S11E04 – Arachnids in the UK

Reading Time Approx: 7 minutes

Yes, I know, there’s really only one thing anyone wants to talk about when it comes to this episode and we will get to both of them in due course, because what I have to say about it seems a little different to most of the criticism I’ve read. But just focusing on two aspects of the episode does the whole thing a disservice, so have a little patience while I work my way up to the major issue.

I like the camerawork in this one, they are clearly playing off horror expectations right from the beginning by having the camera low to the ground making you think of spiders which you’re already expecting due to the name of the episode. Similarly the scenes in the apartment are packed with tension and much like the previous episode the sound track really plays into that.

Jack Robertson is the latest in a long line of arrogant, loud mouthed, Americans in . The Trump parallels are pretty openly acknowledged and he’s mostly played for laughs here, more of a hissable pantomime villain than any sort of political statement. It’s not great drama but I found his over the top awfulness it funny and while it ought to feel absurd and impossible… Trump… so yeah it doesn’t.

We’re Still Telling But It’s Better Integrated

The scene where the companions finally return home is a great example of how this era can actually do showing despite often relying on blatantly stating things in dialogue. Yaz mentions that she’s got no messages, and the look of disappointment on her face I think says a lot about her character, then the Doctor explains how almost no time has passed.

Their actions show that this is a group who have bonded together and you can see that Ryan’s relationship with Graham has evolved with him now showing concern for Graham. The expression on the Doctor’s face as their about to leave makes it obvious she wants them to stay but due to her awkwardness is unwilling or unable to just come out and say it. Fear of rejection perhaps? That reservation is a trait that will linger through her run on the show.

The same is true throughout this episode, we are definitely told a lot of things explicitly in dialogue, but to my ear they come up in a more natural fashion than in some of the previous episodes, like when we’re given some information about spiders.

Yaz’ Family

We spend a not insignificant amount of time with Yaz’ family in this episode and I think that how she interacts with them does a good job of showing what she’s all about. It’s clear that she is career focused and a little secretive. She keeps her private life separate from her family, is she embarrassed of one or both perhaps? I’m left with the feeling that she doesn’t find her life satisfying and wants more. But she’s clearly comfortable with her family and I recognize those sorts of interactions with siblings and parents, the dynamic works for me.

It’s also interesting to watch how the Doctor interacts here. She’s talkative, excessively so and has a quality that you see in some people on the Spectrum of blurting stuff out and not having normal social filters. I’m not saying the Doctor is autistic because you also see that trait in other people, but I do think it’s another piece of evidence that the “telling things” type of dialogue is a deliberate choice that has been made for this season. Where some incarnations might have been motor mouths due to arrogance or as a way to disarm their opponents, this Doctor talks defensively. She uses it to cover nervousness and discomfort in social situations. I like that touch.

I’m sure some people will make a great deal out of the revelation that the Doctor had sisters once. I don’t, I just see it as more confusion and uncertainty in her background not a solid fact to build things on.

Graham’s Grief

Re-watching these episodes I find myself more and more baffled by people saying that these characters have no depth or arcs because to my eyes there’s so much going on with these characters in every episode. We’ve already talked about Yaz, but the scenes with Graham in his old house are so moving to me. I know I’m going to upset people with this one, but I think they are the most mature depiction of grief and loss that the show has ever given us.

This isn’t dramatic, there’s no sobbing, just sadness and memories. Because while the initial grief is usually much more intense (for most people, everyone is different), that doesn’t last so long and what we see here is how grief actually is. What lasts a very long time indeed is the loss. Just, random memories popping up in your head and the reminder of who is no longer there. A thought that you have that you turn to share with them, but you cant. Reminders everywhere that the person you loved no longer exists. And people have to just keep going on through that because life doesn’t stop. They just have to make it work and that is what Graham is doing here, finding ways to keep going.

This Week’s Reminder that Ryan is an Awesome Character

Ryan always seems to get maligned when people talk about the show so I love to point out what a great character he is. Not only do we get him having to process what his Dad means to him and how he was let down, but we get that nice indication that he does now see Graham as real family.

And then of course there’s that wonderful scene where the Doctor and company are trying to solve the spider mystery so what is Ryan doing? He’s wandering around, tapping at things and making shadow puppets! He’s a 19 year old boy, of course he doesn’t take it seriously, it’s all fun and games, when they’ve done all the boring talky stuff, he’ll pitch in! I find his character so believable.

The Doctor Takes Charge

As with the previous episode, the Doctor wastes very little time taking charge and, equally important, her companions clearly look to her to do that. It’s shown multiple times through the episode, but then, as the show likes to do now, we’re basically told that directly as well. We’re also given a strong signal that the Doctor doesn’t want to kill the spiders and that she wants to find out what has happened to them and presumably fix it.

Part of that is the plan to trap the spiders in the panic room where we get a character, not the Doctor, saying that they deserve to die humanely and naturally. That’s an odd pairing of words because natural death is not inherently humane.

And then we get the scene with the large spider. We realize that it’s dying, effectively suffocating and we see the pain and sadness on the Doctor’s face, her compassion for these creatures who have been mistreated. Before she can do anything either to prevent its death or ease it’s passing Robertson is back with a big gun. Let’s be clear, Robertson was not conducting a mercy killing, what he did was petty revenge to try and hide his fear. He couldn’t even have known if the shot would have killed the spider, never mind instantly. We also don’t know whether the Doctor could have found another solution because she wasn’t given a chance, so her anger at Robertson is fully justified.

And Now the Doctor Fixes Things…

Wait, what? Did I miss a scene, why are we back with Yaz’ family already?

Up to this point I have absolutely loved this episode. I think it’s so entertaining, hits so many great notes. But boy does it fumble the ending.

Did they run long and have to cut a scene? Run out of budget and couldn’t shoot something? Was the script just needing one more draft? Is this the stage (3rd episode by Chibnall, 4th he had a hand in) where the scope of running the show just caught up to Chibnall? What happened?

Everything that appears on screen up to this point implies that the Doctor is looking for solutions and yet once the spiders are captured it’s just never addressed. I don’t think the intention is actually that they all just suffer because the other thing that’s never addressed is the problem of the mines and the toxic waste under the hotel. This leads me to conclude that using this as a club to beat the Doctor over their morality is unfair. Nothing about this story makes me think we’re supposed to interpret the story that way, but they failed to address the giant spider in the room so to me the failure lies entirely with the writing.

The Fam

This is the first chance that the Doctor’s companions really have to make a conscious choice about travelling with the Doctor and of course they chose to. We’d have been surprised if they didn’t wouldn’t we? Having watched these four episodes again I feel that the reasons each of them has for staying with the Doctor both make perfect sense and are clearly present throughout each of the episodes. This actually feels like a group of friends in a way that many Companion/Doctor combos don’t.

So Close

I almost love this episode. It’s so strong for 90% of its running time. It’s tense and exciting when it needs to be but also gives me these character moments that I find so satisfying. And yet, as seems to be a pattern with Chibnall’s Who, there’s something that trips it up. It only needs one more scene really, but leaving the fate of the spiders and the mine hanging like that casts a pall across the whole episode. Bad endings are unfortunately harder to ignore than bad bits in the middle.

Ultimately I judge an episode by how much fun I had watching it and I had a lot of fun watching this story, but it’s flawed and that flaw is significant. The ending isn’t just weak, it’s bad, it’s missing. Leaving people hanging without any sort of resolution and an unnaturally abrupt ending is just…

Leave a Reply