Arachnids in the UK Review
I am reminded of the way in which late-era Gatiss stories landed with a sense of pleasurable relief. Not in the high stakes way of Rosa or The Woman Who Fell to Earth where being crap would have had disastrous consequences, but in the way that you’re relieved when you brace yourself for pain that never comes. “Attack of the giant spiders written by Chris Chibnall” is as far from a straightforwardly promising premise as it is possible to get. And yet this is surprisingly good. It’s not a classic in the all-time best sense, but in the well-worn and vintage sense; it’s Doctor Who doing what Doctor Who does, and doing it well.
It’s fair to ask why. If you rifle through the back catalog for an obvious analogue, after all, the closest thing you get is probably The Lazarus Experiment, which is an outright failure of an episode. They’re both “return to Earth” episodes in which the Doctor finds a non-alien threat around the family life of one of someone who goes from being a temporary companion to a permanent fixture. Neither offers a particularly compelling premise or a searing sense of ambition. Indeed, there’s not necessarily an obvious explanation for why Arachnids in the UK is roughly The Faceless Ones tier while The Lazarus Experiment is closer to The Android Invasion.
Instead it’s a profusion of details. One thing the Chibnall era is rapidly establishing as a strength is its ability to structure the process of the Doctor figuring things out over the course of an episode. Where Moffat drew on his sitcom background to build ostentatious narrative contraptions that snapped together with a catharsis of (sometimes spurious) cleverness, Chibnall is drawing on his time writing various flavors procedurals, whether Law and Order UK, Broadchurch, or, in its own way, Torchwood to make a show that is about the Doctor encountering a situation and working out what it is and what to do with it. If Arachnids in the UK feels classic, it’s not in the “attack of the common phobia” sense, but in the sense of going back a mode of thinking about plot and setting that was consciously discarded in one sense when Innes Lloyd came to favor the base under siege as a narrative structure and in another when Russell T Davies reworked the show as a post-Buffy character drama.
But Chibnall isn’t rolling back the years so much as he’s working out how to do procedural Doctor Who in 2018 and in fifty-minute containers. There’s deftness to the way he splits the party to give Graham and Yaz character beats while weaving the establishment of the mystery across all three strands, then calmly reassembles it once the mystery is in place and it’s time to start investigating it. And he continues in this vein, breaking off Graham and Ryan to give them a big scene and establish the queen spider while the Doctor, Yaz, and Najia go solve the how and why of it, but then bringing everyone back together for the denouement.
He’s also working out how to make this many companions work as characters. Four episodes was a while to get everyone to have a distinct personality, and there’s still a sense of there being a rotation system for who feeds the Doctor questions, but everyone is at least to the point where they feel like they have their own arcs and perspectives. There’s a growing sense of what it would be interesting to give individual characters as challenges and as plot points. Certainly it doesn’t feel overstuffed or like there’s a character who’s surplus to requirements, a state of affairs that isn’t really true of any stable three-companion lineup post-1965.
Certainly there are problems, mostly centered around the episode’s sense of politics and ethics. The idea that the spiders aren’t evil but simply confused and afraid is compelling, but the episode tries to hang more on the idea than it can actually support, attempting to build a big moral point out of “don’t kill spiders” that falters both on the fact that squashing spiders is a pretty normal thing to do and on the fact that the Doctor attempts to make a distinction between shooting a spider or starving it to death in which the latter is apparently more humane. Given that this ends up being the main conflict in the climactic scene, its incoherence is frustrating.
And then there’s Jack Robertson, our transparent Trump analogue. Obviously I don’t mind Doctor Who lampooning current political figures; The Happiness Patrol is wonderful. There’s something a little weird about Doctor Who targeting American politics two weeks in a row in a period where it’s not like there aren’t some significant concerns to be had about British politics, but equally, one suspects the current political climate might not be one where Doctor Who can get away with doing a blatant Brexit story; spearing Trump and American racial politics may well be its safe route towards commentary. We’ll just have to hope Star Trek: Discovery tackles Brexit to balance it out.
No, the problem is much the same one that made Rosa so unpleasant. The Happiness Patrol ended with Helen A broken and weeping over her monster dog in the ruins of her regime. Arachnids in the UK ends with Robertson storming off in confidence of his impending victory, with the Doctor just sort of glaring at him. Given that I think it would be perfectly acceptable to have the Doctor clap Trump himself in unbreakable chains forged in the heart of a dwarf star or imprison him forever by tricking him into the event horizon of a collapsing galaxy, having an analogue flounce off without so much as a “don’t you think he looks tired” is fantastically unsatisfying. Sure, he could come back and this could see actual resolution, but let’s face it, given the general sloppiness of Chibnall’s plotting it seems just as likely that this is it.
But this is the first episode we’ve had that plausibly marks what standard-issue Doctor Who is going to look like in the Chibnall era, and the answer is “perfectly fine.” Indeed, four stories in there’s yet to be anything with a credible claim to being a turkey. Whittaker certainly isn’t the only Doctor to achieve that; based on consensus opinions of stories, the record is either six or seven. But it’s healthily above the median, and an impressive baseline of quality. That record of six or seven belongs to the Pertwee era, depending on whether you want to break its hot streak with The Claws of Axos or Colony in Space. And that increasingly seems like a solid point of comparison for the Chibnall era. I once described the Letts strategy as sacrificing the quality of your high points in order to avoid fucking up. That seems like what Chibnall is aiming for at this point. And when you can avoid making an episode with the premise “spiders!” suck, you’re doing pretty well for yourself.
- It’s interesting that we’ve assembled a TARDIS crew without any scenes in which the fun or wonder of traveling in the TARDIS has been presented. So far everyone has gotten an alien planet literally called Desolation and segregation Alabama. There’s a degree, given this, to which the decision of everyone to stay on the TARDIS is vaguely unearned.
- The reappearance of Sharon D. Clarke, along with the degree to which Grace is still constantly emphasized does suggest that there’s more that we’re going to do with that character. Certainly finding a way to bring her back in the finale would bring closure to the season and give a reason for two of the companions to leave at the end.
- This is the second time this season that queer representation has meant dead lesbians, and that’s still the only queer representation we’ve gotten. This is a baffling gap in the otherwise solid representation this season, and a fairly brutal comedown after a season featuring a black lesbian who ostentatiously got to live forever with her partner instead of dying.
- There was something slightly jarring about the Doctor declaring that she’s still figuring out who she is; a sign that Whittaker is settling quickly and comfortably into the role. It’s tough to say at this point, but I suspect it’ll turn out that Rosa is the story that cemented her in the part, although she still hasn’t had a ton of specific moments that feel definitive.
- The best part of the episode, meanwhile, is straightforwardly Ryan making shadow puppets in the background of an exposition scene, an absolutely delightful visual gag that is never highlighted or picked up on for any sort of development.
- Podcast on Thursday with Holly, who I haven’t talked to since Face the Raven. Dreadful. Can’t wait to fix that.
- Arachnids in the UK
- The Ghost Monument
- The Woman Who Fell To Earth
October 30, 2018 @ 9:28 am
I’ve said this elsewhere, but I find it curious how this episode just didn’t have a proper conclusion. I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not, but there are spiders that remain outside of the hotel and the underlying factors that caused the giant spiders remain. There’s a lack of awareness of structure, both plot structure and power structure.
So far, Chibnall has had the Doctor fail to upend a harmful structure three times in a row now. Arguably, this was needed to prevent Rosa from becoming a white saviour narrative, but I’m beginning to worry that Chibnall’s vision of evil is highly individualistic and rejects underlying structural concerns.
October 30, 2018 @ 1:34 pm
I think it’s just somewhat sloppy storytelling. ALL the spiders were able to get to the hotel via garbage chutes and underground passageways so ALL the spiders in the UK were drawn and captured in the panic room, I think.
October 30, 2018 @ 9:36 am
My impression of the Doctor’s last scene with Robertson is that her expression (to me) looked like she was putting him on her list of people to fuck over later. She looked like she’d made a decision about him…
Hopefully she will have a chance down the road to indeed sort the bastard out.
October 30, 2018 @ 9:53 am
Every single episode so far has had unresolved issues with bad guys apparently escaping the story without any moral consequences. (Maybe for Ghost Monument the hologram guy is morally grey rather than a baddie, but still…). I hope it’s not permanent fixture. It feels like episodes are ending when the time expires, but the stories are incomplete.
October 30, 2018 @ 10:21 am
I’m starting to wonder if this is building to something bigger, but the bad guys seem to disparate to bring all of them back for a more definitive confrontation.
October 30, 2018 @ 10:28 am
I hope this will happen. I fear it will not.
October 30, 2018 @ 3:53 pm
In a way I hope it doesn’t, because I don’t see how it can happen without it being somewhat forced. She did say he can’t be President though.
It’s also worth noticing that he isn’t really to blame for the spiders – he builds hotels over landfill, which isn’t really the Doctor’s territory.
October 30, 2018 @ 11:04 pm
Yes, it was Jade Exposition and co who were Meddling With Things Man Was Not Meant To Wot Of, were So Preoccupied With Whether They Could That They Didn’t Stop To Think Whether They Should, and so forth. And also pretty lax in their handling of genetically modified organisms, by disposing of them without making sure they were dead, though their biohazard procedures would have had to get a lot worse to equal those in The Pyramid at the End of the World.
Which seems a bit untidy, writing-wise, when you’ve got the evil toxic-waste-dumping plutocrat standing right there. Unless there was some point being made there that I’m missing.
October 31, 2018 @ 6:55 pm
I got the impression Jade was let off because she was investigating the result of her fuck-up and helped fix things once she found out what had happened, while Robertson repeatedly tried to cover things up and take the easiest way out.
November 1, 2018 @ 6:42 pm
I’m sure that the lab working on spiders was following the same British government issued Health and Safety manual that the lab in The Pyramid at the End of the World was.
October 30, 2018 @ 5:56 pm
More specifically every story has had unresolved issues with the Doctor not sorting out the bad guys. In the first one it ends up someone else kicking Tim Shaw off the crane and forcing him to teleport back to his place, but as the Doctor had no idea when giving Tim Shaw back the teleport doohickey that he wouldn’t just grab his prey and run off with him we can’t say the Doctor sorted that out.
And, in Rosa it was actually Ryan taking action to sort out the villain. I wouldn’t say the villain got away without consequences, his vortex manipulator had been destroyed, and he had been sent back far enough where he (most likely) wouldn’t have the tools to radically change history.
Robertson should have been able to have been taken care of afterwards by making sure he got bad press and/or arrested.
This is actually a major problem for the series right now as the Doctor used to be able to take care of antagonists most of the time, and it’s not wise to write the show now so that it doesn’t look like the Doctor can do it anymore after regenerating into a woman. That’s a bad signal to be sending even if that’s not what Chibnall intended. Hopefully in the next episode or two we get to see the Doctor resolving the situations and not letting the antagonists get away scott free.
October 30, 2018 @ 5:46 pm
Yaz is a cop. The Doctor could have had her take Robertson in on firearms charges if nothing else, which would probably have given time to get word out about his dealings about building luxury hotels on top of toxic waste dumps.
October 30, 2018 @ 10:02 am
Pros: the Stormzy/spiders scene which made me whoop with delight, it’s eerie, icky, funny and bizarre, everything that DW ought to be; the strong bisexual energy coming from Yaz+the Doctor in this episode; Sallie Aprahamian’s direction which I thought was the best of the first 4 stories, from the nice transition shot to Robertson’s hotel from the map of Sheffield to the wall between Yaz and the spider to the opening sequence of spider’s-eye-view shots; the humour (Ed Sheeran, Edith Wharton, and the aforementioned Stormzy sequence all got laughs from me); and the way the story is still integrating Grace into the larger narrative, even if her death remains my big problem with Episode 1.
Cons: poor structure as regards Act 3, particularly not sorting out the spider in Anna’s house, but also the idea that letting the spiders starve/tear each other apart in the panic room is more humane than shooting – strange ethics there, Doctor; the “Professor Exposition” character; killing off Frankie (in fact, Frankie just isn’t really necessary to the story, is she?); letting Robertson off the hook (unless he comes back, but as El suggests this is in no way a given – though it is becoming an odd recurring feature of every villain this series); that big exposition scene in the landfill tunnel where they work out how the toxic waste has made spiders grow (God, I miss Moffat’s exposition scenes).
Good fun, though. This feels like a mix of the Chibnall of “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” (it’s silly and B-movie-ish and fun) with the Chibnall of “Torchwood” (procedural aspects, but also more overt horror than in “Dinosaurs”). This is the most ‘what I imagined Chibnall Who to look like’ of the 4 episodes so far, I think.
October 30, 2018 @ 10:16 am
It really does feel like the ending was missing
I kind of took it for granted that the Doctor had somewhat extracted the spiders from the panic room to drop them off to Metebelis Three or something, but I was expecting some kind of conclusion regarding the Trump guy instead of just him buggering off
Also, anyone noticed the similitaries with The Green Death?
Negligent company dumps toxic waste down a disused mine, giant mutant insects breed out of them
October 30, 2018 @ 11:06 am
No, I thought the same – though I reckon that Chibnall’s Pertwee rip-offs have improved somewhat, as this compares favourably with The Hungry Earth.
October 30, 2018 @ 5:59 pm
That’s exactly what I thought when they said “mines”. At least we (presumably) didn’t get a rogue AI controlling things behind the scenes causing it.
October 30, 2018 @ 10:18 am
I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed the premise of “mutant spiders!”, but it was great: pleasantly spooky, with some nicely charged imagery (a luxury hotel built on top of a toxic waste dump) and little touches like The Doctor talking to spiders and empathising with them or Yaz’s mum trying to find out if her daughter is seeing anyone from the group.
I guess I’m getting used to Chibnall’s writing as well, because I wasn’t even that bothered by various things petering out or very little build-up to the climax. I was far less troubled by all that than in The Ghost Monument for example, except inasmuch as it relates to ethics of the show. Leaving the spiders to die and letting Robertson off to go and become president, allowing him to have the last word, ends the episode on a note of utter failure for the Doctor and this time she wasn’t bound by real-world history. That’s something that really starts to worry me.
November 6, 2018 @ 12:15 pm
Me too. One could easily look at the four episodes we’ve had so far and come up with the conclusion that becoming a woman made the Doctor ineffective. Which is a very bad thing, obviously.
October 30, 2018 @ 10:49 am
Good act 1, good act 2, bad act 3. The big spider’s ill health was a bit out of the blue considering it had already killed and webbed up two of Robertson’s employees that day. So the Doctor’s anger that he killed the spider rings a bit hollow.
You’re absolutely right that this era is very procedural in style, but it lacks the fundamental payoff of that structure, which is where the bad guy is identified and then punished. There’d be a nice irony in someone locking up Trump.
I suspect there might have been a scene where the Doctor pickpockets one of the phones with compromising material on it to scupper their political career that was cut, because why else set it up?
Can’t wait for a non-Chibnall episode.
October 30, 2018 @ 11:29 am
It’s particularly annoying, since, well, I never actually watch police procedurals, but if I did, I’m sure I would be profoundly unsatisfied by the identification and punishment of people for regular crimes. Surely the whole point of doing procedural-like stuff in Doctor Who would be so you can identify and punish the kind of people whose punishment is worth televising.
October 30, 2018 @ 11:34 am
“There’d be a nice irony in someone locking up Trump.”
Yeah. I thought (or rather hoped) the panic room was set up so that the story could go full Cask of Amontillado on Robertson.
October 30, 2018 @ 6:03 pm
The Doctor’s words rang hollow, but the spider’s ill health isn’t really out of the blue. It would have been better if Chibnall had had the Doctor actually explain the square/cube law for why the spider would have problems, but at least he was using some actual science for the reasoning. That’s a nice flashback to the Hartnell stories, trying to slip in a little education now and then (though it’s more muted here than, say, with an episode like Rosa).
October 30, 2018 @ 7:13 pm
Fair play, the square cube law definitely applies, and one of the things I did like about this episode was how much I learned about spiders. It’s just that a few minutes ago it was up and around killing people, then all of a sudden it can’t walk, while still the same size.
October 30, 2018 @ 10:03 pm
If the square-cube law applied in this episode, they wouldn’t have grown in the first place. It’s like someone turned the laws of physics off, but then on again.
November 1, 2018 @ 6:44 pm
It seems that in television and movies, laws of physics only apply when they’re convenient.
Roderick T. Long
November 3, 2018 @ 11:40 pm
“It’s like someone turned the laws of physics off, but then on again.”
Probably on the recommendation of someone from IT.
October 30, 2018 @ 11:01 am
I can only agree that the Doctor’s “You can’t shoot them, they deserve to be humanely starved in this locked room” was absolutely bizarre. I’m all in favour of being against killing, of looking for a better solution, but this was just arbitrary.
I’m expecting to see Robertson again – not as a big end of series villain (what, are we expecting an alliance of Tim Shaw, a rally impresario, a time travelling racist and a contemporary hotelier?) but as part of the fabric of contemporary stories, a bit like the Russell T Davies futures of the Year Five Billion and Ood-times having persistent characters, themes and aesthetics. Hopefully that will end in a satisfying trouncing.
October 30, 2018 @ 11:35 am
I keep hoping that there’s some kind of payoff to all the misguided pacifism and letting the bad guy escape. It could be read like the Doctor overcorrecting from a previous attitude of gung-ho imperiousness, “the Earth is under my protection” kind of stuff, but that doesn’t really work given how the Capaldi Doctor’s arc was already about finding a core of mercy and compassion and to grow beyond the arrogance of previous incarnations.
I guess it’s just a feature of a general reorienting of the program towards children, or rather, towards what some management team in the BBC imagines children to want or need to see. There’s a kind of moral toothlessness to the messages in the season so far that has me really missing the simple, passionate and heart-felt repudiations of injustice in something like Gridlock, Beast Below or Planet of the Ood.
October 30, 2018 @ 1:27 pm
I suppose it could also be a personal course correction on the part of Chibnall, who’s last episode but one before taking over had the slightly out of character murder of Solomon.
The attraction of the Doctor’s pacifism is that she can provide a better, more constructive or more interesting idea than killing. Or, when this is frustrated, the villain is showing such hubris that they can be ironically tripped into their own trap in a satisfying way.
This is just the assertion that the Doctor doesn’t like guns in the same way that I don’t like mushrooms which is increasingly hollow sounding.
Roderick T. Long
November 3, 2018 @ 11:47 pm
General problem: In previous incarnations, the Doctor’s dislike for guns has rarely interfered with his welcoming gun-using collaborators so long as they’re people he likes (the Brigadier, Jack Harkness, River Song — indeed, in “Day of the Moon” he even says about River that she “has her own gun, and unlike me, she really doesn’t mind shooting people. I shouldn’t like that. Kind of do.”).
Specific problem: As there’s no evidence (despite her attempts to talk to them) that these spiders are any more intelligent than regular spiders, using a gun on them doesn’t seem any more problematic than using a can of Raid on regular ones. If the great anti-Trump/anti-gun message of the episode is “he killed an (oversize bit otherwise ordinary) spider!” it’s not that effective.
November 10, 2018 @ 4:04 pm
Chris Noth is spending most of the rest of 2018-2019 shooting “Someday, Sometime” in the US. I guess it’s not impossible that he could fly to London for a week to shoot some pick-up scenes, but that seems like an implausibly expensive thing for the BBC to opt for.
October 30, 2018 @ 11:02 am
Well, I’m glad other people liked it. For me, this was quite possibly the worst episode of the modern series. I found it excruciating in a way I haven’t since Fear Her, and at least Fear Her was trying to be about something. It started out ok with just a couple of irritating bits, but as it went on the irritations started to dominate until I couldn’t wait for the damn thing to end. Chris Noth, Naz’s mum and the spider scientist gave three of the worst performances the show has ever been lumbered with. Obviously none of them were helped by Chibnall’s now standard piss-poor dialogue, but even so. Doctor Who has always tried to mash a number of different tones together, and sometimes that works and creates something amazing, sometimes it doesn’t, but this new achingly respectable Netflix-esque shooting style they’ve gone for just flattens everything and makes anything even slightly outré fall flat on its arse. A cartoon version of Donald Trump would have worked perfectly in an RTD-era episode because the show actually looked like a cartoon back then, but here it just grated and undercut everything else going on in the episode. None of the actors felt like they were acting in the same programme. The scene in the kitchen went on for several hours and didn’t flow in a way that resembles standard televisual or even theatrical drama. The scenes with Grace could have been lovely but felt like sandpaper when rubbing up against everything that surrounded them. There were a couple of good jokes (the Ed Sheeran one, the Doctor’s line about Yaz’s dad’s disgusting cooking), the TARDIS interior looked half decent for the first time this series, the time vortex looked nice, but apart from that I’m sorry to say I thought this was truly horrendous.
October 30, 2018 @ 11:15 am
I’ve heard a lot of people saying this new season of Doctor Who seems very Netflix-y, but I don’t know what it is about the programme that makes it so. Can you elaborate?
October 30, 2018 @ 3:16 pm
I’ll second that. I’m a bit of a luddite, so I neither have Netflix nor HD TV. Just bog-standard UK digital TV backed up with iplayer.
October 30, 2018 @ 8:03 pm
I don’t have Netflix so it’s not a comparison I’m qualified to make (so far the only direct-to-streaming TV series I’ve seen all through is The Tick on Amazon!), but I can tell that this series has a different aesthetic, in a way that gives the impression of higher production values (“modern prestige TV”). I think that’s what they’re referring to in the Netflix comparisons, but someone who’s more of an expert on cinematography/colour grading/mise-en-scene than I am could pinpoint it much better than me.
Andrew Ellard had a Twitter thread about it, which received a few replies:
He makes the point that with four lead actors “you can double bank more stuff”, which helps the crew spend more time on setups, which contributes to it looking more lavish.
But in his reply to Robert Florence, he agrees this style is “a retreat from eccentricity”, which is similar to what Ombund said in the comment above:
October 31, 2018 @ 4:13 am
I thought Noth’s performance was great. Funny and fun and in tune with the absurdity of Sheffield’s spider problem.
October 30, 2018 @ 11:14 am
You know, I think the clue was in Chibnall’s criticism on Open Air: why don’t you just focus on telling good stories?
Now – I’m not saying that’s what he’s doing. Just that for him the emphasis is not on “interesting”, or “different”; just on “competent”. With all the compromise and caution which that entails.
Also, making Doctor Who like that will be immensely popular. The more general audience of Who will be perfectly happy with competently (if not dazzling in any way) done procedural Who.
Bug Eyed Monster
October 30, 2018 @ 12:52 pm
There’s nothing wrong with focussing on telling good stories, except that so far he hasn’t managed that. The only vaguely memorable episode so far is the Rosa one, and that’s only because of a) the historical subject matter and b) he didn’t write all of it.
It’s debatable whether he’s even capable of “competent” based on transmitted evidence.
October 30, 2018 @ 12:18 pm
This episode reminded me a lot of “Power of Three” – plenty of good character stuff in the build-up, with everything falling in a heap at the end. It felt like the plot just stopped because they’d run out of time.
The Trump surrogate was clumsy and cheap, and he pretty much won at the end, didn’t he? As you said, not even a “don’t you think he looks tired?” moment. It’s easy to argue that his shooting of the giant spider was far more humane than the Doctor preferring to let them suffocate due to their size (even though that wasn’t his motivation, of course).
Chibnall seems quite capable with character scenes; I too loved the shadowpuppet moment (in a series generally bereft of humour), and the scenes with Graham and the ghost of Grace were beautifully shot and poignant. The development of his and Ryan’s relationship is also keeping me interested. I’m still not convinced by Yaz yet – maybe she will be used to address the lack of queer representation you brought up?
But overall I’m struggling with this series. I am yet to see anything that suggests Chibnall actually has a great DW story in him. It’s fine to give the ‘classic’ monsters a break, couldn’t agree more, but if you’re going to do that, at least come up with some strong new ones to take their place. Robertson and Krasko? Dreadful. I’m hoping he’s saving the better adversaries for later.
I like Jodie, but not what Chibnall seems to be doing with her. It seems to me rather unfortunate that having finally cast a woman as the Doctor, she has hitherto come across as rather less powerful than her immediate predecessors. Since the premiere, we’ve already had her on the point of giving up, employing dodgy ethical arguments (and losing) and walking away with the job seemingly only half done. At risk of sounding vaguely Trumpian, when is she going to be allowed to triumph? I suppose at least Chibnall has generally steered away from tediously repetitive “oh you’re female now” nonsense.
But this brings me to my next issue – Chibnall may be employing the Letts quality model, but in his case it seems to be setting the bar pretty low – the lack of ambition is troubling. It seems to be all about avoiding being totally shit rather than actually trying to be good. Perhaps it depends on one’s definition of a “turkey”. Okay, so none of the transmitted episodes has plumbed the depths of The Twin Dilemma or Fear Her. But there’s also little sign that Chibnall is ever going to produce anything on the level of Blink, The Empty Child, Midnight, Listen or even goofy madness like Kill The Moon (and yes I know you love that one too). Part of me almost wonders if Chibnall thinks “well I’ve cast a woman in the title role and put two PoC in the TARDIS, job done”.
I appreciate that everyone has their own vision of what they think DW is. I started watching as a seven-year-old when Baker regenerated into Davison. I tended to think of it as a fundamentally optimistic show, but this series so far I have found rather depressing in tone. Maybe at a time like now when the future of the world (particularly for me as a Brit looking at my country and the US) looks so bleak, I need DW to play to its more escapist strengths, or at least inject a bit more optimism and/or joy into the proceedings.
None of the episodes so far under Chibnall has ended and left me with a smile on my face, nor, as Moffat and Davies regularly managed, reminded me why I love this old show so much in the first place. I’m looking forward to the second half of the season proving me gloriously wrong.
October 30, 2018 @ 12:43 pm
Interesting point of comparison to the Letts era because I was thinking along those exact lines when this was over, and I have to say that consistently landing in the B to B+ range is better than any of us could have expected from Chibnall. Except, of course, that Letts still managed to turn in a good share of all time classics, including 2 or 3 within his first 5 stories, depending how highly one rates Terror of the Autons, while Chibnall simply doesn’t strike me as capable of ever hitting those types of highs unless by sheer luck. If Chibnall ever turns in an all time classic, it will most certainly be the type that still has some glaring flaws which the fandom collectively chooses to ignore. Then again, that’s a rather apt description of all the Letts era classics so maybe I’m underestimating Chibnall – or perhaps overestimating Letts! Thinking about it now, I can perhaps see Chibnall doing something like “The Silurians” that hits all-time classic status despite a complete flubbing of the ending (which I must thank you, Liz, for pointing out in the TARDIS Eruditorum entry on that episode as I don’t think I ever would have seen the problems with that resolution otherwise).
As for this episode, I thought this was better than last week, and certainly the best so far this season. (No offense to everyone who loved “Rosa” but Krasko was such a dull of a villain that it takes the whole episode down a notch in my book.) I don’t have a particular fear of spiders, but “being attacked by massively oversized bugs” is the one recurring nightmare from my childhood that still pops up from time to time in my adult life, usually with bees/wasps/hornets. (I would probably find “The Unicorn and the Wasp” terrifying if it weren’t for the bright color pallette of the Davies era and the story’s not-very-serious tone.) My favorite aspect this week was finally getting a real sense of character for the companions. As of last week, the entire characterization of the companions was still:
Ryan – kinda dumb but nice
Graham – a poor man’s Wilfred Mott
Yaz – ummm…police officer?
But this week really fleshed them out for me and gave them life. I also liked the inversion of how this group came to be companions, and how it flows naturally, I think, from the experiences of the 10th, 11th, and 12th Doctors (and really every single Doctor before) with their companions. It seems very organic that after tragic experiences with losing Rose, Donna, Amy, Clara, and Bill (even though all of them technically still got to live) – with Martha the only New Who primary companion presented as leaving the Doctor instead of the Doctor “losing” them in some way – the 13th Doctor would be more cautious about bringing new companions fully into the TARDIS life but obviously still be ecstatic that they want to share in the adventures. I liked the agency given to the companions, placing the decision in their hands rather than The Doctor being the real decider. Even though technically past companions “chose” to accept the Doctors’ invitations to travel with them and some, like Mickey even asked to join, it was still always really The Doctor making the decision. Here the choice very firmly belonged to Ryan, Graham, and Yaz, and I liked that quite a lot. And I especially liked the reasons they had for wanting to join the Doctor. The adventure and excitement of TARDIS life was secondary to much more character-focused reasons. Yaz wants to spend time with The Doctor just because The Doctor is an amazing person. Graham needs time away from hope to cope with grief. And Ryan…well, ok, Ryan just wants adventure and excitement instead of going back to working in a boring warehouse, but hey, there’s ultimately nothing wrong with that reason.
Good episode. Season on solid footing going forward. Fingers crossed Chibnall and his staff can up their game enough to deliver at least one A-level classic in the next 6 weeks!
October 30, 2018 @ 1:19 pm
Sorry to go off on a tangent — but I keep seeing this criticism that Krasko is a dull villain… this ignores that the whole society of Montgomery, 1955 is the villain. James Blake is the villain. Police Officer Mason is the villain. The fucker who slapped Ryan is the villain. Krasko is the modern-day alt-right commenter-troll who is trying to erase minorities’ narratives: such a figure has no personality, has no motive beyond bland, pointless, bitter racist beliefs. He doesn’t deserve better characterisation, because his lack of characterisation IS his characterisation. See also Sutcliffe in Thin Ice.
I mean, would the episode really have been better if they’d bothered to give him a more detailed motive / spent 5 minutes establishing future world-building of a Confederacy-type state, Krasko’s parents were killed by black people, and now he’s out for revenge? I highly doubt it.
October 30, 2018 @ 9:43 pm
This. All of this.
October 31, 2018 @ 5:58 am
A more in depth motivation for Krasko might not have improved the episode, but I took issue with the acting also and the general presentation of the character. Every time Krasko was on screen he was boring. Having a decent amount of screen time given to a character who is boring to watch drags down the episode.
Getting back to the point of his motivation, though, I think it would’ve been better if rather than being racist Krasko was more an agent of chaos type villain. Someone fucking with history just for the hell of it, for no other reason than he could, consequences be damned, perhaps not even being aware of any historical significance to the particular point in time he was altering and then not caring if and when he finds out. Some might say a villain like that could undercut the episode’s message, but I can see it working.
October 30, 2018 @ 2:08 pm
It’s worth noting that Letts had virtually nothing to do with The Silurians save for imposing the ending on it, and that all three of his Series 7 stories were ones he inherited in production as opposed to initiating. So Series 8 is really the first time we get Letts doing the show according to his own intentions.
Roderick T. Long
November 3, 2018 @ 11:51 pm
“Ryan just wants adventure and excitement instead of going back to working in a boring warehouse, but hey, there’s ultimately nothing wrong with that reason”
Adventure! Excitement! A Jedi craves not these things.
November 6, 2018 @ 12:54 pm
“But this week really fleshed them out for me and gave them life.”
I strongly disagree (although to each their own, of course). The more I learn about these characters, the more generic they feel. They lack any inner lives for me, save maybe for Graham’s and Ryan’s grief. The last scene in the TARDIS felt bizarrely unearned to me because I just don’t know who these people are. Unless they’re exactly who they seem to be: stock TV people, existing only to ask questions, make scared faces at monsters and exchange bits of stock TV conversations about their stock emotional issues. If they all died next week, I’d find it rather hard to care. And I’m really trying.
October 30, 2018 @ 1:07 pm
This episode left me frustrated, just like Ghost Monument. The story seemed unfinished – the Doctor just left the spiders in the panic room for !NotTrump to deal with at his leisure, or they just starve to death? !NotTrump gets to shoot a spider and get away with it, with just an angry look from the Doctor? I did like the dialogue a bit more in this episode (outside the exposition scenes), so hopefully that continues for the Chibnall era…
Basically, I’m holding on to the performances and music because I’m bouncing hard off of most else in the Chiball era.
October 30, 2018 @ 1:53 pm
I keep hearing “procedural” used about Chibnall’s writing history. This is the same Chibnall who wrote a scene where a British police officer has a handgun pulled on them in a hotel in Sheffield, and they NEVER MENTION IT. They’re understandably conciliatory to the gunman while the barrel is pointed at them, but HELLO – civilian handgun possession has been illegal in this country since about the time Yaz was born, and we (and especially our police) are really kind of sticklers about it. And Kevin was definitely a civilian. How did he even get the gun into the country? Has he pulled it on anyone else? I had a real ongoing problem with that scene.
On its own I might have let it go, but then at the climax of the episode the nearest thing to a “monster” is dying, slowly, of asphyxiation and there is nothing anyone can do about it. The Doctor doesn’t propose a way to save it, doesn’t wave a sonic and repeal the square/cube rule or mention that she could transmat it to a planet with an oxygen-rich atmosphere (Metebelis 3?). Nope – her plan it to stand and watch it suffocate to death while mouthing platitudes. And the villain kills it humanely with a single shot, and the Doctor gets angry with him. This makes me say “but he’s RIGHT!” about literally the worst human being in the episode. This is just shitty writing.
While it isn’t as bad as “Fear Her” or as dig-my-own-eyes-out-with-a-spoon-please-god-make-the-memory-of-it-go-away dreadful as “Love and Monsters”, it’s comfortably the worst episode since Moffat took over – and that takes in two that starred James Corden. It’s a sad state of affairs when my takeaway from the episode was that Bradly bloody Walsh’s talent was wasted in it. Never thought I’d be saying that when he was cast.
October 30, 2018 @ 2:09 pm
Accuracy is in no way a major component of procedurals, a fact you discover rapidly if you bring up any medical show whatsoever in the proximity of a nurse.
(Apparently Scrubs is basically the most accurate of them.)
October 31, 2018 @ 6:54 am
I wasn’t expecting “accuracy” in the sense of Yaz perhaps properly reciting the form of words for when someone is under arrest for possession and use of a prohibited firearm and quoting them the correct section or subsection of the law under which they were being detained.
I was expecting “accuracy” in the sense of Yaz perhaps reacting remotely realistically for a character who, up to this point, has been defined almost entirely by just two attributes: (1) Pakistani (2) Police Officer. Apparent compliance in the initial encounter I get – in the words of Sammo Hung, you don’t break rocks with eggs. But her instinctive “policey” reactions have already been established in “Rosa” when she order – ORDERED, mind you – a white man to stand down after he assaulted her friend, in a place where she knew fine well she had zero authority. Where was that reaction when another white man pulled a fucking gun on her on her own turf? Shitty, shitty writing.
Roderick T. Long
November 3, 2018 @ 11:53 pm
Ditto for courtroom dramas.
October 30, 2018 @ 2:23 pm
If dying of a gunshot wound is your idea of a humane death, I hope you never get anywhere near a hospice or even a vet’s office. Bloodless TV instant-kills aside, a gun is not a humane way to kill anything. Nor is that what we see on screen: post-shot, the spider slides off the wall, dying, and the Doctor goes over to try to comfort her. Robertson knows nothing of spider anatomy and he takes a single shot at a giant spider: why in the world do you think he scored a swift kill and not the equivalent of a gut wound that will cause the spider a slow and painful death?
The Doctor wants to be humane, even if she doesn’t seem sure how to be. Robertson is, at best, taking revenge in about the same way as someone who lost a friend to a mosquito-borne illness might by going out at dusk and shooting at mosquitoes with an automatic weapon. The spider was not a moral agent here.
Indeed, and this is the other likely motive, it’s a case of the morally-culpible person not merely denying responsibility, but claiming heroism for “ending” a problem he is responsible for. One might think of someone who contributed to problems like inner-city violence or the creation of war refugees claiming that he will be the champion to end these problems that are in no way connected to his past decision-making.
October 31, 2018 @ 6:56 am
“Bloodless TV instant-kills aside…”
I feel bad breaking it to you this way, but… Doctor Who is a TV show. For kids.
October 31, 2018 @ 6:43 pm
“Doctor Who is a TV show. For kids.”
Are you British? The British have different standards for what’s acceptable for children’s TV. It was only a season ago in “Extremis” that they showed a group of people about to commit mass suicide by blowing themselves up with dynamite, and at the time I commented on reviews that I thought it was the farthest DW had ever pushed the limits of being “kid friendly” TV. A plethora of British fans then informed me that they don’t see anything wrong with children’s entertainment being macabre.
October 30, 2018 @ 2:08 pm
I admit that it’s hardly fleshed out, but I have been surprised that nobody seems to be picking up on what seemed like a fairly heavy-handed point being made about Mr. Bigly and his ilk. Because the giant spiders were restricted to parts of Sheffield. Capitalism (of the toxic, “vertically-integrated” sort on display here) isn’t. Which would make Robertson one of the titular Arachnids in the UK. Granted, it’s unfair to arachnids, but he’s weaving a web that traps people and then consumes them just as surely, only in a model where a business doesn’t get too big to breathe but rather too big to fail.
And while I admit to ambivalence myself, I have to say that in this point of history, the days of even hinting that the Doctor can overthrow a leader with a sentence or solve a provlem like the Nazis with no more than a “shut up, Hitler” have passed. If the thought of the Doctor delivering a pat speech in the third act of Rosa to “solve racism in the American South” is cringeworthy, maybe the idea that Thatcherism can be put to rest in 75 minutes of television is equally so? An episode that can’t manage to articulate or show precisely how the Doctor disposes of a bunch of oversized spider mutants certainly can’t nail the destruction of toxic capitalism in the third act, either. As delightful as I found Oxygen, the ending (which abstracted an ongoing struggle by workers against a single company into a historical summary) struck me as inadequate and overly self-congratulatory, as if it’s certain that the public and government regulators would dismantle such a corrupt corporation instead of something more plausible (CEO and leaders punished, company quietly rebranded) which would still be better than what a corporation like Wells Fargo experienced in the real world.
What we need is something balanced between claiming that, unlike the Daleks, racism or toxic capitalism can be defeated in a single episode, and the potentially concerning trend that the Doctor really can’t do anything against such larger societal problems and thus won’t bother to try. I’m not sure what that looks like.
October 30, 2018 @ 2:17 pm
“As delightful as I found Oxygen, the ending struck me as inadequate and overly self-congratulatory, as if it’s certain that the public and government regulators would dismantle such a corrupt corporation instead of something more plausible”
Personally, I would appreciate more stories that show us that capitalism can be dismantled (not necessarily through public and government regulators, of course) – because the fact that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world (and that we are seemingly more and more resigned to it) than the end of capitalism is a huge problem right now, one that Doctor Who could try to help solve.
“Which would make Robertson one of the titular Arachnids in the UK.”
Nice observation! As fun as the title of this episode was, it’s a shame they didn’t go with “Arachnocapitalism”.
October 30, 2018 @ 2:42 pm
I propose a compromise: the niece-in-law lives, Richardson gets arrested, company passes to the niece-in-law, everyone thinks things will be better now, but then it turns out the niece-in-law is just as bad. The Doctor gets a win, a villain gets punished, but the story acknowledges it’s a bigger problem than one individual.
October 30, 2018 @ 9:17 pm
For all its problems, I don’t think Let’s Kill Hitler suggested that saying “Shut up, Hitler!” amounted to solving the problem of the Nazis.
And would it be facetious to say that the Doctor has been working on the Daleks for nigh on 100 episodes now, and they’re still there? I know what you mean though.
(I like “Mr Bigly”)
October 30, 2018 @ 3:02 pm
Two main thoughts: the actor playing the scientist was saddled with the most awful, wooden, undeliverable dialogue in the show this side of “no, not the mind probe” and while she tries very hard to sell it it really really doesn’t work.
The other thing: four episodes in the Doctor doesn’t resolve any of the issues. Every single episode ends with the antagonist just suddenly leaving/disappearing and the Doctor not fixing any of the structural issues. This is very unfortunate combined with the first female Doctor, and also miles away from the “burn it all down” Doctor Who we need. Why didn’t the Doctor do anything about Robertson? It’s baffling.
Also, this episode was beautifully directed, and these issues aside the most enjoyable one of the season for me so far.
October 30, 2018 @ 3:04 pm
The snarky (and somewhat dickish) thing to do would be to note that the Grace scenes are effectively nicking from Sherlock. (Then again “a character is haunted by the memory of an dead loved one” is an old trope.)
Overall, I thought it was a bit of fun. Though I’m getting the feeling more and more that I’d prefer to watch this era like Richard Jones of Teatime Brutality watches the new Star Wars films: through fan art and .gifs.
October 30, 2018 @ 3:11 pm
I’m starting to increasingly wonder if the semi-inadequacy of this era’s politics, as discussed by Elizabeth last week, isn’t becoming a significant theme within the show itself. It’s not just the way that Team TARDIS keep on letting the villains go without any real comeuppance, it’s the way that they keep on coming against things like institutional racism and sociopathic rich people and finding themselves almost powerless to properly affect them. In “The Ghost Monument”, the Doctor is barely able to get the bored rich man to recognise that she’s even there, with Team TARDIS eventually getting left for dead by him, stuck hopelessly on a rock until the TARDIS turns up. In ‘Rosa’, any scene where Team TARDIS has racism directly aimed at them (such as the cafe scene or the scene with the policeman in the motel) features them immediately being put on the defensive, while their biggest action of the whole episode is to remain stationary while Rosa Parks gets arrested, the entire ending becoming defined by how little agency they have at that point in the narrative. Now we have a story where Donald Trump accidentally creates a race of giant spiders, the Doctor comes up with a Doctor Who way of defeating them, then is forced to watch as Trump just shoots the things before walking away.
Increasingly, this series has felt like Team TARDIS have been secondary characters in other people’s stories, it’s just that we’ve been following them as if they were the primary characters. The obvious example of this is ‘Rosa’ which presents them as supporting characters in Rosa Park’s story, but it’s an approach that’s been seen in the other stories as well. In ‘The Ghost Monument’, Team TARDIS intrude upon a Mad-Max style story about two punks being made by a rich man to race towards a Ghost Monument and a lot is made about how they shouldn’t really be there. Eventually they get everyone to the Ghost Monument, get the rich man to promise to pay both contestants the prize money, and then there’s nothing left for them to do so they just get booted out the narrative. The story from that point continues without them; it’s just that they’re now stuck outside it without no way back in (and we’re conversely stuck with them). And there’s a lot of ways in which Jack Robertson is the main character of “Arachnids in the UK”, to the point that when he’s finally had enough of everything, he’s able to just shoot the big spider, declare the plot done and walk off, leaving Team TARDIS in the dust. He just decides he doesn’t want to be in Doctor Who anymore and pisses off.
Team TARDIS never seem to be in control of the narratives around them, instead haunting the edges of other people’s stories. Again, there’s a lot of parallels to be drawn with Davison’s Doctor who was usually a peaceful soul trapped in stories which were more violent and depressing than he was. The temptation is to relate this to ideas like Capitalist Realism and Disaffected Consent: the idea that we’ve begun to recognise that we’re out of control of the capitalist world around us and thus have become hopeless about ever being able to truly affect it. Seen this way, then it’s notable that Team TARDIS always try to do as much as they humanly can, never allowing the sociopathy of the world to bully them into complete inaction. But it also seems that they’re in a world where their actions have so far had significant limits on how effective they can really be.
October 30, 2018 @ 9:59 pm
The hallmark of New Who stories have been that the Doctor has the power to go into stories and reshape their genres, find ways around harmful tropes and change them for the better.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first Doctor that is depicted as powerless to fundamentally alter the stories they’re dropped into and relegated to just mitigating damage is the first female Doctor. Not because of some malicious intent from the writing team, I don’t think. But depressing all the same.
October 30, 2018 @ 10:21 pm
Yes, I agree with both you and the previous comment.
I also had a Mad Max vibe from Ghost Monument, in the sense that Mad Max is usually about Max falling into other people’s stories. I was almost hoping we got an Angstrom and Epzo spin-off instead of the Yaz-Ryan-Graham show.
And all this might explain why there has been so little for the companions to do.
October 30, 2018 @ 4:58 pm
Is it okay for me to say I’m bored senseless with this show?
I realized, with something bordering on shock, that I have re-watched only the premiere, because I made the mistake of first watching it on BBC America with the abject timing of the commercial breaks. Each episode has been watched once, digested, and then cast aside. Because there’s no real reason to return to it. There’s no depth to it. There’s no spark. The Doctor shows up, does some things, and then the stories all sputter out. Rosa had the advantage of having history to serve as a climax, but the evil racist time traveler plot gets shuffled off-screen.
The Doctor has ended every episode either sitting impotently or watching other people walk away. Even her victory over Tim Shaw is stolen by gravity and a good shove. I’m going to say it again: this feels so much like the Saward Fifth Doctor era that I’m half expecting them to turn up on sailing ships in space any day now. The Doctor is ineffective, surrounded by a soap opera cast, and the head creative voice seems more fascinated with the villains than the heroes.
And that’s not even going into the sheer sloppiness of the episode, which seems to resolve everything by dealing with the spiders in the hotel and completely ignoring how the local ecosystem has been turned upside down.
I’m in it because despite it all I adore Jodi Whittaker, but I enjoyed Peter Davison too. Right now I’m just bored, and hoping we don’t get a good story out of Whittaker because they bring back Steven Moffat to write her regeneration story.
October 30, 2018 @ 5:44 pm
I can definitely see the Davison parallel. (The basic premise of Rosa reminded me a lot of The King’s Demons). But the Davison era had something going for it that the Whittaker era so far doesn’t: the stories often embraced weirdness. I don’t believe this era will ever give us something as unique or boundary-pushing as Kinda or Enlightenment. Frankly, I don’t think we’ll even get a Four to Doomsday or Planet of Fire.
October 31, 2018 @ 10:44 am
I find the claim that this era isn’t trying to push boundaries a little hard to agree with a week after “Rosa” – I know plenty of people in this community found that story too safe, but I honestly can’t think of a story that has gone that far in depicting the material reality of human history and the racism present in that history. The only stories that have come close are “Human Nature”/ “The Family of Blood” and “Thin Ice”. “Rosa” was, to me, definitely a case of the show pushing to see how far it could go in trying to tell a certain kind of story.
October 31, 2018 @ 11:01 am
Yeah, I’d argue it’s genuinely one of the most important steps forward the new series has produced in 13 years.
October 31, 2018 @ 1:40 pm
Maybe “Rosa” was a departure from the kinds of historical stories “Doctor Who” normally tells, but I also saw tons of American viewers asking, “Didn’t Quantum Leap do a story like this 30 years ago?”
October 31, 2018 @ 5:29 pm
I take your point, but as Robert Shearman is fond of saying, whenever Doctor Who fans say that a Doctor Who story is “boundary-pushing” or “ground-breaking” or “like nothing we’ve ever seen before”, they almost always mean (even if unconsciously) that it’s boundary-pushing within Doctor Who. Most things Doctor Who does have been done somewhere else, first. Which is nothing to be ashamed of! But it does mean that the usage here seems to me more about doing things that Doctor Who hasn’t done before rather than “the whole of storytelling” or even “the whole of television”, in which case even simply a story about black history would qualify (I can’t even think of many EU stories which have done that), let alone a story about black history with gospel music and a Black Lives Matter anthem that ties itself to the concrete reality of alt-right trolls in 2018 and riffs on The Time Meddler whilst doing so.
November 3, 2018 @ 5:29 pm
I should add that yes, I did mean that Rosa pushed boundaries within the context of Doctor Who, not that it was unique compared to other television series.
October 31, 2018 @ 2:06 pm
I find it difficult to see Rosa as boundary pushing, simply because it’s so easy to imagine the BBC doing a Rosa Parks docu-drama, and it being a lot better than Rosa simply by virtue of not having the Doctor and friends and future guy in, meaning its lead characters can be the characters who actually matter and it can not be about preserving the status quo. Doctor Who should be pushing the boundaries of telly as a whole.
October 31, 2018 @ 5:31 pm
See above – this question is almost always about pushing the boundaries of Doctor Who, not really of television as a whole.
Mind you, words like “Paki” and “negro” being featured in a children’s tea-time show is already pushing at the boundaries of what viewers expect or are used to, even if it’s hardly unique in stories about the civil rights movement or the Deep South.
October 30, 2018 @ 5:49 pm
I can see all of your criticisms as reasonably fair apart from the head writer being more interested in the villains than the heroes; the general reaction seems to be that we’ve had pretty weak and ineffectual villains so far, none of whom have really been fleshed out and who have rather been pushed to the side in the plot of each instalment, and I think I’d go with that too — so it’s hard to see how these stories are dwelling more on the heroes than the villains? Krasko is disposed of quickly as you say, the Remnants get very little screen time and Ilin just vanishes, and there’s a lot more going on in the premiere than just T’zim-Sha. Only Robertson can really be said to dominate the episode he’s in.
October 30, 2018 @ 5:50 pm
Sorry, that bit before the question mark should be heroes and villains reversed – I got a bit carried away with myself there.
October 30, 2018 @ 5:38 pm
I find it kind of interesting that the motivation for the companions isn’t so much that they want to travel but that they want to run away from their lives: Graham from his grief, Yaz from her family, Ryan from his job.
October 30, 2018 @ 6:15 pm
Indeed, there’s not necessarily an obvious explanation for why Arachnids in the UK is roughly The Faceless Ones tier while The Lazarus Experiment is closer to The Android Invasion.
Surely it’s expectations? Bluntly, I expected better from Davies, whereas this is the first sign that the Chibnall era can deliver a solid piece of entertaining-if-unexceptional Doctor Who.
It was reasonably well-written. Not so well-written that I ever came to understand why slowly suffocating is better than being swiftly shot, but well-written enough to have a fairly diverting story & to give the supporting cast opportunities to show their stuff. And the dialogue might not sparkle in that Moffat-era way, but it didn’t have any clunky conversations that made me wince the way the last three weeks did. (Admittedly, I’m pretty sure those here’s-a-blustery-American-who-loves-his-gun conversations looked atrocious on the page. But Chris Noth sells the hell out of it. Noth’s performance was the best thing about the episode, IMO.)
By the way, while Noth’s character is indeed clearly supposed to be a Trump analogue in at least some sense, it’s interesting that he’s presented as someone who hates Trump and intends to challenge him in 2020. There’s a few different ways you can read that…
October 30, 2018 @ 8:41 pm
[whispers] i thought the lazarus experiment was ok actually /]
Also, Davies was not the credited writer, though I don’t know how much of a rewrite he did.
(Speaking of not-good-but-not-THAT-bad stories under discussion, Fear Her wouldn’t get near my new-series bottom 10 either.)
The Oncoming Hurricane
October 31, 2018 @ 5:14 am
He did no rewrites. He listed Greenhorn alongside Moffat and I think Matthew Graham as three writers he never rewrote.
October 31, 2018 @ 10:58 am
And Chibnall. Go figure.
October 31, 2018 @ 1:19 pm
Also, Davies was not the credited writer, though I don’t know how much of a rewrite he did.
I meant my expectations for the showrunner, not my expectations for the writer.
October 30, 2018 @ 9:07 pm
I figured Noth’s character was considering making either a primary challenge to Trump as a Republican, or running independent, because otherwise that says a hell of a lot about how Britain views the Democratic Party.
October 30, 2018 @ 9:13 pm
Yeah, he’s definitely meant to be a Republican, IMO.
Roderick T. Long
November 4, 2018 @ 12:00 am
It’s not surprising that two similarly massive egos would clash. If Trump had a clone, they would not be buddies; each one would want to be in charge.
October 30, 2018 @ 7:52 pm
I found the episode all sorts of weird – I still don’t get why Yaz as a character is a police officer (admittedly because I wrote my PhD on policing I might overthink this) – it doesn’t inform the character in any way – people tell us about it but it goes nowhere.
That very odd scene where the bodyguard pulls a gun – I think “ah-ah! This is where we see some of that police training!” but nothing happens, they go and look at the cleaning in one of the bedrooms. Absolutely nobody in that scene behaves like a real person or even behaves as if it is that strange that someone pulls a gun.
Then later instead of the Doctor using her psychic paper, Yaz could have used her police ID but it never happens.
(This has nothing to do with Mandip Gill’s performance which is fine).
October 30, 2018 @ 9:56 pm
I’d say the scene in “Rosa” where Yaz tells the guy who slaps Ryan to settle down is very much written and played as her actions being informed by her training as a police officer.
October 31, 2018 @ 10:24 am
Yes – in a position where she knows she has zero authority, her policey instinct is her go-to first reaction, and she ORDERS a white man to settle down. In Alabama. In 1955.
Which is why it’s all the more grating that in the present day, on her home turf, when a white man points a GUN at her and her MUM… nothing. Compliance, which is sensible, but then… nothing. At all. It’s not a police officer. It’s not a human, living in the UK in 2018 where handguns have been illegal since about when Yaz was born.
October 31, 2018 @ 11:04 am
It seems perfectly reasonable to me that in one extreme situation – seeing her friend get assualted by a person who doesn’t have a gun – Yaz’s police officer instincts might kick in, but that in another extreme situation – having a gun pointed at her, she might be able to restrain those instincts in an attempt to do what won’t get her shot. Seriously, how would pointing out that it’s illegal to own a firearm in Britain or saying that she’s a police officer reliably prevent Yasmin and her mum getting shot by a guy who’s illegally holding them at gunpoint?
Heck, Yazmin and Ryan both talk about having to keep their temper when they’re subjected to unjust harrassment due to their race in “Rosa” – maybe she’s applying that skill she’s had to learn to this situation (which may not be overtly about her race, but is very much a situation where she needs to keep her cool so that she doesn’t get shot by the man holding her at gunpoint)
October 31, 2018 @ 1:40 pm
In the moment, compliance was the right response. But she just… forgot about it. In the context of a character who is already established to have the no-nonsense authoritarian reflex required of a police officer, it was unrealistic. And while she may have learned restraint in fifties Alabama, this was home turf in front of her mum. I’m not going to argue this further, but it really, really grated for me.
November 3, 2018 @ 5:32 pm
In that case, fair enough, I misunderstood your original comment, even though re-reading, you do clearly draw a distinction between Yaz’s initial compliance and the lack of acknowledgement that Robertson has Kevin hold Yaz and Najia at gunpoint after the fact.
October 31, 2018 @ 3:38 pm
It doesn’t work for a number of different reasons – beyond the initial moment when they put up their hands, they have a perfect normal conversation about why Yaz’s mum was fired followed by them going to look at the cleaning of the room which is just weird.
The scene only seems to have a gun in it because we need to know later why there is a gun hanging around.
This is compounded by the conversation that Yaz and her mum have when they are left in the bedroom – they don’t mention the gun at all.
When in reality, the reaction would have been to block the door and phone for an armed response team. There is absolutely no reason given when Yaz doesn’t do what any normal person would do yet alone a police officer. Yaz would be sacked for her lack of action in this regard after the gunman has left the room.
Yes this is Doctor Who but although I’m ok with situations being fantastical, I need characters to behave in reliable ways given their context. I think it’s made weirder because of the way that Graham’s grief is presented in such a mature and real way.
October 30, 2018 @ 9:53 pm
It’s funny that you think DW wouldn’t do a Brexit episode.
NewsThump thinks that, since the Tories now control the BBC, they will make DW solve Brexit for them
October 31, 2018 @ 1:20 pm
“Showrunner Chris Chibnall, who has promised to take the show in a new direction, so that it’s not at all like Dr Who anymore, said that he would be happy to help.
He told us, “I realise that I am the current custodian of one of the most loved shows in the history of British television, but I want it to be less about Daleks, Cybermen and Weeping Angels and more about politics, current affairs and me.”
Roderick T. Long
November 4, 2018 @ 12:06 am
“We’ll just have to hope Star Trek: Discovery tackles Brexit to balance it out.”
A storyline about a major planet (maybe even Earth?) seeking to withdraw from the Federation would be really interesting, if they did it right.
If the motives turned on a never-explained dispute over the taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems, I might be somewhat disappointed.
November 5, 2018 @ 3:41 am
The novel Spock’s World was about a Vulcexit, and supposedly it was discussed as a DS9 cliffhanger at one point as well. It’d certainly be a more interesting thing for Disco to explore than a lot of the things it has thus far. Hell, they could even do it in the new Picard show.
October 30, 2018 @ 10:21 pm
The Trump reference is surely highly unusual in referring directly to a current political leader. Not counting the Queen, the only other case I can think of in the new series is Obama’s Secret Plan to Beat Inflation (so to speak) in The End of Time. Before that, after killing off not-explicitly-Blair, Davies had his fictional PMs and US President, while I don’t recall Moffat ever going there at all, apart from the dead President in Extremis.
Making Trump explicitly a reality within Doctor Who and making Robertson a rival, rather than just leaving him as an implicit analogue, rules out meaningful villain-thwarting. Defeating the fictional Trump-substitute and wannabe Trump-replacement would still leave Trump himself in charge even within the story, to say nothing of reality. Which (if we assume deliberate and reflective writing, not a given with Chibnall) does suggest an intractable structural hopelessness, which would remain regardless of how the story turned out, or indeed of any later revisiting of the character. But I’m not sure it says anything much about it, beyond just “So, that’s a thing”.
October 30, 2018 @ 10:27 pm
The Doctor says of Cybermen in The Doctor Falls, “Like sewage and smartphones and Donald Trump, some things are just inevitable.”
Doesn’t mean he’s definitely the US President at the time, but mind you the dialogue in “Arachnids” doesn’t definitely mean that either (not in the 100% definite way Obama is in The End of Time). There’s just enough wiggle room in both instances for him to be a powerful potential presidential candidate for whom the Doctor (and other characters) have nothing but disdain. But that seems a bit of a stretch.
October 30, 2018 @ 11:36 pm
Bill says “How would I know the President? I mean, I wouldn’t even have voted for him. He’s orange” in Pyramid at the End of the World. Granted, not explicit explicit, but still pretty clearly intended as a reference to Trump.
Roderick T. Long
November 4, 2018 @ 12:08 am
I took it to mean that Bill was racist against Oompa-Loompas.
October 30, 2018 @ 10:37 pm
FAO ELIZABETH, ANNA, OR WHOMSOEVERST ELSE IT MAY CONCERNETH
By the way, my browser has repeatedly failed to load the front page, giving me the following error message:-
An error occurred.
Sorry, the page you are looking for is currently unavailable.
Please try again later.
If you are the system administrator of this resource then you should check the error log for details.
Faithfully yours, nginx.
So there seems to be an intermittent bug there. Anybody else getting this?
November 1, 2018 @ 3:45 pm
It has now happened to me somewhere else, so really is probably just me. As you were, nothing to see here, please disperse etc.
November 1, 2018 @ 1:12 pm
So I recently rewatched the episode paying closer attention to Robertson.
I was struck by how suggestive his description of his chain of hotel was. It seemed to be describing the hotel chain as a great web of investment. As a web of money, power, and property.
So, is Mr Big the Big Spider(s)? Is he the “arachnid” present in the UK? The title is strange when you think about spiders only in Sheffield, but because Robertson is American, it gives you a more international scale so that you can talk about an American businessman spreading his web all the way to (and in) the UK, which you don’t get if everything else, even the spiders, are from the UK.
I was particularly intrigued by many people’s defence of his actions on Gallifrey Base. Most precisely, the fact that people worded their defence as if they were disagreeing with the episode or with the Doctor. But when I looked carefully, I didn’t really see any direct attacks from the Doctor against him.
The Doctor does not criticise his practice of building hotels on abandoned mining land (she asks questions, but mostly because she is interested in understanding the phenomena, I think). She does not even criticise his decision to put waste under the hotel – she just pointed out that it didn’t work. The most that she does is get bored when he goes on about his hotels or get impatient when he becomes too self-important or violent.
Therefore, I wonder if the episode was carefully placing the Doctor in a position so as to not criticise capitalism in itself directly. She does not criticise the “deal” that allows Robertson to get cheap land to build a hotel. However, she does criticise the lack of responsibility, the cutting corners, and the inflation of moneyed power that places responsibility too far removed from the facts on the ground. In short, she does not attack business, but she criticises (Mr) Big Business, and the biggification of capitalism, its toxification.
I think this then creates a parallel to how she deals with the spiders. The spiders are not to blame. They are acting like spiders and their actions are only harmful because they have been enlarged and made toxic despite themselves.
Is Doctor Who saying that capitalism is dangerous if and only if it becomes “too big to fail” and spreads its web too far wide, but deep down it is not a force for evil?
November 1, 2018 @ 5:06 pm
Good reading. Even if I’d like the show to go a bit further.
November 2, 2018 @ 7:59 pm
Do you know what? I just don’t believe in The Doctor anymore. I don’t think The Doctor can save us. I don’t think The Doctor has any more stories to tell. The Doctor lives in Sheffield now.The Doctor’s friends do as well. I think they should probably pop down to London. Or up to Newcastle. Or they could go and buy some popcorn in Stroud. They might meet somebody who is being treated awfully by somebody else who is quite awful but he was treated badly, anyway. These are the stories now. Neither cowardly, nor brave. Have your doctor, kids, I will none. My doctor stood in a black and white corner and spoke of evil that had to be fought. He is dead now.
November 3, 2018 @ 11:41 pm
” We’ll just have to hope Star Trek: Discovery tackles Brexit to balance it out.”
I am very uncertain about Discovery‘s politics, and would not be at all surprised to see them do a story where voting to leave the Federation with no plan is self-evidently the right thing to do…
November 4, 2018 @ 3:42 am
least favorite modern doctor so far. and this has nothing to do with the gender debate. chris chibnall just sucks. i miss peter capaldi. i wish he could have done two more years. this just sucks. not happy with the direction this has taken. kind of a sign of the times. the rubbishing of all the sacred cows for no good reason. not a fan of this version at all
November 4, 2018 @ 4:45 pm
What’s so different about this season that you think it’s “rubbishing all the sacred cows for no good reason”?
I wouldn’t call myself uncritical of this era – while I’ve broadly liked what I’ve seen so far, and think Jodie Whittaker has been great, I much prefer RTD and Moffat’s writing to Chibnall’s. But I really don’t see a show that’s drastically different to the previous ten seasons.
November 4, 2018 @ 4:38 pm
What’s so different about this season that you think it’s “rubbishing all the sacred cows for no good reason”?
I wouldn’t call myself uncritical of this era – while I’ve broadly liked what I’ve seen so far, and think Jodie Whittaker has been great, I much prefer RTD and Moffat’s writing to Chibnall’s. But I really don’t see a show that’s drastically different to the previous ten seasons.
November 4, 2018 @ 4:46 pm
sorry, this was meant to be a reply to Mick Russom, have copied this comment to make that clear, hope that’s okay
November 6, 2018 @ 11:54 am
I find it interesting that so many people liked this episode more than previous ones. For me it was clearly the worst one yet, simply because I was bored for 50 minutes. I realize it’s really not fair to judge the Chibnall era for what it isn’t but this episode made me deeply miss Moffat. In Chibnall’s stories there’s this sense of constant movement but “Arachnids in the UK” isn’t moving towards anything. Even setting aside the fact that we got another plot without an actual ending, minutes pass by and we barely learn anything of importance about the characters. Several scenes with Yaz’s family and I don’t think I learned anything not already covered by that one line describing them in “The Ghost Monument”. The companions have almost no internal or external conflicts, they lack clear motivations and they react to things in a very similar manner. With Moffat we would’ve been fascinated by this people. With Chibnall… sigh.
And yeah, how is starving spiders to death better that shooting them? And the Trump guy just walks away without as much as a glance from the Doctor? I’m really worried about how ineffective Thirteen has been so far. By all means, make her softer and more respectful of people’s feelings – but my God, don’t make her come up with weak solutions to problems and let villains walk free. You’d think they know better than to give Thirteen that particular character trait of the Fifth Doctor…
Watching Series 11 often feels like watching a kid’s show to me, and not in a good way.