A BBC Studios Production for BBC One
First broadcast Sunday 18 November on BBC One
Running time: 50 minutes
Featuring a posse of murderous killer-automatons and more shelving than even the most successful American electronic commerce company could possibly afford, Pete McTighe’s fifty minute long investigation into the depository “moon orbiting Kandoka, and the home of the galaxy’s largest retailer: Kerblam!” must have struck long-time fans of “Doctor Who” that they were watching a disconcerting concoction of Chris Boucher’s marvellously Robophobic 1977 four-parter “The Robots of Death” and the much more recent “Big Finish” audio production “The Warehouse” by Mike Tucker. But whereas at least one of these two aforementioned ‘inspirations’ provided its audience with plenty of tension, suspense and mystery, it’s doubtful many viewers of “Kerblam!” felt that any of the lead cast were actually placed in any jeopardy whatsoever; most especially Jodie Whittaker’s incarnation of the Doctor, who seems to have developed an infuriating habit of waving her sonic screwdriver about at all and sundry during every scene in which she appears, and believing she’s entitled to lie to anyone in authority whilst simultaneously threatening them if she detects any dishonesty within them…
Disappointingly, Graham, Yaz and Ryan’s aura of invulnerability really does frustratingly come to the fore with this story, particularly at the broadcast’s beginning when the student police officer’s heart-warmingly brief interaction with Dan Cooper is infuriatingly almost immediately replaced with Miss Khan suddenly facing some of the storage site’s malfunctioning postmen. Unlike Tom Baker’s classic tale of the Seventies on board a claustrophobic sand-miner where Taren Capel’s emotionless robots at least had the decency to have glowing blood-red eyes when they ‘turned bad’, McTighe’s murderous machines arguably lack any sense of mechanical menace whatsoever, and despite a mighty effort on the part of this show’s musical arrangement to imbue them with an air of peril, many watching this scene were probably already waiting for Yasmin to simply duck through the shelving beside her before one of the smiling assassins even got close.
Perhaps this story’s biggest failing though, is in its seeming inability to actually determine who the villain of the piece actually is until its final confrontation. Throughout most of the story it seems that Jarva Slade is responsible for the numerous staff disappearances, even though actor Callum Dixon disappointingly doesn’t debatably exude the utter despicableness necessary for such an unpleasant role. However, having supposedly flat-footed the titular character by implying the Kerblam computer system is at fault, the real evil mastermind behind all the deaths and destruction is revealed to be a lone cleaner who just so happens to have majored in advanced robotics, programming and explosives. Successfully swallowing such a convenient gripe as Charlie Duffy’s dislike of robots outscoring humans in the job market will be a matter of personal choice. But it’s hard to stomach the Time Lord praising Kerblam’s mainframe for bringing her in to stop the madman’s plan, when just moments before the artificially intelligent processor has ruthlessly murdered the entirely innocent employee Kira, just to teach the bomb-obsessed maniac a lesson in emotional trauma.