Kerblam! was a nice, cosy, traditional Doctor Who adventure. That’s not intended as a criticism. While parts of this season have pushed against the boundaries of twenty-first century Doctor Who, they need to be balanced with more traditional stories and this is the best of those so far.
It proceeds from a classic Doctor Who set-up: a humorous social commentary with mystery (fairly clearly signposted, but with some subversive twists) and traditional Doctor Who issues: an SOS, mysterious disappearances, abusive management and sinister robots. It’s similar to stories like The Sun Makers, Paradise Towers and The Beast Below, but feels more polished and a bit more intelligent than those stories.
This is Doctor Who investigating for what seems like the first time in a very long time and it’s good to see that the Doctor doesn’t always have all the answers at the start. The problem is that, as with similar investigation stories since 2005, modelled on old-fashioned four part stories, compressing one hundred minutes of story into fifty leads to rocketing from plot point to plot point without much time for anything else, or to really let the audience relish the mystery.
The world-building also didn’t entirely work. Unemployment from automation is a long-standing fear reaching to the beginnings of the industrial revolution, but no society has yet put itself almost totally out of work, as seems to be the case here. If only a small fraction of people are working, who has the disposable income to buy the things on sale here? Who are the robots working for?
The last fifteen minutes or so were also rather sickly sentimental, a fact to some extent mitigated by the death of Kira, which rammed home how low the body count has been this year, focusing on trying to make a few deaths count rather than going in for Saward-era-style massacres.
Nevertheless, Kerblam! was a success overall and continued the stylistic diversity of this season.