Arachnids in the UK.



TV Oh fuck, he's inflicted himself on the Doctor Who universe as well. Followers of my social media channel will know that a couple of years ago I made a pledge that this blog wouldn't mention the Cheesy Wotsit in Chief of those United States but since Chibbers brought it up this week, it simply can't go unaddressed now.  Back in the Monks trilogy, footage of the semi-sentient orangutan featured on their propaganda screens, but now we have conclusive dialogue proof that he is indeed the President when Arachnids in the UK is set.

According to the third edition of AHistory (the second volume of the fourth isn't out until early December), Obama served a single term between 2008 and 2012 (following the death of Winters in The Sound of Drums), with a President Mather taking over (as established in the BBC Eighth Doctor novel Trading Futures) until 2016 when Arnold Schwarznegger might have been a two term president (as per Bad Wolf).  I think we can now infer that his predecessor on the US version of The Apprentice will also be before him in The White House.  One term POTUSes all.

Except, oh ha, here's Chris Noth as Robertson, who doesn't seem like a Democrat, thinking about primarying the Annoying Orange, so time could be rewritten.  Unless Arnold, having managed to get the law change related to the nationality of a potential President, decides that the last thing America needs is another hotel magnate and decides to throw his hat in the ring having actually served in office and still ends up winning due to being moderate enough to attract swing voters.  Unless the Doctor ends up Robertson giving him the Harriet Jones treatment, although we know how well that turned out last time.

If all of that meandering through US politics in the Whoniverse implies that I wasn't otherwise engaged with the episode, that couldn't be further away from the truth.  Doctor Who is just so, so much fun again.  Returning to the sweet spot between Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures in terms of ambition, quality and tone, by removing the existential angst of its lead character, providing her with more low key threats and accompanying her with realistic, emotionally complex travelling mates, we're able to relax and revel in the action, verbal wordplay and physical comedy, shutting out the shitty real world for fifty minutes.

Spiders.  Shiver.  Despite all my other troubles, I've never really had phobias, especially not anything that could debilitate me and thankfully not arachnophobia.  Visiting the vivarium at the museum as a child and seeing the eight eyes of a massive tarantula glaring at me through a glass wall, whilst unpleasant, didn't leave me screaming for help.  So the test of the episode was whether it would produce spiders more convincing than in the Pertwee's regeneration story and if they'd be creepy enough to wig out even a cynical sausage like me drugged up to the nines on sertraline (Zoloft).

Well, yes, yes it did.  Turns out that if you scale them up to the size of a mechanoid and place your heroes in a confined space with them, that a nearly forty-four year old library studies graduate will sit with both hands over his mouth, his legs doing the exact opposite of a man spread, his head disappearing into the back of the armchair.  Fifteen years on and Doctor Who's now in a position to create Shelob quality beasties that are just plain huhuhuhuh and also thanks to Sallie Aprahamian's fine direction just as squidgy when they're not even on screen.

But they're notably also not a global threat.  As was most often the case in the classic era, these crawling creepies are only really menacing the metropolitan area of Sheffield and although there are some fatalities, there's no great invasion plan.  As per Eight Legged Freaks, they're the product of toxic sludge and poor waste management and simply going about the business of survival, any malevolence emanating from their inadvertent creators.

In these circumstances, the Doctor becomes a kind of benevolent pest controller, knowing that this is a threat which has to be neutralized, but without the appetite for straight genocide.  Each week we see the Thirteenth Doctor not so much reveal as reiterate the Time Lords core philosophies and Robertson's cold blooded murder of the mother from a cocktail of methane and sulphides and trichloroethylene goes against everything in her being.  Granted she is planning on drowning it in essential oils, but as soon as she sees its in distress, she backs away, allows nature to take hold.

With the usual caution about such comments in relation to a mysterious production order, Jodie is really hitting her stride now, making the mental leaps to understand who the Doctor is when she carries a bum bag.  As she explains in her interview with Craig "Cotton in Line of Duty" Parkinson on his excellent Two Shot Pod (listen here), she's not really had a role with this much agency before (I'm paraphrasing), with such complex language and intellectual underpinnings.  But to listen to her talking about travelling around the world alone for six months, inserting herself into conversations so as not to feel lonely, you can see why this is perfect casting.

The rest of the crew are settling in nicely.  After last week's deep dive, Tosin has less to do here but we're increasingly seeing his facility for comedy as Ryan makes shadow puppets in the lab while the Doctor is sleuthing the source of the spiders and introducing her to the works of Stormzy (which I've just added to the Spotify playlist of popular music in the series which I created in the week, alongside the dance tracks from The War Machines).  Despite my reservations for having such a large TARDIS crew, as on previous occasions, there is something to be said for having an ensemble of regular characters rather than having two dimensional "red shirts" each week without the potential emotional connection beyond some easy "ins" like threatened progeny.

That's especially true of Yaz who we discover this week might be bi.  But unlike previous LGBTQ+ characters this hasn't been foregrounded, we're just assuming as much since her mother, played with Coduri-like zeal by Shobna Gulati, considers both the Doctor and Ryan as potential dating material.  This is how it should be.  Hetrosexuality is considered the default in most dramas with everything else seen as a variation that can only exist as part of a foregrounded story element, whereas this approach feels more realistic.  Kudos too for also not making it a key part of the family dynamic, oh and giving us at least one family which is still complete unit and who haven't fallen through a crack in time or die in mysterious circumstances.

Even with all of this happening, the episode still found time to address Graham's grief, interacting with the ghostly figure of Grace.  Such moments are common in funerary tragedies but its rare that it should happen in Doctor Who in quite this way, without it being revealed (yet) to be an alien manifestation as per Torchwood's Lost Souls or Class's Nightvisiting or Doctor Who's Last Christmas.  Like Clara, Graham's thrust himself into adventure as a way of coping with the loss of a loved one, but with the maturity, enunciated by Bradley Walsh's humble features, to understand the substituting role his travels in the TARDIS will be, allowing him to put certain inevitable obligations to one side.

For a brief moment, while Graham and Ryan offered us their "it's you isn't it" I considered that Chris Noth was simply playing himself, the scene a meta-reference to the end of the casting trailer at the close of business on The Woman Who Fell To Earth when  the viewership probably said much the same thing.  A variation of both Big and Peter Florrick and apparently 45 although far too articulate, I think by the end we're meant to assume that Robertson will be back in the future, a trait that all of the antagonists have had so far this season.  If nothing else Mike Logan and Ronnie Brooks have finally met.  I really must get around to watching Law and Order: UK.  Is it any good?

Despite my enjoyment of the episode I do have a couple of questions.  Aren't there still some spiders loose in Sheffield somewhere, particularly in Yaz's neighbour's flat?  Who's going to clear up all the bodies, human and arachnid?  Whose going to inform Frankie's spouse that she's died?  What about all the webs about the place?  Is that underground landfill simply going to stay there?  Why isn't the Doctor also cheesed about the ill considered experimentation at Dr McIntyre's lab which somewhat led to the predicament and ensuing person slaughter, however well intentioned?  After the pun in tonight's episode title, can we have an Auton episode next season called Yaz and the Plastic Population?

Anyway, I'm off to go back and watch Inside No.9 which I missed whilst researching the Law & Order portion of this review so I'll fix the typos and tidy up the English tomorrow (updated 29/10/2018: All done.  I think).  Next week's looks like a homage to the wilder parts of the classic run and so the variety continues.  I'm trying to work out what a really duff version of this iteration would look like, especially with this cast.  It's such a relief to be back in a space when we can tune in and know we'll have something entirely watchable, with engaging characters, that doesn't feel like it has to innovate whilst simultaneously doing just that.

No comments:

Post a comment