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Doctor Who review: Kerblam a 'missed opportunity' despite special guest stars

Friday 23rd November 2018
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Like a parcel stuck in a distribution hub, there was a good idea trying forlornly to get out of the latest Doctor Who episode’s muddled script.

A measure of what a missed opportunity Kerblam was is that despite the presence of Lee Mack, the best comedy moments went to a tinny little drone called Twirly. Two weeks after the patchy The Tsuranga Conundrum, it felt frustratingly like Doctor Who has only learned how to do history properly by forgetting how to do science fiction.

The episode saw Team Tardis go undercover to work at the moon-sized warehouse of space delivery company Kerblam, to investigate a cry for help written on the Doctor’s (Jodie Whittaker) delivery slip. They quickly learned that the human workers—a minority amid their robotic TeamMates—were being monitored to the extreme. One robo-supervisor creepily kept reminding Yaz (Mandip Gil) and her new pal Dan (Mack) to save any social interactions until their break.

This is subject matter as important as any in 21st century Britain. Behind the news stories about working conditions at high-profile firms is a mental health epidemic. The episode’s 6 million overnight viewers must have overlapped with the 5 million people who suffer work-related stress, depression and anxiety each year in Britain. And, as we’ve been reminded since episode one of the new series, Doctor Who regular Ryan (Tosin Cole) is himself a warehouse worker.

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Yet for some reason Ryan was the most marginalised character this week, his insights into the job limited to one sentence about how not all work is fulfilling and another about sliding down a delivery chute.

We heard about things that should be stressful, but no-one ever looked stressed. The only warehouse operative we met after swiftly-dispatched-Dan was Kira (Claudia Jessie), whose ceaseless cheerfulness tested viewers’ suspension of disbelief as much as their patience—and whose own fate was a step backwards in the series’ portrayal of women.

Any point was lost in a confused conspiracy plot whose twist ending was that the company, the robots and the bosses (Julie Hesmondhalgh and Callum Dixon) were actually nice and the only problem was the one worker with the wherewithal to be disgruntled (Leo Flanagan).

Almost as lost was the potentially fun motif of killer bubble-wrap. Kerblam might calm down the bores who complain that Doctor Who is too politically correct these days, but it isn’t good for much else.

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