Series 11, Episode 7 “Kerblam!” Advance Review – Delivering the Goods
Note: Doctor Who TV’s pre-air episode impressions aim to be as detail-free as we reasonably can while still offering a critique, but as everyone’s spoiler sensibilities are different, we advise you read on at your own discretion.
Doctor Who has had a noticeable narrative shift with its episodes this year. Stories, which in the past could be broadly considered as the “Doctor vs. the Monsters,” have become much less of a literal device. The series has been polarising as a result (as seen in the weekly DWTV polls). If you’re one of those longing for something a bit more “traditional” though, then “Kerblam!” might be just the ticket.
This week, Team TARDIS infiltrate a futuristic Amazon-esque company, the titular Kerblam!. The Doctor is drawn there after receiving a mysterious package containing not only an amusing bit of fan service, but more importantly, a message asking for help. When the gang arrives, they only discover pleasant robotic and human workers seemingly working in harmony. But naturally, something much more nefarious is afoot.
Every so often a guest Doctor Who writer immediately stands out as just getting Doctor Who right away on their first script. Jamie Mathieson would be the obvious example of the Capaldi era. Pete McTighe is already making a strong case for the Whittaker era (If Chibnall has any sense, he’ll secure him for more episodes in the future).
Don’t let the silly title fool you; this episode has much more to it. Most of the weaker elements of the series so far – such as lacklustre villains, thin side characters and plots – are thankfully not present here. Finally, it feels like all the pieces fit together cohesively. There’s a good central story with an intriguing mystery for the Doctor to look into, a relevant but subtler social commentary on where we might be heading, and the majority of the characters are all served well and have something to do.
The monsters, aka the robot workers, are great too, all smiles and lurking ominously in the background. Even when they’re being “nice”, you have a nagging suspicion that something is not quite right. They don’t break the mould in that there’s something else going on, but they are just used so much more effectively. And the real puppet master reveal is pulled off well.
Lead guest star Julie Hesmondhalgh is solid as offbeat company higher-up Judy, while Lee Mack makes an endearing impression in his small screen time as worker Dan. However, while Hesmondhalgh and Mack are the bigger named guest stars, they are not the standouts. Instead the lesser known Claudia Jessie and Leo Flanagan surprise as young workers Kira and Charlie, respectively.
As an episode taking place primarily in a large warehouse, it’s hardly going to be able to match the look of the last instalment. However, the futuristic set design is strong and sells a hauntingly vast corporate enterprise. There are also some impressive action set pieces, which have been sorely lacking from this year. It’s all skillfully handled by director Jennifer Perrott.
“Kerblam!” is the first episode of the series that comes across as a more “traditional” Doctor Who adventure. And it’s a welcome return. With his first script, Pete McTighe definitely delivers.