So far Series 11 has been an absolute delight for fans of Doctor Who with perhaps the strongest start for a new Doctor since David Tennant’s 10th Doctor replaced Chris Eccelston’s 9th. Following the traditional flow of episodes and timing very well with Halloween weekend, fans now get to enjoy the 13th Doctor’s first “watching behind the sofa!” episode with ‘Arachnids in the UK’ and interesting to see that it is focusing on the very human fear of spiders going from the trailer.
With what fans are referring to as the ‘Team TARDIS’ group of three companions, despite the Doctor not using that actual term yet this series, having to scramble for screen time, I have been waiting for Yasmin to come centre stage in a story and for Mandip Gil to really get something to sink her teeth into as Ryan and by proxy Graham have had more camera time and importance in the first three episodes than her. Yas has so far for me at least, had a strong connection with the Doctor and is able to read the emotions of her with more clarity and empathy than the guys. So when the Doctor finally returns the team back to Sheffield in right time zone and looks apprehensive about having to continue alone as both Graham and Ryan seem very happy to be heading home, it is Yas who reads the situation and quickly invites the Doctor home for Tea for which the Doctor jumps at the opportunity.
I loved how Jodie performed this scene portraying the genuine and almost fear for her Doctor to suddenly be alone after her first adventures since regenerating and reminded me right away of when the 10th Doctor had a similar moment with Rose, unsure if she would continue to travel following his regeneration and also how Rose herself was also unsure of this strange new person claiming to be the same Doctor she had travelled with. There was fragility in the fear that she would be suddenly all alone for the first time, which seemed to be a daunting reality for her so jumping at the chance to go and have Tea with Yas and her family to continue that connection was rather joyful.
Getting to see Yasmin’s family as well was a great way to see what Yas was risking by travelling with the Doctor but also showing a family once again such as with Rose, Martha and Donna, though I never actually found Martha’s family too interesting.
Something else that I have noticed with the 13th Doctor is her almost 6th sense ability to detect that something may not be wrong, noticing the little things in the people around her that trigger her ‘Doctor Sense’ and the immediate reaction to ask if anything is wrong and if she can help, such as noticing someone in possible distress knocking on one of Yasmin’s neighbours doors leading to the main story of something rather sinister at the local University putting them front and centre of the action.
I do like how this episode keeps the scare factor pretty grounded in very real terms by using spiders but dialling up the arachnophobia levels right up to 11, which no doubt means any viewers creeped out by spiders naturally have either disappeared by the sofa or just flatly turned it off, and I hope they are just behind the sofa watching through their fingers. The effects are yet again very well done, the CGI blending very well with the new almost US style of film quality this series is using. It just works and for now does not stand out as overused CGI by using real stunt and effects along with the CGI, which for Doctor Who is pretty good.
The inclusion of a successful, very wealthy yet total douchebag American in the form of character and owner of the hotel and epicentre for the giant spider problem, Robertson is very on the nose especially when they mention he is running for President in 2020 before dropping Trump’s name. Doctor Who often mentions real world cultural aspects but this felt more political commentary than just a random A stereotypical american businessman. But the social commentary continues in to environmental territory by the discovery of what caused the spider problem which again, very current in terms of how plastic waste is very much in the public conscious right now.
Bradley Walsh continues to surprise me each with with his role as Graham, and I have to confess that going into Series 11 I had expected him to be used as the generic comic relief and was not looking forward to him being a part of the show. But as with his other dramatic acting roles, his performance of Graham is moving both in how he deals with Ryan but also in his processing of the loss of his wife from the opening episode. It is subtle and understate but strong at the same time, even Ryan who is usually the star companion in the story takes a back seat to both Graham and Yasmin whilst also having his own moment in the form of a letter from his real father that he is reluctant to open.
Arachnids in the UK on the whole was a pretty pleasant episode with a very human non alieny story that will no doubt put many behind their sofas but then brought it back to a very human level which held a mirror up to numerous current affair world issues before wrapping things up with a very lovely moment for the Doctor. There is still no real massive series story arc as yet and no little teases or threads being left there and so far is really just The Doctor and her companions having an adventure of the week. If anything, these first four episodes have really been a prologue as the new Doctor finds her feet and companions understand what travelling with the Doctor can mean both in adventure and in risk.
Now its time to see where the series goes next after taking four weeks to set the stage, but I am firmly on board the new look TARDIS and new Doctor, and with all the setting up of this new TARDIS team completed, the series needs to take off the training wheels and really fly.