Once again for this series of Doctor Who, Blogtor Who is looking at all the nods and references to adventures which have gone before. This time its the turn of Kerblam! So even if you are not already a Mastermind expert on all things in the Whoniverse you can appreciate the little detail as well. Perhaps you are a very knowledgeable Whovian already but did you spot them all?
Phew. Deep breath, everyone. this week’s installment of Doctor Who is an episode chock full of references. Blogtor Who’s furious scribbling had clocked five within the first five minutes of Kerblam!, so we may here a while this week…
Doctor, You’ve Got Mail
Kerblam! opens with the TARDIS being invaded by a delivery bot. In this case, it’s a Kerblam Bot coming to deliver a package the Doctor has ordered. But in 1988’s The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, it was a bot delivering junk mail that penetrated the TARDIS. That bot give the Doctor and Ace an advertisement for the Psychic Circus, kicking off their new adventure.
Delivery Bot: Conductor 2.0?
Speaking of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, it seems to have been quite an influence on Kerblam! For the Kerblam bots’ design looks an awful lot like the Conductor from that story. The Conductor is a suited and hatted android with a blandly cheeful face. It’s also a murderous killer, so there’s that. The conductor was created to drive the Psychic Circus’ tour bus by Bellboy, but perverted by the evil Chief Clown. Ultimately it’s blown up by Ace, for whom blowing stuff up was always kind of a hobby anyway.
Fezzes Are Now, and Always Will Be, Cool
But what’s in the box? Well the Doctor figures she picked it, clicked it and Kerblammed it ages ago, since she doesn’t even remember ordering it. Considering the contents is a fez, it’s not hard to guess which face she was wearing at the time. In fact when she pops it on her head, Thirteen becomes the fourth Doctor to flirt with fezzes. In 1988’s Silver Nemesis, the Seventh Doctor briefly substitutes one for his usual Panama hat while carrying a mop. Much later the Tenth Doctor will briefly wear a fez that’s falls through a time portal too.
But it’s the Eleventh that truly adored Fezzes. First picking one up (along with a mop again!) in the National Museum he declared fezzes “cool.” That one got shot to bits by River Song but it only inspired him to build an entire collection. He has ones he got from Tommy Cooper and Albert Einstein among them. He’s also worn the most Timey Wimey Fez in history – he finds one in the Undergallery locked away by Elizabeth I and then brings it back in time where it’s… left with Elizabeth I. [cue Beethoven’s Fifth played on an electric guitar]
Robophobia aka Grimwade’s Syndrome
The Doctor accuses Graham of being ‘robophobic’ when he finds the Kerblam bots working in the warehouse creepy. But unlike the likes of homophobia and Islamophobia that the word suggests, in the Doctor Who universe it’s a genuine psychiatric condition. According to the Fourth Doctor in 1977’s The Robots of Death, robophobia, aka Grimwade’s Syndrome, is a condition known throughout the universe wherever sentient beings have created semi-independent robots.
Citing the uncanny valley before the term had even been coined, the Doctor describes robophobia as being the result of being “surrounded by walking, talking dead men.” Beings that look and act superficially humanoid but have none of the “non-verbal signals. Body movement, eye contact, facial expression” on which empathy is built. The Doctor claims it can “undermine a certain type of personality … causing identity crisis, paranoia, sometimes even personality disintegration”. Thankfully Graham’s case isn’t that bad as Poul’s in The Robots of Death.
Kerblam Men of Death
The overall plot of Kerblam! echoes that Tom Baker serial too. The Robots of Death features an isolated location where the robot workers outnumber the human crew. The first death also involves a man going to an isolated storage room to retrieve an item off a shelf only to be confronted by a glowing eyed robot worker. Billed as Doctor Who’s take on an Agatha Christie style whodunnit Robots of Death is ultimately revealed as the scheme of a mad human being, Taren Capel, who believes his fellow humans must be exterminated to make way for the superior robots and, in his insanity, has been reprogramming the robots to force them to kill against the will. In Kerblam! the reveal is something similar, though Charlie’s motive is to force the robots to kill as a kind of ‘false flag’ attack to convince humans to turn on them.
Agatha Christie and the Wasp
When Yaz accuses the Doctor of being like one of those kids who can’t resist poking a wasp’s nest ‘just to see what will happen’, the Doctor is momentarily distracted into starting an anecdote about famed crime writer Agatha Christie and a wasp. Which of course, is a rare case of one of the Doctor’s anecdotes we’ve actually seen on screen. 2008’s The Unicorn and the Wasp had the Doctor teaming up with the great writer to solve a series of murders in a country house. And fight a giant alien wasp. With Kerblam! also touching on the Christie inspired The Robots of Death, you can almost see McTighe’s inspirations bouncing off his other in his giant fan-brain.
A Girl’s Best Friend is Her (Robot) Dog
The Doctor claims that some of her best friends are robots. Clearly the best example is a girl’s best friend himself – K9. Or rather, K9s. K9 Mk I was gifted to the Doctor by 51st century medical researcher Dr. Marius, but ultimately remained on Gallifrey with Leela. K9 Mk II was built by the Doctor but remained in E-Space with Romana. K9 Mk III was constructed by the Doctor too, but actually spent very little time aboard the TARDIS before being sent as a present to Sarah Jane Smith – only to blow itself up decades later to stop the Krillianites. While K9 Mk IV was another present for Sarah Jane to replace the robot dog she’d lost, and was last seen moving to Oxford with her son Luke.
And we probably shouldn’t forget Kamelion, the shape shifting telepathic android that travelled with the Fifth Doctor for a while. Though you’d be hard pressed to call him one of the Doctor’s best friends – he didn’t seem awfully enthusiastic about the robot. But then, in that incarnation, he wasn’t very enthusiastic about any of his companions.
The adventure continues…
Doctor Who continues this Sunday at 6.30pm GMT on BBC One and at 8pm EST on BBC America with The Witchfinders by Joy Wilkinson. For further broadcast times in your region, check local listings. Series 11 stars Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien) and Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair).
The Witchfinders guest stars Alan Cumming (King James I) and Siobhan Finneran (Becka Savage) and is directed by Sallie Aprahamian.
The Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz arrive in 17th-century Lancashire and become embroiled in a witch trial run by the local landowner. As fear stalks the land, the arrival of King James I only serves to intensify the witch hunt. But is there something even more dangerous at work? Can the Doctor and friends keep the people of Bilehurst Cragg safe from all the forces that are massing in the land?