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New Who 11.7 Kerblam!

I'll admit my heart sank for a moment as I realised this was going to be another story about a big corporation. I expected something similar to Arachnids in the UK, which had probably been my least favourite episode so far this season, and wasn't relishing a repeat of its pretty unsubtle message about corporate greed. In fact, though, this was a much more interesting story, with a nuanced perspective on automation that I genuinely didn't expect.

Actually, between the references to the 'People Power' protest movement, the fact that people kept disappearing and the power-drains, for a long time I was expecting to find that the plant was somehow powering itself by devouring its own workers - literal 'people power'. But no - far from it. Instead we met a benign system run by well-meaning people who had detected problems but didn't know how to solve them, and which had therefore sought out external help against the real problem, a misguided human being. The crux of it all came in the Doctor's attempt to talk Charlie (that human being) round, when she told him that the problem was not the system itself, but how people - including him - use and exploit it.

Rather as with last week's Thijar, this ran contrary to established Whovian genre expectations. We've seen a lot of killer robots (and cyborgs) over the years, which helped to make the twist inversion of the trope surprising. I think I liked it, and have a lot of sympathy for the view that technology isn't inherently good or bad itself but a tool which can be turned to either purpose. There's also certainly room for criticising people like Charlie who see an ideological cause as more important than individual lives.

He seemed like rather an exaggerated straw-man representative of that position, though, and I could have done with understanding more of the wider context in order to feel entirely at ease with the morality of it all. As in previous stories - most notably The Ghost Monument - passing references suggested a pretty harsh socio-economic context. The workers at Kerblam! are grateful for even the most menial jobs, since so many people in this galaxy don't have any - a situation explicitly attributed to the rise of technology. Kira never knew her parents, has only ever received one tiny present (from her boss) and has never had anything nice said about her.

The suggested picture is bleak, but it would have been helpful to know more about the People Power Protest Movement which has already led to Kerblam! employing a mandatory 10% of organic workers, what else had led Charlie to the ideological position he'd arrived at, and how exactly his plan of killing thousands of Kerblam's customers was supposed to help. I got the impression we were supposed to have some sympathy for his position, recognising it as valid but simply Gone Too Far - especially since we discovered in the coda to the story that his aim was basically going to be realised in the company's new policy of employing a majority of organic workers. But as I've said above, I felt he came across as too much a stereotype of ideological fervour for that to work properly. I'll be interested to see what other viewers made of it once I've finished writing this.

Meanwhile, back with our regular characters, we learnt a fair bit about Ryan's previous experiences of employment in a similar company back in the People's Republic of South Yorkshire, including how his mates covered for his dyspraxia-induced struggles when he started - and it was nice to see, just as Andrew Hickey noted in relation to the very first episode of this series that his dyspraxia hasn't gone away, but is merely something he is gradually discovering he can take on and work around. Yaz's insistence on taking Dan's necklace back to his daughter also tells us that she has very much taken on board what she learnt about family, and the little artefacts which represent them, in last week's story.

Finally, I chuckled at the comment on past Doctor Who monsters implicit in making literal bubble-wrap the deadly threat of the week. And was it me, or did the Doctor do Venusian aikido on Jarva Slade?

Looking forward to some folk horror next week! :-)

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 18th, 2018 10:06 pm (UTC)
> And was it me, or did the Doctor do Venusian aikido on Jarva Slade?

Oh, I assumed straight away that was what it was!

This one was a lot of fun; it's cheap and easy to make robots scary, but damn it's effective. (Anything with light-up eyes frightens me; I blame Benji, Zax and the Alien Prince.)

I hope children all over the country will be reenacting sliding down the chute to Dispatches in the playground tomorrow :)
Nov. 18th, 2018 10:09 pm (UTC)
Oh, I assumed straight away that was what it was!

If anyone can recognise it authoritatively, it's you! :-)
Nov. 19th, 2018 07:50 am (UTC)
Well, I might be biased!
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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