Imagine a moon that’s basically Amazon for a galaxy, and something goes wrong.
That’s this week’s episode, that has comments about how these shopping websites work, and how one person takes the wrong approach to make sure people are still employed rather than replaced by robots.
“Kerblam!” was a basic filler episode, but also had comments about how websites like Amazon work, such as the need to get items out and keep things efficient. There’s also fear that improved technology will make human workers unnecessary or, in the case of a corrupted system, dead.
When the Doctor gets a fez she forgot she ordered through Kerblam (and looks pretty good wearing it), she get a note that says “Help Me!” At first, it’s believed that a worker is in trouble. They pose as new workers and meet HR head Judy Maddox (Julie Hesmondhalgh) , and supervisor (who’s a bit too rude to his workers) Slade (Callum Dixon). At least they get to know the people who work there, including Charlie (Leo Flanagan), a maintenance man who’s attracted to another worker, Kira (Claudia Jessie).
The gang eventually discover some of the workers have been mysteriously missing. It’s suspected that the Kerblam delivery bots may be responsible. They seem to be eager to keep the workers on task. They also learn that the company is required to have ten percent of the workers be humans, but dispatch is automated and seemingly inaccessible.
However, are Maddox and Slade responsible somehow? The Doctor has her suspicions, especially since there’s no police around. For once, though, the bosses aren’t to blame (which is a good move for this story).
The surprise is that the real person in distress is the system itself, according to one of its older bots, Twirly. It found out that someone is trying to sabotage Kerblam because of fears it’ll be fully automated someday. Someone is sending thousands of packages around the galaxy, ready to explode once the recipient pops the bubble wrap inside.
That someone is Charlie, who finds out his girlfriend Kira has been killed this way. Despite his affection for her, he thinks killing millions of Kerblam customers to ruin the company’s image is worth it. He just wants to make sure humans still work there at any cost, The Doctor tries to talk him out of it, saying that the system isn’t the problem but how and who uses it, but it’s no use.
She is able to get the Kerblam bots to deliver the packages to themselves instead, but Charlie dies with the bots. It’s a tragic end to a misguided plan.
The episode could have been a comment on how online shopping companies work, and anyone who works for them will see something familiar in this episode, especially being told to talk less and sort more. While places like Amazon can be a good place to work, there’s always pressure to be more productive and whether a robot will be next year’s sorter or packer. Having a maintenance man as the real villain was a good twist, but it was also a little creepy considering the recent news of bomb threats to Obama, Bill Clinton and CNN. It’s also interesting this episode is airing just before the holiday shopping season begins.
It was still a nice filler episode with something to say, but the drama will likely ramp up again when the Doctor faces a witch trial next week.