Doctor Who: Tosh Actually Rollicking Despite Inherent Silliness
Look, right, okay, I get it. I know that this is an episode a lot of people are going to dislike, and I totally accept that – Arachnids in the UK, this week’s outing of Doctor Who, was about as far removed from the artful, powerful Rosa we saw last week as it could possibly be. It was silly. It plucked a plot straight from a B-movie. It featured some truly terrible exposition. The CGI was duff, the music was dumb, the moralising was stuffy.
As I’ve been writing over on No But Listen all month, I have a soft spot for some shit, some camp, some nonsense. I’ll defend the Slitheen two-parter from season one, for goodness sake. Sometimes, I just want to sit down in front of Doctor Who and spend forty minutes with a big, goofy grin on my face, and nothing more. And that episode delivered on that front.
And that’s not to say that there wasn’t some really solid emotional grounding to this outing as well. As the gang return home for the first time since the opening episode, Graham is forced to return to a life with his wife – what Bradley Walsh does with the small, silent scenes in that house, alone with the ghost of a woman he’ll never see again, is powerful stuff, grounded in a sense of genuine grief that is solidified by the warmth of the character of Grace we saw in the season premiere. It feels real, painful, raw, but not overblown and pathos-grabbing. The few scenes Ryan and Graham share, scattered throughout the episode, as they try to navigate their relationship with the remaining members of the family and each other also hold a weight that grounds this from flying completely off the rails.
But damn, if this episode doesn’t try as hard as it can to undercut that. Chris Noth features as the villainous American businessman opening a luxury hotel on top of an unsafe waste site that has caused the creation of hundreds of mega-spiders that are currently overrunning the county. And yeah, it’s just as dumb as it sounds: Noth is beyond camp here, beyond cheese, from imbuing washing his hands with a sense of moustache-twirling villainy to firing someone twice over for good measure, but I like it a lot. I have a real soft spot for Noth after his turn in The Good Wife, and it’s nice to see a bad guy who’s actually not afraid to turn up the ridiculousness to at least memorable levels. Could I have done without the anti-gun stuff? Yeah, probably. But the politics at least had the good manners to be brief, to leave room for the rest of this batshittery to unfold.
And what batshittery is is. I know that a lot of people will find this just a little too silly for good measure, and honestly, they’re probably right, but at a certain point the story tipped over into madcap earnestness and just swept me right along with it. Jodie Whittaker is on excellent form here, bouncing through the comedy with a breeziness that feels second-nature, while Yaz finally gets a bit of grounding with the rest of her family. People are noshed on in giant cocoons, the spiders weave web-traps to capture victims, Yaz’s dad is bad at making pakora…it’s bloody silly, and I like it. Watching the gang charging around a giant hotel filled with murder-spiders was often just inherently entertaining, tea-time-TV nonsense that plugged into the drooling pleasure part of my brain and hit “go”. Even if that third act was a bit of a mess, and didn’t seem to do as good a job as it thought it did wrapping things up.
And, I know I shouldn’t be comparing to what came before, but I’m going to anyway – I couldn’t help but compare that little moment with Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor at the start of the episode with one with Capaldi’s last season. In this episode, Whittaker is about to take off across the galaxy alone once more, when Yas invites her up for tea – she agrees at once, gleeful, overjoyed, bouncing up the stairs and yammering about how she’s never had tea at Yas’s before, how exciting! It made me think of a scene at the end of the Extremis three-parter last season, wherein Capaldi basically told Bill that the only reason he bothered with the human race was because some of them weren’t utter shit, he supposed.
There’s something about the wide-eyed optimism of Whittaker’s Doctor that appeals to me – the way she finds a thrill in newness, no matter what that newness is. I know some people might find it grating, but it’s one of the things that drew me to the show in the first place (people call Eccleston’s Doctor the dark one, but they’re totally wrong), and I’m glad to see it return.
So, yes, Arachnids in the UK was a big pile of bollocksing nonsense. But, for a change, it was some bollocksing nonsense that did just enough to rise above the mire of mediocrity and strike out into sparky, genuinely entertaining territory. The world is miserable enough right now: just let me enjoy Jodie Whittaker chatting to a giant mother spider, alright?
What did you think of this incredibly odd episode? How are you enjoying the season so far? Let me know in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter or Tumblr! If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to check out the rest of my Doctor Who recaps right here, and also check in with my other recapping projects – I’m currently covering the first Harry Potter book as well as the current seasons of Riverdale and American Horror Story. If you want to read some of my fiction, please check out the ALPHA FEMALE erotica series (eighteen-plus, obviously), available on Amazon now. As ever, if you want to see more stuff like this, please consider supporting me on Patreon!
(header image courtesy of Doctor Who TV)