Sometimes a simple, cool sci-fi idea is the best way to go for an episode of Doctor Who. After six episodes without a nice, solid sci-fi premise, Kerblam! finally gives us one with the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Yaz (Mandip Gill) investigating a futuristic Amazon-like company on a moon. It’s a pretty solid, enjoyable episode with a small cast of supporting characters who are all well developed and interesting and a resolution that actually sticks the landing. (This review will contain spoilers!)
Episode 1107 – Kerblam! (written by Pete McTighe and directed by Jennifer Perrott)
“‘Delivery for the Doctor!’ A mysterious message arrives in a package addressed to the Doctor, leading her, Graham, Yaz and Ryan to investigate the warehouse moon orbiting Kandoka, and the home of the galaxy’s largest retailer: Kerblam!”
This episode might be one of my favorites of the season. While it’s not as dramatically serious as episodes like Rosa or Demons of the Punjab, it’s still an episode that works on all cylinders and delivers a satisfying and entertaining hour of science fiction television. The episode begins with the Doctor receiving a package from a robotic Kerblam delivery man. Inside the package are a fez and a note requesting some help. Naturally, the Doctor and her friends decide to go investigate the Kerblam factory on the moon of Kandoka. Upon getting there, the Doctor and her friends are quickly assigned to various jobs within the factory that prides itself on the fact that 10% of its workforce is made up of people (instead of robots). The Doctor and Ryan are on packing duty alongside Kira Arlo (Claudia Jessie), Yaz is on retrieval, and Graham is on janitorial duty alongside Charlie Duffy (Leo Flanagan). Shortly after they arrive, Yaz witnesses her colleague, Dan (Lee Mack), disappear and the Doctor, Ryan, and Yaz confront the ‘Head of People’, Judy Maddox (Julie Hesmondhalgh), and their immediate boss, Jarva Slade (Callum Dixon). The two feign total ignorance, leading the Doctor to decide to sneak back into Slade’s office after he leaves for the day. All of this makes for a pretty great setup to an episode of Doctor Who. An interesting mystery is set up, the Doctor receives a call for help, and the gang all split up to search for a bunch of clues as we’re introduced to the guest characters for this episode.
As the Doctor infiltrates Kablam’s systems, Ms. Maddox discovers them and confronts them. She maintains that she has no idea about the disappearances as her system is still reporting the missing people as alive and working. After discovering a hard copy of the list of missing people hidden within Mr. Slade’s stuff, the four start to suspect him of being behind the disappearances. Meanwhile, a group of robots informs Kira that she has been nominated as ‘Worker of the Day’ and invite her down to the distribution level – a level that is normally off limits for organic workers -in order to receive her celebratory gift. After learning of her disappearance, Charlie, Ryan, and Yaz take a conveyer belt down to the distribution level while the Doctor, Graham, and Ms. Maddox steal one of the original delivery bots in order to hack into its code to find out why the system seems to have gone crazy. Mr. Slade soon finds them and convinces them that he is not behind the disappearances and the only reason he’s had a list of missing people is so that he could keep track of them without the system knowing. One of the things I love about this episode is how well it throws suspicion on people only for them to end up as red herrings. At first, we suspect that Ms. Maddox is somehow involved in the disappearances, but then it’s pretty quickly revealed that she’s as clueless as our heroes. Then the episode redirects our suspicions to Mr. Slade, who’s been looking shifty the whole time, only for him to end up as nothing more than a good guy who’s been suspicious of these new arrivals. Any good mystery needs some compelling red herrings and this episode has some great ones.
Soon, the Doctor realizes that the power failures that have been plaguing the factory all episode are originating from the delivery center and she coopts one of the delivery bots’ teleportation powers to get the four of them down there. Ryan, Yaz, and Charlie find Kira but are unable to stop her from opening her gift and popping the bubble wrap within. Turns out that bubble wrap is actually laced with miniature explosives which immediately kill Kira as she pops them. The gang all reunite with the Doctor where they discover a small army of Kerblam delivery robots all ready to be teleported at once. Charlie reveals that he is behind the disappearances as he’s been using those workers as a way to test his explosive bubble wrap. He intends to mass teleport the delivery bots to a bunch of people all at once and have them detonate his bombs as a way to instill a fear of robotic automation into the people and increase the number of jobs for humans that will be available in the future. The Doctor is able to use the original delivery bot to hack into the system and tell all the bots to deliver the packages to themselves and detonate the bombs safely inside the distribution level. She tries to get Charlie to join her as she teleports everyone to safety, but he refuses and is blown up with his makeshift bombs as the Doctor saves the day. The twist of this episode worked for me and it worked as a good bit of social commentary, too. Early on in the episode, a comment is made about how nobody notices or questions the custodians, so it’s only fitting that one of the custodians ends up being the culprit here. The fact that he’s motivated by a desire to see more jobs end up in human hands, instead of in the hands of automated robots, ends up being an interesting comment on how people have been losing jobs to machinery in the real world over the past century or so. It’s only natural that someone would try to take advantage of that automated system in order to commit an act of terror to turn public opinion against the automation. I would have liked just a touch more explanation about the politics behind the whole people vs. robots movement, but it’s a twist that ultimately worked well.
This episode was honestly a pretty perfect episode of Doctor Who for me. It featured an interesting and compelling mystery, well-developed side characters, and a resolution that felt both dramatically earned and satisfying. It was a simple episode with a simple premise and a simple solution, but sometimes that’s more than enough for Doctor Who. The robots looked really creepy and I love that, while they’re naturally harmless, they were being used as scary, dangerous things. I loved the warehouse setting and how it added to the atmosphere of the episode. I really liked how well-paced everything was; how it moved quickly along but also spent enough time developing the characters that we cared about what happened to them. I liked the ultimate reveal of the villain and his motivations. I loved the Segun Akinola’s score for the episode and how it meshed super well with the visuals and how the sound and visuals worked together to really sell this atmosphere. It was mostly light on character development for our main characters, but that’s okay. There was some nice development in regards to Ryan’s dyspraxia as he struggles to jump from one conveyer belt to another, only to be encouraged and supported by Yaz. Their developing friendship is a really fun element of this season and one of the main reasons I love that we have multiple companions now, which allows us to have moments like this where they’re on their own and developing relationships with each other. It’s good stuff. Ultimately, this was just a really good episode of Doctor Who. It’s nice to have some light-hearted, fun, sci-fi adventures every now and then. Especially after last week’s more serious episode. And it’s just a lovely bonus that the episode ended up working as well as it did. I really hope Pete McTighe ends up writing more Doctor Who because this was just so much fun. Good stuff, Doctor Who. Good stuff.
5 out of 5 wands