Doctor Who: Arachnids in the UK Review – “Unambitious For Who Standards”

Broadcast Date: 28 October 2018
Writer: Chris Chibnall

Giant spiders roamed havoc in a newly built hotel in Sheffield; not one for any arachnophobes out there!

*Warning: This review contains spoilers. Keep out if you plan to watch the episode!*

One massive positive that I have found in the first few episodes is how they emotionally develop the companion characters, having them face problems that many audience members can identify with, such as grief, estranged families and lacking direction in the world. Upon the return to Sheffield, all three receive some form of development, which ultimately makes them choose to continue to travel with The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) in the TARDIS. The best moments of this episode surround Graham (Bradley Walsh) and his grief for his late wife Grace (Sharon D Clarke), whose presence lives on in the memories of his house. There were quite a few raised eyebrows when he was cast on the show and I was one of them, despite enjoying his performance in Law & Order: UK. However, at this moment he consistently performs the best in the episodes and I am looking forward to where the writers take the character next.

Meanwhile Ryan (Tosin Cole) goes through a small personal journey with the arrival of a letter from his father, only for the latter’s true feelings to come through, to the disgust of the companion. Yaz (Mandeep Gill) finally gets some kind of back story and material to tackle with the arrival of her family. I’m not sure that we will be seeing them again, even though they resembled the fun and frantic supporting families in the show’s spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures. Even with her family involved, her character was overshadowed somewhat and I am no longer sure that this character will go through a massive change as the episodes progress.

Arachnids in the UK Promo Shot3
Family Dynamics: But will we see Yaz’s family again? (BBC, 2018)

The plot was decent (reminded me of the 3rd Doctor classic The Green Death) but missed a fair few opportunities to explore the darker side of animal experimentation in laboratories and treatment towards other species in general. I must admit that, for the most part, the spiders looked incredibly realistic; these gave me goosebumps to look at. The appearance of the giant spider ‘queen’ was definitely a bit of a let down, though having the creature in immense pain was a good twist on the typical trope. Though the spiders weren’t necessarily villains, they have been the most memorable creature so far and made a good change from a singular enemy. Sadly, this didn’t mean that the episode was clear of any one-note evil men.

What the audience received was a Donald Trump caricature, played by Chris Roth, who name-checked the President of the US several times, was fiercely pro-guns and said he was a businessman rather than a politician. The message about the greed of humans and their over-eagerness to destroy anything different to make money could have been done in a far more nuanced way, as we saw with the previous episode, Rosa. Instead, it’s hard to believe that this character turned up in the same episode as the discussion of Graham’s grief. Robertson is massively involved in the climax of the episode and he doesn’t receive any consequence for his behaviour, which would have been done by previous executive producers.

As for the conclusion itself, I’m not sure whether it was ambitious enough for what the episode promised from the trailer and title. Instead of arachnids invading all over the UK, creating terror and anarchy across the country, we got a few big spiders trapped with our heroes and a couple of supporting characters in a newly built hotel. I’m still waiting for an episode that promises invasion on a grand scale, but I don’t think that will come until the series finale. Once The Doctor and her companions had dealt with the spiders, there wasn’t a threat with ten minutes remaining and viewers were again treated to a kind of epilogue that ties together most of the loose ends relating to the characters, but barely any as far as the central narrative and the villains are concerned.

Arachnids in the UK Promo Shot2
Great concept, but this spider episode lacked bite. (BBC, 2018)

Overall, whilst there are a few moments that would terrify any arachnophobes out there, the pacing is far too slow in between to live up to the promise of the episode’s title and trailer. The character development is magical in places, in others it feels clunky and gets in the way of the main narrative. In other words, this episode feels quite inconsistent and never truly reaches the vision it wants to get to. Oh, and Henderson is probably one of the weakest Who villains in many episodes of the show.

Star Rating: 3/5

So what did you make of Arachnids in the UK?

You can leave any comments you have in the comments section below.

Here is a short preview of Episode 5, the Tsuranga Conundrum (BBC, 2018)

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