Doctor Who: Arachnids in the UK
(1 episode, s11e04, 2018)
An unhappy ending for an unfocused story.
In an empty hotel on a golf resort, American businessman Jack Robertson is upset with his personal assistant, Frankie Ellish. Robertson wants to throw money at the problem, especially in light of his potential political run in 2020, but Ellish says the problem is too complex. He fires a woman who stumbles upon their conversation, then gives Ellish one hour to solve the problem.
Meanwhile, the TARDIS navigates through the temporal vortex and arrives in Sheffield a mere half-hour after the fam originally departed. The Doctor is prepared to say goodbye to the team, but Yaz invites everyone to her place for tea. Graham has something else to take care of, so he passes on the offer. On the way up, the Doctor spots a woman in need of help, but the woman tells her that everything is fine.
The group meets Yaz’s family and the Doctor tries to figure out small talk. She engages Yaz’s father about the garbage that he’s collecting, eager to learn more about the conspiracy. Yaz gets a call from her mother, the woman whom Robertson fired, and goes to pick her up. After Yaz leaves, the Doctor offers to deliver a parcel meant for the next-door neighbor who hasn’t been seen for days.
The Doctor and Ryan enter the neighbor’s flat with the woman from before. The place is without power and filled with spider webs. They find the flat’s occupant Anna wrapped in spiderwebs like a trapped insect, and they find the spider responsible hiding under the bed. They trap it in the bedroom and the Doctor finds vinegar and garlic to keep it away. The spider goes around via the ceiling, and the Doctor asks it to stay in the apartment until she can solve the mystery.
Graham returns home. The place seems empty, but he imagines Grace standing with him as he thinks about everything he wants to tell her. He sits with one of her coats until he hears a noise from upstairs. He investigates and finds a shed spider carapace. He returns to the Doctor and tells the team what he found.
The woman, Jade, tells the group that these aren’t the first incidents. Something is happening to the spiders in the city. They follow Jade to her lab where she works as a zoologist specializing in arachnids.
At the hotel, Ellish descends into the lower levels while recording a statement for the authorities. She’s soon consumed by the spiders living there. Yaz arrives moments later to retrieve her mother, Najia, and Robertson confronts the women as trespassers and his bodyguard Kevin holds them at gunpoint. Robertson cites the room conditions as the reason for firing her.
Jade explains that her work is about extending spider lifespans. Apparently, spiders can keep growing throughout their lives. The spider population has exploded in Sheffield lately. The Doctor sees a pattern in the data and points them toward the golf resort.
Robertson shows the Khan women a guest room filled with spiderwebs. He leaves for a scheduled bathroom break and the Khan’s listen to a crawling sound in the walls. The Doctor calls and asks if they can let her in.
Robertson, meanwhile, is attacked in the bathroom by a giant spider that breaks through a bathtub. Kevin tries to defend his boss, but Robertson locks him in the bathroom. The ensuing gunshots bring everyone to the guest room as the spider drags Kevin away. Everyone but the Doctor and the Khans are a bit starstruck, and they investigate the carnage. The Doctor takes a look below the tub and comes face to face with the spider. They all run to the lobby but find the entrance blocked by a literal wall of webbing, so they retreat to the kitchen.
Robertson is beside himself that the Doctor doesn’t recognize him. When she asks if he’s Ed Sheeran, Robertson goes off her while flaunting his portfolio. He’s also running for President of the United States in 2020 because he hates Trump (and hates the name even more). The Doctor hatches a plan that involves catching a spider, sending Ryan and Graham to execute it. The plan, not the spider. They trap one before running away from an entire group of them.
The Khans discuss how Yaz knows the Doctor as the Time Lord digs into the hotel’s history. It seems that the resort was built on an abandoned coal mine. Against Robertson’s wishes, the team goes into the depths, finds Kevin and Ellish wrapped in webbing cocoons, and uncovers the blustering businessman’s secret: His waste disposal company used the mine to store massive amounts of toxic waste. With nowhere to go, the waste is being concentrated and has affected the spider population, including the dead spiders from Jade’s lab.
While Graham and Ryan search for another spider specimen, they discuss the letter that Ryan’s father wrote to him. Ryan’s father wants to be his “proper” family, but Ryan’s not interested. They find a massive spider in the ballroom and trap it before returning to the others. The Doctor concludes that the large spider is the mother and the others are returning home. She remembers that Robertson has a panic room and asks for a tour. Robertson wants to shoot them all, but the Doctor decides to trap them in the panic room for a humane death.
That doesn’t sit right.
Ryan lures the entire population to the panic room with “Know Me From” by Stormzy. With the spiders locked away, the Doctor develops a plan to herd the mother outside, but Jade notices that it has grown too large and is literally suffocating under its own mass. Robertson storms into the ballroom and shoots the mother spider, claiming it as a mercy killing that will secure his place in the White House. The Doctor is angry but can do nothing as Robertson leaves the room.
Later, the companions make their way back to the TARDIS, deciding that life with the Doctor is better than what they have in their homes. Graham needs to heal his grief, Ryan doesn’t want to go back to the warehouse, and Yaz wants more than the insanity that her family offers. They want to travel with the Doctor.
The Doctor warns them of the dangers. When they’re sure, this new Team TARDIS pulls the lever together and embarks on a new adventure.
This story had a lot of potential, but it was squandered with a meandering and unfocused plot. As such, the ending is way too quick and doesn’t resolve anything. The toxic waste problem remains, Jack Robertson doesn’t face any consequences, and the spiders are left behind to die of starvation in a panic room.
I’m not a fan of spiders, but the fate of these spiders really bothers me. The Eleventh Doctor once remarked that in 900 years of time and space, he had never met anyone who wasn’t important. Leaving the spiders to die a long and painful death for something that they didn’t have any influence on seems out of character. I wonder what a better writer could have done in consideration of Planet of the Spiders and Metebilius III.
Jack Robertson’s character also bothers me as an example of the “ugly American” stereotype, though it’s understandable given the time in which this episode was made. I recall watching this one when it first premiered and rolling my eyes at the stereotype. This time around, it makes me wonder if Chris Chibnall even knew what he wanted from the character since Robertson embodies the very man that he despises so much. Chris Noth reinforced this by loosely basing his portrayal on the real-life reality star. The character isn’t very clear-cut, and that further confuses an already muddy story.
I did like meeting Yaz’s family and adding more depth to her character. I was also impressed with the reimagined temporal vortex. But this story overall? Not a keeper.
Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”
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The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.