The Doctor fights spiders, because why should I be allowed to sleep again?
It’s the near future or near past… either last week or next week. The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) returns to Sheffield with her companions, Graham, Yaz, and Ryan (Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill, and Tosin Cole). They decide to go to have tea with Yaz’s family, the Khans. However, the Doctor and Ryan go to retrieve a package for the family that was left with a neighbor and find out that the neighbor has been cocooned in giant spiderwebs by, you guessed it, giant spiders. They’re joined by arachnologist Jade McIntyre (Tanya Fear), a friend of the deceased, who says she has been observing odd size and behavior by spiders in the area. The audience, and soon the group, learn that the source of the spiders is the basement of a hotel run by American Jack Robertson (Chris Noth), who just fired Yaz’s mom Najia (Shobna Gulati) because he’s a rich a-hole.
After the Doctor and the TARDIS Trio (or Team TARDIS as the show says) arrive at the hotel, they quickly find out that there are giant spiders everywhere and that, in a bizarre twist, they’re just old-fashioned B-movie monsters that have grown from toxic waste. Yes, it turns out that the billionaire hotel magnate bought a coal mine, turned it into a landfill for toxic waste, then built a luxury hotel on it. Well, ultimately, the spiders end up not being a huge problem because the queen spider grows so big she can’t respirate using book lungs. However, Robertson shoots it to death before it can die naturally, just so he can say he did and bolster his potential political career.
At the end of the episode, the Doctor plans to leave, but the three join her and ask to come along. They depart to places unknown.
Last episode, I had to laud the writers for having the guts to not use another allegory to get their point across. This episode, I’m telling them that they should have thought of a better one. The Spiders are basically a consequence of human ignorance and giving one person the ability to disclaim responsibility through use of corporate veils, which is a great thing to comment on… but they end up mostly just saying that this guy is a dick.
First, if you want us to feel sorry for the spiders, and they kind of do, don’t pick spiders. They skitter and most people are afraid of them. If you’re going to spend the episode saying “spiders don’t eat people” and other stuff like that, you can’t also HAVE THEM DOING THAT THE WHOLE TIME. That’s like spending the movie going “the guy in the hockey mask just wants hugs” while watching Jason Vorhees slaughter people. I get that they’re mutants, but the Doctor repeating that they’re harmless around the corpses of their victims just makes her seem stubborn. Also, this marks the first time that I think Doctor Who has ever actually obeyed the “Square-cube law,” which makes giant animals nearly impossible, something that seems out of place in a show which has a blue box that doesn’t obey any laws of physics.
Second, Chris Noth’s Robertson is out of place. The character isn’t bad, in fact I hope they use him again, but he’s completely wrong within this story. He’s a greedy, rich industrialist who is planning on becoming president of the US solely to spite Donald Trump, with whom he shares a great number of idiosyncrasies. He’s selfish, a coward, a germophobe, and appears to not actually have any empathy for anyone or anything. The problem is, he’s never as wrong as you expect a villain to be, but they also don’t really point out why a system that allows someone like him also has issues. Basically, they just say “this guy’s a dick” but don’t try to do anything with that point. It’s really driven home when the Doctor gets angry at him for shooting the dying spider, but he literally just walks out without really suffering at all or caring about the deaths, as he is pretty much immune from consequence. Now, if the episode had done more to point out that he’s not immune because of who he is, but that he is who he is BECAUSE he’s immune, that would have helped. But, maybe next time.
Actually, Robertson continues the line of mediocre villains this season. Tim Shaw, Ilin, Krasko… none of them are the level of memorable foe that this show usually produces. I appreciate that they’re letting Jodie Whittaker and company get their feet before they throw them against some of the old enemies, but dammit, give us some better bad guys in the meantime.
On the other hand, we had some development in this episode and those character moments are amazing. We have Ryan doing shadowpuppets in the background while the Doctor deals with Jade to crack the new mystery in one of the most genuine moments in the show. Graham visits his now empty home and sees visions of the woman he loved trying to give him some comfort. Yaz is revealed to have interesting relationships with all of her family members. The team really is coming together.
Overall, gonna give this episode a B-. It’s not bad, per se, but it could be a lot better, as this season has proved.
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