With Arachnids in the UK, Doctor Who (BBC America, Sundays, 8/7C) returns to one of the genres it does particularly well – horror. Time to start watching from between your fingers (or from behind your sofa)!
Arachnids in the UK opens in a creepy hotel (shades of The Shining) with a mogul named Robertson (Chris Noth, Sex and the City, The Good Wife) giving his assistant, Frankie (Jaleh Alp, Thorne: Scardycat) an hour to fix a problem. They’re interrupted by a woman who was hired to be the hotel’s general manager.
Meanwhile, The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) finally gets Yaz (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Graham (Bradley Walsh) home to Sheffield, it doesn’t take long for them to discover that something’s up with the spiders in the city.
Annie, one of Yaz’s neighbors, turns up wrapped in cobwebs – and it’s not the first incident! To make matters even more intriguing, Annie’s friend Jade (Tanya Fear, Kick-Ass 2) seems to have some idea about what’s going on.
Jade is a research scientist, specializing in arachnids, and she knows the spiders in Sheffield are not behaving normally.
Written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Sallie Aprahamian (The Bill, Casualty), Arachnids in the UK mixes science fiction and horror in the tradition of great B-movies like Them and Tarantula and Eight-Legged Freaks.
There might be a quasi-scientific explanation for Sheffield’s big honkin’ spiders, but – creepy crawlies aside – the villain of the piece isn’t the corrupt businessman/would be politician, of the giant arachnids, it’s the lack of regard for the planet and its delicately balanced ecology.
Also, the kind of irresponsibility that leads to the destruction of that balance.
The ep is a clever mix of fun, thrills and some genuinely creepy and scary moments. There are plenty of reasons to watch from behind the sofa (a true Doctor Who tradition) and as many character moments that give us insight into The Doctor’s new friends (who doesn’t sometimes feel that their family might just drive them nuts?).
The series hasn’t forgotten Graham and Ryan’s grief, either. Grace’s (Sharon D. Clarke) ghost hovers over the two as they find themselves home in Sheffield.
We also see just how serious Doctor Thirteen is about not harming living beings of any kind. That might make her job just a bit tougher, but she’s more than up for the challenge.
Arachnids in the UK is the best episode of the new Doctor, so far.
Final Grade: A