Arachnids in the UK was the silliest episode of Doctor Who so far this year. That’s not really meant as a criticism. Three-quarters of Doctor Who, if not more, is silly if you stop to think about it, and Arachnids in the UK boldly ploughed on straight-faced, producing the most tense and nerve-wracking episode so far this year. And I’m not even arachnophobic! If Chris Chibnall seems to determined to attempt a new style with each episode, this episode gets the ‘Yeti in the loo’ contemporary horror style down to a tee.
Well, almost. The story did rely a bit too much on a web (sorry) of coincidences to bring all the characters together, perhaps the product of adapting a story style dating from the late sixties to the shorter story lengths and attention spans of the twenty-first century. It was pacey, but could have done with more time to develop the incidental characters. I’m sure we’ll be seeing Yaz’s family again, but Jack Robertson felt two-dimensional. Donald Trump is an easy and inevitable, but legitimate target and, in a nice twist, he is just an unpleasant businessman, not an Evil Genius Master Criminal as the opening scene implied. But he did seem to have wandered in from a different type of drama, or even a different type of Doctor Who. And I felt that one or two of his lines should have been cut, given the mass shooting in Pittsburgh the previous day.
In a typically Doctor Who touch, we are encouraged to feel sympathy for the spiders, even as we are also encouraged to fear them and, of course, the Doctor is opposed to guns. More surprising was seeing her trap a spider with her practical knowledge of spiders, not Time Lord gadgetry, something pleasantly in the vein of the Doctors of the sixties and seventies than later incarnations.
Also, a pedantic point, but a zoologist should really know the difference between ‘poisonous’ and ‘venomous.’
Ultimately, Arachnids in the UK was very enjoyable, but it also felt a bit like a palate cleanser after the intense personal drama of Rosa. Just celebrate the fact that this programme can move from hard-hitting historical/political drama to out and out contemporary horror in a single-episode. Four episodes in and I have no idea where the rest of this season is going to go, and there isn’t anything more exciting than that!