While “Kerblam!” might not be the best title in Who history by any means, it’s still better than Arachnids in the UK… and a better episode too! We dive head first into some political commentary again, but this time against major corporations (*cough* Amazon *cough*) and their treatment of workers, but also against radicals taking things too far. So let’s have a look and see if this works at all in the world of Doctor Who…
When the Doctor finds a mysterious call for help packaged with a delivery from the galaxy’s largest retailer, she and her friends get to work in finding out the cause of the distress. However, is the human 10% of the workforce rebelling against the robots, or is there a much more complicated plot going on?
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
“Wow look down there! … Boxes.”
The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) – The Doctor receives a box from famed delivery company Kerblam!, and inside the box she gets just what she always wants: a message of help to answer!
Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole) – Ryan isn’t thrilled with the idea of going to a large warehouse to pack things, as that was his regular life back on Earth… minus the robots.
Yasmin Kahn (Mandip Gill) – Yaz is always up for helping someone who is calling out for it, so she’s up to the task of… working in a warehouse.
Graham O’Brien (Bradley Walsh) – Graham is also more than happy to help get to the bottom of the mystery, though having to play the role of a cleaner isn’t what he signed up for…
Charlie Duffy (Leo Flanagan) – Charlie is a cleaner in the Kerblam! warehouse, and someone with some dangerous thoughts running around in his head…
Kira Arlo (Claudia Jessie) – Kira has had a lonely and quite sad life, but she is always the optimist, and can always find a way to make herself smile…
Judy Maddox and Jarva Slade (Julie Hesmondhalgh and Callum Dixon) – Two employees of Kerblam!’s higher office, they soon find out that people have gone missing and both wish to help, without trusting the other…
Dan Cooper (Lee Mack) – Dan is a simple warehouse worker, likes to have a bit of a joke, and talks about the lovely daughter he has at home… Uh-oh.
“Hey look, a label! We put these in the boxes…. *sigh*”
This story could have easily fallen into rogue A.I. and killer robot territory, so I’m glad in the end it turned everything on its head. We’re lead to believe that the workers who have been vanishing was the work of the Kerblam! operating system controlling the robots, and so The Doctor, her companions, shy and nice worker Kira and pleasant and slightly awkward cleaner Charlie all do a bit of a runaround trying to stop it, and the person at the top who is probably responsible. It turns out that greedy and arrogant looking/sounding foreman Jarva Slade and people manager Judy Maddox aren’t behind it, both actually doing their best to get to the bottom of it. So surely it is just a rogue A.I.?
Turns out that nice guy cleaner Charlie has been behind it! He is against Kerblam! only hiring 10% human workforce and causing so many lost jobs, so he kidnapped the other works to test a small explosive concoction that will explode whenever someone pops some bubble wrap in their package. The cry for help The Doctor received was actually from the operating system itself asking for help in stopping Charlie from delivering an army-sized group of robots with explosives to people’s homes in order to get the masses to rally against robots and robot-controlled companies. The OS tried to deter Charlie from his plan by arranging his romantic crush, naive and nice Kira, to pop some of his explosive bubble wrap in front of his eyes and die, showing him the pain he’ll cause to all the other families by completing his plan… Cruel and harsh A.I. logic there… and it doesn’t even work!
In the end The Doctor arranges the robots to simultaneously open all the packages and pop the bubble wrap while they’re still in the warehouse, taking Charlie with them. Throw in nice guy father Dan Cooper who is killed early on in the story, and there are only a couple of deaths, but they all really hit home. It was a good story, nothing that will blow you away or make you rush to watch it again, but it was good. A message against companies treating their workforces badly as well as against people killing innocents to prove a point.
“Did you just say this necklace was made by your young daughter and you can’t wait to see her again? … You idiot, don’t you know what kind of story you’re in!”
While they ended up going in a different way, there was a lot of samey-ness to the story, specifically robot servants who “couldn’t possible betray us” killing people, though like I said the only times they did that were reprogrammed ones and one the OS sent after Charlie (which also makes you wonder why it didn’t just send all of the remaining robots after him en masse to stop him rather than kill an innocent woman…) The same can be said for business people-person with a clipboard Judy and harsh and goatee’d businessman Mr. Slade, who despite turning out to be good people, still spent most of the story being boring. It lead to the good ending, but it still meant 40 odd minutes of “seen it all before”.
I guess as a consequence of not being written by Chris Chibnall (though neither was last week’s episode…), this felt more like a traditional Who run about and lacked the focus on the companions and their relationships with each other that the other stories had. I don’t mind it, after six episodes of it there was quite a refreshing feeling, but I thought I’d mention it. At least this story didn’t fall victim to the “lack of a villain” problem the others did.
“Wait, did that new cleaner mention Arachnids in the UK? … What’s an arachnid? … or the UK for that matter?… Oh well, back to killing!”
There are a couple of references, from The Doctor’s delivery being a fez (ala her Eleventh self) to her mentioning the phrase “Robophobia”, which has been used for a lot of the “robots gone rogue” stories featuring the Voc Robots of Kaldor, including as the title of one!
Two more links are The Doctor, when the topic of bees was brought up, began to tell Yaz and Ryan about a “time with Agatha Christie”, which is a reference to the 10th Doctor story “The Unicorn and the Wasp”. I also have to mention the Seventh Doctor audio story “The Warehouse”, which features a moon-sized warehouse with a rogue A.I. at the centre of the story…
Kerblam! is another one of those Doctor Who stories that you’ll soon forget about until someone brings it up somewhere, then you’ll exclaim “Oh yeah! That one! That was quite good if I remember…” It’s not bad, not great, it’s just a good little episode tucked away in the middle of a series. It’s a fine way to spend an hour.