Doctor Who: Kerblam! Review – “Tonally Messy”

Broadcast Date: 18 November 2018
Written By: Pete McTighe

Presenting itself as a fun episode, “Kerblam!” suffers massively in the final third from not knowing what its tone is, making it a wasted opportunity based on the premise.

*Warning: Contains spoilers*

Both times I have watched this episode I have considered it average at best, but could never put my finger on why I found it good or bad compared to other episodes of this series and of the show in general, until I broke down every element and realised why it wasn’t exciting me. This episode’s tone suffers so much from trying to combine two polar opposites, comedy scenes and a dark message about activism and the distribution industry.

The premise, that The Doctor and her companions are investigating the factory of the universe’s biggest delivery company, Kerblam!, after receiving a message crying for help on the back on a postal slip hints that this will be a comedic episode. This is reinforced by a grinning delivery bot teleporting into the TARDIS (breaking the laws of the show) to the four going undercover as workers within the factor; poor Graham (Bradley Walsh) gets lumbered with the job of a cleaner and nearly gets bored to death by the safety course. There is a fun sequence involving three of the characters sliding down the delivery chutes and being involving in a high-speed conveyor obstacle course, reminding me bizarrely of the airport scene in Toy Story 2. Finally, there is a light hearted love story between two socially awkward young people; everything points towards a fun and light adventure that still has a message about modern warehouses and workers rights.

The Return of the Fez (BBC, 2018)

But the tone randomly goes dark for a few minutes when a character who told the viewers his life story is presumed murdered by the delivery bots. This is acknowledged by the TARDIS crew, but only Yaz (Mandip Gill) seems to carry that thought with her throughout the episode. The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), for example, goes from threatening management to do something about the disappearances, to hiding in an alcove before breaking into an office to gain information. There is also an out of date robot that tries to sell offers that are 200 years out of date that also feels like an awkward comedic break from the darkest point of the episode, when the TARDIS crew are unable to save another primary guest star from getting killed. I was not expecting that moment but it completely flipped the episode in a way that gave me mental whiplash – it didn’t become enjoyable any more.

Express Delivery! (BBC, 2018)

The climax of the episode was probably the complete opposite of what the premise suggested. It turned out that the computer systems were the one to warn The Doctor because someone was about to murder thousands of people with killer bubble wrap delivered from the Kerblam! factory. The reason they were doing it was to… not let 90% of people be unemployed, and of course they were the ones to murder all of the co-workers, at least I think they were. I don’t know, something about this preachy message rubs me up the wrong way, like the writers had to make this person a killer in order to go from an activist to a murderer, but The Doctor doesn’t give him time to react to an explosion, so he dies anyway? It is unnecessarily dark and it feels crazily out of place; the events that conclude the episode include saying goodbye to the good humans and Yaz wanting to deliver a necklace from the guy who told her his story to his daughter… Tonally, it is a mess and it is probably the reason I find this episode hard to digest.

I think that “Kerblam!” has some fun moments, such as the undercover work at a warehouse and the high-stakes conveyor belt ride (which could have been more exciting). If the story took that tone throughout then it would be much improved and consistent. However, the darker elements derail the episode instead of making the viewers think about a particular message. This inconsistent tone has been seen in other episodes this series (most notably “Arachnids in the UK) so it isn’t alone, but it could have been so much better than the product we were delivered.

Star Rating: 2.5/5

What are your thoughts on “Kerblam!”? Let me know in the comments section below and don’t forget to like, and to subscribe to the site to get notified about when I post next. There are several Doctor Who reviews still to come before we start on Series 12, so don’t miss out on seeing them!

Next week sees the TARDIS crew trapped in a run-down cabin in rural Norway… could this finally be the ingenious and scary episode I have been hoping for? You can read my review on episode 9, “It Takes You Away” very soon!

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