On Sunday, DOCTOR WHO viewers saw more evidence of the preoccupation this series’ creative team appears to have with classic DOCTOR WHO fare. “Arachnids in the UK” was, more or less, a take on 1973’s “The Green Death” story arc, featuring Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor. Although the mutated animals were different this time — in “The Green Death” a toxic waste dump’s influence on the surrounding environment resulted in the appearance of gigantic maggots — the idea is basically the same. A company’s unsatisfactory environmental policies result in the rapid and extreme growth of the local creepy-crawlies.
DOCTOR WHO: “Arachnids in the UK�� – Spiders v. Maggots
I’m not accusing the show’s writers and producers of being derivative. In a franchise that’s been around since the early ’60s, there’s bound to be some overlap. It’s important, though, to exhume an old idea only if there’s room for improvement. And, although “Arachnids in the UK” could be accused of being gimmicky, it did provide a contemporary and interesting stage for the environmental message and condemnation of corporate indifference that “The Green Death” featured back in the rebelliously groovy ’70s, baby! Yeah! Ahem…sorry.
DOCTOR WHO: “Arachnids in the UK” – Spiders v. Other Spiders
In addition to the similarities between “Arachnids in the UK” and “The Green Death,” this episode also bears similarities to 1974’s “Planet of the Spiders,” another Third Doctor classic that similarly features giant spiders.
Although both of the classic episodes I’ve mentioned used artistic and creative methods to represent their giant maggots and spiders, respectively, these two classics suffer from a lack of immediacy. The puppets back then just didn’t seem real, and, although CGI has a long way to go before it seems real, it can at least produce a reasonable facsimile of a monster chasing a victim. Mobile monsters are obviously an important element in a show where the main character tells people to run all the time.
DOCTOR WHO: “Arachnids in the UK” – “Grace, for you, the chase is over.”
“Arachnids in the UK” showed Graham grieving for his dead wife Grace, killed in “The Woman Who Fell to Earth.” But, rather than Graham’s grief being something that stops him from joining the crew of the TARDIS, along with Yaz and Ryan, he describes his grief as informing his decision. We all grieve differently, and I can’t think of a better way to do it than on an adventure through space and time.
DOCTOR WHO: “Arachnids in the UK” – Jacknald Trumpertson
In addition to giant spiders, this episode also featured manic billionaire investment tycoon turned 2020 US presidential candidate Jack Robertson, portrayed by none other than Mr. Big/Detective Logan himself, Chris Noth.
Noth’s character’s overall attitude was one of slimy indifference in this episode, but it was the trademark “You’re fired,” early on that solidified for me who Noth was really portraying by way of Jack Robertson. Donald Trump was even mentioned by name in the episode: Robertson hates Trump and wants him out of office.
This was the gimmick I referred to earlier. But, gimmicky though it might be to have a Trump proxy in an episode, that Robertson was a thoroughly unsympathetic character with all the wrong motivations allowed him to act as a kind of anti-Doctor.
DOCTOR WHO: “Arachnids in the UK” – “How many days of rain will we have now?”
Though Robertson wants to hunt each spider down and shoot it, the Doctor comes up with a more humane response. She herds the less giant spiders into a panic room, allowing the spiders to die naturally rather than being killed.
Still, she probably could’ve transported them to an uninhabited world or created a room for them in the TARDIS rather than euthanizing them. Ah well! There are plenty of giant spiders to go around.
Finally, the group confronts the mother spider. The Doctor determines that the spider’s immense size is making it difficult for the animal to breathe, but while the ragtag team is working out a solution to the problem, Jack Robertson walks in and shoots the mutant arachnid dead faster than you can say…well…“Jack Robertson.”
DOCTOR WHO: “Arachnids in the UK” – Team TARDIS
I’m glad to see that the Doctor has a solid team of companions now rather than just a trio of hangers-on. Ryan has yet to win me over, but I do like the other two. It’s always a treat to see how groups of companions form relationships and influence the plot.
DOCTOR WHO: “Arachnids in the UK” – Final Thoughts
Amazing famous guest actor aside, I thought “Arachnids in the UK” was a bit of a miss. Sure, the effects have improved since the days of “The Green Death,” but Jack Robertson was a weak proxy for President Trump. Noth did an admirable job with what he had — I especially liked his hand-washing. It’s just that Robertson was a bit thin as a character, but the character wasn’t quite thin enough to pass as a caricature either.
I like Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor quite a bit. So far, though, her adventures have all stood on their own, not introducing characters or villains from previous iterations of the Doctor. I look forward to when series 11 gets to a point where the creative team stops being shy about going to the old character well.