“Doctor Who: Kerblam!” Fell Flat

Synopsis 11×07: The Friends investigate a Corporation that is people-powered, and possibly people-eating.

Rating:

We’re two-thirds through! Only three more episodes left ’til the New Year Special. And the arc of the series seems to have settled in. There’s a more, shall we say, relevant tone to this Doctor. She’s up-to-date and her stories are too. But this week fell a bit flat.
 
Taking on a giant corporation is nothing new. Maybe I’m still wallowing in the news that Amazon is coming to my city (NYC). Or maybe I’ve seen Wall-E a few too many times. Hell, the Doctor has done these giant corporation storylines before, in “Planet of the Ood.”
 
This time started out as one would expect — a package arrives, with a throwback fez, and a note:
 
“Help Me.”
 
Considering that this really does happen in the real world, it was hard to imagine where this would go. So of course, the Doctor goes to investigate.
 
The company, Kerblam!, is the largest retailer in the galaxy. It’s taken over a whole moon and is essentially an Amazon stand-in. (Jeff Bezos, if you’re reading this, get out of my city.) The Doctor loves Kerblam in her whimsical excitable way. So the team goes undercover as workers. Ryan’s having flashbacks to his old job, but overall everyone seems to be doing okay. Judy, Head Of People Operations, spends essentially every second she is with them happily chirping about how they employ 10,000 “organics,” making their workforce meet the necessary 10% people-powered. 10%? Yikes.
 
It’s natural to assume that the Big Bad is a corporate drone, or the system itself. Kerblam robots have taken to attacking the workers. Floor Manager Mr. Slade looks like the typical bad guy. Some of the kindly souls in the warehouse who make friends with the Doctor and posse are some of those who go missing and die.
 
But in truth, this episode is problematic AF. I could give you the rundown of who saves who and how people feel about what. Ryan has a great moment with his coordination when he overcomes his fears to help a new friend. But the twist ending is just no good.
 
It’s the janitor. But not just any janitor. It’s a young janitor, a performative activist, convinced that his “generation” will truly bring power back to the people, as the 10% people-powered workforce is not an entirely popular notion. In truth, he’s a militarized terrorist. His plan: to send off thousands of boxes filled with explosive bubble wrap. He’s also been undercover, and the system has been fighting back. The system reached out to the Doctor. The system is the innocent party that needs saving. Reminiscent of last week’s Demons in the Punjab, it’s the humans that are the true monsters.
 
But is the episode trying to say? That we should trust in our corporate leaders, not fight them? That young activists are really just terrorists in the making? That progressive ideals leads to violence? Even if Kerblam agrees to be people-focused, with better wages for its workers, the ending is wrapped up far to quickly to feel like there’s been any sort of success. For a show that’s being doing so well with its own progression, this episode felt like a step backward.
 
Of course, the Doctor saves the day. Of course, she saves (almost) everybody. But the last minute wrap-up that Kerblam will be more people-led is bittersweet. Much like a piece of unexploded Kerblam bubble wrap, this episode was dud. Then again, you can’t win them all.
 

Doctor Who airs on BBC America at 8pm ET on Sunday Nights