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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Arthur
    January 29, 2024 @ 5:59 am

    I think it’s illuminating to compare this to The Green Death, which this is basically a spider-themed riff on – industrial dumping is happening in a mine, creepy-crawlies get big.

    In The Green Death, the Doctor and the UNIT fam firstly uncover the maggots, develop countermeasures, and destroy them. This proves necessary to avoid, at best, mass human casualties and an incalculable disruption of the broader ecosystem, and at worst an extinction-level event. Secondly, they discover where the maggots came from, and take action to stop that so as to stop recurrence of the problem. Thirdly, they take down BOSS for good measure.

    Ten regenerations later, we have a Doctor that stumbles across some spiders who were never going to be a viable large-scale threat because of the consequences of their mutation, but who are causing a problem in a hotel. She sides with the view that they deserve a “natural, humane” death, but entirely fails to come up with a version of that which doesn’t come across as prolonged torture. (The episode puts the idea of a swift mercy killing in the mouth of the Trumpalike to indicate we should disagree with it, but fails to offer any route that’s actually kinder.)

    She also discovers why the spiders arose in the first place and… does nothing about it. She also discovers that the Trumpalike is not only responsible through this via his policy of deliberate ignorance, but she also knows he intends to exploit the situation to make himself more popular and… does nothing about it.

    Look, we can justify this as much as we like in terms of Davisionian detachment but in the Davison stories that actually worked the Doctor did at least bother to make sure the crises of the episode were actually resolved before he stuffed the fam back in the TARDIS and toddled off. (Indeed, in his best moments his detachment was part of the process of piecing together what was going on so he could make a small intervention which was effective.)

    The fact is that the Doctor here runs into three problems – the spiders, the toxic dumping, and the Trumpalike – and one of those problems literally solves itself whilst the other two are left unaddressed.

    There’s a point where we must address the central fallacy of centrism – which is the idea that accepting the status quo is a neutral act and a non-decision – and this really is it. Inaction is in and of itself a choice, doubly so when you have the knowledge and means to take action (surely exposing the dumping would at least somewhat slow the Trumpalike’s roll – or at least get the damn dumping stopped) and elect not to take them.

    This would be bad enough in a wholly original story, but in a story which is obviously consciously riffing on a past serial (the Doctor has a line about seeing stuff like this before), it’s horrendous. The last thing the Chibnall era needs to be doing is reminding us of better eras of the show, not least because this inevitably prompts us to set Thirteen against Three and conclude that the Third Doctor would never have let QuasiTrump off the hook like that.


    • Aristide Twain
      January 29, 2024 @ 11:50 am

      She sides with the view that they deserve a “natural, humane” death, but entirely fails to come up with a version of that which doesn’t come across as prolonged torture. (The episode puts the idea of a swift mercy killing in the mouth of the Trumpalike to indicate we should disagree with it, but fails to offer any route that’s actually kinder.)

      It seems to me that Chibnall must have been running on a curiously childlike view of death where slowly passing away in the bunker is a dignified death because it looks like “going to sleep, never to wake-up”, and this is obviously more desirable than a violent death, however brief. I somehow do not think suffocating to death in a bunker feels very peaceful or dignified from the inside, but you can see how a hurried, slapdash writer would let himself assume so.


      • Arthur
        January 29, 2024 @ 12:46 pm

        That’s probably an area where the production ended up working against Chibnall’s point because the one spider we do see dying of Too Bigness is very, very obviously in pain and suffering.

        Doesn’t get Chibnall off the hook because a) communicating how this stuff should land to the VFX folks and b) asking for changes when they miss the mark is in the job description. Though I would not put it past him to approve special effects shots on the nod, having already forgotten the emotional tenor he was theoretically going for with the scene.


    • Malbec
      January 29, 2024 @ 8:24 pm

      The other thing that confused me about this ep is why the Doctor thought that locking dozens of giant spiders in a small room would lead to death by asphyxiation rather than death by being eaten by one of the bigger spiders.


    • Bernard the Poet
      January 29, 2024 @ 9:57 pm

      “I think it’s illuminating to compare this to The Green Death”

      It is probably more illuminating to compare it to Warriors of the Deep. The Silurians and Sea Devils invade an undersea base with plan to exterminate the entire human race. The Doctor, Tegan and Turlough run around a lot with bullets flying everywhere. The Doctor stops running occasionally and tries to dissuade the humans from killing the invaders, but in the fourth episode he changes his mind and kills all the invaders. But this is too late to save the humans on the base and they all die too. The Doctor looks at all the bodies piled everywhere and shakes his head and says, “there should have been another way.” Cue music.

      At his home, a thirteen-year-old Chris Chibnall sits spellbound, silently vowing that one day he would make an episode, which is just as moving and as tragic as this story.


  2. BG Hilton
    January 29, 2024 @ 6:12 am

    I remember watching this and thinking that the inverse-cube thing could have been a clever plot twist, if it had been played right. Fake-Trump tries to weaponise the spiders as part of his plan; the companions are shocked at the Doctor’s seeming refusal to stop the spiders; at the critical point the spiders keel over and the Doctor (who knew it was coming) swoops to take out the astonished baddie. It’s not groundbreaking, but it works and it allows for a Doctor who is passive but only because she is doing the right kind of nothing.

    The most frustrating bits of Chibnall aren’t when he has no ideas, it’s when he has a potentially good idea and butchers it.


  3. Ross
    January 29, 2024 @ 7:53 am

    At some level, I wanted to interpret the Doctor’s inaction on two-thirds of the problem (building on toxic waste and the Donald Trump You Bought On Temu) as a sort of Torchwoodian cynicism. I can kind of imagine a version of this story where the Doctor storms off angrily, declaring that it’s all well and good fighting giant spiders, but those took care of themselves. If your problem is an evil capitalist building luxury hotels on toxic waste, that’s mankind’s problem and not really within her remit – go get MacGyver or Michael Knight or Captain Planet for that sort of nonsense. But of course Chibnall is no Eric Saward and that flavor of cynicism isn’t really part of his (shudder) “hopepunk” aesthetic.


    • Arthur
      January 29, 2024 @ 8:15 am

      The idea that Chibnall’s stuff counts as hopepunk makes me feel positively queasy. Like something foul and depraved left a cold turd in a corner of my soul.

      Not because I object to the idea, mind – more that it seems horribly plausible that “hopepunk” is what Chibnall was shooting for and then missed horribly, yielding an era in which our heroes (checks notes) lock people in conscious stasis for eternity, leave enemies to be arrested by the Nazis, and regard QuasiTrump’s stuff with a shrug and a “meh, what can you do?”

      The distance between intention and execution is incredible, and of a nature which can’t be explained by production difficulties – bad production can make the execution of a bad idea worse but it can’t erase the words on the script.

      It’s just one more piece of evidence that Chibnall is roughly aware of what the right-on, fashionable, progressive thing is to espouse, but does not understand why that is the case, which means that when he tries to do something progressive or hopeful you end up with “hello, fellow kids” levels of phoniness. Drives me frantic that there are defenders who go to bat for him on the back of his supposed progressive credentials when they can’t see how it’s empty mimicry rather than an actual genuine personal principle on his part.


      • Ross
        January 29, 2024 @ 8:49 am

        Every discussion about Chibnall’s process seems to keep coming back to him being able to competently reproduce tropes and aesthetics that he recognizes as fitting to the genre, but with seemingly no understanding of how or why they work or how the construction of them is supposed to add up to a whole story. Kind of like about a dozen Doctor Who monsters, most recently the no-things.

        I definitely remember a lot of articles in the press describing Chibnall’s Who as “hopepunk”, though I agree that it’s an uncomfortable fit. It comes closest, I guess, in the way that it emphasizes teamwork over individual acts of heroism (I suppose there is to some extent this season a recurring theme of it being the bad guys who act on the presumption of a “Great Man of History” narrative, whether it’s by positioning themselves as said great men or by presuming they can subvert history via targeting one. But as always in this era, it’s done so slipshod I can’t even tell if it’s intentional), but it’s a shaky and uncomfortable fit. And one that rings particularly false in light of the direction the myth arc is going to go next season.


        • Bill Reed
          January 29, 2024 @ 11:56 am

          I think there’s a reading in s11 in terms of exploring masculinity, both toxic and otherwise, from various angles, and striving to find a better path forward, coincidentally paralleling the choice to make the Doctor a woman. We have Tim Shaw, Epzo and his hard man upbringing, Krasko thinking the world would be better off without a woman of color, Robertson and all his Trump-y characteristics, Roy Kent and the pregnant man (these are positive portrayals), Prem vs. Manish, Charlie and his incel terrorist scheme (sort of), King James hurting others instead of processing his trauma/identity, maybe Becka Savage (how woman can also internalize and propagate misogyny), Hanne’s dad abandoning her for a fantasy world, etc. Different ways men behave or are taught to behave badly, how society’s views of masculinity can be corrupting, and a few counterpoints to that. Culminating in Graham relinquishing his manpain-induced desire for revenge.

          Not brilliantly executed, maybe not on purpose at all, but there’s something there.


  4. Joseph Oldham
    January 29, 2024 @ 8:28 am

    Even the torturously contrived pun of the episode’s title seems to announce its stylistic incoherence.

    It does make me wonder, though, if Doctor Who even could do Trump. Are there any successful Trump analogues out there in fiction, especially adventure fiction? I’m struggling to think of any. He’s such a product of the media that even supposedly critical media portrayals never seem able to comprehend him other than some easily-imitable surface bluster without any comprehension of the true horror. That’s true here and, as you say, they can’t even get the superficial characterisation to feel right.


    • Joseph Oldham
      January 29, 2024 @ 8:46 am

      In fact, do I recall that Peter Harness was at one stage thinking of putting a Trump-alike in The Pyramid at the End of the World? But in the end all we got from Series 10 was a throwaway line about the president being orange. Maybe Moffat was wise to realise his style wasn’t up to the task of doing Trump.


      • Einarr
        January 29, 2024 @ 9:06 am

        That’s correct, the info about the Trump, Corbyn, and Kim Jong Un type figures in Harness’ S10 story (back when it was a two parter not a single ep) comes from El’s own Eruditorum post on it – she had access to his various drafts.

        As for the tortuously not-punny title, I’m sad to report that that was Vinay Patel’s suggestion – the one blot against an otherwise grand set of contributions to the programme.


    • Rei Maruwa
      January 29, 2024 @ 10:55 am

      I can think of a few stories that did “seemingly unthreatening cast member hard slides into shockingly successful fascism” post-2016 (Bojack, Homestuck) – but both avoid calling attention to any similarities with Trump, and I think that’s telling. The hypermodern landscape is so memetic that to even parody a topical issue feels less like satire and more just another instance of the meme. You do Trump not to make a particular statement about him but because everyone is doing Trump and it’s topical and that’s just what you do.

      The other option is stories that predate 2016 but still feel like they’re talking about Trump, like Senator Armstrong in Metal Gear Rising.


      • Camaveron
        January 29, 2024 @ 1:36 pm

        What is the Bojack plot point you are thinking of? The time Mr Peanut Butter runs for governor or is there another one I’m forgetting?


        • Rei Maruwa
          January 29, 2024 @ 3:16 pm

          Yeah, it’s that one. It was the first season to air after Trump’s election.


    • wyngatecarpenter
      January 29, 2024 @ 1:44 pm

      In the history of Sex Pistols related puns, which is now vast, it is probably the most painful, least funny ever.


    • David Cook
      January 29, 2024 @ 2:07 pm

      Pre-dates Trump, but I re-read The Dead Zone during Trump’s campaign…


      • Jesse
        January 29, 2024 @ 2:28 pm

        I was reading LITTLE, BIG while covering Trump rallies, and the Russell Eigenblick character hit hard.


  5. Malk
    January 29, 2024 @ 8:56 am

    I always laugh whenever I think about Arachnids in the UK, because it was the first time I (and a LOT of other viewers, apparently) realized that the era really wasn’t going to improve – Woman Who Fell had forward momentum, Ghost Monument was utterly dull but a second episode is easy to forgive, Rosa was easy to see as a weak step in the right direction if you were ignorant about what it covered, but Arachnids? I don’t think anyone got anything from a “hehe the businessman is arrogant and greedy!” Trump parody that has less bite to it than what 2000s Sesame Street could put out. Knowing the era that came after, it’s really quant to think that THIS was what the fandom considered the absolute worst that Chibnall could put out.

    I also find it astounding that between Stormzy, Ed Sheeran and next ep’s mention of Hamilton, the brief window of Arachnids/Tsuranga airing is the only time the Chibnall era engaged with contemporary pop/youth culture just before it pivoted to a series that ends with the Doctor Who saving the day by thinking really hard about Doctor Who while the Doctor Who theme plays and clips from Brain of Morbius and the TV Movie fly across the screen.


    • Einarr
      January 29, 2024 @ 9:50 am

      Can’t believe you overlooked that time the Doctor recited Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to herself as “one of the classics” in 2021. Real finger on the pulse stuff, that.

      (Tsuranga also nods to Call the Midwife, but that’s much more the sleepy Sunday evening telly of Chibnall’s – and Graham’s, as in dialogue – generation, so that figures).

      I guess ITYA has the Arctic Monkeys and there’s a joke about the Hugh Jackman ‘Logan’ in Spyfall? Really racking my brains for much else though.


  6. Jesse
    January 29, 2024 @ 11:38 am

    I have not seen this since it first aired & have no idea how it would play for me with hindsight, but my memory is that this was the first story of the season that I enjoyed at all. Not because it had something worthwhile to say (its intellectual incoherence becomes obvious the moment you ask “Why exactly is it better to slowly suffocate to death than to be shot?”) but because Noth’s performance was funny. Not in a “This is a great satire of Donald Trump” way, but in a “This guy is having fun chewing the scenery” way.

    In other words: Maybe, as El says, “it’s the comedy middle that’s screwing it up” in terms of realizing a particular coherent vision. But given that Chris Chibnall is incapable of coherence, the comedy middle may well be its saving grace.


  7. Bill Reed
    January 29, 2024 @ 11:59 am

    I don’t hate this one, because I dig that it crashes a Pertwee-era episode into a Syfy Original Picture. I agree the ending doesn’t work at all.

    Robertson points out how much food there is in the panic room, which makes me think Chibnall maybe intended the trapped spiders to live off of that until they die of old age? The math and biology probably doesn’t check out and the script isn’t explicit about this.


  8. William Shaw
    January 29, 2024 @ 12:31 pm

    The climax of the story is bleak, but what really strikes me about this episode is how miserable the concluding scenes with the companions are.

    Graham reacts to the rise of not-Trump with “God help us all” and the subsequent scenes amount to each member of the fam realising that life in contemporary Britain is so obviously terrible that they’d rather take their chances in the dangerous world of the Doctor (and it’s not like the previous episodes have been long on the wonders of space or the joy of travelling; they simply decide it’s less bad than contemporary earth).

    It’s not just that episode decides Trump is worth no more than a disapproving look; it presents actively running away from the problem as the best its heroes can hope for. It’s the bleakest motivation for a set of companions ever (Yaz’s pensive look at her family before leaving the flat is especially chilling).

    Still, nice use of the Sheffield locations. I do think there’s a genuinely impressive degree of thought put into this specific region, at least in series 11. Another potentially interesting scrap of Chibnallian vision, even if it’s ultimately squandered.


  9. Camestros Felapton
    January 29, 2024 @ 3:52 pm

    I liked this one at the time and thought it was a lot of fun. It’s one of the few I’d be interested to re-watch. The ending was odd but at the time it felt more like the show experimenting and I assumed Noth was going to be some sort of arc character. As the season went on it became more evident that every story ends up flopping to a standstill near the end (or sometimes sooner). There’s a point were the plot has to commit to something more absurd or more camp or more horrific or more silly or more emotional or just more something and it just doesn’t.

    This one feels like with a bit of extra work it could have been a classic and instead is just in a “least worse” pile.


  10. kenziie bee
    January 29, 2024 @ 5:58 pm

    there are SO many reasons why i hate Whitaker’s Doctor being left to anger-gurn at the villain so often, and this episode demonstrates the least of which: as unable to actually alchemically affect material reality as this show is, it would have been REALLY satisfying to see the first canon lady Doctor rip a Trump-analogue a new one. Even just 30 seconds on a TV show would’ve extended my life for 30 seconds, i swear. Just another way she was utterly wasted in a part that SHOULD be a big fat bag of Actor Treats


    • kenziie bee
      January 29, 2024 @ 6:01 pm

      i meant to specifically say, rip faux-Trump-actual-Noth a new one with a fiery Doctor speech!! The most memorable speech i remember Jodie getting was right before she turned back into David Tennant 🙁


  11. AuntyJack
    January 29, 2024 @ 7:50 pm

    My biggest issue with this episode (after the Doctor letting Robertson getting away with it – he should have been trapped in the tank with the spider and been eaten or suffocated imo) is that Chibnall basically forgot a major aspect of one of his characters.

    Yaz, was a POLICE OFFICER, and Robertson, a foreign national, had an unlicensed handgun. As a cop, Yaz should have immediately arrested him.

    But Chibnall can’t seem to keep any of the characterization he came up with in mind when it comes to how the companions should be reacting to the events of the story.


  12. Jesse S
    January 29, 2024 @ 9:42 pm

    Ross’s comment above mentions “Torchwoodian cynicism” and that got me thinking about how Chibnall’s Torchwood episodes were by and large more entertaining (at least for me) than just about anything he wrote for his era of Doctor Who. Perhaps he had better editing on Torchwood, or perhaps Torchwood was simply buoyed up by a likeable and interesting ensemble cast that had a level of character development the “Sheffield fam” never even approached. I don’t really recall how hands-on RTD and Julie Gardner were with Torchwood after launching it but perhaps they provided some guiding wisdom that Chibnall lacked during his term as executive producer.


    • JDX
      January 30, 2024 @ 4:13 am

      I also remember Torchwood being better than his DW. And I feel like there’s objectively something to that. For all that it was imperfect and sometimes criticised, Torchwood didn’t lose viewers in the way S11 did. In fact I feel like the BBC got more confident in it as it went on. I really thought the writer of Fragments could have matured and improved enough through Broadchurch, which was also fine, and a hit, to deliver something popular and coherent. I’m genuinely puzzled by how we ended up with stories I enjoyed less than Cyberwoman!


      • Arthur
        January 30, 2024 @ 7:15 am

        Eeeh, talking about Torchwood ratings is a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison due to factors like series one airing on BBC 3 (where lower ratings would be expected, in part because less households had BBC 3). Series 2 might have represented a ratings bump, but it had moved over to BBC 2 (which can be basically be accessed in any household in the UK that has a TV signal) and had gone from having pretty good ratings for BBC 3 to rather lukewarm ratings for BBC 2, so whilst it didn’t lose viewers, it didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Then there was a very appreciable boost for Children of Men… which was the point where it was taken out of Chibnall’s hands and RTD reassumed more direct control.

        Ratings are not an objective or reliable metric by any measure but Torchwood’s ratings in particular have issues, I would be hesitant about reading much of anything into them.


  13. Anton B
    January 30, 2024 @ 7:29 am

    Every one of these ‘Whittaker era revisited’ posts remind me that THIS was the episode where I gave up on Chibnall’s Who. Every single one. And yet I clearly didn’t give up on this one or any of them. I watched till the bitter end and in horror as the Hindenburg crashed into the Titanic while the Doctor winced and walked away. Yes I felt like a roadside voyeur at a motorway accident but I was transfixed. Convinced that the next episode would give redemption. It never did.


    • Ross
      January 30, 2024 @ 8:29 am

      I actually did give up. Which is something I didn’t even do when I was so disappointed by Day of the Doctor that I went into a years-long depression. It wasn’t an Ian Levine style boot-through-the-telly tantrum or anything; we just neglected to actually watch anything for like 3 years after “Kerblam”. Still haven’t watched all of series twelve yet, though my wife and I have started working our way through it on the date nights when we’re too tired for a board game and there aren’t any new episodes of Quantum Leap. (We picked it back up out-of-order, hitting a bit of a highlight reel to get caught up before the RTD2 era, so right now we’re just missing Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror through Ascension of the Cybermen I think, though I have absolutely no memory of the Sea Devil one. Pretty sure we watched it but zero impression whatever.)


      • Malbec
        January 30, 2024 @ 7:16 pm

        You definitely watched it then


  14. George Lock
    January 30, 2024 @ 8:34 am

    I actually like the tortuous pun title of this story. It’s about the only thing to like about it. If anything, it needed a campier story to belong to.

    Maybe actually set it in the 70s so the Sex Pistols can cameo. Have it be a romp around the whole UK rather than just Sheffield. Heck, go the whole hog and have some old style beige UNIT chaps show up at the end if you’re insisting on reminding people of The Green Death.

    It might not have been good, but it would at least have been fun.


    • Malk
      January 31, 2024 @ 10:22 pm

      Would you believe me if I told you that I watched this thing on broadcast, engaged in years worth of online discussion about it since, only realised the title was a pun of some sort when the above post mentions it, but it took me until seeing your comment mentioning the Sex Pistols to go “Oooh. Arachnids nearly starts with a similar sound to Anarchy, I guess.”


    • wyngatecarpenter
      February 1, 2024 @ 7:56 pm

      A “celebrity historical” set in 1976 with the Sex Pistols vs giant spiders – if only!


  15. Gnaeus
    January 31, 2024 @ 10:17 am

    Why is the villain an evil American who just happens to look and sound a bit like a half-arsed impression of the incumbent president, and not a political or business figure closer to home, which might have some actual heft and purpose?

    I mean, I know why. But even so.


    • David Cook
      January 31, 2024 @ 1:17 pm

      Well, we have had Thatcher (in The Happiness Patrol) and The Master as Tony Blair (vote Saxon) so a “foreigner” is fair game.😀

      Plus our politicians tend to be faceless, and shifty, so having one as a bad guy wouldn’t be much of a surprise.


    • Ross
      February 1, 2024 @ 8:46 am

      I think the biggest reason is that he had to be charismatic, and the most obvious equivalents to Trump on that side of the pond are rather FAMOUSLY of the “Even their fans don’t actually like them” persuasion.

      Now, if they’d made him an expy of Ron Desantis, I think it would be much harder to justify not looking closer to home for someone to model.


  16. Cyrano
    January 31, 2024 @ 11:26 am

    As with a lot of the Chibnall era it has all the ingredients of a good time, but somehow fails to become one. Giant spiders in your bathroom? Great. Illegal chemical dumping creating the giant spiders? Solid Doctor Who territory. Trump analogue as a baddy? How wrong can that go? Seems like at the worst a solid idea. Using Stormzy’s music? He’s a legitimately cool artist in the midst of a big cultural moment, in the UK anyway.

    And yet all of these elements fail to come together into anything of any substance. I think that’s the signature of the era for me. Not bad or deceptive politics, not egregiously bad ideas, just a fundamental inability to make a set of elements add up to an entertaining piece of television.


    • Arthur
      January 31, 2024 @ 7:01 pm

      I agree, and it’s one of the frustrations of the era.

      Moffat went through patches where a lot of the ingredients of a very good thing were all clearly present, but they weren’t clicking right – generally these were in the weakest patches of 11’s run. But he learned and adjusted and 12 went out on a high (to my tastes, at least).

      Chibnall spent S11 putting out a lot of material which had the potential to be great, but didn’t quite come together correctly – you had a whole which was less than the sum of its parts, which is the reverse of what you need to be aiming for. But somehow he earned all the wrong lessons, and rather than “there’s a bunch of stuff here that could be good but it doesn’t click right” being the failure mode of the era, it represented the high water mark.


  17. Jay
    February 19, 2024 @ 3:55 pm

    I was a Thasmin Stan when the clip from the first episode leaked, but this episode? Dang, bro.

    I actually prefer pre-Eve Thasmin moments so much more. We can pretend they’re in love between scenes of absolutely shambolic drama, rather than the terrible writing actually intruding into a bit of actor chemistry.


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