Since Chris Chibnall’s takeover of Doctor Who they have been episodes with a political edge and the latest episode continues with this trend.
The Doctor received a package she forgot she ordered from Kerblam! and discovers a message saying ‘help us.’ The Doctor always has to answer a call for help so goes to Kerblam’s moon size warehouse with her companions. During their investigations, they discover workers have been disappearing and that there is a conspiracy afoot.
Previous episodes in Series 11 have looked at the Civil Rights Movement, The Partition of India, and aiming some satirical swipes toward Donald Trump. The theme of “Kerblam!” is modern day working practices and the rise of automation, or to put it another way: The Doctor vs. Amazon. In this dark future Kerblam! is a huge conglomerate that people can buy anything and everything from and the company is so automated that the government mandates that 10% of the workforce have to be humans. The workers barely get to see their families and just like at Amazon warehouses – workers are constantly monitored to ensure they are productive. It is basically a futuristic workhouse, although it looks like a standard warehouse.
Whilst the commentary about Amazon’s work practices are on the nose “Kerblam!” does look at a socio-economic issue – the rise of automation and robotics. There are serious concerns about the role of human workers, especially unskilled workers due to the rise of automation and AI – or to put it another way “They took our jobs!” Due to the rise of the robotic workforce most people are unable to get a job and the few people who do are stuck doing menial tasks. However, it raises the question if most people are unable to work and poor – who’s able to orders from Kerblam?
“Kerblam!” does have solid little character moments. When The Doctor reads the message, she consults with her companions, and they agree that they should go and investigate. It shows their willingness to jump into action – not just being led by The Doctor and the TARDIS. Yaz and Graham have more to do because they have to work independently – so use their intuition. Graham shows his caring side when he works with Charlie (Leo Flanagan) who has a crush on a co-worker while Yaz gets to use her police training – she is the one who fights the villain. Yaz has the most emotional moments because of her connection with her co-worker.
“Kerblam!” had some recognizable guest stars, at least for British audiences. Comedian Lee Mack plays one of the workers at Kerblam! and his role is mostly to deliver some jokes – yet he does have some moments of sincerity. Coronation Street alumni Julie Hesmondhalgh’s role as the head of HR weirdly reminded me of Tilda Swinton’s character in Snowpiercer due to the wig and the glasses. The most memorable character was Kira (Claudia Jessie) because she was sweet and positive despite her grim surroundings. I was surprised to find out she was 29-year-old because she looked and acted like she was 10 years younger.
The production values of the latest season of Doctor Who has been of a high standard. They come crashing down in “Kerblam!” The Kerblam Men robots were fine, but the episode looked cheap. The warehouse setting is no different to a real warehouse and will remind a lot of people of their day job. The episode has some of the worst CGI in the season when Yaz, Ryan, and Charlie go down a conveyor belt.
The other notable aspect was the references to previous versions of The Doctor. They will give fans a little smile and shows that producers still recognize Doctor Who‘s long continuity.
Some fans have said that “Kerblam!” is the best episode of the season so far. This is not the case in my opinion because the story is a standard Doctor Who investigation and “Rosa” and “Demons of the Punjab” are better and more ambitious episodes. Yet “Kerblam!” is a decent, inoffensive story.