“Don’t you hear this wasted cry,
Life is over you” – “Glass Spider,” David Bowie
With Rosa Parks’ history safe and sound, the Doctor finally gets Ryan, Yaz, and Graham back to present-day Sheffield, with only a half-hour having passed since they embarked to find the TARDIS. The Doctor seems sad that their travels are over and she’s once again on her own—until Yaz invites her for tea at her family’s flat. Meanwhile, cobwebs are popping up all over Sheffield and further out, a mouthy American hotel mogul named Jack Robinson is having mysterious issues with his latest luxury hotel build—and as fate (and plot) would have it, firing Yaz’s mother, Najia, over showing up too early for her latest job. Two door down, Dr. Jade McIntyre is checking in on a colleague who’s missed work.
And thus, “Arachnids” enters familiar territory for new Who series watchers—we’ve got a dash of domestic paired with massive spiders and more political commentary on violence and environmental issues.
When we end up at Yaz’s flat, the family dynamics play out quickly: Yaz’s dad is making stand on rubbish while her social-media-addicted sister, Sonya, pushes extra tasks off on Yaz despite not having a job of her own. When we finally meet Yaz’s mother, she seems most worried about who Yaz may or may not be dating, calling both Ryan and the Doctor into question.
It seems you can’t go home again after traveling with the Doctor, and that’s most true for Graham, who enters his home, only to be haunted by Grace’s ghost rattling off tasks he might forget without her. But the fact is, Graham can’t forget her—and that’s what hurts.
The spiders—aka the “monsters” of this episode—are also hurting, and it’s due to experimentation done by Dr. Jade McIntyre’s company being disposed by the same company Robinson works with to bury rubbish under all his luxury establishments. It’s good for business – who could it possibly hurt? The Doctor and extended TARDIS crew discover these little changes cause the spiders’ ecosystems to be disrupted and thus the spiders mutate, growing larger and more confused, which has caused them to lash out at humans at the hotel site and throughout Sheffield.
Robinson wants to shoot them up, but the Doctor finds another way to allow the spiders to die peacefully, by luring them all to Robinson’s safe room in the bottom of the hotel, thanks to Ryan blaring Stormzy over the PA system. All that’s left to tackle is the big mother spider in the hotel ballroom, so the Doctor arms herself with essential oils from the on-site spa to calm and lure the spider away. Upon closer inspection, it’s revealed that the mother spider is dying anyhow, unable to breathe in her new large form, but that doesn’t keep Robinson from killing this helpless creature with a gun.
“She wasn’t even a threat,” the Doctor explains. “She was dying anyway.”
Robinson remarks it was a mercy killing, but the Doctor points out that it’s a quality he lacks.
It’s true, at times Chibnall’s writing is as subtle as a cricket bat to the head, but considering the political climate of the world, subtle isn’t enough anymore. Drawing straight lines in the sand between good and evil—especially for younger audiences – could have a major impact down the road, but the reminders also ring true for adults. Having said that, the big bad could have mentioned guns maybe a couple times less and the script would have rang more true. It’s also good to remember that this is British culture looking at America to a certain extent through their own lens—and that should be enough to give American fans pause as they watch, especially after the historical events of last week’s episode. Overall, though, the plot moved in a linear fashion, deepening the character’s experiences and abilities to jump in and help and the spiders provided plenty of jump scares for kids and adults alike.
Once the spiders are all sorted, the companions try and go back to their lives – but know they can’t. So Yaz, Ryan, and Graham all end up back at the TARDIS, ready for another round of adventures – all for their own reasons. Graham sees it as an escape (and healing) from his grief, while Ryan and Yaz both want more than their dead-end jobs. Yaz is ready to get out from under her family, too.
Unlike past Doctors, 13 actually doesn’t encourage this, as much as she may want them around. She doesn’t use the magical swagger of past modern Doctors, who show off the TARDIS a bit and then makes the offer. If anything, this feels like that little bit of 12, hanging back, waiting to see what will happen before extending an invitation. Perhaps 13 has learned from her past incarnations. She tells them that she can’t guarantee their safety and that they must be absolutely sure.
“You’re not gonna come back the same people who left here,” the Doctor warns. But the aptly named Team TARDIS is ready—and we’re off, into the unknown.
Rachel Stewart has written fandom commentary for sites such as FangirlConfessions.com, Nerdy Minds Magazine, and ESO Network, among others. She has work in the anthology “Children of Time: The Companions of Doctor Who.”