WARNING: MILD SPOILERS AHEAD
The ‘Freak of the Week’ is a concept you see in almost every TV show. The premise is a simple one: a new enemy and an isolated plot-line arises to confront our heroes for a single episode. Its equal parts necessary filler and the sad result of having to write a multitude of story-lines for serialised television week to week. Doctor Who is a series with 50 years worth of Freak of the Week story-lines and, sadly, Arachnids in the UK is another one to add to the pile. It’s not exactly a bad time, though.
Arachnids in the UK starts with the Doctor returning Team TARDIS back home. As the group try to get settled into their old lives once more, the Team uncover a conspiracy in Sheffield, linking plastic waste, a rich hotel and an army of larger than life spiders hunting for food. The Doctor dives straight into this web of mystery and seeks to uncover what is going on and stop the spiders from causing havoc.
Arachnids in the UK is decent. It’s a distinctly average episode with a generic plot. The main ‘mystery’ of pollution linking to animal mutation has been done thousands of times before in horror and this episode doesn’t really add anything else to the mix to improve it to any real note of merit. The set design and music are working overtime for the overdone story and the effects, that were actually surprisingly good for Doctor Who, don’t make up for the standard horrible businessman villain. Chris Noth is clearly enjoying the role of presidential candidate Jackson, but his character is sadly overly generic and done before. The character stands as a clear commentary on Trump and America on the whole, with Yaz even mentioning the current President by name, and yet the parody abandons all subtlety and pretence to whack us round the head with a message about violence, pollution and politics that feels overdone even for Doctor Who. Then again, Doctor Who is a children’s show, and this kind of moral absolutism is sometimes something you have to dip into with content like this, so that in itself, is really up to viewer discretion.
Arachnids in the UK might not be anything special, but its mediocrity doesn’t mean its terrible. Episodes like this, no matter how they are evaluated critically, are sometimes necessary in long-running TV shows and help give characters a space to breathe and develop. Its in this way that Arachnids in the UK really works.
This episode, Yaz and Graham get more of the spotlight and Gill and Walsh really do well with their parts. Whilst Graham has a few moments to wrestle with the loss of his wife and the despair of grief, Yaz has to settle back in a life with her family, something she clearly doesn’t enjoy. Ravin J Gantra, Shobna Gulati and Bhavnisha Parmar give the Khan family solid grounding in the episode and, whilst making the characters likeable, the actors show each member’s quirks and attitudes in a way that shows why Yaz has little patience for them. Even Ryan is shown to have developed since the first episode of the series, expressing concern for Graham going back home alone when before there was only disdain. These moments really play up how likeable Team TARDIS is and a nice place to monitor their development before they commit to travelling with the Doctor full-time.
Another strength of the episode is its commitment to, if not horror, darker themes that previous Who began to abandon entirely. The spiders themselves are scary enough for what they are (I bet a true arachnophobic will be more effected than myself) and the conclusion of the episode is noticeably grim: ending not with a triumphant victory but with a melancholic display of human cruelty that puts the events of the episode into perspective.
Apart from that, the episode has a few loose ends as far as plot-threads are concerned: the trapped spiders (the ones in the room, the one in the flat at the beginning and has everyone forgotten one was in Graham’s loft?), and a confusing solution (shooting spiders is cruel but starvation is somehow a ‘humane’ and ‘dignified’ death? Alright…), but overall, Arachnids in the UK is a decent watch, if at least for the character interaction, and keeps the momentum going for another week to our next exciting adventure.
Arachnids in the UK: 3/5