I’m quite sold on Lupton: he’s easily the pettiest and most human villain the show has had in years (probably since The Highlanders). He gives a potted history of his backstory and it’s like he’s a character in a soap: embittered ex-sales wunderkind, forced out in a merger and now driven entirely on a quest to make other people as humiliated as he feels. This leads to an astonishing sequence in which he turns his spider’s mental torture back on her, forcing her to beg him to stop. This is the kind of person he is: he’ll torment a spider to make himself feel like the big man.
Luckily for Lupton the spiders are far from a homogenous conquering force. Queen Huath (I love she has a name – it means “fear” or “horror” in the old Irish alphabet) is as arrogant and controlling as Queen Thalira was meek and submissive, and Lupton’s spider hates her and wishes to usurp her throne. And so they enter into an unlikely alliance, Lupton to conquer the Earth and his spider to rule Metebelis 3. We get more of a glimpse into the government of Metebelis: the Queen sits in a Parliament of Spiders, and seems to be the spokesperson for a mysterious ‘Great One’ who wishes to conquer the Earth, ‘our rightful home’. It’s quite fun that the Spiders are as developed as the Draconians and means this is quite a change from most previous giant creepy-crawly stories (The Web Planet excepted).
I also enjoy the contrast between the relative mundanity of the Earth scenes and the weirdness of the Metebelis sequences, and the transition from one location to the other is well handled – chasing after Lupton, Sarah is transported through space and time just as the Doctor and Mike rush in to rescue her. And rather than see her fade away, we watch the teleport from her perspective: one moment she’s in a gloomy cellar, the next under the azure sky of an alien planet. The locals aren’t exactly welcoming, given they live in fear of the Eight Legs. They also look like the Planet People from Quatermass – or maybe it’s just that Ralph Arliss is playing the same character.
This is a very fun episode, despite acting from the Queen Thalira School and some ropey CSO for the spiders and Lupton’s arrival on Metebelis. The Doctor revealing that he ‘always leaves the actual landing to the TARDIS herself’ is as Moffaty as anything Moffat ever wrote (as is his failure to deny the Ship is alive).
Next episode: Planet of the Spiders – Part Four