Dear reader, I wonder if Pete McTighe a fan of classic Doctor Who? I think so! Welcome to Kerblam! the unique story with an exclamation mark in the title which hits the most traditional notes of Doctor Who so far this series. Made better with subtle little throwbacks to the fez and the mention of Agatha Christie. It’s a fantastic idea using the premise of a colossal online galaxy retailer to take a wry look at the rampant consumerism the UK has embraced its collective heart through online shopping. Appropriate given we have just had Black Friday, one of the busiest online shopping days this year, worth squeal-making billions in the run-up to Christmas. It’s become a way of life in London because of the pace of 21st century living to order online, get next day delivery, collect instore or at a parcel locker. I almost, but not quite, miss all the physical fights that used to occur over bargains in shops.
I had no idea before the episode aired what the word Kerblam meant but it is apparently a word representing a sudden loud sound as in the sound of an explosion. Enter bubble wrap. It’s rather fun having it as a tool of destruction here given its everyday use nowadays and the desire most people have to pop the air bubbles. The only time I have considered bubble wrap in the context of Doctor Who has been in the Ark in Space when Noah was being turned into a Wirn. Back then in the 1970’s it was a new thing for the audience but let’s be honest it looked dreadfully cheap used within the studio.
Kerblam! was the ideal antidote to the last few episodes which have stretched the Doctor who format in new ways. A funny (mainly due to Graham) dark run-around reminiscent in style of the old series. It would have suited 10 and Rose as a story. It was a straight-forward adventure where the doctor received a distress message asking for help and off the team went to investigate where management and robots are under suspicion. Pete McTighe injected a welcome change of tone after the emotionally heavy “Demons of the Punjab” last week and I loved the opening shot of the Tardis rushing through the bright, beautiful looking vortex with a light pulse chasing the ship. I can’t tell you how happy I was to then see the planet Kadoka in the sky and the exterior of its moon. There is something about seeing an alien planet to me where anything is possible. Maybe it harks back to watching the original Star Trek series as a kid, repeated endlessly on the BBC, and loving it as the crew of the Enterprise explored somewhere different every week.
A Mystery to Solve
So, we then have a plot where people are disappearing and who is the culprit. Visually Kerblam! didn’t look the most expensive but made the most of the studio, with dark looking industrial areas and levels. The robots, both team-mates and dispatch bots did look suitably creepy with those light up eyes, their voices trying to mimic human tones coupled with an unnerving complete stillness they employed at times. In an age when we have issues over be able to see people’s faces having robots that look vaguely like updated conductors from “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy” with a touch of a gruesome Postman Pat is unnerving. Obviously Twirly was the only robot I thought was very cute.
It did take two watches to understand why Charlie was attacked by the teammates was because the system was suspicious of him or that the system placed the Doctor originally with Charlie in maintenance for the same reason. It was only that the Doctor changed the group loop colour that it delayed the resolution of the mystery which might have saved Dan and Kira. That is a big might though as Dan would have probably still swapped packing lists with Yasmin. I’ve seen it discussed online by people that thought it was awful how the Doctor sided with the system against Charlie when in essence it kidnapped Kira and gave her a present of the deadly bubble wrap. I think that at one point does the Doctor describe the system as having a conscience? It seemed to have a definite consciousness when Twirly was connecting to the original system and it was saying help me help me. Dan said the teammates were always listening to the ‘organics’ even if they weren’t meant to be. It’s a bit morally ambiguous to me whether the system was as corrupt as Charlie. What do you think? Was the system taking an eye for an eye and no better than Charlie by killing Kira or was it just defending itself by showing Charlie what it meant to lose something?
There is a message here about the domination of machine over man, growing automation isn’t always in the best interests of humankind. Is Its hardly the most cheerful place in the world being like an open prison for the depressed where the huge warehouse is just eerie. At Kerblam the staff seem happy to accept the mundaneness and repetitive nature of their roles so they don’t end up losing their livelihood and purpose even though they only make up 10% of the workforce. Did Charlie have a point about fighting for better even though his methods were wrong?
It is encouraging that the script with a small supporting cast, Dan, Kira, Charlie, Mr Slade and Ms Maddox made time to give each person a bit of backstory although they were painted in quite broad strokes as characters. Lee Mack played a tragic hero with a child and gave a nice performance as Dan better than I expected, Kira (Claudia Jessie) was too good and positive a character you just knew she couldn’t make it to the end. Mr Slade (Callum Dixon) just looked like every nasty boss you ever had and Julie Hesmondhalgh gave a good performance as a nice but clueless Judy Maddox. Don’t get me wrong I liked them.
Kerblam! felt like a classic Doctor Who serial in structure as the regulars were split up to pursue different leads. Of the regulars my favourite Graham got some lovely comedy to play, as the reluctant maintenance operative, using a bit of ingenuity and guile to get the maps of Kerblam from Charlie. I was really pleased to see Yaz and Ryan working together and Pete McTighe remembered Ryan’s dyspraxia and Yasmin’s policewoman skills and incorporated them into the story. Jodie’s doctor still lacks the fire of the Timelord somewhat but she was more proactive in this story, actively investigating and I liked her angry dialogue when she dressed down the HR team about all the disappearances. But then she did doubt herself almost straight away and tried to make it funny so punctured the moment.
There is one thing which I understand that the story has to keep moving but damnnnnnnnn the use of the sonic screwdriver was a bit excessive. As a fan, I noticed its use a lot and it took me out of the story at points. Is there anything it won’t do? changing a passenger manifest and the group loop colour, unlocking cabinets reactivating Twirly, acting as a teleport. It’s the perfect gadget.!! I want it for Christmas.
It ain’t heavy its bubble wrap 7.5 /10