Doctor Who: Revisiting ARACHNIDS IN THE UK - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: Revisiting ARACHNIDS IN THE UK

Moo calls for a fumigator.

Series eleven of Doctor Who, while something of a mixed bag overall, is a much better run of episodes than most would have you believe, filled with a number of hidden gems. Perhaps the most overlooked of the lot is its fourth entry, known for being the one with the giant spiders and a shoehorned Trump satire. Let’s dive in and see what this one’s all about.

Arachnids in the UK starts off by introducing us to this week’s best guest star, none other than Mr. Big himself Chris Noth. He’s playing Jack Robertson, an American businessman who comes to the UK because of his hotel business and who is said to harbour ambition for his native land’s highest office. Stop me if that sounds familiar. I too watched with a combined fascination and dread as Donald Trump sought the presidency and won it in 2016, and over the years following have continued to do much the same now he’s actually in office. It seems like Chris Chibnall did much the same, so here we have a character coming from a similar background to Trump seeking the same office.

There’s some confusion in me however about what Robertson is meant to be. He’s clearly written by Chibnall as a Trump parody (and Noth portrays him as such) but he also states outright that he hates him and is only considering a run to oppose him. He resolved the final conflict of the episode by getting his gun out and treating his workers as disposable (“I’m all out of Kevins”), both positions known to be in line with Trump policy. Is this man a satire? Then why name Trump and explicitly say he’s the opposition? It just leaves me confused more than anything. Perhaps the idea is that he’s meant to symbolise how we shouldn’t pick out Trump specifically as the whole hard-right movement he represents? I don’t know, I’ve been confused by this for two years now.

But there’s a whole lot more going on than just a confused satire. There’s also a side trip into Yaz’s background finally, after getting this for Graham and Ryan back in The Woman Who Fell To Earth it’s about time Yaz got it too. The Doctor’s joy at going for “tea at Yaz’s” is a lovely moment to lead into it. Sadly the family themselves leave little impression, but it’s nice to see them and give her character a bit more fleshing out. It’s also great to see how Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor works opposite actual humans outside of (shudders) “The Fam”. It’s not as fun as it was for Matt Smith in The Lodger or even Peter Capaldi in The Caretaker, but it does the job and Whittaker continues to impress.

As she starts investigating the weird spider activities in Sheffield we get to see how Thirteen responds to this side of being the Doctor. In her first three episodes (and the few that follow this one come to that) she finds herself being drawn into the plot, this time she has to force herself into it. It’s a delight to see.

Unfortunately the plot she’s forcing herself into is one involving mutant spiders, which is a great big colossal NOPE from me. But I have to give my respect to the special effects team here who knocked it out the park, these giant spiders look incredible. Chibnall throws them into various set pieces perfect for spiders that manage to strike the right balance of terror at the spectacle and joy at how knowingly self-aware it is. Of course Robertson’s getting a spider coming up that plug hole, of course Ryan’s gonna see it moving underneath that bed. We see it coming and that makes it work so well when it arrives.

Director Sally Aprahamian did such a terrific job with these set pieces, using the mundane settings of corridors and bedrooms and bathrooms to create a brilliant sense of claustrophobia and tension. Credit to her for pulling it off.

You can criticise the resolution to the plot of Arachnids in the UK for being a little underdeveloped and that’s entirely fair, though it’s hardly unique among the pantheon of Doctor Who stories (hello there Robots of Death!) so I’m willing to be forgiving on that. A more obvious critique is that the story is basically a remake of The Green Death, but even here it’s hardly a bad thing to borrow from one of undisputed best Doctor Who stories of all time.

Ultimately Arachnids in the UK is just trying to have a fun time with scary monsters chasing people down corridors, an enjoyable guest star, and a little bit of social commentary that doesn’t quite land but has its heart in the right place. In other words, it’s Doctor Who in its purest form. I can’t complain about that.

“Moo” is the pseudonym used by this Doctor Who fan. He can usually be found procrastinating by thinking about Doctor Who. Follow him on Twitter @z_p_moo for more of his unusual takes, but do so at your own risk.

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