in some way like Ten did with the PM who killed the alien ship in his first episode. Instead he just... walked off? Who knows. Maybe he'll come back and be important later. (God I hope not.)

Otherwise, I liked the rest of the character stuff between the main cast. I'm really enjoying Jodie as the Doctor. But yeah. No real coherent plot and Robertson was... Robertson. I get more than enough of that kind of character turning on the news every morning.

migmit said...

That was much better. Not perfect, but fun, and I really liked how they turned a giant spider into a tragic figure. But the bit about locking everybody else in this panic room was dumb.

If Robertson comes back, it would surely be his downfall. Which, I imagine, would be quite enjoyable to watch.

Billie Doux said...

I really enjoyed Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor in this one. It felt like she turned the corner and finally got a handle on the character, and sorry about the mixed metaphors there.

Darren Smith said...

4 episodes in Jodie is good but the scripts are terrible.I've just watched the first 4 episodes of season 1 again Eccelston is incredible I'd forgotten how good he was.Only 3 episodes in is The unquiet dead a brilliant episode and a wonderful piece of writing by Mark Gatis .I'm afraid stories like that aren't coming along any time soon

J.D. Balthazar said...

Fangirl, to be clear I didn't like Robertson at all, and I don't necessarily want to see him come back. It was so clear he was a Trump analog, they even mentioned Trump by name. I agree I didn't really need that in my fantasy show, but he was well acted by Noth.

Migmit, I was also surprised how they managed to turn what is normally considered to be a monster into a tragic figure. That was probably the best realized aspect of the episode.

But as for the rest of the writing, Darren, I think the dialogue and character stuff is pretty good, but the plots have been really underwhelming. I'm hoping things get better as the writing team finds their groove.

sunbunny said...

I agree with Fangirl on Chris Noth. And I also agree that the scripts have been WEAK. Very weak. The dialogue isn't bad (it's not great, but it's okay) but the plots are just so boring. I want to like this new era so badly but they're really not giving me much to work with. I'm glad that Yaz got more background this week but I still feel like they're not utilizing her to her full potential (although how ADORABLE was her hair this week).

Thanks for your review JD!

TheShadowKnows said...

I didn't mind the episode being a middle finger to a certain alleged billionaire occupying a certain high political office (really the whole season has been, starting with Jodie's casting - this was just more explicit) but I agree the scripts so far seem like they needed another draft or two before being shot. Then again, the second and third seasons of Broadchurch were a dog's breakfast, so I guess it's not surprising. I also hated Jodie's character on that show but like her take on the Doctor... I'm not sure what to make of that!

andydecker said...

I don't have high hopes for this. I can't remember any of Chibnall's earlier scripts for Who, while Moffat's early efforts like The Empty Child or The Girl in the Fireplace just stayed in mind.

Nonei said...

I also liked the way the spiders were portrayed in here - suitably threatening/creepy but also just confused animals. The whole exploding bathtub thing made no sense, as well as them being so large, but I can get past those.
I really am enjoying Jodie's doctor and it is such a shame that she hasn't had a really good episode yet to sink her teeth into. I'm also enjoying the companions but wish that Yaz were allowed to shine more, it's like the writers don't know her at all.
I agree with those of you saying that the scripts and the stories leave something to be desired. It's almost like the writers said 'hey, we need to have an xyz scene here' and jotted down first thoughts... and then just went w that. When you think of the rich episodes like The Empty Child, or Girl in the Fireplace, or The Unquiet Dead (yes I stole from the titles above.. I'm terrible at remembering titles lol), the guest characters are so well developed in their fears and desires, and the story (mostly) makes sense, and the motives make sense and it all comes together so well. And we weren't beat over the head with 'this is political commentary' (I don't mind references, just mind the headache from the beating)

Honest Fangirl - I was also very disappointed in the Doctor that she just gave Mr. Heartless a scolding. I felt like not only was that terribly out of character but made her seem weak and defeated. I did love the tender patting of the giant spider as it died though.