Arachnids In The UK
Series Eleven, Episode Four
Hmm. There’s something very familiar about all this.
The new series has been to space and to the past, so in Week Four it obligingly drops us back home for a breather. Series 1 and 4 did the same thing. (If it ain’t broke, etc.) But Arachnids In The UK goes a bit further down memory lane with anthropomorphic monsters threatening home and hearth, and an Evil Capitalist sneering at everybody. It’s practically a Russell T Davies tribute act.
Not that that’s a bad thing per se, as RTD knew how to tell a fun, modern monster story and Chibnall – at his best – can ape that reasonably well. But Arachnids reins in the wackiness you might expect, as well as most of the fun, while keeping in the little character moments.
|"What's that? Oh my god!"|
Popular writer in da houuuuse.
In true RTD style we’ve got to meet the family – specifically Yaz’s. They’re well-acted and fun, but still not much to write home about, although Yaz does eventually decide they’re annoying enough to escape for a while via the TARDIS. Which is normal for Doctor Who, except for the Doctor’s oddly portentous warning that this life will change them all, they won’t be the same when they come back, and so on. Which is a bit weird considering they’ve already had travels in the TARDIS and aren’t noticeably dead or insane yet. Calm down, Doc. Anyway, Graham has the best reason to get away.
I’m not sure what this story does that convinces them that the Doctor’s way of life is better. I’m not saying it isn’t – obviously it’s more fun than going to work on Monday. But Chibnall’s RTD-ish plot misses the feeling of making a difference that would normally send companions scurrying into the TARDIS afterwards. They just continue to hang around with the Doctor while things happen around them. This has been a consistent problem not just with three companions, but with marooning them in this version of the show, which barely has a pulse at the best of times. Episodes just drift along, with hardly anyone taking ownership of the plot.
A scientific research team have been trying to harness spider abilities for… science reasons, and they have inadvertently disposed of enhanced spider carcasses amid some toxic waste. Except that’s not really an issue – the dead ones anyway. One of the carcasses maybe wasn’t dead, and that one’s been breeding, and the toxic waste has… helped it grow, Green Death style, I guess? Except wasn’t it already capable of growing, because of Mad Science? Anyway, the “toxic waste” they keep going on about is actually landfill under a hotel, which is improperly stored and everything but still, the Doctor’s making a leap to say “That there’s toxic waste! Presto, giant spiders!” (God, this whole plot sounds like the author’s first, bumbling go at sci-fi.) There’s much standing around and yacking on about spiders going mad everywhere – with awkwardly funny lines like “Something’s wrong with the spider eco-system in South Yorkshire” not given the arch nudging they deserve – but it never feels like, well, anarchy in the UK.
|Sooo... you've got scientists creating super-spiders...|
and no one makes a joke about Spider-Man?
The spiders aren’t exactly on the rampage, so there isn’t a ticking clock apart from the observation that they’ve webbed up the hotel all our characters are in. (Does that stop them getting out? There are several scenes of the Doctor ripping webs apart with her bare hands. And curiously, no scenes of people getting stuck to anything...) Our heroes are free to amble about and guess their way through the problem – again. It’s made clear that, although they’re morbidly oversized, the spiders are just confused and out of their element. They don’t actively murder anybody, though a few people suffocate in their webs. They’re quite sweet, really.
That’s not a dig at how they look. The CGI and even the sound design are fantastic, especially compared to some of Doctor Who’s earlier arachnids. But the episode’s sympathies are with the spiders by default. I wondered why the Doctor didn’t make a thing out of arachnophobia and how silly it is. (Seriously folks, why not get a glass and a bit of card? Or just leave ’em alone to deal with all the flies…) Which makes the ending all the more odd, as the Doctor seemingly goes along with a plan to lock them in a room and starve them to death. Conversely a villainous character suggests shooting them instead, and is practically booed for it. Aren’t we killing them in either case? Is there really no other option?
The Doctor suggests “herding” the biggest one “out”, and that’s about as far as her plan goes; it turns out the creature is dying so there’s no need for follow up questions. (Such as, where the hell is “out”, then? Off to meet the who-knows-how-many other ones left outside?) Then when the resident Bad Guy shoots it, he receives the standard You Didn’t Have To Do That line from the Doctor. But you were happy to kill all those other ones, and this one’s about to die, so why are you on your high horse about it?
It’s around here that the plot just stops. It hasn’t been resolved – we’ve no idea what the scale of the problem even was, and as above we know there are still some mega-spiders out there. But the episode’s had enough of worrying about them. What was it all for? If Arachnids was trying to say something about the environment, and how pollution is bad, it says nothing that isn’t immediately obvious. Except, well, chucking an already mutated spider on a big pile of rubbish probably isn’t going to trigger the end of the world, but I suppose this is Doctor Who. As a monster story, then, it’s dull. As a people story? Hmm.
|"I love a conspiracy!" But why is he keeping a load of shit in his house?|
What else have we got? Well, there’s a Trump caricature so witlessly written that he loathes Trump, but apparently hasn’t noticed he embodies him… and nobody else notices it or points it out either, so it probably isn’t even deliberate. We just get a string of pompous eccentricities like firing people for no reason, American stereotypes like announcing that guns can solve everything, and random notes that I don’t even know what they’re there, like scheduled bathroom breaks and a need to show Yaz’s mum around the hotel after firing her. (No thanks, my lift’s here. WTF.) It’s obvious Chris Noth is a coup as he’s in the episode so much; he’s game and everything, but the character’s got nothing to give.
First time watching this, the vague whiff of the RTD era made it seem quite fun. Second time around, it’s pretty obvious I was remembering what fun used to be like. Arachnids is a creaky recreation of something the author isn’t very adept at. I’d suggest he farm out some of the workload before we all nod off, but apparently Series 11 was written in a kind of American writers’ room. It’s just one with his name all by itself on most of the scripts, and all of them sound like it.