Follow TV Tropes


Recap / Doctor Who S37 E4 "Arachnids in the UK"

Go To

Doctor Who recap index
Thirteenth Doctor Era
Series 11: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | NYS
<<< Series 10 | Series 12 >>>

Arachnids in the UK
"Did I ever mention I'm rubbish at spiders?"
Written by Chris Chibnall
Directed by Sallie Aprahamian
Air date: 28 October 2018

The one where an arachnophobe's worst nightmare, a Donald Trump parody and Stormzy walk into a bar.

As the TARDIS lands half an hour after the Doctor and her new friends left Sheffield at the end of "The Woman Who Fell to Earth", right in front of Yaz's building. Only Yaz's neighbour two doors down is missing, with her flat full of cobwebs and a huge spider, like the one Graham finds in his house when he returns there. And it turns out that the epicentre of a spate of unusual spider activity is the soon-to-be-opening luxury hotel Yaz's mum, Najia, was just fired from, for unwittingly walking in on the owner, wealthy American businessman Jack Robertson, telling one of his most trusted employees to get rid of something.

It turns out that another of Robertson's companies was contracted by a university lab to dispose of their waste: dead spiders they had been experimenting on to find uses for their silk. Only, the waste wasn't properly disposed of, and one of the spiders was Not Quite Dead… and because spiders keep growing as long as they live, and this spider happened to have been engineered to live much longer than any natural one, it was able to grow into a van-sized monstrosity using the hotel as a nest. The smaller spiders are trapped in Robertson's panic room so they can die, but the mother spider, suffocating due to the Square-Cube Law, is shot dead by Robertson anyway, to the Doctor's disgust. He avoids punishment... for now.

Ultimately, Ryan, Graham and Yaz decide to come travelling with the Doctor, completely of their own volition this time. Graham, in particular, thinks his grief over Grace would be better spent exploring the universe rather than sitting in an empty house. The newly-christened Team TARDIS throws the lever together, setting off for more adventures.


  • Accidental Misnaming: Jack Robertson keeps referring to Najia as "Nadia". This is not deliberate, he's just a Jerkass who can't be bothered learning the names of his staff.
  • All Webbed Up: The victims being encased in cobwebs for later consumption. The Doctor quickly specifies that Kevin and the others should be alive since spiders don't immediately eat their prey, they wait for them to starve first. It's implied they died from suffocation, just like Anna was stated to have died.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Yaz's sister, Sonya, teases her about being Married to the Job. Their bickering reminds the Doctor of her own sisters (which is the first time the Doctor has ever mentioned them).
  • The Bait: Graham gets to be this when he and Ryan are sent off to capture one of the smaller spiders.
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • Robertson initially appears to be an ally of the spiders, due to the forbidden area, firing Najia for walking in on a sensitive conversation and seemingly trapping her and Yaz in a room with a mutated spider. In reality, Robertson is arachnophobic and unintentionally caused the mutation through his illegal activities.
    • He also takes Kevin's gun for his own use, seemingly planning on using it to dispose of the Doctor, Yaz, Najia and Jade. Instead, he uses it to kill the mother spider.
  • Big Bad: The mother spider serves as the Final Boss, being the last spider at large in the hotel after the others have been sealed in the panic room. In the end, it doesn't attack anyone else and the Doctor's plan to kill it turns out to be unnecessary when Robertson shoots it.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The spiders are descended from a test subject from a university lab that was fed enzymes to live longer, and thus grow larger than normal, and the smallest seen are about the size of a dinner plate.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Subverted; in any other scenario, Robertson coming in to kill the mother spider would be heroic. But, as the Doctor points out, the mother was already dying of suffocation and was more interested in escaping than harming them. Robertson instead calls the shooting a mercy kill, and shows no remorse in front of an infuriated Doctor. It's clear that he was planning to kill the spider regardless.
  • Bury Your Gays: Frankie is offhandedly mentioned to be the wife of Jack's niece, and is killed early on.
  • Call-Back:
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The garbage Yaz's father picked up as evidence of a conspiracy turns out to actually be evidence; of Robertson's company's illegal dumping.
    • In a completely literal example, Robertson grabs his bodyguard's pistol from his corpse and later uses it to kill the mother spider.
  • Cobweb Jungle: The oversized cobwebs are signs of a cluster of spiders.
  • Comically Missing the Point: When Robertson brags about how famous he is, the Doctor, only vaguely aware of who's famous in 2018, asks if he's Ed Sheeran. When Graham explains he's running for President in 2020, the Doctor assumes he still means Ed Sheeran.
  • Connect the Deaths: Jade has a map showing all of the strange spider activity occurring in Sheffield. The Doctor starts drawing lines connecting them and, when she has finished, she has what looks like a spiderweb with Robertson's hotel at the centre.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Hakim Khan, to the point that when Yaz and Najia realize that he was really on to something with the garbage he was collecting, Yaz is annoyed and Najia complains that she'll have to hear about him being right.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Thirteen's line "Can you imagine, me with a sofa?" is reminiscent of Nine's "Can you imagine, me with no head?", especially since they both have northern accents.
    • Yaz's reunion with her mum, where she gives Najia a huge hug and her mum is puzzled by the enthusiasm, noting that she only last saw her daughter a short time ago, nods to Martha's reunion with her mum in "The Lazarus Experiment".
    • "Planet of the Spiders":
      • The Doctor's line about being "rubbish with spiders" harkens back to her last encounter with oversized arachnids.
      • Like the Eight Legs of Metebelis III, these spiders are normal Earth spiders which have been mutated into growing huge.
    • "The Green Death": This episode also has normally small creatures growing to enormous size due to waste disposed of by a corrupt businessman in a mine.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The Doctor learns about the spiders because Anna just happens to be Yaz's neighbour, and then she's able to track the problem to its source because Najia is an employee at Robertson's hotel. Lampshaded in that this initially leads her to suspect Najia is the connection somehow.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Jack Robertson has a landfill site for a shoddily run waste disposal company hidden in the mineshaft beneath his luxury hotel.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Graham has a couple of imaginary conversations with Grace.
  • Dirty Coward: Jack Robertson. When he sees the mother spider for the first time, he screams in panic. When his bodyguard Kevin arrives in response to the commotion, Jack immediately traps Kevin inside the bathroom with her, doing nothing as he listens to the panicked screams and gunshots from inside.
  • Doesn't Like Guns: The Doctor insists they deal with the spiders humanely rather than just shoot them. Robertson has other ideas.
  • Don't Ask, Just Run: When Robertson is asking who everyone is while the others are running from a door leading to a giant spider, Graham tells him to "Run now, ask questions later."
  • Eagleland: Robertson is an overbearing, gun-toting American who doesn't understand why Team TARDIS doesn't act like "civilized people" and just shoot the problem. Given that the groups he's addressing also includes two non-Doctor affiliated people, it could also be a commentary on how some Americans view the UK's generally anti-gun culture.
  • Exact Words: Yaz promises to tell her mother about the Doctor "after she gets back".
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: The Doctor begins piecing together the chain of events from the spiders being experimented upon to them being brought to the hotel... and suddenly realises the mine shaft they're standing in is actually a giant spider's nest.
  • Expy Coexistence: Robertson is blatantly based on Donald Trump; both are global hotel magnates, have companies with terrible environmental records, have a key advisor that married into their family, have a business logo that is the first letter of their last name in gold, Robertson is an arachnophobe seen vigorously washing his hands for a prolonged period while Trump is known for being a germaphobe. However, Trump had been established to exist in the world of Doctor Who in the previous season, and, when Trump is mentioned in this episode, it's indicated that Robertson loathes Trump and is planning to run for President in 2020 almost entirely because of his desire to defeat Trump.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Ryan and Graham get so wrapped up in their conversation they don't notice that the ceiling holds a giant spider.
  • Funny Background Event: While the Doctor examines the spider laboratory, Ryan uses a projector to make shadow puppets.
  • Giant Spider: The spiders in this episode descended from a test subject that was fed experimental enzymes to extend her natural lifespan, with the unforeseen side effect of her and her brood growing to enormous sizes. Unusually, the biggest of them is not exempt from the Square-Cube Law.
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: The Doctor comments that "the spider mother in the ballroom" sounds like "the best novel Edith Wharton never wrote."
  • Hate Sink: There's little likeable about Robertson, considering how he treats his employees and his activities, although he has some moments of Jerkass Has a Point and Pet the Dog.
  • History Repeats: Much like in "The Lazarus Experiment", after a few episodes of travelling, the Doctor is ready to return her companions home for good, only for them to discover another adventure there (connected with a family member, at that). After the adventure is over, the Doctor and companions decide to continue travelling together.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Robertson is more the villain than the spiders because of his lack of empathy and penchant for shooting problems, while the spiders are "scared, confused, or angry" about their situation. His shooting of the mother spider is depicted as cowardly and evil.
  • In Harm's Way: The Doctor's companions all decide to keep traveling with her rather than return to their mundane lives, despite the Doctor warning them of the dangers involved.
  • It's a Long Story: Yaz's response when Najia asks her how she met the Doctor is this because she doesn't want to explain.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Robertson's waste disposal company used the disused mineshafts underneath what became the luxury hotel as a landfill. Since the mineshafts were just empty space, using them as a landfill would both mean less land used for that purpose, and be cost-effective. A pity that the company, due to oversight and cost-cutting, didn't properly process the waste before dumping it — or take any steps to deal with the noxious gases the waste would emit.
    • Also, just shooting the spiders is actually the more humane option if they can't reverse the mutations; otherwise, they face death by suffocation like the mother spider as they grow beyond their organs' ability to keep their bodies going, or starvation while trapped where they can't get food. When Robertson says shooting is more merciful, he's absolutely right, even if- as the Doctor says- that clearly wasn't why he did it.
  • Jumped at the Call: At the end, Graham, Ryan, and Yaz all volunteer to join the Doctor on her journey, despite the Doctor warning them of the dangers and that they will become different people than who they are now.
  • Jump Scare: Averted. The Doctor wonders aloud where the spider that killed Anna went, she counts down from three and she and Ryan yank the closet doors open... and nothing happens.
  • Just Following Orders: Frankie records a message as insurance moments before her death.
    "Everything I did was under strict instruction and non-disclosure agreements and against my better judgment. And I hope, one day, I can forgive myself for my part in it."
  • Just Giving Orders: Robertson blames his businesses' corner-cutting on his employees and denies responsibility himself.
  • Karma Houdini: Jack Robertson receives no onscreen comeuppance for his actions.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Frankie is the wife of Robertson's niece, and wears a neatly tailored business suit with nice hair and makeup during her brief screentime.
  • Married to the Job: Sonya claims Yaz has nothing in her life but her job. Yaz shoots back that at least she has a job.
  • Mean Boss: Robertson fires Najia on her first day for unknowingly walking in on a private conversation, shuts his bodyguard in the bathroom with the mother spider and leaves him to die, and blames everyone but himself for what's happening.
  • Mercy Kill: Robertson attempts to reason that the shooting of the spider mother was this after learning she was suffocating to death. The Doctor snarks back that she doesn't sense any mercy in him.
  • Metaphorgotten:
    The Doctor: I eat danger for breakfast. [to Yaz] I don't. I prefer cereal. Or croissants. Or these little fried, Portuguese... Never mind, it's not important.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Yaz's mum asks if she and the Doctor are seeing each other. The Doctor has to ask Yaz if they are.
  • Mistaken for Romance: Yaz's mum and sister ask if Ryan is Yaz's boyfriend. They both answer by saying they're just friends and nothing else. Yaz's sister is pleased by this; apparently she's interested in Ryan. Yaz's mum also asks if Yaz and the Doctor are seeing each other. Apparently, Najia is really interested in pairing Yaz up with someone.
  • Never My Fault: Robertson denies any responsibility in the incident, claiming his businesses' corner-cutting to be his employees' fault.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Jack Robertson is a parody of Donald Trump.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: The spiders are simply acting like real spiders do in the wild. The problem is, they're now large enough that humans qualify as viable prey for them, and they've set up their nest in a place where a whole bunch of humans are about to come visit.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • The Doctor was once a sister in an alien hospital that was actually a training ground for assassins. This was presumably when she was male.
    • The Doctor and Amelia Earhart once had to either stop a plane with a rope made of spider web or deal with a rope made of spider web stopping Earhart's plane while they were in it.
  • Not Quite Dead: The mother spider was disposed of with a bioscience lab's waste because they thought she was dead. Unfortunately, the company they contracted to deal with the waste was another of Robertson's corner-cutting enterprises.
  • Oh, Crap!: The spiders provoke several of these, most notably:
    • Robertson's complete panic when the mother spider smashes through a bathtub.
    • Ryan and Graham are having a conversation about a letter from Ryan's deadbeat dad when Graham suddenly asks if they checked the ceiling. So they look up...
  • Pet the Dog: Despite being a generally unlikable person, Robertson is perfectly polite to the Doctor, Yaz, Ryan and Graham when he first meets them. Despite being a Strawman Political Expy of Donald Trump, he's shown to not be homophobic, sexist or racist, taking his niece being married to a woman in his stride and not treating the Doctor, Yaz, Ryan or Graham any differently from each other or anyone else.
  • Phoneaholic Teenager: Yaz's sister spends the entirety of her screen time either holding or using her smartphone.
  • Piss-Take Rap: When Ryan plays Stormzy rapping to lure in the spiders, they are his biggest "fans". Graham can't believe they're drawn to it, but Yaz and the Doctor are more appreciative.
  • The Power of Rock: The Power of Grime is used to lure most of the spiders into Robertson's panic room so that they can be trapped and allowed to die without endangering anybody else.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: "How's this for fire and fury?!"
  • Primal Fear: Massive spiders that wrap people in cobwebs until they starve or suffocate. Said spiders live in dark and cold areas.
  • Pun-Based Title: The episode's title is a play on the song "Anarchy in the UK".
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Robertson is a rare case of someone at the top of a given hierarchy submitting to this trope. He deflects responsibility for the existence of the spiders by claiming he just signed contracts with the waste disposal company, trusting them not to screw anything up based on their reputation. As he reasons, he had no way of knowing it would lead to his hotel getting infested by giant spiders and thus would naturally be complacent.
  • Running Gag: Najia correcting the Doctor whenever she refers to her as "Yaz's mum" instead of by name, and Robertson when he mispronounces her name as "Nadia".
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Robertson offers to buy off Najia, Jade and Team TARDIS with enough money they'll never have to work again, but Najia says she likes working.
  • She Knows Too Much: Downplayed; Najia is fired by Robertson for walking in on a sensitive conversation between him and his most trusted staff, but he doesn't want her dead, just gone.
  • Ship Tease: Yaz's sister flirts with Ryan.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The title is a reference to the famous Sex Pistols song "Anarchy in the UK".
    • After saying "the spider mother in the ballroom", the Doctor comments that that sounds like "the best novel Edith Wharton never wrote."
    • In the scene with the giant spider in Robertson's bathroom, Robertson is standing in the corridor outside a room numbered "770", which may be a reference to the well-known SF fanzine turned fan blog File 770, which was itself named after the hotel room where a famous party took place at an early convention.
  • Socially Awkward Hero:
    • Ryan is stunned by Yaz's sister when she insinuates she's interested in him.
    • The Doctor's attempts at small talk, which result in her actually describing herself as socially awkward.
  • Space Whale Aesop: Don't dump toxic waste illegally or... you'll create giant, mutated spiders.
  • Spiders Are Scary:
    • When they are huge and angry and everywhere... Yup, and everyone involved feels that way. Graham, Ryan, and Robertson are explicitly said to have arachnophobia.
    • However, the spiders are also treated fairly sympathetically, with both Jade and the Doctor noting that they are victims themselves and not acting the way they do out of malice.
  • Square-Cube Law: The Doctor confronts the mother spider near the end of the episode, only to realise she's dying of suffocation because her organs aren't efficient enough to maintain a body of her size. That they wouldn't be able to breathe through their exoskeleton is the main reason spiders and insects don't grow to that size in real life. In prehistoric times, there was a greater concentration of oxygen in the air and creatures with exoskeletons could grow larger than they can now, like the Meganeura dragonfly.
  • Take That!:
  • Team Hand-Stack: The newly-declared Team TARDIS does this on the TARDIS ignition lever, before pushing it.
  • Tragic Monster: In the end, the mother spider manages to land in this territory, as she is only acting aggressive out of a mixture of natural instinct, fear, pain and confusion, since her own overgrown body is suffocating her and she cannot understand why or alleviate her suffering. Unfortunately, before the Doctor can do anything like transport her to a world where she can live in peace, she gets shot and killed by Robertson.
  • Trumplica: Jack Robertson.
  • Villainy-Free Villain: Robertson is an arrogant Jerkass, as well as a Gun Nut, but it's hard to hold him responsible for the events of the episode if the toxic waste dumping was indeed handled by otherwise trustworthy subcontractors, and, even in the world of Doctor Who, it would be outlandish for him to anticipate that this dumping might lead to an infestation of giant, man-eating spiders. His intention to deal with the spiders by simply shooting them might be ruthless as well, but they have killed a lot of people and are clearly very dangerous, and his method really is more humane than simply letting them suffocate to death regardless of his motivations for wanting to do so.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • The spiders in Anna's apartment are never dealt with onscreen.
    • Graham and Ryan go to some trouble to catch a spider for Jade to study. She promptly sends them off to see if there are more spiders of the same size, and the spider they caught plays no further part in the storyline.
    • There's no indication that Robertson, or anyone else, will do anything about the pile of mutagenic waste that remains underneath the hotel.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Robertson says he has a phobia of spiders. Ryan agrees, and Graham doesn't like them either.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: When the Doctor tries to propose a humane way of dealing with the spiders, Robertson responds, "Shooting's quicker". Despite this, he ends up co-operating with the Doctor's plan, for the most part.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Poor Frankie thinks she's in some kind of legal drama about her boss illegally dumping toxic waste, not a monster movie.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: The Doctor returns her companions to Sheffield half an hour after they left at the end of "The Woman Who Fell to Earth".