Doctor Who: Arachnids in the UK

This week, Doctor Who returned to the Russell T. Davies era, with a mediocre episode involving the companions’ families in modern Britain.

It’s also clodhoppingly political.

There’s no reason why Dr. Who shouldn’t do politics, and do them well.  The old series was a liberal humanist program at heart; the Doctor solved problems by asking questions and wondering how the world worked.

Jon Pertwee’s tenure as the Doctor was left liberal Green, from a Buddhist perspective.  The Green Death dealt with big business and pollution, and introduced environmentalism to family audiences.  (It also had a Welsh mine full of giant maggots, a mad gay computer that hummed Wagner and quoted Nietzsche, the power of crystals, hippies saving the world, and Jon Pertwee in drag.)  Other episodes were about colonialism and independence, xenophobia, British membership of the EU, and mining strikes.

Final script editor Andrew Cartmel wanted to bring down Thatcher; the Sylvester McCoy era was angrily engaged with modern Britain in a way the series hadn’t been for years.  It was imaginative and literate, post-modern and magical realist.

Stories interrogating free market capitalism, the class system, the doctrine of survival of the fittest, the workings of dictatorships, and the way ’60s idealism turned into conformism, took place in tenement blocks, psychic circuses, creepy Victorian mansions, insistently happy colonies, and symbiotic planets.  The cyberpunk, Gaimanesque New Adventure books went even further.

Chibnall tells the blandest, most generic science fiction; his episodes feel like every other adventure show.  After the dazzling cleverness of the best Moffatt episodes, it feels like the show’s had a full frontal lobotomy.

(Can we expect anything other than mediocrity from the writer of 42, The Hungry Earth, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, The Power of Three, and The Ghost Monument?)

His episodes are political – and obviously,  dully so.

The “TARDIS team” are designed to be ‘diverse’: female lead; older white male; Muslim Indian woman; young black male (whose grime music saves the day).  Jodie Whittaker is bland, when she’s not David Tennant in skirts.  (Why is the default setting for modern Doctors that wacky, zany, bloody irritating mockney wideboy?)

So far, the season has done earnest episodes about guns, racism, and what the blogosphere terms “toxic masculinity”.  (Only one – the Rosa Parks episode – was remotely interesting.)  We get environmentalism in this one: toxic waste creating giant invertebrates, lifted straight from The Green Death, with a dash of Planet of the Spiders.

Chibnall gives us an amoral American tycoon who’s running for president.  “The villain’s just like Trump; boo, hiss!”  Later episodes will, no doubt, see Dr. Who versus an evil American president.

And why is it so dreary and grey?

 

8 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Arachnids in the UK

  1. I’m not fully caught up yet mainly because the first couple of episodes dulled me to death — like you, I had serious reservations about Chibnall being put in charge given the thoroughly mediocre quality of his work on the series to date.

    I know a lot of people will says it’s now aiming at a younger audience, but as you rightly point out there’s no reason why you can’t also tell interesting and complex stories to young people. A man who sticks teeth on his face and some shooty robots is a long way from the halcyon days of Matt Smith…

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    1. Or think of the Hartnell stories, which were aimed at a younger audience, and educational – and included stories like The Aztecs (cultural relativism), The Crusades (modelled on Shakespeare, with scenes written in iambic pentameter), The Myth Makers (the Trojan Wars as black comedy), and The Massacre (political drama). Even The Web Planet is an interesting failed experiment.

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  2. Gosh, I thought it was ME – that, being an American, I was missing something inherently British about this new incarnation. I kept falling asleep in the teeth premiere, just waiting for that valiant mum to die and unite this new band of companions. The next episode made no sense: every problem they encountered was instantly solved, and the whole mythology behind the contest was invalidated by a simple threat (to a hologram, mind you!) And I think they tried to link it to the teeth guy from episode one, which means I wasn’t paying attention.

    You say the Rosa Parks episode is better but the spider one is shite? Is it wrong of me to think Jodie Whittaker would be a better Doctor if somebody would only throw one of her companions over a cliff?

    At least we can all suffer through this together!

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    1. Mrs Bradley would be a good starting point – or Cathy Gale or Emma Peel. The Doctor (male or female) has to be a strong presence. In Moffat’s sketch “The Curse of Fatal Death”, the Doctor regenerated into Joanna Lumley. Who would have been great.

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  3. For some reason I can’t respond to you directly (it doesn’t give me a reply button), but I saw “The Unicorn and the Wasp” and a Christmas special with the same guy as the Doctor. I think I wrote you this in one of our e-mails, but I still have yet to see the original show. I’d like to, mostly because of the Avengers connection.

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