What I Like About Who: No. 11

This is the eleventh column in a weekly series from Rob Hull, Figures and More. Check back Mondays for a weekly journey through time and space, or read all of our adventures here

This episode of Doctor Who is brought to you by the Brick and Mortar Retailers of Earth, who remind you that people work here. Just kidding. But, there is no doubt that the inspiration for this week’s episode is the seemingly unstoppable internet shopping juggernaut. In fact, with the Holiday Shopping Season in full swing, this may be the timeliest episode of Doctor Who this series.

It all starts with the Doctor getting a package in the TARDIS, courtesy of Amaz, I mean Kerblam! What’s in the box? Why, it’s the gift of fan service, in the form of a FEZ! And, yes, she wears it! And, yes, FEZZES ARE STILL COOL! Anyway, on the back of the packing slip are the words “help me.” And, if you know the Doctor, you know she never refuses a plea for help. So, it’s off to Kerblam! we go.

We we get there, we discover that Amaz, sorry, I mean Kerblam! Has taken over an entire moon for their warehouse. We also find out that the company is only 10% human workers, and 90% automated. The Doctor, Graham, Yaz and Ryan have decided to go undercover as new workers.

Entering the building, we meet Judy Maddox (Julie Hesmondhalgh). She is the “Head of People.” Ryan and the Doctor get assigned to packaging, Yaz gets assigned to order fulfillment, and Graham is assigned to maintenance. Time to meet the supporting characters.

In addition to the aforementioned Ms.Maddox, there is a small but important group of co-workers Team TARDIS interacts with. First up, Yaz meets Dan Cooper (Lee Mack), a father with a young daughter who lives on Kandoka, the planet that the moon Kerblam! occupies orbits. He tries to give her some tips for getting by. When Yaz gets a request for an item in an area people have been known to disappear in, he goes to get it himself. He never returns. When Yaz goes to find him, he finds only his damaged scanner device and the necklace that was around his neck.

Meanwhile, in packaging, The Doctor and Ryan, who is bemoaning the fact that this feels like his job back home, meet Kira Arlo (Claudia Jessie). Kira is sweet and kind, and so, in the parlance of Doctor Who, she is, of course, doomed.

Checking in on Kerblam!’s newest Maintenance Man, Graham, we are introduced to Charlie Duffy (Leo Flanagan). Charlie seems like a nice enough, if somewhat naive kid. He’s also got a crush on Kira, which he is doing a terrible job of hiding.

Rounding out the supporting cast is Jarva Slade (Callum Dixon). Slade is the human Administrator of Kerblam! He is secretly monitoring the disappearances of people and keeping paper records in a locked filing cabinet in his office, which, of course, the Doctor breaks into.

But, we have to talk about one more character who is absolutely essential to the story. That, of course, is the Kerblam! Man. This is the name for the creepy humanoid delivery robots you have seen in the trailer. Yes, they are as creepy as they look. Yes, they are up to something. And, yes, like most of the “monsters” this season, not everything is as it seems.

Once everyone gets on the same page, and the adventure really begins, this episode starts to feel like “classic” Doctor Who, with the Doctor getting to the bottom of things and exposing the true villain. I can honestly say, I didn’t see this one coming. The real bad guy of the piece is …..CHARLIE! Yes, that’s right, Naive Maintenance Guy Charlie. It turns out he is also undercover, and he is, in fact, an activist acting on behalf of the unemployed people on Kandoka. It is very unsettling the way his whole persona and attitude change when he is revealed. He really seems quite mad.He is the one who reprogrammed the Kerblam! Men to kidnap and kill those people. He is also responsible for the periodic power drains throughout the episode, as he is storing teleport power. See, the Kerblam! Men deliver their packages using teleports. Charlie is storing power for a massive group teleport. He intends to send out an army of Kerblam! Men whose packages have EXPLOSIVE BUBBLE WRAP! Can you think of a more terrifying weapon to her about at THIS time of year? I will NEVER be able to look at bubble wrap the same way again! Thanks a lot Doctor Who.

Anyway, just to tie everything up neatly, the Kerblam! System Program knew that it was being misused and altered, so it sent the Help ME message to the Doctor, knowing she would come. It also has Kira kidnapped to try and emotionally affect Charlie. She opens a package with some of his explosive bubble wrap in it and perishes. The Doctor finds this out through the use of an adorable little bot, nicknamed Twirlie, I know SUPER ADORABLE NAME, which was the predecessor of the Kerblam! Man, and is yet another item this series that should DEFINITELY be made into a toy.

Unfortunately, the Doctor can’t reason with Charlie, and so she has no choice, but to reprogram all of the Kerblam! Men to open their packages and pop their bubble wrap, thereby blowing them, and Charlie, up. This is the first time this season that the “bad guy” doesn’t escape.

This episode felt more like a traditional Doctor Who adventure. It had a good pace, and the subplots were way more balanced in terms of weight and time allotted. Everyone from Team TARDIS had their own part to play, and the shifting between them felt much more natural. Julie Hesmondhalgh does a great job as Ms. Maddox, and Leo Flanagan does a great job as Charlie, making us like him quite a bit, before almost schizophrenically switching attitudes and making us hate him. One character, two completely different personalities. Not an easy thing for any actor to do.

I really liked this episode. After last week’s weighty historical, it was nice to have a silly little straightforward adventure. Some great guest stars and wonderful pacing make this one to watch again and again. Also, KILLER BUBBLE WRAP may be one of the most inventive plot devices I have ever seen. Keep that in mind as you are doing your Holiday Shopping online at Kerblam!, er, I mean…you know.

Next Week, it’s back in time for a witch hunt featuring one of the biggest guest stars this series! It’s The Witchfinders.


DID WHO KNOW?

  • Julie Hesmondhalgh is most famous for her recurring role on the British Drama Coronation Street. She also played Trish Winterman, the sexual assault victim in the third series of Chris Chibnall’s Broadchurch.
  • In fact, this episode is like a sort of mini Broadchurch reunion, because in addition to Julie Hesmondhalgh, Kerblam! is voiced by Matthew Gravelle, best known as Joe Miller, and of, course, the Doctor herself, Jodie Whittaker, played Beth Lattimer in all three series of Broadchurch, which was created and run by current Doctor Who Showrunner, Chris Chibnall.
  • Lee Mack, who plays Dan Cooper, is a famous British Comedian who has been after a part in Doctor Who for ages.
  • The fez was a big part of the run of Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, and was worn by that Doctor frequently.
  • The line about Agatha Christie is a sly reference to The Unicorn and the Wasp, an adventure in which David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor and Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble meet Agatha Christie.
  • This is not the first time the Doctor has worked in retail. The Eleventh Doctor worked as a sales associate in a shop in the season six episode Closing Time. He even had a name tag that said “The Doctor.”
  • The Ninth Doctor met Rose Tyler when she was working in a shop, or, at least she was until the Doctor blew it up. I like to think he made it up to her though, and he had a REALLY good reason.
  • This is the first episode title in the show’s history to feature an exclamation point!