Spiders! Really giant f***ing spiders! Yas’ Mum! More spiders! Toxic waste! Mr Big! A very, very subtle Trump/MAGA analogy that you may have missed! Supremely huge f***ing spiders! Friends! Ultimate sympathy for the monsters because it’s not their fault even though they’re f***ing spiders! Team TARDIS! Spiders!
Well, that was a lot of fun. A lot of fun. I had fun. Did you have fun? Do I sound like the Doctor doing small talk now? Is it OK? Or just awkward? Move on with the recap? Right you are.
After last week’s more serious tone, this week returned to a more classic Who monster-of-the-week format. The monsters being, of course, GIANT F***ING SPIDERS.
And look, I think it’s great to have more sombre subject matters, things that teach the kiddies good lessons, but HOOOOOO BOY is it easier to crack gags about spiders and Carrie Bradshaw’s BF without worrying about accidentally offending people - except perhaps for Dr Rob Raven, the Queensland Museum’s resident spider expert (a righteous science dude who will put a tarantula on you for funsies, not even a lie, it’s amazing).
Oh yes, did I mention? There WILL be many Sex and the City references in this recap, because Chris Noth’s time on Law & Order is a bit too 90s, and I haven’t seen that The Good Wife show everyone seems to love, so Sex and the City it is. And don’t even try to tell me how “outdated” and “problematic” Sex and the City is - it told women’s perspectives on sex and relationships frankly, albeit in a fantastical New York City, money’s no object way. Trying to shut the whole thing down because a couple of storylines weren’t super woke is kind of another form of sexism, in my opinion. Also the ragging on Carrie Bradshaw business. “Oh, she’s just awful, and a whinger, and a bad person, and selfish!” YES BECAUSE MALE CENTRAL CHARACTERS HAVE NEVER BEEN ANY OF THOSE THINGS EVER IN COMEDIES HELLO LOUIS CK WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU THEN?
Sorry, I get my nose out of joint about that sort of thing, women characters not being allowed to be selfish. What do you call Cersei Lannister? Daenarys Targaryen? Sansa Stark? Does it stop them being the heroes of their own story? Like hell it does. But because Carrie Bradshaw is selfish about “trivial” things like shoes and boyfriends, it’s bad. Screw you, misogyny, I’m not having it.
Ahem. Where was I? Oh yes. Shalob, Aragog and that giant robot spider from Wild Wild West descending on Sheffield for a right royal eight-knees-up.
S11, E4: Arachnids in the UK
First up, ten points for the punny Sex Pistols episode title, I very much enjoyed that. Sid Vicious would be proud, if he wasn’t dead and a probable murderer.
The episode opens on Mr Big (the nickname still fits, this character is another big shot) getting angry that his latest luxury hotel opening isn’t going according to plan. His assistant/minion/niece’s wife is concerned about *something* that they conveniently don’t spell out because it’s too early in the storyline. All we know is that there is a PROBLEM that Mr Big DOESN’T HAVE TIME FOR BECAUSE BUSINESS.
Mr Big is clearly used to getting his own way; he’s upset when his bodyguard Kevin tells him the helicopter is ready to go, because only he determines when he goes anywhere.
Then a kindly-spoken woman enters, explaining she’s the hotel’s soon-to-be new general manager, and wanted to do some extra work before the place opened for business.
Mr Big immediately fires her for showing initiative and dedication, and orders his minion to “fix” the problem in one hour. Convenient deadline for us, given it’s the average running time of an episode.
Later, we discover that - GASP, TWIST! - the newly-fired general manager is Najia, aka Yas’ Mum. But more on her later.
Yas has returned to Sheffield with Graham and Ryan, the Doctor having finally got them back to their right planet and right timeline. Her initial delight at getting the right cosmic address soon turns bittersweet; she doesn’t make eye contact as she outlines how she’ll get back in the box and travel about by herself, so much to see, it’s fine, it’s totally fine.
I did wonder at this point how other Doctors reacted to the prospect of imminent loneliness; of course, all Doctors have treasured their companions, otherwise they wouldn’t be the Doctor. But not a lot have seemed so lonely so quickly as Jodie Whittaker did. I wonder if it’s just this Doctor, or if it’s a feminine interpretation - that she’s Carrie faced with the prospect of losing Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte.
Yas, who somewhere between Montgomery and now fashioned her hair into a style that can best be described as “Baby Spice circa 1997”, invites the Doctor up for tea, and before she’s even got the words out the Doctor has slammed the TARDIS door shut and is hurrying them all upstairs. “I love tea!” she exclaims, beckoning Ryan and Graham to follow. But even though it’s been only half an hour of Sheffield time since the Doctor zapped them out to space, Graham feels the pull of his home, the place he shared with Grace, so he steps out for the moment.
Upstairs, a somewhat panicked yet perfectly groomed woman is attempting to get into a neighbouring flat to Yas’, but tells the inquiring Doctor everything is fine, it’s totally fine.
We then get to meet Yas’ Dad and sister, and I LOVE HER DAD. He was just the Dad-est of Dads. He Dadded so hard, particularly with his crazy collection of waste just clogging up the living room because “conspiracy”.
The Doctor is immediately intrigued, but before they can talk further, she luckily finds a plot device on a benchtop. A parcel got delivered to a neighbour but she hasn’t answered their knocks for days.
“I’ll just go get it for you!” chirps the Doctor, who with the awkward small talk and easily distracted nature is really playing up to the “I’m somewhat on the spectrum” vibe that Peter Capaldi honed with his politeness cards and such.
Off she and Ryan trot, and introduce themselves to Jane, the well-groomed woman who’s so cool and elegant I suspect she was actually Meghan Markle, clearly having one last shot at pop culture fame before fading into obscurity in the Royal Family where absolutely nobody will ever be interested in her or her clothes or her baby bump ever, nope.
The Doctor sonics into the flat to find a Dickensian horrorshow of cobwebs, complete with the cocooned corpse of Anna, the unfortunate tenant. “Spiders don’t do that, do they?” Ryan asks, and the Doctor says that’s the wrong question.
Now I have to interrupt here and say that logically, Ryan’s question is the right question to ask. Has any regular person heard of a spider wrapping up a human, beyond in fantasy novels? And not to be a pedant, but the Doctor’s reply doesn’t make sense - she says “You should be asking where is the spider that did this.” So she’s jumped straight in to affirm that yes, in fact, spiders DO do this. I mean, I know there’s that whole internet meme going around about trusting what your eyes tell you, but still, Ryan’s reaction of “No way, was that just…” is very human.
I think the exchange would have been stronger if it went more like this:
Ryan: “Spiders don’t do that, do they?”
Doctor: (beat) “Let’s see if we find a spider.”
Then boom! Spider emerges from under the bed (the whole looking in the closet fake-out was weird and unnecessary unless your goal is to scare children into searching their closets, which is fair, by why not make the whole “monster under the bed” scenario REALLY punchy?).
I’m just saying, I’m available for hire.
They manage to sidle out of the room and Ryan holds the door while the now ridiculously strong and pissed off spider rams against it like it’s on meth. The Doctor manages to MacGyver up a deterrent circle using garlic and vinegar, and they bug out of there.
Graham, meanwhile enjoys a series of encounters with his memories of Grace, fading in and out of focus while giving him instructions on how to do the basics - you know, take the bins out, continue on with his life without her, that sort of thing. But just as the Doctor discovers the crazy spider, he finds a slightly smaller - but still terrifyingly large - one in their attic. Seriously, the dude walks up creepy stairs in the attic, finds the spider and… nothing. He just books it back over to Yas’ flat in time to catch the rest of the gang having just escaped their own arachnid. Seriously, any time anyone is sent up to an attic, they legitimately should have something jump on their face. Right on the face. That is Televisual Narrative Requirement #485, but somehow Graham is just a little bit bamboozled.
The Doctor bails up Meghan Markle to find out why she didn’t flip out or faint when Anna’s silky new morph suit was revealed. It turns out Jane is a Spider Scientist, and Anna had been on their admin team. Also because “it’s not the first incident” because the Spiders of Sheffield are going absolutely crazy.
As the gang walk to Meghan Markle’s conveniently-located-just-across-a-bridge lab, Yas is driving up to the fancy new hotel to pick up her Mum, aka the just-fired-new-general-manager.
For some reason, Najia is not waiting outside for a lift to GTFO as quickly as possible, but is just hanging around in the lobby like someone trying to leech the wifi.
“Don’t come in or somebody will see!” she upbraids Yas, instead of just WAITING OUTSIDE LIKE A NORMAL PERSON WHO’S JUST BEEN SACKED.
She proceeds to tell Yas she’s lost her job, but Mr Big and his gun-happy bodyguard stop them in their tracks. He gets cranky at her again for messing up the rooms, but she cannot explain how they all seem to have been turned into Miss Havisham’s Dream Reno.
At the lab, Meghan Markle explains how scientists have been working on genetic experiments with spiders to build stronger, tougher things.
SCIENTISTS. WHEN WILL YOU LEARN YOUR “RESEARCH” AND “EXPERIMENTS” ARE NOT IN THE NATIONAL INTEREST? DID YOU NEVER WATCH DEEP BLUE SEA?
Meghan says the uni, the police and pest control people have all been getting reports of out of character spider sightings, and she can’t tell if they’re confused, angry or scared. Or horny, she forgot to mention horny. Why is no one considering the possibility of a mass spider gang-bang? Arachnids just trying to get all eight legs over? Is that just me? Am I weird?
The Doctor realises it might be a message, and does some fancy Sharpie work between the pin points on Meghan’s map to come up with a central location - GASP! - the fancy hotel.
The gang is all reunited while Mr Big is taking a “scheduled bathroom break” next door. It was obviously quite the diarised dump, as it brings forth foul demons from behind the sparkling new ceramics fittings. Mr Big makes himself out as a tough guy, but it turns out the spider scares him more than commitment.
Mr Big is such a #boss that when Kevin bursts in to protect him, he slips out and closes the door on poor Kevin, sending his bodyguard to a silky demise of his own. There’s a truly creepy shot of Kevin’s body being dragged into the bathtub and below, so I hope parents are ready for their children to never bathe again.
Mr Big is worried he’s been compromised, but he’s left his never-out-of-his-hand cellphone in the bathroom with Kevin, it winds up on the floor, and the issue of kompromat only briefly comes up again when Graham mentions the Russians, but then is quickly discarded.
The Doctor & crew show up, and rush to the suite where “that bloke”, aka Mr Big, is panting and panicked.
The Doctor pulls out the psychic paper (interesting; I thought she’d said her pockets were empty but that was obviously hanging around in the third bench drawer of the TARDIS) and demands a straight answer, to which he replies:
“A giant spider just smashed through my bathtub and took out my bodyguard Kevin!”
Fair enough, very succinct, returns the Doctor, almost impressed. While she and Yas go to investigate (with the Doctor dangling her way to subterranean spider action), Mr Big is left with the rest of the crew. “You’re that bloke,” says Graham, as he and Ryan look quite impressed, even though we still don’t know his name. Oh yes, that’s an excellent Sex and the City reference in itself, given it took until the very final episode to reveal Mr Big’s real name.
Racing back downstairs to get out, the gang find themselves trapped by cobwebs that have been spun in the few minutes they were upstairs. The spiders are clearly going nuts; either that or Spider-Man is around trying to thwip them into shape.
The gang race to the kitchen for safety, and there’s an amusing exchange between the Doctor and Mr Big while she tries to understand who he is. Jake Robertson, as it transpires, is a billionaire businessman with a luxury hotel portfolio one of his many fingered pies - not, as the Doctor assumes, Ed Sheeran.
At this point, if you’re eagle-eyed, you might have started seeing the Trump analogy beginning to take shape. However it’s somewhat diverted when they discuss Jake Robertson’s potential 2020 Presidential tilt results in Meghan Markle dismissing it as just a stunt to get back at Trump, someone he’s hated for years.
Say what you like about Mr Big, but damn he delivers his response of “Please... don’t mention that name” with perfect amount of bitterness and disgust. Although it does suggest that he plans to run as a Democrat (unless he’s hoping to secure the Republican nomination instead of Trump, which I believe is rare in the case of sitting presidents of any party), which leaves us with the greater message of “They’re all the same, bin the lot of them” when it comes to politicians. Although while he’s certainly displayed anti-spider venom, he’s yet to show out and out pro-Nazi support, so maaaayyyyybe he’s the lesser of two evils?
There’s also a lovely dynamic here with Yas and Yas’ Mum - mostly on her reiterating that her name is “Najia” not “Yas’ Mum” and trying to find out how Yas knows all these strange people. Yas of course just wants her Mum to shut up, but I think it’s great that despite everything happening, the mother’s concern is still “What kind of people has my daughter been hanging around?” It’s nice that she doesn’t just take the Doctor as the immediate boss - although clearly Ryan, Graham and Yas have progressed to that stage, as evidenced when they tell Mr Big off in unison.
Graham and Ryan are sent off to catch a spider, while the rest head off to look at the hotel plans. The Doctor thinks Najia might be the link between the hotel and poor Anna back at their apartment block; Najia denies any wrongdoing and insists on knowing more about the Doctor. She even asks Yas if they’re seeing each other, and doesn’t seem convinced by Yas’ explanation that they’re just friends, and the Doctor has in fact saved her life a few times already.
Mr Big enjoys this awkward family moment before explaining that his business model is to repurpose former industrial sites into luxury venues. He’s got 15 already, but isn’t willing to say what was on the site before his fancy hotel sprang up. But Najia knows - it was coal mining country.
I was confused by Meghan Markle’s demand for Graham and Ryan to go and see if there were more, BIGGER spiders running around the corridors, as the terrifyingly giant one they found clearly wasn’t good enough proof. Surely as a scientist she could have extrapolated out from there? Assumed that they would keep growing, given her previous statements about arachnid evolutionary quirks? Why send Graham and Ryan back out into certain harm’s way? Is she an evil scientist?
The Doctor leads Mr Big, Yas and Najia to a “Danger Zone” that earlier we had seen Frankie, Mr Big’s minion, who had earlier gone down there to film a whistleblower tape but been gobbled up offscreen. Meghan Markle arrives in time to join them, which is convenient since the others had to use the plans to guide them there, and Meghan Markle had never been in the hotel before but managed to track them down. I repeat… evil scientist?
The gang then find the cocooned corpses of poor Frankie and Kevin; Mr Big is quick to blame them, but the Doctor and Meghan Markle insist this is not typical spider behaviour.
Around a corner they find the true culprit - a steaming pool of toxic waste dumped as landfill in the mine by one of Mr Big’s waste management companies, ready for a fancy hotel to go on top. It’s standard procedure, he argues, perfect vertical integration.
Sigh. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times - capitalism would be perfect if it wasn’t for the giant spiders.
Meghan Markle and the Doctor work out that the very same waste management company worked for the university and the Experimental Spider Research Lab, meaning a not-quite-dead spider wound up in landfill, soaked itself in methane and whatnot, then Ninja Turtled itself into a nightmarish creature from your worst nightmares.
Mr Big absolves himself of any responsibility, saying he just signs the cheques. Of course, it’s understandable he wasn’t to know all of the shonkiness taking place down the line, but it is rather Trumpian the way he flatly rules out his role in allowing it to continue for so long.
Najia has the best line in this scene, figuring out that the landfill has been leaking out, backing up her husband’s conspiracy theory. “Do you have any idea how annoying it is when my husband’s right?” she deadpans. I really think Najia is the Take-No-Shit MVP this episode.
Graham and Ryan are on the hunt for a bigger spider, because they clearly decided saying “Yeah sure” and just lying was too sensible an option.
Ryan uses the moment to have a tender moment with Graham, saying he read a letter his Dad had sent him apologising for not being at his Nan’s funeral. He said that his Dad had referred to himself as Ryan’s “proper family”, and Ryan was cranky about it. This closening of their relationship was interrupted by a “Did you check the ceiling? Neither did I” piece of classic horror movie dialogue and the appearance of THE GIANTIEST F***-OFFIEST MOTHER F***ING SPIDER OF ALL.
They managed to escape the mega-murderer, and got back into the kitchen at exactly the same time as the rest of the crew. So convenient, these convergences.
Mr Big shows them his fancy panic room, and highlights an entire Texas worth of guns he has on standby. Obviously everyone disagrees, prompting the MAGA/American gun culture analogy to reach fever pitch with Mr Big yelling “What is wrong with this country? Why don’t you just do what normal people do, get a gun, shoot things like a civilised person?”
The Doctor knows she has to lure the spiders to Mr Big’s panic room to seal them inside and let them die… but it’s more humane, I guess? I mean, nevermind the fact that Mr Big just said he had six months’ worth of food in there. Maybe they’ll tear into all the supplies first, then start eating each other, until only a few remain, so huge and bloated, they can stay in the panic room until Meghan Markle comes back secretly to fetch them. Because she is an evil scientist.
But how to attract the spiders, which respond to vibrations? It’s Ryan to the rescue, breaking out English rapper Stormzy’s 2015 hit Know Me From, which is totally something I already had spinning on my iTunes, and absolutely not something I had to re-listen to several times to understand enough of the lyrics to google to work out what the song was called. No, I’m totally hip with the kids.
The spiders start moving to the music, so at this point the show has basically turned into the Whacking Day episode of The Simpsons, only with Barry White updated with some sick grime beats.
Whatever, the plan works, and the Doctor and crew descend on the ballroom to find the mother spider, armed with backpacks full of essential oil spider-busting fluid like they’re the Ghostbusters of Perfect Potion.
But Meghan Markle proves that perhaps she is not such an Evil Scientist after all, realising that the mother spider is so C H O N K Y she’s suffocating on her own H E F T.
But that’s not enough for Mr Big, who’s been waiting behind the doors ready to jump out at an opportune moment with the pistol he retrieved from Kevin’s webby corpse in the old tunnels.
“My hotel, my rules!” he storms in, ignoring the Doctor’s pleas to stop. Munching down heavily on the scenery, he declares “How’s this for fire and fury?” then shoots Mumma Spider dead with one bullet.
Everyone is disgusted of course, because they’ve forgotten that just a few seconds ago they believed the spiders were a deadly threat, and instead are sad for these beautiful creatures knew not what they were doing.
Mr Big defends his actions as saying that’s what’s going to get him into the White House, and again I’m a bit confused. It *sounded* like the fire and fury line was a dig at Trump, suggesting he’s going to be *actually* fiery and furious, rather than the human equivalent of a leaf blower. But then, once again, that positions him as a character to out-Trump Trump. I’m not sure the Democrats want to be getting onboard the Jack Robertson train. I do hope we get to see him again though later in the season. Mr Big ALWAYS comes back.
Mr Big storms out, leaving the Doctor to look sadly on the corpse of Big Mumma Spider, and Graham to utter “God help us all”.
Weirdly, there’s no resolution after that. We don’t actually see the spiders locked away in the panic room; their deaths (if indeed, they DO die) are left off screen, and we never hear any more from Meghan Markle. No remorse about her lab’s experiments, no call in to the university’s ethics committee to double check their research parameters.
And while Yas might have been very defensive of her role as a police officer when her Dad was calling her a policewoman, she doesn’t seem to put a call in to the cops to get them to check out the hotel, maybe arrest the waste management company executives responsible for the toxic waste dumping, or even just have poor young Anna from next door’s spindly corpse removed. As far as we know, she’s just rotting there while Yas’ Dad cooks up more dodgy pakora.
Ah well, them’s the breaks on Doctor Who.
As it is, the eventually ending is much more inspiring, as Yas, Ryan and Graham all decide to officially join “Team TARDIS”. Their reasons are all different: Yas is dissatisfied with being Constable Plod; Ryan sees no future in his workshop job; and Graham believes travelling with the Doctor will help ease his grief at losing Grace.
It is somewhat weird that Yas just ups and leaves during the middle of family dinner - and her family are great! They’re a nice, nosy, bossy, annoying family! Her Mum is perceptive as f***! - and none of them seem to pack a change of clothes or a phone charger, but whatever. Team TARDIS is assembled and ready to go back into space.
I couldn’t help but wonder… even if you did had all the time in the world, is it worth spending any of it without people you love?
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