Doctor Who 11x04 “Arachnids in the UK” Review
We’re back in Sheffield! The TARDIS finally lands where it’s supposed to (and right in front of Yaz’s flat for added convenience). Maybe we’ll finally learn something about her this episode!
Just as I’m prepared for a wonderful, meaningful story arc centered on Yaz, we’re introduced to… Donald Trump?
Well, not exactly, but he might as well be. Jake Robertson (played by Chris Noth) is eyeing the American Presidency in 2020. He’s a heartless businessman about to open a much too expensive hotel, and he even fires someone in the first five minutes of the episode. Honestly, at this point, I’m not interested at all in whatever this guy is going to bring to the story. I’ve seen enough of these Trump hot takes for a lifetime, and I’m sure any point this episode is trying to make with this character has been made a million times since 2016.
We’re fast met with the first signs of the menacing monster of the week in the form of some way too large cobwebs, littered around Grace and Graham’s house and the ritzy hotel pseudo-Trump is building.
A bit of a detour here, but I’m once again disappointed with how the show is handling Grace’s death. Obviously, Graham isn’t going to recover from the death of his wife in the span of a few episodes. It’s not the showing of grief that bothers me, it’s the odd choices made around it. I can’t really explain this fully, but something about Graham “seeing” Grace in their house was a little too creepy. It also felt out of place — for a second there I thought that maybe it had something to do with the spiders; are they some kind of alien force that manifests itself in the form of lost loved ones in order to catch its prey? We even “hear” Grace chastise Graham for being a little too sentimental about their empty house; instead of being touching, I honestly thought it was a bit weird.
Back to the heart of the episode: the spiders.
I’m glad we don’t meet the actual spiders for a while; the growing presence of giant cobwebs do well to increase a sense of a proper spookiness. We see our first spider while the Doctor and company are investigating one of Yaz’s neighbors after her coworker shows up, concerned, that she hasn’t been to work in a while. She’s right to be concerned, too; they find her suffocated to death under a nest of cobwebs.
Spiders are one of the more common fears we have as humans, so I’m glad that when we finally saw one it was pretty obviously CGI. Doctor Who has the budget to make a truly terrifying spider, but the creature itself is only slightly creepy. This was a good choice, in my opinion — the ominous spider webs and the dead body get the point across just fine. We also get a hint that the spiders aren’t even the true “monster” of the week. Still in the apartment, the Doctor talks to the spider like it’s some kind of pet. It instills some kind of sympathy, even. The Doctor is realizing what’s happening now: these are regular spiders, allowed to grow way beyond their natural capacity for whatever reason. She kindly tells the spider that it’s “not supposed to be this big” and it isn’t to blame, that they’ll find who caused this to happen.
This leads them to rich guy’s new hotel (Yaz’s mom is the one that got fired! I hate this guy even more now). The concerned coworker they picked up along the way happens to work in some kind of spider lab, so she tags along to provide some much needed insight. Apparently the whole of Sheffield has been experiencing some odd spider activity, and it all leads back to the hotel.
We learn that the hotel and mini-Trump are to blame for the large spider phenomenon: to cut some corners and save some money, the hotel is being built over an array of old coal mines that are now being used as a landfill for corporate waste. And, you guessed it, what happens to be one of those corporations? The spider lab our new friend works at. Dumping toxic waste allowed the spiders to mutate and grow in the refuse under the hotel, finally breaking out into the public.
As could be predicted, the Doctor and her team (plus dollar store Trump) lure the spiders back to where they came from, attempting to isolate them in the hotel panic room (yes, really) in order to give them a humane death. This is when Robertson laments everyone’s sympathetic nature, wondering why they don’t act “civilized” and shoot them.
Honestly, these Trump analogies are as subtle as name dropping Trump himself in the episode. Oh, they also did that, too.
I’m not exactly sure what point this Trump clone served. To me, the spider storyline was interesting enough. A corrupt and heartless businessman could have still been at fault, but it was a big miss to equate him to Trump. What did that show us exactly? Trump is terrible? We all know that, and I don’t think any of us enjoy reminders of that fact, especially in a TV show we watch for fun. The big bad of the week being the politician and not the giant spider also seems like standard Doctor Who fare, but again, that could have been done without throwing Trump into the mix. This dude literally shot the mama spider (guys, I almost cried). I’m sorry, but I’m just not seeing the point here.
There were some great moments this episode, despite the constant reminder of the current political climate. Ryan’s estranged father left him a note after missing Grace’s funeral, and he opened up to Graham about it. Upon realizing everyone recognized Robertson, the Doctor automatically assumed he was Ed Sheeran (EVERYONE is talking about Ed Sheeran). My personal favorite was Yaz’s mom not skipping a beat when telling Robertson how to correctly pronounce her name (YAS, GIRL).
At the end of the episode, Graham, Ryan and Yaz all find their way back to the TARDIS and the Doctor. Done with their accidental adventures in time and space, they’re now seeking it out. Though this episode wasn’t quite as solid as the rest, it was still brilliantly acted by Jodie Whittaker and company, and in Doctor Who tradition it was able to flip the script on the traditional “monster.” I was actually sad about the mama spider, okay? That’s a pretty big thing to accomplish.