Arachnids in the UK

Posted in Audio by - October 29, 2018
Arachnids in the UK

Aired 28 October 2018
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

After an unplanned journey to an alien world and a harrowing journey into the recent past, the Doctor and her friends return to the present with stunning accuracy as the local spider population begins acting strangely in Chris Chibnall’s ‘Arachnids in the UK.’

For all of its potential, apt broadcast date just in time for Halloween, and continuing strong performances of and chemistry between the leads, this is unfortunately the weakest and most problematic episode of the Thirteenth Doctor’s era so far. No plot has yet to develop as an intricate and layered affair, but ‘Arachnids in the UK’ is far too reliant on conveniences and contrivances to first split its cast and then bring them back together, the fact that both Graham’s house and Yaz’s building are infested with oversized spiders while the public as a whole is calm and clearly unaware of any problem at all a glaring coincidence that strains credulity. That Yaz’s mother just happens to be the proposed general manager of the new luxury hotel that the Doctor soon determines in the heart of the mystery, that the Doctor should seek to obtain a package for Yaz’s father that was delivered to a neighbour just as a scientist researching spiders is knocking on her door looking for her, and that Yaz’s father just happens to collect others’ rubbish because of his belief in an unknown conspiracy that ultimately proves to be correct are all narrative shortcuts taken to advance the story that at the same time undermine any attempt at fully developing the plot and creating any sort of natural flow.

At least part of the need for so many coincidences comes down to the expanded roster of characters in addition to the four leads, but none of them get the requisite screen time to adequately develop. The partial exception to this is Chris Noth’s Robertson, but this character’s blatant and overstated comparison to Donald Trump relies on far too many American clichés to make him even remotely interesting. This is a businessman looking to run for president out of spite for the current man in office, and he’s all too eager to wipe his hands of any responsibility while proclaiming that picking up a gun and shooting things is the best course of action for any logical person to take, and he’s far too one-dimensional and self-serving to garner any sort of sympathy or create any sort of nuance. It would have been a far bolder choice to show a British equivalent to these stereotypes that are known to exist within the UK given the episode’s title, but as presented the villain hampers the overall narrative for the second consecutive story and is played more for laughs than for pointed social commentary. With Tanya Fear’s Jade poised to take the de facto companion role given her connection to spider research, she likewise is given little to do other than to provide exposition, and even Yaz’s own family members are little more than generic roles to offer a connection to the two vital settings here. Naturally, there is still a lot of potential drama to be drawn from Yaz’s family should the programme choose, especially given their obsession with Yaz finally having friends, just how she came to know them, and whether she may be involved with the Doctor, but the story is far too overstuffed to present any of them with any meaningful and lasting material in their first outing and only hints at their deeper relationships.

Aside from the evils of corporate titans and business dealings as well as the ethical precariousness of reasearch, ‘Arachnids in the UK’ also seeks to provide a sort of ecological message with the dangers of inappropriate waste disposal from both private and public sectors and the toxins produced directly contributing to the oversized and aggressive tendencies of the confused spiders shown. Again, though, this becomes just another bullet point on a long list of included plot elements, and far more effective is the Doctor’s beautiful foreshadowing of the conclusion as she proclaims that they must treat all living organisms with dignity and later on her pointed statement that traveling with her will change her new companions who decide to stay with her for more adventures. The change will not be without difficulties, and Bradley Walsh excels when confronting his grief and the shadow of Grace when he returns to his home, but this has been a superb source of development with previous companions that will surely continue as this current series progresses, especially given the Doctor being proactive with that warning for the first time. There isn’t as much time for the leads to interact as usual, and in a story stuffed with characters and ideas, it’s the score and stunning camerawork that become the unstated heroes of a visually impressive tale with its heart in the right place that sadly doesn’t manage to make the best use of its allotted running time.

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