Each week the Blogtor Who team give their first thoughts on the latest episode of Doctor Who. Here’s what we thought of series 11 episode 6, Kerblam!
Needless to say, this article contains massive spoilers, so only read on if you’ve already watched Kerblam!
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Doctor Who does Amazon space delivery with the new episode Kerblam! The comedic episode, written by Pete McTighe, features a number of Matt Smith / David callbacks and offers a faster paced, more plot-driven story than the previous weeks. The TARDIS crew and guest stars obviously had a lot of fun making this episode as everyone delivered strong performances. Kerblam! is a traditional Doctor Who midseason episode complete with the mystery of disappearing people, sinister grinning robots that will remind you of the Beast Below and the threat of massive death. There is a slight twist on the villain – organic not robotic – as McTighe delivers a fun romp through time and space. We’re sure that it will be enjoyable for most fans but be careful with the bubble wrap.
KERBLAM! It’s amazing how much difference an exclamation mark can make. After a strong start and a middling… well, middle… Series 11 finally seems to be kicking up a gear as it barrels towards its end. Kerblam! was a welcome change of pace, quite literally at times. After six relatively slow-burning stories, this had all the energy and excitement that’s been missing from the Thirteenth Doctor’s run so far. In many ways, it actually felt very much like this season’s answer to Flatline. It seemed like a bit of a silly premise on paper, but in reality it was one of the year’s most pleasant surprises. The concept is so brilliantly simple that it seems crazy it’s never been done in Doctor Who, yet it’s done with enough creativity that it still felt totally unique. Pete McTighe delivered a tight and enjoyable script with an accessible plot and some clever twists that gave every character a part to play. There were laughs, there were tears, and there was pulse-racing drama – something sorely lacking from previous weeks. With strong performances from all of our leads, as well as the guest cast – plus the series’ most compelling ‘monsters’ to date – this was an episode that truly had something for everyone. This is the new Doctor Who as imagined it, and I hope we see more stories like this in the weeks (and seasons) to come.
Long time fan Pete McTighe’s story is properly old school. Like a mad mashup of The Robots of Death and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, it adds its own austerity era fears to make for a truly fun episode. Kerblam! pulls no punches either – perfectly happy to introduce lovely, sweet characters and then mercilessly kill them off with glee. It even succeeds in being that rarest of things – one of Doctor Who’s occasional murder mystery pastiches where the reveal of the killer is genuinely surprising. For a guest writer, McTighe also creates a stronger sense of character continuity than we’ve gotten sometimes. Ryan’s dyspraxia is acknowledged – and his attitude that, yeah, he’s dyspraxic but turning their back on those in need ‘isn’t how we roll’. And it’s great to see Yaz go straight into police mode, placing the killer in a firm arm lock. This is also the kind of story in which Whittaker exceeds as the Doctor – all cleverness, and joy, and childish disappointment at not getting to ride the conveyor belt. This season has knocked it out of the park with the historicals, and it’s great to see a silly, fun, Sci-Fi episode operating up at the same level.
So far, the best episodes of series eleven have been historicals ruminating on the past mistakes of mankind. It makes a refreshing change to have a story that looks to the mistakes we might make in the future if we stay on our current path. Pete McTighe has crafted a satire in the Doctor Who format, full of excitement, adventure and great characterisation, all servicing the overarching message. It was a fantastic decision to make the villain human rather than the more obvious route of a big, sinister corporation and/or inscrutable (and therefore suspect) computer system. It honestly reminds me of Black Mirror in all the right ways – the systems aren’t the problems, the fallible humans they empowered are. With wonderful performances by the whole cast and a heady mix of heartbreak and triumph in the script, I have no doubt that this will come to be regarded as one of the defining stories of the Chibnall/Whittaker era.
Another strong episode, which could’ve easily fallen flat after the brilliance of last week. Kerblam! really drove home the variety of genres and subject matters Doctor Who is able to cover, as we come from last week’s emotional historical piece to this episode with its far more satirical and sinister overtones. This episode certainly owes a lot to Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror (as well as Series 5’s The Beast Below), particularly in its robot antagonists. Even though, much as in Demons of the Punjab, the apparent villain transpired to not be so evil after all, the deeply unnerving and uncanny Kerblam delivery robots are up there as the most genuinely hide-behind-your-sofa scary villains we’ve had so far this series. Once again, the guest stars were on top form in this episode, particularly Leo Flanagan’s Charlie. It’s also clear to see how much of a Doctor Who fan Pete McTighe is, and it was wonderful to get a few nods back to previous series in the fez, and the Doctor telling Ryan and Yaz about ‘that time with me and Agatha Christie’! McTighe’s script overall was fantastic – he clearly knows how to create a thoroughly compelling and surprising mystery. Plus, in true Doctor Who fashion, we’re all now terrified of another mundane household object – who knew it was possible to be afraid of bubble wrap?!
There is a new thing on Twitter where during episodes of Doctor Who Twitterers post pictures to explain the episode without context. If I was such a Tweeter, I would post an image of and Amazon box, an image of the toys on the airport luggage machine from Toy Story, an image of the doors conveyors scene from Monsters Inc., and a picture of the gang from Scooby Doo unmasking the janitor. The story is perfectly fine here and probably the one with the most nods to long term fans this series. The Doc and gang land on a giant warehouse planet and are split up to solve the problem of the Help me! note the Doctor receives with her new fez. Yet again in this series, the villain is not an alien, but a human. But can I ask a small question? Is anyone else really, really missing a good old scary villain. Even a solitary Dalek would do. I’m craving a bit of proper monstering now. On the upside, I’m very pleased that Yaz had a bit to do this week – lots more of that, please. And can I just stand up and loudly applaud Graham wearing a nice cardi in deep space. Great work, cockle.
What a difference the last 15 minutes of an episode can make. Before the revelations of the what was going on with the packages (and their killer bubble-wrap) and who was responsible I was ready to write this episode off as a fairly mediocre effort. I had expected this episode to be somewhat a commentary on the working practices of big multi-national corporations, a certain one in particular, and at first the episode did skirt those themes… but it wasn’t being done in a particularly interesting way. Turns out that’s because that aspect was a red-herring all along. Instead the episode’s final veers into a story about a tragic terrorist with an understandable cause but despicable methods to advance that cause. The threads of his relationship with colleague that I had earlier dismissed as a bit tenuous suddenly all made sense. From Kira’s death onwards I was fully engaged with the episode again. That’s not to say there weren’t still flaws early on (Just how does a relatively localised – to a particular galaxy – shopping service have the ability to bypass the shields and deliver to the inside of a TARDIS travelling in the time vortex!?) but a lot of the earlier stuff was almost retroactively improved by the last act.
A fun episode that at its heart has a great old school Doctor Who concept. Take something innocuous and everyday and make it a threat. To do that in an episode that rattled along with tons of energy is a bonus. Kerblam! is a fun episode filled with great dialogue, a Monsters Inc inspired set piece and creepy robots. If I was nit picking I’d have liked to have seen more scary robot moments, but this was my favourite episode of this season so far.
The latest episode Kerblam! explodes open with a not so subtle nod to the Eleventh Doctor era nonetheless it made me have a heroic smile. We then delve into the world of working in the warehouse shrouded in mystery and intrigue that the Doctor and gang simply cannot resist. The plot seems be steady until the sudden disappearance of Dan forcing a confrontation with Kerblam! bosses. I loved that this was another character driven episode with a dozen clever hints to the Doctor’s personal history which Doctor Who fans such as me glee about. The conspiracy thread itself through the company and a some what anti climatic ending revealed the caretaker was the culprit. The killer bubble wrap was an incredible twist to the story and again the likely villain turns out to be harmless and the real villains are human beings. All in all a great episode in what continues to be a great series of Doctor Who.
You can watch Kerblam! now on BBC iPlayer.
The next episode of Doctor Who – The Witchfinders – on BBC at 18:30pm on Sunday 25th November.