In a properly spooky ambiance for Halloween, episode two of Doctor Who series 11, “Arachnids in the UK,” opens up on a large mostly empty hotel swooping through corridors and ending on a trio standing in the lobby. The woman, Frankie (Jaleh Alp), tells the men that there’s a problem that can’t be solved because its too big and complex and would expose them. One of the men, a middle-aged American and owner of the hotel (Chris Noth, who you probably know as Mr. Big in Sex and the City), mentions that they’re family, she’s his niece’s wife, and she needs to do whatever she can to fix it because it’d ruin him.
The other man is his bodyguard, Kevin (William Meredith). Their conversation is interrupted by another woman, Najia (Shobna Gulati), coming in because as the future general manager of the hotel she wanted to make sure everything was ready for the opening. He, a rich white American hotel mogul, utters the famous words, “you’re fired.”
The TARDIS is shakily flying through space with Thirteen insisting everything is fine she’s just working out the kinks. They have finally reached modern day Sheffield aka home for Yaz, Ryan, and Graham. Thirty minutes have passed since they were beamed out of that warehouse at the end of episode one. Everyone is reluctant to separate so Yaz invites them over for tea since conveniently the TARDIS has landed right outside her apartment building. The Doctor and Ryan go along while Graham says he wants to stop by his house and will pop over later.
The Doctor is adorably excited for tea at Yaz’s, practically skipping through the building. They pass a woman, Jade (Tanya Fear), trying to get someone in a nearby flat to answer the door and they enter Yaz’s flat. In the tradition that all Asians everywhere will understand, Yaz’s dad Hakim (Ravin Ganatra) immediately offers them food. Yaz’s sister Sonya (Bhavnisha Parmar) is there too. She’s got to be younger as she immediately asks if Yaz paid Ryan and Thirteen to be her friends.
The Doctor is practicing her small talk by going on about how she’d be good with a flat and how she could have a sofa (does she not have sofas in the TARDIS?). It’s adorably awkward and feels pretty much exactly how I am in new situations. Thirteen is all over the place nervously hoping to land on something that’ll spark a conversation. Yaz and Ryan tease her about how her small talk needs work. Yaz’s dad has a pile of garbage in the flat which sparks the Doctor’s interest and we get to see a nice family moment as he goes on about it while Yaz and Sonya role their eyes at his conspiracy theories and mouth along the words with him. The Doctor, of course, loves conspiracies but before they get into all that Yaz gets a call from her mom, Najia who we saw in the beginning of the episode, asking to be picked up.
While waiting for Yaz to return, Ryan and the Doctor go to pick up a package that’s been left with a neighbour, the same neighbour who Jade was trying to see. Jade is still in the hall and Thirteen sonics the door open. The inside of the flat is full of cobwebs and the neighbour is in her bed wrapped up like a spider’s prey. The spider is still in the room and quite a bit bigger than a normal. Jade, it turns out, is a spider expert and has been studying them and has noticed something weird has been going on with the spiders in the area.
Over at his house, Graham is quite literally haunted by Grace. Her image telling him all the things he’ll have to do now that she’s gone and chastising him for sitting around sniffing her coats. He sees a large spider carcass in the house and runs to go tell the Doctor. Graham, Ryan, Jade, and Thirteen head to Jade’s lab so she can show them what she’s found regarding the odd spider activity. Along the way, Graham gives Ryan a letter he found at the house from Ryan’s dad but Ryan just pockets it away.
Back at the hotel, Frankie is going around recording a video message and documenting what she’s seeing and saying she hopes one day she can forgive herself one day for her part in “it.” Which is when she sees something huge and scary that kills her.
Yaz makes it to the hotel, excited to see her mom who doesn’t get why Yaz is so excited to see her, not aware that her daughter has been time traveling. Najia reveals she’s been fired and in comes the hotel owner, guns blazing wanting them to get off the property saying if he hadn’t fired Najia before he would now since the rooms are a disgrace.
Jade, Ryan, Graham and the Doctor are in Jade’s lab and Jade is explaining her research. It’s becoming clear that Thirteen is a name-dropper on the Tahani level. Jade explains that she’s been working on an enzyme to increase the life-span of spiders because they can keep growing as long as they live. They’ve been monitoring all the reports of unusual spider activity but there are not real commonalities. The Doctor examines the map of the activity and finds a large empty spot…the hotel.
Back at the hotel Mr. Big shows the rooms covered in cobwebs to Najia and Yaz and runs off for his scheduled bathroom break. They hear some scratching noises in the walls but before they get too far in investigating they get a call from the Doctor asking to let them in. So they go down to let her in. Thirteen congratulates Najia on making a great human. In the bathroom, Mr. Big is washing his hands when a giant spider comes up out of the tub, destroying it in the process. Mr. Big runs out leaving Kevin to deal with it himself. looking back, he can see Kevin is being cocooned in spider silk by the giant spider.
Downstairs the group hears Kevin’s gunshots as he tries to protect himself from the spider and run back up. Yaz and the Doctor go into the bathroom to investigate and see the giant spider. They run out and try to get out of the hotel but in the time since they left the lobby, the spiders have cobwebbed the whole place, trapping them in. Najia leads them to the kitchen and they start trying to figure out why the hotel is the epicenter of spider activity when Mr. Big explodes demanding explanations.
We finally find out his name is Jack Robertson and he’s the exact type of rich white American everyone hates. After he speechifies about how great he is for a bit and the Doctor keeps wondering why he’s not Ed Sheeran, they get back to business and Graham and Ryan goes to catch a spider while the rest try to figure out the mystery. Najia is curious about who the Doctor is and how she knows Yaz and asks if they’re seeing each other.
I’m generally not one for Doctor/Companion shipping like Rose/Ten or Amy/Eleven but I’m here for this one! Also, the casual way both Yaz and Najia talk about this possibility makes it seem like Yaz is probably bi? Which would be great in showing more brown bi representation 2k18!
It turns out the build sites for Roberton’s hotels are repurposed industrial sites and this location used to be a coal mine. They go into the mining tunnels and find the cocooned bodies of Frankie and Kevin and they go further in and find a giant pile of waste. Things start to make sense, Robertson hired a waste removal company to fill the mines with waste as a cheaper option to create a more stable base. This company deals with toxic and volatile waste and they just dumped it into the mines instead of properly disposing and one of their clients was Jade’s lab whose waste included spider carcasses from their experiments. Naturally, Robertson denies any responsibility in this. The waste has been leaking up to the top which is what Yaz’s dad has been collecting. Najia groans because this means her husband is right about the conspiracy and she knows he’ll be unbearable about it.
Graham and Ryan have a heart to heart about the letter Ryan received from his dad. Ryan’s dad is sorry for not being there but wants to be there now which is too little to late for him but before they go on further the giant spider is back chasing them. Everyone meets up again and they head to Robertson’s panic room where he gives a speech about how great guns are just in case we forgot he’s the trope of the terrible American.
The Doctor’s plan is to lure all the spiders into the panic room with the food in there, enough to survive for 6 months. They need vibrations to lure them so Ryan pumps up the bass and plays some Stormzy to attract them. Once they’re all in they seal up the room and go deal with the mama spider in the ballroom. Unfortunately, the mama spider in the ballroom isn’t really a threat anymore. She’s grown too big to be able to breathe properly and while they’re trying to figure out how to help her pass on peacefully Robertson comes in a shoots her under the guise of doing what’s necessary when really he just wanted to be brutal.
The episode ends with Yaz, Graham, and Ryan outside the TARDIS. They go on in to ask Thirteen to come along with her instead of saying goodbye. Thirteen is very insistent that they know what they’re agreeing to. This makes Thirteen the first Doctor to get informed consent from her Companions before whisking them away.
It’s a timely and spooky episode, but ultimately it’s rather boring. The episode relies a lot on the imagery of the spiders to create tension and propel the plot so without a healthy fear of them it becomes rather boring. As a nature nerd, I loved hearing about spider ecosystems from Jade. Also, the blatant parallels of Robertson to Trump and the commentary on how awful a president he’d make was very satisfying. If only such a scandal had derailed 45’s presidential campaign before it even started.
The most frustrating part of the episode was the use of Grace. It is not ok to fridge a women characters, especially a black woman, and then bring her back as just a way to get her white husband to continue on. I was hoping this wouldn’t be the way Sharon Clarke would be used when she came back on the show. But this was easy, so, naturally, they did. In my opinion, it’s incredibly disrespectful. I’m still hopeful that we will get an episode that’s entirely dedicated to Grace and that we will get to see her as more than an accessory to Graham and Ryan but it gets harder every time Grace is used solely to propel forward the character development of the men that were in her life.
The best parts of the episode were Jade, Najia, Yaz, and Thirteen all being bosses while Robertson tried to act like he had authority. It was so refreshing seeing so many badass women, and majority women of colour, come together. All of them are confident in their abilities and strong in their own rights.
Airs every Sunday for American audiences on BBC America at 8 PM EST, and are available for streaming the next day.