***Spoiler Warning: Spoilers for Doctor Who through Series 11, Episode 4 follow. Spoilers***
If you’re an old school Whovian, this new series incarnation’s over-the-top goofiness may feel more familiar — acceptable — than if you’ve been watching since the Series 9 “reboot”; there’s a nice mix of Tom Baker’s fun, not-so-serious low-tech vibe and an undeniable modernity. With Thirteen firmly, if sometimes slightly confusedly, planting her boots wherever she lands, it’s easy to take her seriously, despite oh, let’s say, a cartoony/buffoonish (and that’s something, given the real-world standard) would-be 2020 Trump opponent, and giant, impossible-to-fear, terribly rendered giant spiders. While we all adjust to Chris Chibnall’s completely different (from Steven Moffat) writing style, a new team of four, and everything from credits to the T.A.R.D.I.S. interiors, there’s an unexpectedly lovely glue binding it all together: Jodie Whittaker, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, and Bradley Walsh. As with anyone thrown into a new situation knows, it’s always nicer to have someone along for the journey; better still, when an easy camaraderie naturally occurs. In an unlikely if familial gathering of an alien Time Lord, a grieving widower and his stepson, and a confident policewoman officer, even the silliest of situations or ineffectual characters will fade into the background, leaving full hearts and a spirit of adventure our final memory.
Feverishly biting into his entirely meatless, farcical mockery of every über wealthy, hypocritical and cowardly Trump-istically-troped American businessman, Chris Noth manages to be both repulsive and hilarious as hotelier, Jack Robertson, who opens the hour spewing entitled contempt at anyone (including Yas’ mum, Najia) in his path. Awaiting the hour’s mystery unfolding and arachnid-al connections, we follow a trail of increasingly alarming silken webs through the city of Sheffield — home to the Companions — where the T.A.R.D.I.S. has conveniently landed only a half hour (in current time) from when they left.
On the verge of an unintentionally melancholic goodbye, the Doctor accepts Yas’ invitation back to hers for tea (Ryan, too — “Don’t be daft”), while Graham heads home for his own sad sayonara … the bonus reappearance of a ghostly Grace leaves hardly a moment of grief before O’Brien discovers the horrific state of his flat, running back to join the gang just after their own discovery of a mummified missing neighbor — the work of an oversized and not terribly scary spider. With the help of a conveniently expositional arachnologist, Dr. Jade McIntyre (Tanya Fear), the Doctor reads a handy silken message map that points to Robertson’s building as the source of all the strange spidery goings-on.
In the hour’s most ridiculous (though admirable for its commitment) scene, after firing Najia Khan (Shobna Gulati), Robertson — on his scheduled bathroom break — is visited by a monstrous critter that breaks through a tub to attack him, only to instead be turned onto Robertson’s ineptly armed assistant when the cowardly magnate shoves Kevin (William Meredith) into harm’s way and himself, runs out the door.
In the end, it’s discovered Robertson’s hotel is built over an extremely toxic corporate waste dump where some not-so-dead spider carcasses from Dr. McIntyre’s lab were also disposed of, creating a breeding ground for the mutated giants now on the loose … though not for long. After crafting her Pied Piper-ish plan to trap the critters in Jack’s panic room, “How’s this for Fire and Fury?” Robertson shoots and kills the already dying mother spider — and to our relief, this hour’s plot.
As mentioned, we’re luckily not left with that as the last scene; rather, flashing forward to “Team T.A.R.D.I.S.” assembling inside the familial blue box. With a stern warning that they shan’t return the same as they now are, the Doctor’s expression softens as she sees Graham, Yas and Ryan genuinely want to leave their lives behind to adventure with her. All for one and one for all, Thirteen invites them to join hands in setting off their first intentional group outing, and off they set toward next week’s “The Tsuranga Conundrum”.
The Doctor may have retconned history in implying she’d been a woman before: “Sisters. I used to have sisters. I used to be a sister, in an aqua hospital. Actually turned out to be a training camp for the Quistin Calcium Assassins.” It’s possible, of course, we’ll find the Doctor was granted another cycle of regenerations we didn’t know about. It’s also possible she’s referring to having been a nurse (aka sister) at some point. Likewise, it appears she’s speaking about her family (the second time this series), and I wonder if we’re going to find out more about who they are.
Speaking of family, Ryan made it clear that Graham is his. Though it took him a bit to open up, after reading a note from his biological father — “He wants to reconnect … I don’t like how he put that. Proper family. He’s not proper” — Ryan let Graham know where his heart is.
And, a big “Awwww” for the short return of Sharon D. Clarke appearing as Grace so Graham could say goodbye. It’s nice to see this little bit of backstory, and not just the guys running off like nothing ever happened. His heartfelt explanation about the grief process made perfect sense.
I’m okay with baby steps, but I really hope the plotlines are about to … thicken.
Music This Hour:
Stormzy, Know Me From
Imagine me with a sofa. I could get a purple one, sit on it.
Am I being weird?
Maybe I’m nervous, socially awkward.
Wrong question, Ryan. You should be asking, ‘Where’s the spider that did this?”
A giant spider just crashed through the bathtub and took my bodyguard, Kevin.
Word of advice; run now, ask questions later.
Are you Ed Sheeran?
I eat danger for breakfast.
Dude, I have all the authorization I need.
I call people dude, now.
I presume this is Kevin.
Why don’t you do what normal people do. Get a gun, shoot things.
You’re like the best person I’ve ever met.