Doctor Who, Series 11, Episode 4
“Arachnids in the UK”
Posted by Sage
Maybe the Doctor finally got enough control of the TARDIS to purposely deliver Graham, Yaz, and Ryan back home. But I’m more inclined to believe that the old girl once again took her Time Lord where she needed to go – not just because Sheffield is in the middle of a sizable infestation when they show up, but also because this is the adventure that convinces each of her companions that they just aren’t ready to see it end. They get a taste of what life at home would be now, knowing what else is available to them. When a companion decides on their own to disembark, they close a door and compartmentalize their life. I think that’s more difficult for these three to do because a) it was the Doctor who brought them together in the first place and b) their grief is intertwined and still so raw. There’s no putting anything away right now.
But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Spiders! Frickin’ HUGE spiders, which looked really cool, so well done, effects. I enjoyed the B-movie aspect of it all – no aliens were involved this week (except our favorite one, hey girl hey), just some discarded lab samples and putrid toxic waste. And, keeping in theme with the rest of the season so far, the character you’re meant to love to hate is a self-important white man. For the first half of the hour, you were probably figuring that Chris Noth’s Jack Robertson was meant to evoke Tr*mp, but a clever turn reveals that that isn’t the case. He hates Tr*mp, his rival. And he doesn’t hate him for any of the countless reasons one should, but just because he’s president and Jack isn’t. He’s just another morally bankrupt man with too much money and too much ego who thinks he should be in power for the very same reasons – another example of capitalist rot. HE is the waste with luxury hotel built on top, and, for that matter, so’s the US. It’s not a delicate metaphor, but it applies.
Fortunately, the Doctor knows exactly how to deal with men like this. First, she forces him to confront the human cost of the way that he does business. (“You can’t be president if you fired Yaz’s mum.”) Then she emphasizes how completely irrelevant he is in the grand scheme of the universe. (At least Ed Sheeran contributes something.) Jodie Whittaker has perfected her “and who the hell are you?” look, and it gives me life every single time.
Also, I’ve got to hand it to casting here. Chris Noth is best known for playing one of my favorite fictional capitalists, Mr. Big, who represented an aspirational, harmless accumulation of wealth. (The kind best used to wine and dine Carrie Bradshaw and avoid the MTA completely. Who among us wouldn’t?) He’s pure evil in this and no less so because he looks the other way and leaves the dirty work to his underlings. The Doctor is probably more disgusted by the way Jack shrugs off responsibility because he purposely tried to maintain plausible deniability. An dastardly plan she can at least respect.
The bravery is all her companions, their families, and neighbors. (Even when they’re shrieking in terror, hi Ryan.) Yaz’s mum (her: “Naijia.”) is cool and collected – it seems as though her daughter inherited that from her and her investigatory nature from her conspiracy theorist dad. Jade is one of my favorite Doctor Who character types: lady scientist who just accepts everything and becomes a companion for a day. And the core four are gelling so well, when they’re all together and when they break out into pairs. It’s no wonder Yaz’s family can’t figure out which one of them she’s probably dating.
On that note, Chris Chibnall can feel free to continue baiting the Ryan/Yaz and Doctor/Yaz shippers among us. Because some of us (raises hand) are down for either/or. Think about how pleased Ryan is when he realizes that they’ve been practically neighbors this whole time. And Yaz’s face when she tells the Doctor that she wants more time with her. I’ll admit that I was concerned about whether the show could quickly sell on on this group dynamic, but the chemistry is so there, across the board. And while I wish Ryan’s nan hadn’t had to die for it, having this share grief as a backdrop to their adventures does add a layer of meaning. They know before the Doctor reiterates it that there’s no guarantee that they’ll come home alive. But especially for Graham, it beats sitting in a flat full of memories, thinking about how much Grace would have wanted him to just live a little. (Graham, who had very recently thought that he was going to die before his time.) He wants to travel with the Doctor because it makes him feel closer to the person that he lost, and that’s a really beautiful journey that the show hasn’t explored before.
(For the record, I still like “fam.”)
Ryan, though, is running away from something. He’s the sweet summer child of the lot, enthusiastic and goofy and endearingly immature. (Did Tosin Cole ad-lib the part where Ryan is making shadow puppets on the wall of the lab when the Doctor and Jade are seriously discussing the spider that killed the latter’s colleague? I need to know.) He’s pure of heart though, and has the correct reaction to his father’s too-little-too-late letter. It takes that for him to realize that Graham (and now Yaz and the Doctor) are his “proper” family, because they’ve been there for him and interested in him and not out of guilt or a sense of responsibility. Ryan will truly become a man when he faces that person, though. Until he confronts his father with that, I don’t think he’ll be able to completely move forward. Here’s hoping their adventures get him to a place where he feels confident doing that.
The Doctor, meanwhile, has all the confidence she needs when she’s confronting giant spiders in an abandoned coal mine. But she still has a ways to go domestically. Her demeanor is so different, but her hesitancy still parallels that of the Twelfth Doctor, not knowing where she fits in in the lives of the people who’ve traveled with her. I wondered in my last recap why she was holding back from inviting Graham, Yaz, and Ryan to stay with her, and it turns out that she just didn’t think they’d want to. She’s surprised she even rates an invitation to tea and Mr. Khan’s “terrible pakora.” She readily admits that she’s “socially awkward,” but she’s better in a living room than she thinks she is. It’s her honesty and inability to bullshit (unlike every single other one of her incarnations) that they treasure, and she’ll come to realize that soon enough.
Timey Wimey Observations
- Probably de rigueur when you’re making a thriller about creepy-crawly things, but I still quite enjoyed the cold open being shot from the perspective of the spiders themselves. Reminded me of the “War of the Coprophages” episode of The X-Files. (The one with Bambi and the cockroaches.)
- I’m Yaz in this scene. I only know what “grime” is because they keep saying it on The X-Factor.
- Ryan’s HUGE SMILE when Yaz says, “Of course you’re invited.” He’s so smitten, RIP.
- Let’s hope Yaz’s sister gets more to do than flirt with guys, be mean to Yaz, and scroll through her phone. Feels like a “not like the other girls” kind of comparison, and I don’t like it.
- “I used to have sister. I used to be a sister!”
- Imagine if Nine had greeted Jackie like Thirteen greets Naijia, it’s hilarious.
- WHO WASHES THEIR HANDS LIKE THAT.
- “Do you have any idea how annoying it is when my husband’s right?”
- Jack’s reaction to a hotel room filled with enormous, sci-fi-sized spider webs is to blame the person he thinks of as “the help,” and that’s why white men shouldn’t be in charge of anything.
What did you think of “Arachnids in the UK”? Let us know in the comments!
Featured Image Source: BBC America