♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer and Brit in Los Angeles, Robert Cave, takes a look at the seventh episode of the new Doctor Who season…
Episode 7 Kerblam!
Director: Jennifer Perrott
Writer: Pete McTighe
Stars: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Callum Dixon, Leo Flanagan, Julie Hesmondhalgh
It all goes a bit Amazon in this week’s Doctor Who as the titular Time Lord visits Kerblam!, a thinly veiled sci-fi version of the prominent online retailer. The Doctor gets a new fez via robot special delivery, but the attached invoice comes with an extra message: an urgent request for help. There are shades of John Antrobus’s Help! I Am A Prisoner In A Toothpaste Factory here, but this is the kind of minimal set up that really works in the show’s favour. There is a mystery to solve!
Corporate conspiracies are also nothing new to Doctor Who, but while modern working practices and their abuses are highlighted throughout, they are not the focus of this story, instead team TARDIS investigates the ongoing disappearances of members of Kerblam!’s human workforce.
Apparently, only ten percent of the company’s workforce comprises of “organics,” as humans are referred to here, with overall control vested in what appears to be some kind of AI known as The System, seemingly a metaphor for laissez faire capitalism. Mass unemployment in the wider galaxy is a key plot point, but the tension between the minority low-prestige organic workers and their robots colleagues is where writer Pete McTighe’s story goes a bit awry for me.
The problem is the robots. Their exact nature is never quite explored in a way that fits with the rest of the narrative. Are they independent individuals who form the majority of the workforce, as they are identified at some points, or mere functionaries of the company’s central AI? Either way, they appear to occupy the key positions of power and responsibility at Kerblam! Then there is the question of who even owns Kerblam! Anyway? Who is it that benefits from the company’s revenues? It’s never addressed.
Eventually, it is revealed that the disappearances are the result of human worker Charlie (Leo Flanagan), a lone wolf terrorist who has hacked a bunch of delivery robots into delivering explosive bubble wrap. His goal to destroy The System, with the aim of creating more jobs for organics, seems more than a little muddled – why attack Kerblam!’s customers when he could attack the AI directly?
Ultimately his scheme is foiled by the Doctor, who orders the delivery robots to send the explosive packages to themselves, turning them into self-destruct suicide bombers. This doesn’t appear to be an act of self-sacrifice by the robots or the AI, which kind of detracts from the Doctor’s assertion that killing in the name of a cause is never justified. The Doctor’s key line, that “the systems aren’t the problem: how people use and exploit the system, that’s the problem,” cuts both ways, and the story doesn’t quite work when it leaves the identity of those doing the exploiting so vague.
That said, I loved both the graphic design surrounding the Kerblam! brand and the Doctor’s child-like joy at getting a package from the Kerblam! man. It is a small thing, but for me it really underlined how great Jodie Whittaker is at being the Doctor.
Next week we have a witch hunt and Alan Cummings as King James. I can’t wait.
Here’s the trailer for next week’s episode too