‘The Black Archive #48: Arachnids in the UK’

❉ Nick Mellish reviews the latest Black Archive release from Obverse Books.

“Sam Maleski makes their debut here in this essay and they’ve a lot to say on the story: around 100 pages of stuff to say, in fact. Maleski writes with a light touch that is incredibly accessible and easy to read… and it made me eager to keep reading”

There are some Doctor Who stories I’ve only ever seen the once and never had the inclination to watch again: Arachnids in the UK is one of them. My memory is that I thought it was enjoyable enough if not great, but with distance cracks showed more and more and I’ve never wanted to watch it again. I was really interested, therefore, to see what could be said about this most disposable and throwaway of stories, especially as part of a series as strong as the Black Archive.

Sam Maleski makes their debut here in this essay and they’ve a lot to say on the story: around 100 pages of stuff to say, in fact. Maleski writes with a light touch that is incredibly accessible and easy to read, whether dealing with academic penetration of the subject matter in hand (such as an analysis of the plot, characters and setting as metaphors) or an overview of creature-features, or comparative glances between this story and ones such as The Web Planet and The Green Death.

It’s something I always appreciate in academia and it made me eager to keep reading, even if I didn’t agree with some of their arguments. Maybe sometimes a mutant giant spider is just a mutant giant spider and not as strong a symbol for Capitalism as is argued here, though I cannot deny that Maleski argues it bloody well.

Something I found interesting was that by the end of the essay, I wasn’t sure if Maleski much cares for the story or not. It’s unusual perhaps, but it also feels arguably apt when looking at a story where reasoning is sometimes obscured: this is after all the episode in which the Doctor thinks it is more humane to let spiders starve themselves to death in a locked room rather than give them a quick exit, and then lets Donald Trump-lite walk away without any consequences. It makes poor Harriet Jones look all the more tragic. As Maleski notes though, this is but one weird plot point in an episode full of them and is also rather indicative of the Thirteenth Doctor as a character on the whole.

I can’t pretend that this essay made me want to rush out rewatch Arachnids in the UK. Often it reminded me why I hadn’t gone back to rewatch it. That’s a good sign though, as it shows how well Maleski has represented the story in their essay.

Even if I did disagree with some of their readings, I’m keen to see Maleski tackle another story down the line for the Black Archive as they write with an ease that I envy, and they have something to say: and if they can find something interesting and with depth to say about this particular story, I am genuinely very excited to read what they have to say on a tale with more depth.


 ‘The Black Archive #48 – Arachnids In The UK’ by Sam Maleski is out now from Obverse Books, RRP £3.99 – £8.99. Buy Black Archive books from the Obverse Books website!

 Nick Mellish is a regular contributor to We Are Cult, and author of Target Trawl. Sometimes, he blogs: http://tinternetmellish.blogspot.com

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