Arachnids in the UK, by Sam Maleski

A Black Archive on the recently concluded 13th Doctor era, like Kerblam! looking at one of the more unsatisfactory Chibnall/Whittaker stories. After it was first broadcast, I wrote:

A very obvious riff on The Green Death, my favourite Third Doctor story, which also had some great return-to-Sheffield characterisation moments, and really impressive special effects, but completely muffed the ending. (What happens to the bad guy? Is it really more compassionate to lock the spiders up until they die?)

Rewatching it this time, all the same points occurred to me; the other thing is that the production was very obviously saving money by not having many extras – I mean, what American billionaire would go anywhere without at least half a dozen aides?

Some Black Archive books on similarly problematic stories try gamely to make us see the best in them. Sam Maleski here is frank about Arachnids‘ shortcomings as well as its thematic beats, and doesn’t go on too long about either, turning in a decent analysis of an inferior script.

The first (and longest) chapter, “Doctor Who and the Spiders from Sheffield”, starts by admitting that the story begins and ends on very different notes, but then goes into an in-depth analysis of giant spiders (and other creepy-crawlies) in science fiction film and in Doctor Who in particular. He omits Adrian Tchaikovsky, but he’s not really looking at print.

The second chapter (almost as long), “Yorkshire Gothis”, looks at the ways in which the story is Gothic – a theme in several of the Black Archives I have read recently – and at the importance fo the setting in Yorkshire, and of the shadow of Donald Trump.

The second paragraph of the third chapter, “Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with Muddled Politics”, is:

But while the aesthetics of the episode are deeply and incandescently political, it seems rather unclear as to what course the characters, and by extension the viewers, should pursue as a response. It’s an episode marred by contradictions: these sometimes enrich its text, and other times simply prove frustrating. In order to demonstrate this, this chapter focuses on three focal points that the episode uses to signal its political nature: science, minority identities and the influence of political music.

It looks at how the story opens up, and then basically squanders, engagement with the politics of science, race and gender, and music. These points are particularly well made.

The fourth and final chapter, “Absence, or Clearing the Cobwebs”, argues that even though the story fails to answer a lot of the interesting questions it raises (including also what “family” means, for the Doctor and for us), that should not stop us from thinking further about them.

Sam Maleski took on a tricky assignment here, and I think did a good job as far as that can be done. You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Black Orchid (8) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44)| The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | The Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37)

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