Television review: “Doctor Who – Arachnids in the U.K.” (Episode 4, Season 11)

Television/Sci-Fi

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Ten Episodes

Produced by: Chris Chibnall

Featuring: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill

The Doctor: “I eat danger for breakfast.”

[pause]

The Doctor: “I don’t. I prefer cereal. Or croissants.”

Into the fourth episode of the eleventh season of “Doctor Who” (1963 – present) and after a couple of adventures in the past and in outer space the gang have arrived back home to an almost old fashioned monster of the week story which again is a callback of sorts to a much older serial in that it addresses something that has only gotten worse over time, that is the waste that humans produce and what we do with it – which is burn or bury it. The callback is to Jon Pertwee’s time as the Doctor in the classic “Doctor Who and the Green Death” (1973) which dealt with a giant corporation, waste and giant fly’s/maggots, this one is different in that it deals with giant spiders, as well as showing a possibly more compassionate Doctor, I guess the question is: Do we need a more compassionate Doctor?

The other aspect of this episode is an old ‘Who’ trope, the seeming inability of the titular character to control the TARDIS properly so seemingly ending up in places that were not planned but seem to be destined to intervene in events. One other aspect, that is possibly going to be an ongoing theme, is the left wing political stance that the Doctor is on, this  has only increased with the possible first time a real ‘current’ politician has been name checked in that there is a slight diss of Trump, which immediately shows what side this show is coming down on, and after the fact that we have a female Doctor as well as a multi layered cast is that really any surprise – it could also be setting up guest star Chris Noth for a return at a later date as his character seems to be set up as a political rival to Trump in the near future.

As with the previous episode while it might seem that the bad guys are the most obvious thing in the room, there is a little more going on. So we have giant spiders set up as the bad guys but of course it is the billionaire developer who has made the choices to actually create the monsters, so it is him that we are supposed to be against while the arachnids of the title are confused as well as ultimately a little disappointing as some real monsters is what this show needs at episode four. From the trailers advertising this weeks episode I was not only looking forward to the giant spiders but also to seeing a real star, albeit a TV star, really strutting his stuff in an English show with some very good actors. Unfortunately we are a little lumbered with having to feel sorry for the spiders as ‘victims’ which personally is not what I want at all – I have to admit I was hoping we would have a link back to another Pertwee story, I will let you work out which one I am thinking of, but that would have been far more entertaining and menacing from a viewers point of view. As much as  I love Noth, and his performance was spot on I am a little tired of the billionaire as villain which has been used time and again not only in “Doctor Who” but in multiple other properties, its tired and played out.

The unfortunate aspect about having an extremely left leaning “Doctor Who” as well as a similarly put together behind the scenes is that in the quest to please everyone, especially the snowflakes, the show can become bland, fearful of offending anyone and ending up with monsters we have to feel sorry for – those are not the spiders I want to see. Also having a female Doctor, who I really like, would have been an opportunity not to make her dark, but to make her more of a realist, one way to do that is to let her break free a little. Some of the best Doctors have been able to see the difference between protagonists and antagonists, I am thinking of Tom Baker, Pertwee and David Tennant who had to make three dimensional decisions dealing with multiple antagonists, sometime in the same episode – between those three there are not many bad stories considering hours of programming they made.

Speaking of course of the biggest change in the casting of Jodie Whittaker, how is she going after four episodes? Well I think the answer is very well, she seems to understand the randomness as well as the whimsy of the character as well as how to deliver her lines, should we have expected anything less of someone who has skill and time in her profession? Probably not, however she does have something that many of the great ‘Doctors’ have, that is that ability to project true emotion in the understanding of what is important to the main character.

I watch “Doctor Who” on a 4K television and the step up in effects, especially the CGI is noticeable, especially this week with some CGI spiders of varying sizes all looking very good, not how some effects have looked previously which is a welcome relief as time and money has been invested to make them look as good as possible.

As with the three most recent incarnations of the Doctor we see her ‘friends’ wanting to return home but after a taste of adventure realize what. a special place the TARDIS and the Doctor can be, so they all have to make a choice which they do; they are going to keep traveling with her, I mean who wouldn’t. However unlike all of the previous companions these ones are a little different, we see them all interact together as well as having very different arcs, for me again it is Bradley Walsh who is the heart of the three, he lost his wife in episode one, has had to deal with how his step Grandson feels about him as well as being the oldest companion ever which to be fair could have been a turn off for fans. This episode also sees us visit Mandip Gills family which is interesting as it seems to offer us a glimpse into her life as well as the possibility of her being gay, I assume this will be fleshed out in the coming weeks.

All in all though I am very much enjoying these new episodes quite a bit, it is a big step up from last season, with stand alone episodes being a very good decision to get audiences used to some very big changes, I am looking forward to what is to come.

 “Doctor Who – Arachnids in the U.K.

Written: Chris Chibnall 

Directed: Sallie Aprahamian

Arriving back home in Sheffield, the Doctor and her friends discover massive spiders are attacking the population. They enlist the help of a local scientist, Jade, who helps them track the source of the spiders to a hotel where Yaz’s mother works. The group confronts the hotel owner and American politician, Robertson, who reveals that there is a chemical dump under the hotel. This infected the spiders, causing them to grow to unusual size. The group successfully traps most of the spiders in a bomb shelter, but the mother, the largest spider, is already dying due to her abnormal size. The Doctor wishes to spare it and let it die peacefully, but Robertson shoots and kills it despite her protests. Later, Graham reveals he’s not ready to go back to the apartment he and Grace shared, and he, Yaz, and Ryan inform the Doctor they wish to keep traveling as the group sets off on their next adventure.

 

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