With this season being a 10-episode stint for Jodie Whittaker’s new Doctor, we find ourselves with only three episodes remaining after ‘Kerblam!’ (not counting the
Christmas New Year’s special episode, of course). It feels like a very short span of “adjustment time” for the audience to become familiar with Whittaker – and I may only be saying that because, while the stories have been entertaining enough, there just hasn’t been a lot for the Thirteenth Doctor to do this season, y’know? Yes, this is only two episodes shorter than Peter Capaldi’s first season (the Eighth Series), but immediately after the Twelfth Doctor’s regeneration, he started dealing with the mystery of Missy and the ongoing saga of “the Impossible Girl,” his companion Clara. By comparison, Whittaker’s first go-around with the TARDIS feels positively tame and, some would say, lacking…
WARNING: Spoilers for this episode of ‘Doctor Who’ lie ahead, obviously. If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t wish for any of its content to be spoiled for you, the time to turn back is NOW!
RECAP: After receiving what appears to be a long-delayed package (Eleventh Doctor throwback!) from Kerblam!, the galaxy’s largest retailer, the Doctor and company notice that the back of the packing label has the phrase “Help Me” printed ominously on the back. Because it’s what they do, the team diverts to Kerblam’s moon-sized warehouse to investigate.
Once there, the Doctor and trio of companions present themselves as new workers, which takes a bit of Doctor-jiggery-do (a phrase I just now made up), as only 10% of the workforce of the massive warehouse are “organics,” and the rest of the business is automated by robots called Postmen. The Kerblam! system assigns everyone a role in the various departments, but the Doctor does a quick-swap with Graham so she can get into the delivery processing & labeling section with Ryan, to better suss out where the cry for help may have come from. Yaz gets assigned to the warehouse floor, and Graham ends up with the Doctor’s role – maintenance.
It seems like the helpful-to-a-point robot delivery men of Kerblam! are acting strangely towards the organic workers – and indeed, there have been a few reported cases of living workers mysteriously disappearing over the last few months. The Doctor does what the Doctor does to work to unravel the mystery; the companions play surprisingly large roles in helping to solve the case (a welcome change, for me); and at the conclusion of the episode, the folks who you think are the bad guys turn out not to be the real threat at all – a mechanic that this season has leaned on a little too heavily so far, in my opinion (see more on this below).
- The social commentary of the episode slaps you right in the face from the get-go, there is no subtlety this week. Big corporations are bad! Over-automation is bad! We’ve brought this on ourselves through our laziness and complacency! Heck, there’s one exchange between Yaz and an “alien” Kerblam! employee where the man flat-out says “we brought this on ourselves, with our noses in our phones.” I’m certainly not saying that these issues aren’t important ones for us to point out and get to work in solving. Good to know, though, that alien civilizations have the exact same problems that modern-day Earth does.
- The Kerblam! system takes thorough physical and mental scans of the Doctor and the companions upon their arrival, and we’re told it’s so each person can be put into the department that perfectly tailors their skills to the business needs. Ryan in shipping make sense, I suppose – but as touched on several times in my previous reviews, Yaz is a police officer and yet no one chooses to utilize her skills as such. They assign her to the warehouse floor? Why not security? Furthermore, the system assigns the Doctor to maintenance (her initial destination before she swaps with Graham)? Seems like her intellect and skill set would have been better utilized elsewhere – and it seems like the Kerblam! automated system is far from perfect.
- Let’s talk briefly about the sonic screwdriver. I know it’s existed as a tool in Doctor Who lore for quite some time now – after all, it was first introduced way back with the Second Doctor in 1968, although he only used it a total of three times throughout his entire three-year run. The Third and Fourth Doctors used the device quite a bit more, but it was eventually written out of the original series in 1982, due to the “convenience” of the device – that is, it was actually seen by the writers as a limitation for the Doctor, because instead of relying on wit, strength, etc., all the Doctor had to do was wave his “magic wand” and problems were solved. I know all the Doctors of the “new” series have used a sonic device in one form or another, but it really feels that here with Whittaker in this season, the sonic screwdriver is definitely being leaned on heavily as a “crutch” whenever convenient.
- I’m interested in hearing other fan’s reaction to the delivery of the fez in the opening scene. Did you think it was a fun connection to Matt Smith, our old Doctor of yore, or did it feel like unneeded “fan service” shoehorned into the episode? Sound off in our comments section below!
CLOSING THOUGHTS: This is now the third episode this season where the trope of “these are the bad guys – oh wait, no they’re not!” has been utilized. It’s unfortunate that Chibnall and his team feel the need to go to this well so often, because ‘Kerblam!’ was actually a fairly fun episode with this aside. A little heavy-handed on the social commentary, yes, but all in all, it was an okay episode, just not one that will be identified in the Doctor Who annals of history as one of any importance.
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor
Bradley Walsh as Graham
Mandip Gill as Yaz
Tosin Cole as Ryan
New episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ air on Sunday nights on BBC America.