Doctor Who series 11’s seventh episode Kerblam! is definitely one of the zanier episodes we’ve seen this year, full of creepy grinning robots, corporate conspiracy and Whoniverse callbacks.
But by the end of the episode, some fans may find themselves scratching their heads over a few of the finer plot and background details, so as usual we’ve tried out best to answer any lingering questions you have after watching Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor and co save the day once more.
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Before we get started though, beware – because from hereon out, we’ll be knee-deep in episode spoilers. You have been warned!
Is Kerblam! based on any real-life delivery companies?
While we’re sure Doctor Who wouldn’t want to impugn the working practice of any real-life Earth delivery companies, Ryan (Tosin Cole) does note that the tracker bracelets they all have to wear are similar to technology used in his old warehouse job – and episode guest star Julie Hesmondhalgh confirmed to RadioTimes.com that a little satire of real-world companies was intended to be found in the finished episode.
Whatever you read into the episode’s discussion about worker treatment is entirely up to you.
How did the Kerblam! man follow the Tardis through the time vortex?
Kerblam! opens with one of its delivery bots chasing the Tardis through the time vortex to deliver a package, and one might wonder why the delivery company built the capacity to travel in time and space into its postmen. Bit of overkill, no?
However, the Doctor suggests that the Kerblam! man hasn’t literally followed them through all their voyages – rather, they happened to pass near the galaxy Kerblam! is based in, presumably at a similar time to when the Doctor (in a previous incarnation) last passed through to order a fez.
So in other words, the Kerblam! man wasn’t able to track the Tardis wherever it went – he was just in the right place at the right time. We think…
Did the Eleventh Doctor order that fez?
Speaking of the package, one of the episode’s best gags comes when the Doctor discovers that she’s been delivered a fez, better known as the headgear favoured by her former incarnation the Eleventh Doctor (played by Matt Smith).
“I don’t remember ordering anything – must have been a while back,” she suggests before opening the box, seeming to suggest that the Eleventh Doctor tried to order the fez himself during his tenure – and even though he didn’t get his hands on it, it’s nice to know the Doctor managed to enjoy it at some point.
Who was the voice of Kerblam!?
This episode of Doctor Who was a veritable Broadchurch reunion, with more alumni from the ITV mystery series joining its former star Jodie Whittaker and series boss Chris Chibnall in their new BBC1 home.
Of course, Julie Hesmondhalgh turns up this week after putting in an affecting performance as rape victim Trish in Broadchurch series three – but listen closely and you might realise that the recorded voice of Kerblam! (and thus all the robots) was provided by Matthew Gravelle, better known as Broadchurch series one’s surprise murderer Joe Miller. Clearly, he’s a man who can play sinister very well.
Was there another psychic paper use?
Well spotted – after briefly whipping it out in this series’ fourth episode Arachnids in the UK, the Doctor used her trademark psychic paper more explicitly this time around, providing the gang with a reference from the First Lady of Kandoka (whoever that is).
Within the series, it’s unclear whether the Doctor has ever explained to her team how the paper works, so maybe they think she’s just VERY persuasive when holding up a blank ID.
When did the Doctor meet Agatha Christie?
Another Doctor Who callback comes when Yaz (Mandip Gill) compares the Doctor to a child prodding a wasp’s nest, which inspires the Doctor to take a trip down memory lane.
“Talking about wasps,” the Doctor says, “did I ever tell you about me and Agatha Christie?”
Of course, Doctor Who fans will remember that this trip to visit the legendary crime author (and a deadly alien wasp) occurred in 2008 episode The Unicorn and the Wasp, during David Tennant’s tenure as the Tenth Doctor. Clearly, the Doctor was in a nostalgic mood this week…
So who actually killed Dan – and why did he have to die?
Early in the episode Lee Mack’s lovable Dan Cooper is implied to have been killed by some of the Kerblam! robots – but given that the real mastermind behind the whole conspiracy was cleaner Charlie, viewers would be forgiven for wondering why exactly Dan had to die anyway, and whether it was Charlie or the Kerblam! system who killed him.
We’ve puzzled it over a bit, and we’ve hit on this solution – given that Dan was attacked by the POST robots specifically (aka the Kerblam! men), we’re putting this death on Charlie, as those robots were what Charlie was reprogramming for his grand post-bomb scheme (the baseball-capped “Teammates,” by contrast, were still working for the system).
As for why Dan was killed, well, maybe by heading down to the lower levels to pick up a rare item Dan was coming a little too close to discovering Charlie’s plan – it was mentioned that a few other workers had been killed down in the same area before, after all.
Or maybe his suggestion that he’d call maintenance to sort out the delivery robot that was standing in the wrong place doomed him instead, risking discovery for the grand scheme.
Which murders were committed by Charlie and which were the system?
Again, as a rule the postman robots were working for Charlie, and the baseball-capped robots were working for the system, so all of the murders except Kira’s were part of Charlie’s master plan (or at least part of covering it up when workers accidentally activated the explosive bubble wrap).
Notably, the only robots that went rogue apart from the post bots were the teammates that attacked Charlie (as the Doctor noted, identifying the threat to their protocols) and the pair that organised Kira’s death – both things done by the system to combat Charlie’s plan.
Who was liquefying the bodies?
We assume this was Charlie, presumably using his knowledge and access to chemicals and equipment to hide the evidence of his murders.
Why did Charlie help Graham by finding him the map?
Here’s a question – if he was just intent on organising a Kerblam! bomb strike on Earth, why would Charlie help Graham work towards stopping him by giving him the map of the facility?
Well, it’s possible Charlie didn’t realise that Graham was a threat to his plan and he was genuinely being nice – his romantic interest in Kira was real, so maybe some other stuff we saw him do was real too – OR he could have just been setting Graham up as a fall guy for his deadly plan.
After all, who better to pin the blame on than ANOTHER cleaner with access to the whole facility, and who had also recently stolen some plans to the area the crimes were being committed in?
Couldn’t the Doctor have saved Charlie?
At the last moment the Doctor manages to avert catastrophe, keeping the Kerblam! delivery bots at the dispatch area of the warehouse and instructing them to self-destruct (aka, get them to pop the explosive bubblewrap) instead of teleporting to Earth and delivering their deadly packages.
But in the course of this, episode villain Charlie is left behind with the robots, after failing to return to the Doctor’s side, and is implied to have been blown up with them.
And all this rather begged the question of why the Doctor didn’t try much harder to save him. Sure, he was doing bad stuff, killed people and suffered the fate he intended for others, but it didn’t really seem like he understood that the Doctor was about to teleport everyone away, even when she offered him a choice to leave.
Before he died, he was still asking what was going on – and while it’s nice to see a villain actually experience some comeuppance this series, it seemed like an oddly ruthless move from the Doctor when she could have taken him with her and made sure he answered for his crimes.
Wait, why did Judy decide to make the system less automated when automation wasn’t the problem?
Here’s a funny one – the end of the episode’s message seems to be that automation and AI systems running businesses isn’t really a problem, with the Doctor pointing out it’s just how the systems are used (by humans or “organics”) that cause issues.
To which Julie Hesmondhalgh’s “Head of people”Judy responds by deciding to roll back the automation, just like Charlie wanted, making Kerblam! a “people-led” company despite the Doctor proving that the Kerblam! system did actually have a conscience and was working perfectly.
To be honest, it’s an odd and slightly contradictory end to the episode – where does the episode land on the automation issue, really? – unless of course you do consider that whatever Charlie was responsible for, there was ONE disturbing thing about how the automated Kerblam! system responded…
Hold on, did the Kerblam! system murder a young girl just to make a point to Charlie?
Er, yes, the AI decided it would be a good idea to murder Kira so that Charlie would…understand…grief?
Actually, yeah, maybe cutting back on that automation isn’t the worst idea in the world (or on Kandoka) after all.
Doctor Who continues on BBC1 on Sundays
This article was originally published on 18 November 2018