One could argue that “Arachnids in the UK” is the first true Doctor Who episode in the new era. The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her companions make it home to Sheffield a mere half-hour after they left the warehouse at the end of the season premiere, and they stumble into an “monster” adventure that bonds and elevates them.
When the TARDIS first lands in Sheffield (directly in front of Yas’s apartment building), The Doctor is relieved to have succeeded in getting to the right place and time, and the group mutually assumes that their travels together are over. The Doctor is reluctantly about to leave by herself when Yas (Mandip Gill) invites everyone in for tea.
Ryan (Tosin Cole) and The Doctor accompany Yas inside, where they see Dr. Jade McIntyre (Tanya Fear) knocking frantically at a door two down from Yas’s flat. The Doctor asks if she’s OK, and Jade says yes.
They go inside and meet Yas’s dad, Hakim (Ravin J. Ganatra), and her sister, Sonya (Bhavnisha Parmar). Sonya teases Yas about how seldom she brings friends home, and Hakim jumps at the chance to make a nice tea for everyone. While he cooks, The Doctor asks about all of the garbage scattered about their very nice home. It turns out Hakim is convinced of a conspiracy and that the garbage is “evidence.” The girls are embarrassed of their eccentric dad, but The Doctor is intrigued.
She discovers a slip from a package delivery service that says they couldn’t reach anyone at Yas’s address, so they’ve left a package two doors down with a neighbor. The Doctor and Ryan volunteer to retrieve it while Hakim works in the kitchen. Yas excuses herself, too, when her mom, Najia (Shobna Gulati), calls and asks for a lift home from her new job at a posh hotel.
Najia had shown up a few days before the scheduled opening of the huge luxury hotel. As its manager, she wanted to ensure that everything was up to snuff. While on site, she inadvertently interrupted a meeting between the hotel’s owner, the Trump-like Robertson (Chris Noth!), and his bodyguard, Kevin (William Meredith), and underling, Frankie (Jaleh Alp). Najia walked in in time to hear the tail end of a conversation in which Frankie was informing a severely displeased Robertson that she wouldn’t be able to cover something up. Furious at the intrusion, Robertson fired Najia on the spot, leading to her call to Yas.
The Doctor and Ryan find Jade still trying to raise her friend, the neighbor who ought to have the Khans’ package. She explains that they work together in a lab at the university, and that her friend hasn’t been at work in two days and didn’t call out sick. The Doctor volunteers to break into the apartment if Jade thinks it’s valid, and once approved she pulls out her sonic and opens the door.
Inside, the apartment is swathed in cobwebs appropriate to longer than two days’ absence. They venture all the way into the friend’s bedroom, where they find her mummified in spider webs. The Doctor has the presence of mind to wonder where the responsible creature is now, and it doesn’t take long for them to discover a spider the size of a dog lurking under the bed.
They escape the bedroom and The Doctor gets garlic and vinegar from the kitchen to create a barrier that will deter the spider from leaving the part of the apartment that’s isolated from the garbage chute, which is where Jade suspects it gained entry. The Doctor corners Jade and demands an explanation about what’s going on and what she knows.
Jade explains that she and her deceased friend have been part of a team working to genetically modify spiders so their assets can be taken advantage of. Their silk is stronger than Kevlar, for example. Just then, Graham arrives and tells them that he’s found unnerving evidence of giant spiders (as well as oppressive memories of Grace) in the house. Jade takes Ryan, Graham and The Doctor to her lab and shows them her work, assuring them that there’s no way her friend took anything home and explaining that they’ve observed some bizarre activity in Sheffield’s spider population that seems to lack a pattern.
She shows The Doctor a map of the city with color-coded pins identifying the different kind of aberrant spider incidents– species being seen out of season, abnormally large spiders, abnormal groupings of spiders, etc. Jade can’t see a unifying factor, but The Doctor sees the points of a web and connects the dots with a marker. Revealed at their center is… the site of the new hotel.
As The Doctor and company cotton on to the hotel being the key to the spider issue, Yas and Najia are learning about it first-hand.
When Yas arrives to collect Najia, Robertson is furious to find out that Najia hasn’t already left the premises and that she’s let someone else into his building. He attempts to humiliate Najia by inviting both of them to see one of the rooms she failed to have ready for opening and takes them into a suite covered with cobwebs.
While they’re there, an alarm sounds on his watch that indicates it’s time for him to go to the restroom. He and his security guard leave Najia and Yas alone while they find a restroom in a cleaner room. As soon as they’re gone, Najia and Yas hear a skittering in the wall, and Najia confides that she’d checked that room the day before and hadn’t seen any cobwebs at all.
After Robertson relieves himself next door, he compulsively washes his hands. He’s scrutinizing his reflection in the mirror above the sink when a noise coming from the bathtub attracts his attention. He moves closer to investigate, and the tub begins to crack and shake. Then a spider the size of a Buick crashes through the tub and starts advancing on him.
He screams, and security Kevin comes in with his gun. Robertson sneaks out of the bathroom, leaving both his cell phone and Kevin alone with the beast. Kevin shoots his gun repeatedly and screams, and Robertson runs away.
The Doctor and her crew arrive at the hotel. The Doctor calls Najia’s phone to tell Yas that they’re coming, and they meet downstairs just as Kevin’s gunshots ring out. They race towards the sound and find Robertson cowering in the corridor.
He explains what’s just happened after The Doctor flashes her psychic paper at him and identifies herself as a crisis investigator. She and Yas go in to see what’s happened with Kevin, and she leans into the hole where the bathtub once was and sees for herself the giant arachnid.
They all head for the hotel’s exit, only to find that it’s been completely covered with webbing since they entered. The Doctor relies on Najia’s knowledge of the hotel’s layout and assets to find a brightly lit place where they can reasonably expect not to be attacked, and they head for the kitchen.
In the kitchen, The Doctor divides the crew up into fact-finding teams. Ryan and Graham are dispatched to capture a spider and assess how big they are. Robertson takes the rest to look at plans for the hotel.
As The Doctor looks into the hotel, it comes out that Robertson’s company repurposes ugly, toxic, or otherwise unwanted sites in cities around the world for his hotels. This site used to be mines. He protests as The Doctor takes him, Najia, Yas and Jade down to see the mining tunnels that are still accessible under the hotel.
In the tunnels, they first find Frankie’s and Kevin’s corpses, cocooned in spiderwebs like food saved for later. Everyone agrees that spiders don’t eat humans, and The Doctor suspects that the spiders are so confused by what’s happened to them that they’ve just saved these beings without really knowing if they were food. Robertson sees Kevin’s gun on the ground below his cocoon and pockets it when nobody’s looking.
Deeper in, they discover that the mining tunnels have been repurposed as a landfill. Robertson explains that he also owns a waste-disposal company, and that using the tunnels under his hotel this way is good business sense. The Doctor rips into him for having carelessly created a morass of toxic waste under his hotel, asking repeatedly (without getting an answer) if this is the kind of thing he’s doing at all of his hotels around the world.
Jade recognizes the name of his waste disposal company and realizes that they’ve been taking spider carcasses and chemicals from her lab and disposing of them in this landfill without properly treating or containing anything. The spider pheromones her friend from work must have had on her are the link between the spiders having found her at home and having been present at the hotel.
Robertson, who plans to run for president in the U.S. in 2020, is adamant that he didn’t do anything wrong. He only signed contracts, and he can’t be blamed if people under him didn’t do their jobs.
Upstairs, Graham and Ryan succeed in capturing a cat-sized spider. Then they go searching around the hotel to see if that’s as big as they get. While they search, Ryan shares that he’s read a letter from his dad that Graham found at the house. His dad has asked him to come live with him because they’re “proper family,” and Ryan doesn’t like the language or the invitation. Before the moment gets too familial, Graham realizes they’re in a ballroom they haven’t checked the ceiling of. They turn their torches up and find a spider the size of a van above them.
They bolt, and when they escape the room they reconnect with the rest of the crew.
The Doctor asks Robertson to take them all to the panic room he’s revealed he has installed in each of his hotels. Inside is enough food and water to keep him alive for six months, as well as an entertainment system and a book. He also volunteers that he has enough weapons for them to go out and massacre the spiders, but The Doctor insists that they’re going to treat these living beings with dignity.
Her plan, which is far more humane, is to lure the smaller spiders into the panic room with vibration that will imitate food and then leave them there to die slowly. Then they’ll use essential oils from the hotel’s spa to lure the van-sized mother spider out of the hotel. (To where? She doesn’t say.) Ryan recommends using the panic room’s entertainment system to blast rapper Stormzy‘s “Where Do You Know Me From?”
The plan is successful, and the smaller spiders (smaller being a very relative term in this episode) come from all over the hotel, streaming into the panic room. Once they’re inside, Yas and Ryan shut them in, sealing their fate.
In the ballroom, The Doctor and Jade notice that the mother spider is ailing before they begin trying to lure her anywhere. Jade deduces that she’s grown so large she can’t get enough oxygen and that she’s suffocating. They decide to just.. watch her die? when Robertson comes charging in with Kevin’s gun and shoots the giant spider to death. He speechifies about how he’ll be president and storms out.
Afterwards, everyone goes back to their respective homes. The Doctor goes to the TARDIS, and Ryan, Yas and Graham all follow her there. Yas tells her family she’s going to get bread and that she’ll tell Najia how she knows The Doctor when she returns. Of course, they’re all ready to travel the universe with The Doctor, so that return might take a while.
When they enter the TARDIS, The Doctor thinks they’ve come for a proper goodbye. Instead, Graham explains that he doesn’t want to let grief take its course while he lives in a house full of memories. Ryan doesn’t want to go back to his dull job. Yas wants to see more and know more. The Doctor is delighted and invites them to help her pull the lever that will launch them into adventure.
So, on the one hand this was a thrilling episode, well-timed to precede Halloween with its massive creepy-crawlies. On the other hand, the wrap-up was a bit under-done! We see Yas’s dad collecting all of his evidence into rubbish bags and cleaning their apartment. We do not see:
- Any resolution to Robertson’s hotel being atop an illegal dump or that he’s super awful
- Confirmation that the spider issue was successfully contained by what they did
- Acknowledgement of the real evidence both Frankie and Robertson had on their discarded mobile phones of his company’s dirty deeds.
Is it just me, or does Doctor Who usually throw in at least a couple of lines like: “What will happen to all of the toxic waste and other creatures we left behind in that mine?” “I called UNIT, and they’re on it.”??
At least the loose ends will give me something to contribute to the conversation on AnyWho tomorrow!