Hit The North
♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer and Brit in Los Angeles, Robert Cave, takes a look at the fourth episode of the new Doctor Who season…
Arachnids in the UK
Director: Sallie Aprahamian
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Stars: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole
And so we come back to modern day Earth with a bump, and a story of an egotistical American hotel owner with political ambitions. Any similarities between Chris Noth’s Robertson and the current occupant of the White House are clearly entirely intentional, although by also mentioning the US President by name, the show kind of gets to have its cake and eat it.
Robertson (a man so distant and unpleasant that no-one seems to know his first name) isn’t simply a fictional analogue for Trump. The two do share many of the same character traits, even down to a mutual fondness for firing people, but instead of barely veiled racism and incitements to violence, Robertson is more of a deliberately cartoonish parody of a deeply narcissistic businessman-cum-politician. Ironically, means he often comes across as more likeable than the real thing.
If Doctor Who was Friends, this would be “the one where the gang all decide they actively want to go off adventuring in the TARDIS”, and after Robertson is introduced in all his moustache-twirling glory, we get what is possibly the greatest hero-shot of the TARDIS in flight Who fans have ever seen. It’s gorgeous stuff from the show’s new visual effects providers Double Negative.
The sci-fi effects jamboree also works brilliantly to demonstrate the stark contrast between the Doctor’s adventures in space and time and the lives his new companions lived back in Sheffield. I really enjoyed how Chibnall conveys Ryan, Yas and Graham’s relief at getting home as well as their individual realisations that they don’t want to stay there, at least, not right now.
The plot itself, concerning giant mutant spiders infesting a chunk of Sheffield, might not be Earth-shaking, but the titular arachnids look fantastic, both on their own and en masse (again, props to Double Negative) and provide the requisite scares throughout.
However, it is the self-centred Robertson, who’s corporate greed and negligence gave rise to the super-spiders in the first place, who is the episode’s real monster. He walks away, not quite victorious, but very much undefeated, and still primed for his tilt at the Presidency in 2020. Will we see him again before the series is out? Who knows?
Ultimately, the best bits this week are all character moments from the new TARDIS crew, or Team TARDIS, as the Doctor dubs them at the episode’s end. It’s Graham’s intensely private grief for the wife he lost in this series’s first episode, it’s the intrusive questions Yas faces about her love life from her family (and how her Mum doesn’t have the slightest clue whether her daughter is attracted to men or women), it’s Ryan’s realisation that his relationship with his step-granddad is more important to him than his relationship with his biological father.
Also a quick shout-out for including some Grime as the spider-attracting sonic plot device. The show now adds Stormzy to the eclectic list of musicians whose work has featured on the show, alongside Britany Spears, Soft Cell and the Beatles. It is also a good fit with what i now think of as the club remix of the Doctor Who theme that plays over the titles
Four episodes in and the gang are now all together, ready for adventure and whatever comes their way. The Doctor loves this bit, I can’t wait to see what happens next either.