Regular readers might have spotted that “Kerblam!”, the first Who story written by Pete McTighe, was not an episode I’ve looked forward to revisiting. Simple reason: it’s among my least favorite episodes of Who.
Although, funny aside, it came at a strange time in our rotation, as the silly coincidences that pepper our lives gave us an odd one this weekend. Yesterday, we took a sunset stop on our way back from a day trip at a really odd place. There was this billionaire financier named Templeton who disliked paying taxes so much that he renounced his US citizenship and stormed off to the Bahamas where he could keep making money without getting any more IRS bills. He was one of those guys who gets celebrated for the literal billion-plus in philanthropic and charitable donations, but who could have made a better and larger contribution to our society staying home and paying his bill every April like the rest of us. Among his eccentric deeds, he founded an appointment-only private library in this whacking great building a few miles outside Sewanee with an astonishing view of the valley below and his old hometown of Winchester, where students from the University of the South will often congregate at sundown, behind the rear fence and past the sign warning of the dangerous bluff, sitting on the rocks looking out at one of the most amazing sights in Tennessee.
Despite the fact that this almost-never-open building surely must not generate very much waste, one of those local students was killed in a tragic accident twenty years ago. He and some mates got into the building and found a chute. The poor kid slid down it into an industrial trash compactor and was crushed. We were there last night at sundown, and this morning, we watch a Doctor Who where the Doctor’s friends slide down a chute in a big warehouse and our son said “That would be fun!” That’s just like a kid to make his father turn into a killjoy. “No, it wouldn’t, let me tell you what happened at that weird library we visited yesterday…”
One of the dopiest moments of “Kerblam!” is that the fellow revealed at the end of the piece to be the villain goes down that remarkably unsafe chute at all. The Kerblam! system has chosen his crush as the next target of their killings. This guy knows exactly how to get to where she is, because he’s the villain of the piece and set this all up. But Doctor Who does dopey moments, and he’s hardly the first villain to do something unlikely to make the hero believe he’s a goodie as well. I’d overlook it if it wasn’t for the twist itself.
See, this had been a clever and occasionally almost pointed critique of Amazon up to the end. We’ve got a corporation so big that it has its own moon for its fulfillment center, but which employs a paltry 10,000 workers for meaningless jobs, a sop to a local law that demands 10% of a workforce be “organic.” It has just a little bite: the “organics” wear literal ankle bracelets that monitor their productivity. This is a system that is too big, capitalism run far too large and far too powerful. You think locally-owned mom and pop stores in the real world have it rough competing with Amazon? Kerblam! has technology that can track down the TARDIS and materialize inside it. Who else can do that other than the Time Lords themselves and the immortal Gods of Ragnarok from season 25, who could send junk mail travel offers into the TARDIS? No, Kerblam! needs to be taken down a notch.
But it’s the villain who decides to do that. “Kerblam!” has the terrible twist that the Doctor needs to side with the big corporation. And just to ram my point home about how bad this is: the Kerblam! system knows that the villain is test-killing workers, so it abducts the villain’s crush to try and make him stop. Now, the system could have locked her in a room with a note reading “Please be patient; we have alerted the Doctor to help stop the villain.” But no, it teleports in one of the villain’s bombs and kills her. And the Doctor isn’t remotely outraged by this. Harriet Jones didn’t have to order the destruction of the Sycorax; the Doctor rewrote history and ended her career for that. All eight of the deaths are because of a whiny, shy radical who just won’t get with the program and accept that Kerblam! is the greatest thing ever. And the Doctor’s on its side. I like it a lot better when the Doctor sides with the hippies against the big corporations.