“Rosa” might be a stronger episode, a more important episode, but what it isn’t is any fun. “Arachnids in the UK” is remarkably fun. It’s a great old-fashioned monster story, dipping into the giant spiders well for the third time in the show’s long history, but done differently enough to “Planet of the Spiders” and “The Runaway Bride” that it doesn’t feel like it’s doing the same thing again. Our son remembers this one very well from 2018, although he has not rewatched it, and mumbled “This just made everybody afraid of spiders, didn’t it?”
Where it does feel like it’s doing something old again is the explanation of why these giant spiders are scuttling all over Sheffield. Somebody bought a disused coal mine, filled it full of industrial waste and sludge. Nature goes wild, creepy-crawlies come to the surface, and the story is very, very political. The last time we told this tale, it was 1973 and the critters were maggots. But that’s okay.
Bringing the politics this time, it’s one of my absolute favorite contemporary actors, Chris Noth, as Not-Trump businessman and presidential aspirant Jack Robertson. Noth is best known as “Mr. Big” from Sex and the City, but my favorite of his roles is Detective Mike Logan from the Law & Order universe, especially seasons five, six, and seven of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Sometimes I figure Logan is my favorite L&O character, sometimes it’s Nichols. Anyway, my jaw hit the floor when I saw he was appearing in my favorite series, and he doesn’t disappoint. Robertson is a germ-obsessed creep who’s quick to fire people and celebrate using guns, but he’s also got just enough humanity in him to feel real, and consequently sympathetic. I’m glad the character returned a couple of years later and I hope that we see him again.
And speaking of feeling real, I think my favorite scene is the Doctor trying to make small talk with Yaz’s family, finding herself socially awkward and agreeing that Yaz’s father’s pakora is terrible before he’s even made it. I really enjoyed how Capaldi’s Doctor was also very awkward, but he projected cold when he didn’t know what to say. Whittaker’s Doctor is so hilariously poor at relating to people that I just laughed like a drain in this scene. This whole story is remarkably fun, and from that perspective, possibly the highlight of the season.