With a title like this one, you know from the get-go what to expect with this week’s Doctor Who episode. Showrunner Chris Chibnall delivers plenty of terror for those arachnophobes in the audience, but Arachnids in the UK is more then just a simple tale of killer spiders.
Like the other episodes this season, the emphasis is still very much on character first and foremost. But unlike previous episodes where said-character arcs came at the expense of plot, here the writer strikes the perfect balance, delivering a wonderfully entertaining episode that does exactly what Who does best.
That’s not to say the plot is anything revolutionary, what with the entire storyline mainly running off a checklist of B-Movie style cliches – mutated spiders, toxic waste, shady business tycoon, check-check-check! But Chibnall’s script does so with such confidence that it matters very little, especially considering how well it all ties together. There are some excellent moments of horror here, even if spiders aren’t the thing your nightmares are usually made of, whilst the way the eight-legged freaks are eventually defeated using grime music is the kind of inventive and wacky twist only Doctor Who can pull off.
It’s an uncomplicated and atypical story told well, hitting all the right beats in terms of plotting. But it’s the character work on offer that continues to strike the right feel and tone. The episode finally gets round to giving Yaz some backstory, and best of all, a family life. It’s hardly extraordinary or out of the ordinary, but it offers further grounding to what has already become the most down-to-earth and relatable bunch of companions we’ve seen in quite some time.
Ultimately, it’s Bradley Walsh who breaks everyone’s heart here, with his wonderfully understated performance as Graham, who is forced to confront his grief head-on for the first time since Grace’s death a few episodes back. It’s a lovely, understated moment, made all the more powerful by Segun Akinola‘s subtle score and great direction from Sallie Aprahamian. A huge reminder that, despite all the monsters, spaceships and alien worlds, heart wrenching moments of real humanity like this are what elevate Doctor Who above all other shows in the sci-fi genre.
Arachnids in the UK is as familiar and cosy as Doctor Who gets – a straightforward romp with all the usual ingredients thrown in and plenty of solid character moments and funny lines to complement the icky, scary moments. It isn’t groundbreaking in the slightest, but it’s so confident and competent that it matters not a jolt. Striking the perfect balance in terms of story and substance, it’s pure Doctor Who comfort food.
Doctor Who is back on BBC One next Sunday. Be sure to check out our Series Blog and join us for our verdict of Episode 5.