The Doctor gets a package from the Kerblam! man, a robotic delivery man. It’s the Fez, along with a note that says help. So, the Doctor, Graham, Ryan, and Yaz are on the case, going undercover at the Kerblam! facility.
Well, it seems like “Kerblam!” is one of those middle episodes of a series that is just that–middle. It’s entirely fine. As 7th episodes of Doctor Who series’ go, it’s not the worst we’ve had, though it’s still middle of the road, as many are. It’s no “The Idiot’s Lantern,” the 7th episode of series 2, and it feels quite reminiscent of “The Long Game” from series 1 and even the name-checked “The Unicorn and the Wasp” from series 4. But overall, “Kerblam!”, for all the hype of its name, is a very bland episode of Doctor Who.
We’ve seen every beat of this episode before. From top to bottom, “Kerblam!” feels like it was gleaned directly from the slush pile of the Russell T. Davies-era. The bottom of that pile. We’ve seen the automatons running amok in the Satellite 5 arc of series 1. The effects are directly out of Gridlock, with poorly executed green screen behind actors who aren’t comfortable acting for nothing.
It’s not that there’s nothing to find here to enjoy–there is. However, it’s not until the very end, after spending most of the time distracted by how much I’d already seen before (and pausing the TV to look up the episodes I was thinking of), that the episode takes a turn for the better. Following in the tried and true (and often tired) footsteps of much great science fiction, this episode is about people finding true meaning in vocation, rather than in technology. It’s reminiscent of “Bad Wolf,” any number of Star Trek episodes, and innumerable Classic Who stories with the Doctor pitted against a horde of murderous mechanicals. It’s quintessential science fiction: with an instinctive, healthy wariness toward technology. This time an Amazon-like conglomerate is, of course, trying to wipe out the universe that depends on them. Sure thing. It just felt all too familiar.
I knew exactly what was going to happen the moment they arrived on the company-planet Kerblam! Except for the twist. I have to applaud new writer Pete McTighe for managing to shift us from the overly predictable course they were on—people must protest things that are morally wrong, but they must not descend into immorality to accomplish their goals. This is something we truly do need to hear in this politically divisive day and age. Every other person is ready to die on their own special hill, but all too often the consequences of that hill-dying are too dire and disastrous.
Also, frankly, I appreciated the use of the “people power protest movements,” in which they fight for “Real people [who] need real jobs. Work gives us purpose, right?” Yes, it does! In a time like today when self-checkouts and drones and factories are absolutely making things more efficient, what about the people put out of work by those machines? I don’t know how truly desperate that situation is, but I know that I think twice before using the self-checkout station at my local market.
No one stood out in particular here, even Whittaker, who was perfectly fine, but added nothing really new. It was pleasant enough to see another Broadchurch alum, Julie Hesmondhalgh who starred as Trish in season 3, and she really seemed to be giving it her all. However, all in all, while I enjoyed moments of the message here, I was thoroughly nonplussed by much else. I really hope that this is just the typical midseason Doctor Who slump, rather than something telling about the remainder of the season.