Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Doctor Who Season 11: "Arachnids in the UK" and "The Tsuranga Conundrum"

What happens when the crew finally go home after traveling time and space? Will the adventures be a good escape for the trio - Graham, Ryan, and Yaz - or prove to be a little too much? Catching up with the new season, here are my thoughts on the Doctor's travels so far in the fourth episode Arachnids in the UK and the fifth episode The Tsuranga Conundrum. This week's recap is a bit back-to-back, so hope you enjoy! Spoilers are behind this cut - you've been warned! What did you think of these episodes? Let me know in the comments below!

Arachnids in the UK

After helping protect Rosa Park’s famous protest during the Civil Rights movement, the Tardis finally manages to bring her friends home to the present day in Yorkshire. Except for the large and random spider webs hidden in the corners of homes and hallways, everything seems okay: Yaz’s family are excited that Yas has finally brought home some new friends, while Graham and Ryan are still trying to recover from losing Grace. But as we all know with the Doctor, nothing is ever just ordinary.

When the Doctor and Ryan decide to help out Yaz’s dad and see if their neighbor has some of their mail, they come across Dr Jade McIntyre (played by guest-star Tanya Fear) asking her friend Anna inside the apartment to open up. After realizing Anna might be in serious danger, the Doctor opens the apartment with her trusty sonic screwdriver. The trio enter her apartment and discover Anna wrapped up....in a very large web, one that could only be created by a spider the size of a golden retriever. Enter: Doctor Who taking a very common fear – arachnophobia or a fear of spiders – and turning it into the first creatures-centered episode of the season.  Spiders of unusual size are popping up all over the city, and their odd behavior to cocoon humans is the start of the quest for the Doctor and her friends.

How did the spiders grow so abnormally? Why are they invading Yorkshire? The questions to those answers lead the Doctor and her friends back to Yaz’s mom Najia and the hotel she was just fired from. Its owner the very arrogant, ignorant, and self-serving Robertson (played by guest-star Chris Noth) watches by as his security is attack by spiders the size of dogs. Jade, a zoologist at a local lab, starts providing the missing links: after the lab she works at experiments on various spider species, their carcasses are disposed of by a removal company - the same one Robertson's hotel has hired to clean out the hotel. Using the hotel’s former landscape – a dilapidated coal mine – as their dumping grounds, the toxins from their makeshift landfill has morphed surviving spiders from the lab to make them grow and change their behavior.

As more and more spiders invade the hotel, the Doctor aims to find a more humane way of handling the spiders, while Robertson's idea is just to kill them all with the weapons he has stashed in his panic room. Instead, when the mother spider spider (the size of a small car) is slowly dying because of her humongous size (and then is “shown mercy” by Robertson), the Doctor and her team lead the rest of the remaining spiders into the hotel’s panic room for a more humane death.

For the first episode of the season featuring it’s “creatures of the week”, Arachnids in the UK was  pretty simple - it was terrifying for anyone who is afraid of creepy-crawlies, and fun to see the whole gang together, to inject more of Graham’s grief and introduce to Yaz’s family. The guest star Noth was an interesting personality to show the Doctor’s morality of not using weapons to harm or kill other living beings, however, some of his more Trump-like similarities (being a hotel owner, rich, selfish, wanting to run in 2020 to beat Trump)  felt out of place for an episode that didn’t harbor any other political themes.

More than that, since the beginning of the series, Team Tardis has been brought together primarily through a coincidence (in the premiere) and then kept together accidentally through a series of misadventures (The Ghost Monument and Rosa). The episode paid off in the end when the trio of companions  actually signed up to join the Doctor, even after she warned them that they could be changed forever because she never knows when and where the Tardis is going to take them next. Were they sure? Absolutely.

The Tsuranga Conundrum

The companions agreed to join the Doctor's across time and space, and the first place they end up - a far-flung galaxy looking for junk. But after coming across a sonic mine which zaps all the Doctor and all of her companions, they are picked up by a medical ship called the Tsuranga (a Red Cross in space) on its way to an additional medical hub.

Even being gravely injured, and realizing that the Tardis was left on a junk planet and could be picked up by any scavenger, the Doctor doesn't have time to rest. Quickly, the ship is under attack by a cute-looking creature Pting, that seems harmless until it starts eating the ship's materials. If the Doctor and the crew - a new medical student Mabli (Lois Chimimba), a pregnant Gifftan named Yoss (Jack Shalloo), a neuro-pilot General Eve Cicero (Suzanne Packer), her brother Durkas Cicero (Ben Bailey-Smith), and android handler Ronan (David Shields) - want to defeat the Pting, they have to get super creative because the Pting is almost impossible to get rid of.

To be honest, most of The Tsuranga Conundrum was kind of a blur. These kinds of episodes - where the characters race to save their ship from being destroyed - are never quite my favorite, so excluding a few heartfelt moments, the episode wasn't that memorable or engaging. I was kind of expecting more of the Tsuranga's crew or patients to not get along or for the medical ship to have a darker ambition for picking up passengers. Similar to the past few episodes, everyone has more or less bonded with each other excluding the  racists in Rosa or the Stenza warrior from The Woman Who Fell To Earth. While the Pting was an adorable creature, who could become as popular as a Dalek or Weeping Angels, and it was fun to see how much chaos such a little thing could create, there hasn't been a lot of villains, which makes the conflicts feel flatter than they could be.

What the episode nicely delved into was more of Ryan's history. So far, the season has been offering more tidbits of the three companions with Graham's grief and Yaz's home life in Arachnids in the UK. Faced with a male patient who was pregnant (who was the same age as Ryan's father) brought more memories about the disconnection with his parents - Ryan was thirteen at the time when he discovered his mom had died from a fatal heart attack, a death which left his father to hand over Ryan to grandmother Grace. His and Graham's encounter with the patient and helping him give birth to his son helped Yoss realize that maybe he could be a dad after thinking about giving the baby up for adoption. Ryan's backstory was given a chance to shine, which was a nice refresher. 

As well, at the start of the episode, we kind of get the impression that the Doctor is looking to make their outings as safe and innocent as possible - they're just on a junk planet searching for junk. And then the real chaos begins, some panic sets in (for Graham mostly) before they all agree to help out the Doctor in any way that they can. The Doctor is a Doctor of a lot of things - science, engineering, music - but most of all hope. And her optimism to see problems and try to find their answers is one of the most inspiring and infectious parts about Jodie's performance so far. But it'll be interesting if more of the show's adventures makes any of the companions question the real physical danger they can be thrust into, especially since Grace was the very first, important casualty to the characters so far, and if the Doctor will face any emotional repercussions or doubts of putting Team Tardis in danger - even if it is incidental.

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