Doctor Who 11.4 – Arachnids in the UK

Arachnids_headerVictoria Walker reviews episode four of the 2018 series.

I was thrilled this week for a return to the suspense and fear which characterises New Who but has been notably absent thus far this series. The trailer last week certainly suggested a tense hide-behind-the-sofa episode. This expectation turned out to be somewhat misplaced, as at no point was I genuinely spooked. That said, it was fine in general.

Every week I love Ryan more and more. This week was no exception. He has become consistent and appropriate comic relief, and shots like him in the lab making shadow puppets lighten a scene right up. The relationship between him and Graham continues to develop predictably, which I can’t say as a bad thing. I will be interested to see if Chris Chibnall decides to introduce any sort of tension between the two again, or whether it will be left as is. The exploration of Graham’s grief was another interesting part of the episode, adding much-needed depth and realism to his character. Jack Robertson was a well written generic evil corporate tycoon with dreams of a presidency, reminiscent of Metcalfe from Jonathan Morris’s Fourth Doctor novel Festival of Death. Characterisation was a great strength of this episode, through and through.

Only not quite. Most of the characters were well done, yes. Excepting Jade McIntyre. I don’t think she had a single line of dialogue that was not entirely exposition. Every time she said anything I was taken out of the episode, and physically cringed at the lack of effort in writing her. The scientist angle has been done so much better before. She has no traits at all outside of being able to provide a lot of knowledge. Aside from being entirely superfluous to the episode, the fact that there was never any mysticism to the spiders and their origin from the very start only served the detriment of the episode.

Last week I noted the issues evident with pacing in the script, and this week was no better. I would say that the episode pretty much failed to create any suspense, as everything just moved way too fast. From the introduction of the idea of the huge spiders (with Graham finding the carcass) to us finally seeing one of them is quite incredibly short. The wardrobe opening was an attempt at creating some sort of suspense, however, this fell flat as not enough establishing time was given. What I suppose was meant to be the scariest moment was the large spider dragging Kevin away into the mines. This lacked the essential buildup to give the moment the impact it deserved. The moment in which we see our first live spider is similarly damp and ineffectual due to the fact we’d literally just seen one of their carcasses, ruining any shock at the size of them.

As I write this I do genuinely question how suspenseful Chibnall wanted the episode to be. Nothing about the pacing, and very little about the actual devices used in the episode, actually suggest a horror-based episode. It is entirely possible the production team were intending to simply rely on the arachnophobia aspect to create fear, but I don’t wish to disparage the writing that much. It will be somewhat disappointing if they don’t get around to an episode that is scary and compelling, and I worry that the range of the show will be somewhat narrowed. All episodes thus far have had similar pacing, humour, and moral slant. One of the greater strengths of the show is the ability to show a proper range of stories, lighthearted and heavy, without stepping outside of the show’s remit. It will be sad if this is lost.

All that said, however, I can’t say I felt bored at any point. It was a well put together episode, most things considered. Some of the camera work was particularly nicely done, notably the static shots and establishing ones. I do question the continued use of the shaky camera, but it is only slightly obtrusive. All the spiders were well done, and perhaps almost too cute for my liking. And Jodie Whittaker? Well, I like her Doctor more and more every week.

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