Doctor Who: 11.04 Arachnids In The UK
Scares are just as much a part of Doctor Who as action and adventure and four episodes in, series 11 delivered something delightfully creepy. Not scary perhaps, unless you suffer with arachnophobia. Terrified that a spider is going to climb out of the bath plug hole or crawl over you while you sleep? Well Arachnids in the UK took that fear to extreme new levels as giant spiders began acting erratically and formed a nest in a luxury hotel.
As truly terrible as the episode title was (it feels like a poor, half hearted attempt at a working title then the finished article), there was plenty to enjoy in this fun, thrilling episode that did what Doctor Who does best - take something simple and make it terrifying. Chibnall perhaps goes for a more obvious fear and amplifies it (compared to Moffat who would take a simple concept and make it terrifying - Listen, Blink and Deep Breath for example) but spiders are a good one to go for. Plenty of people hate them and even those that aren't afraid of them would probably shudder at the thought of one crawling on your face while you slept.
And as someone who falls in the latter camp, there was still something deeply unsettling about walking into a room think with cobwebs and having a spider the size of a large dinner plate crawling up the side of a wall. Chibnall weaved (pun intended) an intriguing little mystery before unleashing a hotel of horros in the second half of the episode. Mixed with more great character drama (Graham returning home and having visions of Grace to some well-needed development of Yaz via her family) the mystery of the giant arachnids took the Doctor, Ryan and Graham from the flat of Yaz's dead neighbour to the lab of Tanya Fear's Dr. Jade McIntyre, who had been tracking abnormal spider behaviour across Sheffield for months.
The character stuff again felt like a real part of the episode's strength; Bradley Walsh delivered some beautiful moments as Graham interacted with the spectre of Grace while Mandip Gill finally felt like a more natural part of the ensemble as Yaz bounced off bratty sister Sonya and father Hakim, with his conspiracy theories and terrible cooking. Shobna Gulati, a veteran TV comedy actor was also a lively presence as Yaz's mum Najia. The companion family was a staple of the Russell T Davies' era of Doctor Who and again the influences of that period are being felt in Chibnall's show.
Getting an actor of Chris Noth's stature was a big win for the episode too, playing a narcissistic business man with a string of luxury hotels planning to run for president. He did well with what was a thinly-veiled Trump character, firing his people (hotel manager Najia included) on a whim and the sacrificing his bodyguard Kevin to save himself. Anyone hoping for his comeuppance at the hands of the spiders were sorely disappointed; in fact his actions shooting the giant spider that was already dying from suffocation was a cruel act indeed. But I like that it wasn't wrapped up so neatly.
There were some great moments to enjoy and keep the audience unsettled; the initial discovery of Yaz's dead neighbour cocooned in her bed, the giant spider smashing its way through the bath and the hordes of spiders swarming the hotel corridors. And terrible taste in music aside, Ryan finding a way to lure them into the panic room was a fun scene, fulfilling the Doctor's desire to want the spiders to live and die humanely. Chibnall balanced scares with the occasion bit of startled humour to keep the pace of the story to the end. The final revelation that the hotel had been built on a toxic waste site that caused the spiders to grow abnormally was simply but effectively done.
I loved the final scene, the companions all choosing to continue their travels with the Doctor - Graham because he didn't want to grieve alone, Ryan and Yaz because they wanted more. All four actors were on top form and it left me excited for the adventures to come.
Arachnids In The UK was a solid episode with plenty of creepy moments, continued great character development in the companions and Jodie Whittaker on fine form as the Doctor. It wasn't as strong as last week's Rosa but not every episode needs to have the emotional punch of that one. Something all you need is to be entertained and this week's certainly did that.