Well I was expecting it at some point but not quite so early, bur I think it’s fair to say that was the first mediocre episode of Thirteen.
I’m not quite sure what Chibnall was going for with this episode but whatever it was I think it was a definite miss. With the subject of spiders, which creep me the fuck out, I was expecting a lot more watching out the corner of my eye in fright but instead, probably because of the timeslot, there wasn’t really that much to be scary. Outside the first reveal of very detailed CGI spiders (compared to previous Who efforts of crap models on a string) it was certainly a jump but after that it very quickly became boring as it was essentially leading a group of them around a hotel. The fact the plot itself, built around a science experiment gone awry, was fairly forgettable relating to the spiders as well which only further highlighted the weakness as their focus of the episode.
Speaking of hotels that whole “Trump” “satire” was weak as fuck and a detriment to the whole affair. What attempts to be interesting quickly died under a barrage of clichés that went from eye-rolling to just nothing. He owns hotels, he’s a businessman not a politician, he’s got a 2020 run, he uses the phone in the bathroom, and he says, “you’re fired”. About the only interesting line he has it about “civilised” people using guns to solve all their problems but that does little to save it when it’s shot itself metaphorically with the “oh I hate Trump” bit that sounds straight from a lawyer wanting to avoid being sued.
If any characters were a saving grace this episode it was once again Ryan and Graham. The former’s wandering attention provided a number of laughs, the funniest probably being when he was doing shadow puppets in the background of shot in the lab because he didn’t understand the whole science thing while with Graham his return home and being almost haunted by Grace was incredibly moving to watch. Best of all was the growing relationship between them as they solved a bunch of issues together in the hotel. It’s nice to see companions have a character arc again that doesn’t revolve around the Doctor. Yaz’s arc this episode was again relatively minor, focusing somewhat on her family issues but she didn’t get as much exploration this time which is starting to become noticeable.
Talking of Yaz one thing that is starting to make me question Chibnall is what is starting to come across as cheap usage of LGBT+ status being applied to cis female characters in the place of actual conversations about representation. While the conversation involving Yaz and her mother regarding Yaz’s association with the Doctor was fun and natural the need to give 30 second character Frankie a sexual orientation rather than a job or reason for being in the episode did come across as quite forced. Including the Yaz suggestion in 4 episodes we’ve now had 3 references to female characters being LGBT+ in dialogue but not only have those characters then not had any development in that regard, be it exploring those relationships on screen or discussing modern day LGBT+ issues, there’s been zero characters from elsewhere on the spectrum when those areas are arguably less socially acceptable still in the UK. Doctor Who can do better as shown by Torchwood and it really needs to if it wants to avoid accusations of tokenism.
But yeah overall this was an episode that was fairly weak in terms of story, saved by decent character moments, that is still watchable if not the most entertaining of the series but is somewhat worrying in showing where the cracks of the new era may already be showing.