Arachnids in the UK – Doctor Who
Arachnids in the UK (playing off the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK) is your regularly scheduled creepy episode of Doctor Who! And what’s scarier than spiders? And at Halloween, no less!
This series of Doctor Who has remained somewhat thematically consistent. In each episode we see a powerful and corrupt system that is hurting ordinary people in one way or another. We see the people at the top of said systems remain almost entirely unconcerned about the damage they do to people. This week was no exception.
But beyond the theme of systemic cruelty and cowardice, the other major idea the show is dealing with is growth. This was made somewhat front on centre in this episode, which focussed on spiders growing unnaturally fast. While the spiders are growing, and changing, so are our main protagonists.
The Doctor points out early on that she is still figuring herself out. She is visibly shaken by the idea that she may have to go travelling on her own again, but when invited to tea at Yas’, she brightens up. By the end of the episode we see her conflict laid out. She wants companionship, she wants friends, but she knows how dangerous it can be and she doesn’t want to see them hurt. Laying out the dangers and letting each of them make a choice for their own reasons, the Doctor seems to have a burden lifted from her.
Graham, similarly, has some baggage to sort through. Grief takes time, and it takes action to help work through, and travelling with the Doctor is what will spur him on. He could take the road of sitting alone in his house, smelling old clothes, and talking to ghosts. Or, he could see the universe, experience new things, and grow.
Yas is so desperate to prove herself. She looks up to the Doctor as the most brilliant person she has ever known. While her sister teases her for being married to the job, we see something new growing within Yas. As dedicated and loyal as she was to the police force, she has had a taste of something more. She doesn’t want to be held back, and is finally willing to take a step towards becoming new and different.
Ryan is still coming out of his shell. After a few episodes with him at the forefront, he takes a little bit of a back seat this time. But, the quiet and awkward character we saw in episode one has grown. Now, he gleefully joins in with the adventure, throwing aside caution at times. He delights in helping out, and blasting out Stormzy to bring the arachnids into their trap. (And was I the only one who thought some of those spiders were almost dancing to the beat?)
This episode is about growth. Not just spiders growing bigger, but how the characters have grown, and how much more they still have to.
Definitely not Trump. Definitely.
Our main antagonist this week is another powerful, rich old man, whose wealth has made him cruel. While he claims to be one who has ‘hated Trump for decades’, there are some obvious parallels being dangled around him. But more important, is what sort of system he represents, and how it ties into the series as a whole.
We have seen a warrior race of superior technology use Earth as a battleground. The Stenza considered humans as unimportant and not worth consideration as anything other than trophies. The objectification of our entire species by a people that dominate and oppress for sport.
A space rally set up by a phenomenally wealthy man, for whom the deaths of the 14,000 entrants were not important. A man who cared very little, if at all, for the plight of the Doctor and her friends, trapped on a deadly planet. What’s more, we learned there that the remaining combatants were also victims of oppressive regimes.
Back in the 1950s, the Doctor and her friends encountered the stark realities of segregation in the USA. An entire culture with oppression and marginalisation built into it.
This week, we see a wealthy business man, for whom the idea of letting toxic waste leak into an industrial city’s streets is no big deal. Except for how it might affect his chances of becoming president. He fires Yas’ mum, Najia, without a second thought, simply because she interrupted him.
The message of this series has been one of growing closer, and growing stronger. As the Doctor and her companions grow closer, they find they can tackle bigger, and bigger problems. It is the forces of isolation and institutions of power that threaten this solidarity that have been the enemies.
This series is about more than just monsters and aliens. It’s about how a ragtag group of relative strangers can become more, just by knowing each other and experiencing new things.
It probably reflects the fact that Chibnall took more of a ‘writers room’ approach to this series. Rather than having each writer go off and write their own thing under his supervision, it seems they were all tossing out ideas. It makes it feel a little more coherent, as if all the writers were in some way on the same page.
Where this may fall down is if it starts to get a little repetitive. Next week we will be half way through Whittaker’s first series, so it will be interesting to see just how much more they can explore these themes.
While this episode has its flaws – the final ‘showdown’ with the giant spider felt a little rushed to me – it stands well within the thematic framework. It felt a very quintessentially classic Doctor Who story by all accounts. A mixture of the base under siege structure of the Patrick Troughton era, with the down to earth frankness of the Russell T Davies years.
Next week, we go to hospital. IN SPACE!