TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11: Episode 4: “Arachnids in the U.K.”

DOCTOR WHO 
Series 11: Episode 4 – “Arachnids in the U.K.”

Starring: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Shobna Gulati, Tanya Fear, and Chris Noth
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Directed by: Sallie Aprahamian

“Are you Ed Sheeran? Everyone around this time is always talking about Ed Sheeran.”

The Whittaker Era gets its first spooky episode in “Arachnids in the U.K..” Momentarily parked back in Sheffield and mingling with Yaz’s family, the Doctor and Team TARDIS (which was made canon this episode! AAAAA!) find themselves entangled in some otherworldly corporate malfeasance. It might seem kind of small-scale after the dizzyingly high emotional stakes of the last episode, but it really works again here. Series 11 is really carving out a fun and engaging niche for itself. Being the one new series that really leans heavily into more Classic Era conventions. It also doesn’t hurt that Chibnall continues to make sure that I would die for these characters. Thanks to relatable characterizations and even more strengthening of their adorable dynamic.

It is home again, home again, jiggedy-jig for Ryan, Yaz, and Graham! That’s great for them but potentially devastating for our new Doctor. But thankfully new showrunner Chris Chibnall has cooked up another grounded, but skin-crawling new adventure for our new group. Just speaking as a fan, I always really love this moment between a Doctor and their new companions. The Literal Call to Adventure I call it.

This episode essentially opens with it, after a short cold open seeding the plot. At first, it is slightly awkward with the humans clearly revealed that they are home. Then, elated once the Doctor informs them that they are merely 30 minutes after their departure in the warehouse, all the way back in “The Woman Who Fell to Earth.” It seems 13 and her wonderful new TARDIS are a bit more accurate than her counterparts which adds a fun, type A kind of whimsy to her and her new flying machine.

This scene plays really tenderly and almost childlike by our core cast. 13 is putting on a brave face here for her new fave humans. Ryan, Yaz, and Graham are trying to not come across too eager to ask her to stay so they can keep going on adventures (which has a soaringly heartfelt payoff later in the episode).

This whole episode does a really great job of strengthening our Team TARDIS’ bond but in a much more domestic setting. This focus on the emotions has really been something I have loved from Series 11 so far. It never comes across maudlin or too pushy (which was a problem that plagued Ten’s seasons). Even managing to get some great things out of a companion’s homebound family thanks to the Kahns! All due to the Tyler and Jones clans, but that stuff always fell flat with me. Chibnall integrates them into the plot deftly and rounds them out nicely as Yaz’s supportive, but frustrating baseline. I am really happy with the balance Chris Chibnall has found between grounded, entertaining science fiction and genuine character drama.

Speaking of, the plot is also a refreshingly “of the moment” bit of monster hunting; giving Series 11 it’s first proper “monster of the week” episode. A slick, bullish American businessman played by my third favorite Law and Order: Criminal Intent leading man, Chris Noth. He’s moved into Sheffield and brought with him a grand hotel, his shady business practices, and a metric ton of industrial waste. Which somehow have led to the burg’s spider population multating and growing to a ridiculous size.

Usually, this would be some Mystery Science Theatre 3000 type ish, but director Sallie Aprahamian plays it deadly straight. They even go so far as to have the designers design all the spiders as photo-realistically as possible which is…. just as unsettling as it sounds. Also, it is pretty friggen cool to see the Doctor basically fighting a Trump analogue and railing against big business. I said before that this season has felt really Classic Era and “Arachnids in the U.K.” might be the purest example of this yet. This thing is basically a Second Doctor Adventure just with higher production values and a tremendous new score.

Verdict: Watch It

Series 11 keeps improving and “Arachnids in the U.K.” is a really low-key great entry into the new season. Some may be turned off by it’s more domestic setting and grounded plotting. Chris Chibnall and Sallie Aprahamian really nail this “shore leave” episode. They prove that the new season is precisely the kind of adaptable that Doctor Who needs to be. Plus, Team TARDIS continues to just own my hearts anchored by Jodie Whittaker’s socially awkward but endlessly charming incarnation alongside her wonderful, wonderful new friends.

NEXT TIME! “The Tsuranga Conundrum” by Chris Chibnall (dude is putting in WERK this first season, I respect the hell out of him)! That title rules, it sounds like a Big Finish EU audio WHICH I WILL TOTALLY REVIEW, HOLLER AT YER BOI, BIG FINISH. I hope the episode lives up to it. Be seeing you.

A writer, a dandy, a Friend of Tom, and a street walkin' cheetah with a heart fulla napalm. He has loved comics all his life but he hasn't quite got them to love him back just yet. That hasn't stopped him writing about them or about any other media that hoves into his sights. He can usually be reached via the hellscape that is Twitter @J_PartridgeIII or by e-mail at justin@betweenthepanels.com.

Justin Partridge

A writer, a dandy, a Friend of Tom, and a street walkin' cheetah with a heart fulla napalm. He has loved comics all his life but he hasn't quite got them to love him back just yet. That hasn't stopped him writing about them or about any other media that hoves into his sights. He can usually be reached via the hellscape that is Twitter @J_PartridgeIII or by e-mail at justin@betweenthepanels.com.

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