“How’s this for fire and fury?”
Now the new series of Doctor Who has settled into its groove, it’s time to bring out the monster of the week episodes. All shows have them, some are made from them (see: the first season of Smallville) and all shows have varying degrees of success. Doctor Who is the same. Some of the best episodes have been ‘freak of the week’ episodes but at the same time, so have some of the worst. And a special few have committed the biggest TV sin of all, the sin that you can rarely use to describe an episode of Doctor Who; they were completely forgettable. So, against this, how did ‘Arachnids in the UK’ stack up?
I’ll say this to start; showrunner Chris Chibnall has done a great job filling what could have been an easy, forgettable episode with actual good stuff. Most of the monster of the week episodes don’t take risks with the characters and their development, maybe because the execs know these episodes might be skipped. But ‘Arachnids in the UK’ brings some real emotional weight to an episode ostensibly about big spiders tormenting Sheffield. This was mainly done through Bradley Walsh’s character, Graham. He returns home for the first time since Grace died, and these scenes are perhaps the best in the episode. I wasn’t a fan of Grace, nor the needlessly dumb way she died, but Graham’s grief was handled beautifully in this episode. Director Sallie Aprahamian’s decision to (mostly) show Grace out of focus while Graham imagines her around the house, talking to him, was a great touch. These scenes almost felt out of place, happening in the same episode as the giant, rampaging spiders.
The episode didn’t hit all the right notes emotionally though, especially where the Doctor’s morality was concerned. Her decision to ‘humanely’ kill the spiders was what? To let them suffocate in that tiny room? And for the mother to slowly starve herself of oxygen, until she painfully dies? How was this in anyway preferable to totally-not-Trump’s (more on him in sec) plan to shoot them? When he puts the big one down with a single bullet, and it pretty much instantly dies, I couldn’t help but think that maybe he had the right idea. I get the Doctor is anti-gun and a pacifist (well, when it suits the plot) but could she not have made an allowance this time if a bullet to the brain was the quickest way to put down these inevitably-doomed creatures? I feel Chibnall isn’t equipped to address this. She objected when that guy kicked Tim Shaw off the crane in the pilot but was ready to let him painfully melt to death. And in the last episode, the Doctor had no problem with Ryan blasting that space racist to the distant past – weeping angel style. Maybe this is all intentional and the Doctor’s questionable morals will be addressed in a later episode, but I’m not holding my breath.
Now before I start moaning again can I just reiterate that this episode was great. The pacing was good, the CG was downright amazing, and the acting was fantastic. But another issue I had with it was the Trump-lite character of Jack Robertson; the hotel owning, presidential wannabe billionaire, played by Chris Noth. I actually thought Noth did a great job with the character, even if the character was done better back in the Christopher Ecclestone era with Henry Van Statten. The Trump allusions even made me smile – and not even the subtle ones. The ‘how’s this for fire and fury?’ line was so good I made it my review quote. But when the episode actually mentioned Trump, I thought it was a bit much. Alluding to him was fun and got a couple of laughs out of me but I was happier assuming this guy was the Trump of this world. Knowing Trump exists as well, and is in power even in Doctor Who, just makes for depressing knowledge. How bleak is the future of these characters if the presidential race in 2020 is Robertson vs Trump? At the very least they can bring Robertson back, maybe in as president in a future set episode.
All in all, a pretty fun episode. It had its share of problems; from the characters (Trump-lite) to the writing (is that spider still in Yaz’s neighbors flat?) but most of it worked. I really enjoyed seeing more of Yaz’s family, they seem like fun and the Graham stuff was fantastic. At the very least, it was an effective horror episode that hopefully had a few kids hiding behind their sofas. And all in time for Halloween. Next week we have the future set episode ‘The Tsuranga Conundrum’. I know literally nothing about it but the name alone has me intrigued. See you then.