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Doctor Who - Kerblam! - Review: "Organics"

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© BBC Pictures
Episode: 11.07 "Kerblam!"
Directed by: Jennifer Perrott
Written by: Pete McTighe
Air date: 18 November 2018

This week a package with a message ("help me") addressed to the Doctor leads Team TARDIS to the galaxy’s largest retailer: Kerblam! The company is placed on the moon orbiting Kandoka and only 10% of its employees are people, the rest are the robotic workforce known as "TeamMates". The group arrives posing as the new employees and attempts to find out who sent the message to the Doctor. We are introduced to HR managers Judy Maddox and Jarva Slade, company's exemplary worker (featured on the posters) Dan Cooper, a member of the dispatch team named Kira and finally a maintenance employee called Charlie. Things quickly take a turn for the worse when Dan disappears and Yaz finds herself running away from the delivery bots. The Doctor suspects that there's something wrong with the system's artificial intelligence but everyone later learns that the malfunction was man-made. Charlie is revealed as the person who weaponised the bubble wrap in every package and intends to use them against Kerblam's customers. He admits that he's trying to frame the system and stop the automation which has been making human workforces redundant in the last years. Team TARDIS also discovers that it was the company's AI who sent the message to the Doctor but also killed Kira as a way to make Charlie understand and reconsider his actions, knowing about his feelings for her. Thirteen manages to reprogram the robots so that the packages are never delivered to the customers and instead will destroy each other. Charlie is caught in the explosion but the rest of the group leaves unharmed. The Doctor, Yasmin, Graham and Ryan leave the moon with Maddox and Slade planning to rebuild the company and increase the human workforce.

For everyone who's been missing a very Doctor Who type of episode this was certainly it. It was an adventure in space, complete with a conspiracy to take thousands of lives, the company filled with robots and ran by artificial intelligence, and a reference to the real-life places with a lesson at the end. The interesting part being the final twist with the true culprit revealed. If we're looking for a theme of the season, I'd say a lot of it is heavily focused on regular people being the villains of the story. It's not a new concept, of course, but with a science fiction show like Doctor Who, it's actually quite an unexpected conclusion. It's much easier to focus on the monster of the week, an alien from an imposible planet and the future, instead of showing just how far people will go for the things they believe in, whatever those may be. This time we were introduced to Charlie, seemingly kind and shy young man who fell for one of his co-workers, kind and innocent Kira. They had brief, yet sweet interactions and for a while I thought they're going to end up being the "happily ever after" part of the story. The couple the viewers would root for to survive in this dangerous place. That's certainly something that took me by surprise. I haven't quite decided whether I really enjoyed the twist or would prefer the more obvious solution for this one. However, the reveal was definitely a turning point in the story. Especially considering the fact that it came with Kira's death. Poor girl, exactly the kind of good-hearted person who deserved so much better than this cruel fate. Same with Dan Cooper. Dan barely met Yasmin but already decided to support her on her first day which cost him his life. In his case, as soon as he revealed his daughter's gift, I expected him to be one of the victims but it didn't make the last scene, with Yaz wanting to visit his little girl, any less impactful.

I love these little moments when it's clear how much this group cares about every single life they encounter. When the hour ended I came to the conclusion that it was a much sadder story that I expected, sadder than it may seem on the surface. Innocent lives lost, potential love destroyed by hatred and mistrust. Even the Kerblam robots... The Doctor starts the episode speaking with such happiness and energy about the Kerblam Man and ends it repeating their the motto ("If you want it, Kerblam it") in a much calmer voice, sadly looking at the robot head. Because the truth is, while the system was trying to fight off Charlie, reaching out to the Doctor, it's also the system that killed Kira. The robots may not be the ultimate villain of the episode but they certainly were not without blame. After Charlie's actions are revealed it was great to go back and rediscover all the little clues we've seen leading to this moment. Easy to miss at the first glance, it becomes clear that the system intentionally assigned the Doctor to the maintenance position, trying to guide her towards Charlie. Her decision to change roles with Graham actually took her away from her investigation but provided the viewers with a few great moments with Graham. He seemed to genuinely care about Charlie, trying to change his mind even after realizing the truth. I loved their little interactions and the way the Doctor's companion was helping his new young friend with his feelings for Kira. I think he's the one who was most shocked and hurt by the end of the hour, learning a great deal about people and their secrets in the process.

The episode was also a chance to learn a bit more about Ryan. Kerblam company reminded him of his old work and life on Earth, he shared his own experiences with Kira, showed her kindness and really fought to save her life at the end. He couldn't help her but he proved to be quite a detective during the hour, working side by side with Yasmin to discover the truth behind all the disappearances from the warehouse. As for the Doctor, she's certainly growing on me, I liked how strong and confident she was when talking to HR managers but it seems she's still doubting herself at times, more so than in the past. We haven't really seen or felt the anger of Thirteen yet but we got a glimpse of her strength and potential in her final confrontation with Charlie. I'm always glad to see all the different sides of the Doctor, so I'm still waiting for that "I'm the Doctor..." speech but I've been enjoying Jodie's performance so far. Also, the fez at the beginning was a wonderful little reference, later followed by the mention of meeting Agatha Christie. Certainly happy to see those, even the smallest details (like another display of Venusian aikido) can make the episode feel like a part of a bigger story, a true continuation of the things that happened in the past. This hour was one of the good ones if you ask me, an enjoyable story with interesting characters, a mystery to be solved with a chance for the Doctor and her Companions to each get a meaningful moment of their own. Not as powerful or memorable like the historical episodes from this year, but exactly what we needed at this point. Excited to see the next chapter already.

Whovian notes and questions:
1. What did you think about Kerblam? Did you enjoy the story overall? Did you think the similarities to a real company like Amazon might have been a bit too much? Maybe it was subtle enough or did you not focus on such reference at all?
2. What did you think about the twist? Did the fact that Charlie turned out to be the villain only added to the story from your perspective or made it less enjoyable as a whole?
3. What was your favorite callback during the hour? The fez, Agatha Christie or Venusian aikido? Something else worth to mention?
4. How do you feel about the season so far? Would you prefer a season-long arc with some returning enemies of the Doctor? Do you feel invested in the personal journeys of the Doctor and each of her Companions?

1. Jarvis Slade: "How would you like a warning for insubordination?"
The Doctor: "I'd love one. I could add it to my collection."

2. The Doctor: "I need to you find out the history of the company and try to get some plans of the complex."
Graham: "How am I gonna do that?"
The Doctor: "You're perfectly placed. No one questions a cleaner. You've got unrestricted access."
Graham: "Yeah. And chronic skin irritation."

3. Ryan: "We did it! We're not dead! We're totally not dead!"

4. The Doctor: "Could you pause all sales protocols for a bit?"
Twirly: "Even the upselling?"
The Doctor: "Even the upselling. You've just had a nap of about 200 years so your offers are out-of-date anyway."
Twirly: "Without upselling, my only purpose is delivery."
Graham: "We don't need you to do that either, mate."
Twirly: "The future is very confusing for my protocols."

5. Ryan: "Halfway across the universe and I feel like I'm back at work."

What did you think about "Kerblam!"? Any favorite scenes, quotes or theories? Feel free to let us know in the comments. Check out the synopsis & promo for the next episode "The Witchfinders". As always, thanks for reading!

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