The ‘next time’ trailers for this series of Doctor Who have been much more sparse and ambiguous, playing on Chris Chibnall’s proficiency with secret keeping and his experience on Broadchurch. But the trailer for this week’s episode, “Arachnids in the UK”, wasn’t hiding much – something is going on with the spiders in Sheffield. And there isn’t much more to know. This week’s episode is classic Doctor Who b movie schlock, and it’s a fun time from start to finish.
The simple plot here – there are giant spiders – gives our characters some time to stretch out and develop. There’s certainly too much (now clearly a Chibnall writing signature) expositional dialogue to explain what’s happening, but overall this is a character-focused adventure and it’s stronger for it. Yas is – finally – given some developmental focus and we meet her family, a fun and simple construct that brings to mind Rose and Martha’s families from the Russell T Davies era. Simple caricatures, sure, but they immediately bring more dimension to Yas overall – it’s easy to relate to her sibling rivalry, and the familial in-jokes.
Graham continues to shine. We’re given a look into his grief process which is, of course, moving slowly, but this slowness is amplified by the adventures he’s had in the half hour of relative time since first being teleported into space with the Doctor and company. We’ve travelled with him for several hours now but the unrelenting and omnipresent threat of stopping to feel what’s happened is palpable. The scene where he’s reminiscing, and in particular when he smells the coat, rings incredibly true to anyone who’s dealt with loss. I’m simply shocked each week by the performance from Bradley Walsh. He continues to be the funniest and most emotionally grounded character.
The Doctor is feeling more and more like her old self throughout this episode – lots of running around, thinking on the spot and chastising someone fond of guns. But I am a little surprised at just how long this regeneration is taking to finish forming. I am massively grateful that it’s acknowledged in-universe, with 13 saying she’s not sure if she’s socially awkward or still just working herself out. It’s hopefully not poor writing and an active decision by Jodie to develop her Doctor in a more drawn-out manner, and there are obviously ways to justify this in the show. It’s just a little jarring when each of the previous NuWho Doctors has been largely fully formed 2 or 3 episodes in. I still couldn’t tell you exactly how 13 would react to any given situation.
And an issue that arises from this is that 13 seems to have an odd, almost black-and-white, inconsistent morality at times. She chastised someone for shoving an alien who was literally about to murder him but doesn’t bat an eye at her own companion sending another alien into the distant past (almost certainly murdering him). Likewise, this episode leans on the anti-gun message that’s come up a couple times this series – totally at home in Doctor Who – and manages to create a scene wherein the use of a gun is not only justified but more humane than the Doctor’s approach. But she seems incapable of understanding that such moral grandstanding doesn’t make sense, it seems to go against a lot of the ambiguity of 12’s era and maybe we’ll see her views challenged down the line, but right now it’s an odd sticking point.
There’s less to say about this episode but it’s a fun adventure worth watching. There’s no massive overarching plot or mind-blowing new concepts here, but it’s good lo-fi horror storytelling that’s safe for the whole family. And seeing the TARDIS fly through the new-look time vortex is insanely awesome.
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