Spiders Are Bad But Guns Are Worse.
Those well versed with Doctor Who may well remember the 3rd Doctor’s fateful clash with the arachnid kind before dying and being reborn as Tom Baker’s manic portrayal of the Time Lord. Skip forward to 2018 and Jodie Whittaker’s latest episode of the rebooted Doctor Who sees her come face to face with the arachnids again. Or, well, at least we know she does, the Doctor seems to be oblivious to this fact through the entire run-time of this week’s formulaic plot.
The episode begins with The Doctor successfully navigating the Tardis back to Planet Earth, Sheffield. 30 minutes after the events of the first episode to be precise. Graham leaves the group to return home to mourn Grace while Yas and Ryan head to Yas’ house for tea with The Doctor. Once there it becomes clear that a wider conspiracy is at work, one involving giant spiders and a plot pointing to American hotel businessman Robertson. What transpires from here is an action packed story where The Doctor and her companions try and figure out what’s going on while we’re beaten over the head with a sloppily handled, politically charged narrative around guns being bad and politicians lying. All of this personified through Robertson.
From an episode that handled the delicate matter of civil rights with respect and dignity to an episode with an underlying message around gun violence and politics, Arachnids In The UK is the first example this year of the writing being directly impacted by outside sources. From Robertson mentioning how Donald Trump is a bad influence to confidently proclaiming guns are what the world need right now, this constant barrage of socially relevant but sensitive subjects are handled very poorly indeed with Ryan even chirping in and mentioning the Russians as the proverbial cherry on the cake. While innocent nods to pop culture has always been a thing in Doctor Who (and a particularly amusing one about Ed Sheeran is a nice inclusion), the show has never been used as an outlet toward specific societal issues. This can of course be directly blamed on Chris Chibnall who wrote the episode this week.
The most glaring issue with the show since Chibnall has taken over has been poor writing of antagonists and this again seems to be a recurring trend of the 11th season. Robertson comes across as cartoonish and hardly characterised beyond the cliched archetype written for him. The character gets away practically scot free with no comeuppance or satisfying end to his slimy character. While this serves the obvious message that politicians basically get away with murder, it does leave a massive gaping hole in the plot and reinforces this trend of poor antagonistic writing. Bites of characterisation for Yas, Graham and Ryan are certainly a nice inclusion though and this week we’re introduced to Yas’ family, in particular her Mum, who features heavily in the overall plot. These are nice inclusions though and the main trio of companions do finally seem to be finding their feet, with their places established late on during the final scenes of the episode.
We mentioned it earlier but this is not the first time The Doctor has encountered the arachnid kind. While we’re not suggesting an elaborate retelling of Jon Pertwee’s Planet Of The Spiders, a simple sentence of acknowledgement or a clever inside joke about these eight legged creatures would certainly have improved the story. It could have potentially raised a really interesting dilemma for The Doctor too, one that could see her torn between vengeance for her previous incarnation’s death or whether she should spare the indirectly related cousin of the killer arachnids.
Arachnids In The UK is easily the weakest episode of the season so far and arguably one of the worst since the eighth season of Doctor Who. It’s a perfect example of why politically charged narratives and Doctor Who should never mix. While we know The Doctor has always been against guns, almost every episode this season has reinforced that fact with this week going one step further by adding a direct social message about it into the narrative. While this may suit the cartoon villain Robertson to an extent, references to Trump, gun violence in America and even the Russians soils what’s otherwise a pretty average but enjoyable episode. Hopefully this is just a blemish in an otherwise decent season but after last week, Arachnids In The UK is the first sign of Chibnall’s weak writing and hopefully not a sign of things to come going forward.