Doctor Who Review: Kerblam!

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The systems aren’t the problem.

So, let’s talk about Kerblam! – or rather, let’s talk about “Kerblam”.

“Kerblam” is a great big online shopping service. The biggest retailer in the galaxy, in fact. It’s got massive warehouses, it does special deliveries, and relies on a group of human workers.

The workers are closely monitored in terms of their productivity while processing packages. At “Kerblam”, the workers have to hit targets of three hundred items an hour. Some of them have been known to have panic attacks if they don’t make those targets. Three hundred items an hour works out as one item every nine seconds, give or take, across a ten and a half hour working day from 7:30am to 6pm. Their breaks are carefully monitored too – workers pee in bottles to avoid taking bathroom breaks.

Of course, that’s not the only thing workers have to deal with at “Kerblam”. They’re not treated especially well by their immediate managers; workers are encouraged to bluntly criticize employees’ ideas in meetings, and performance reviews included half-hour lectures about unfulfilled goals. They’re expected to be accessible all the time, beyond the realms of the eight-hour weeks they already work.

“Kerblam” also give the employees work bracelets – the Group Loops – to keep track of what work they’re doing, how efficiently they’re doing it, and how well they’re doing it. This makes sure everyone keeps to high standards – unreasonably high ones, “Kerblam” would no doubt proudly boast. If you don’t keep to the high standards, you’re going to be let go. There are “annual cullings of the staff — “purposeful Darwinism,” one former “Kerblam” human resources director said. Some workers who suffered from cancer, miscarriages and other personal crises said they had been evaluated unfairly or edged out rather than given time to recover”.

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All this means, of course, that “Kerblam” is doing extremely well. It’s making vast, vast profits. Its owner is the richest man in the world. As is well deserved, of course, because of the sheer effort and labour that he personally puts into “Kerblam”.

The system works.

The systems aren’t the problem.

Obviously.

It’s the people who exploit the systems that are the problem. A system like the one at “Kerblam” is absolutely fine. It’s the sort of thing that develops entirely in isolation and leads to entirely fair and equitable treatment of all the works. As we’ve seen above.

The system works. The systems aren’t the problem.

Of course, people can exploit the system, and that’s not great. You don’t want people to exploit the system. If the system is just left as is, that’s fine. Its people interfering that leads to problems in the system. Just leave it be, and we end up with a system that works perfectly fine, where the workers get to see their family twice and year and there obviously isn’t a problem with that.

And why would there be a problem? The system works. The systems aren’t the problem.

The systems aren’t the problem. It doesn’t matter what happens at “Kerblam”, because anything that is happening – and, let’s be honest, it’s not really all that bad anyway – is clearly just a one-off quirk, the result of an individual actor exploiting.

The system isn’t bad. The system would never kill someone; that’s only when people exploit the system.

Obviously.

That’s fine. I really don’t think I have any more to say. I thought I might have, to be honest, but I just… don’t. I don’t care! I don’t care. “Kerblam” is fine. There’s nothing wrong with the system. The system isn’t bad. It’s just the people who exploit the system. They’re the problem. All the things you’ve seen so far? Not a problem. That’s just the system. And the system is fine. Why do you have a problem with the system? Are you a terrorist? Some young terrorist who has a problem with the system? Well, you’re just naïve, aren’t you?

The system isn’t the problem. The system works. The problem is people who exploit the system. Exploitation of the system is a very distinct thing from the system itself, because the system, as we know, works. The system is fine.

The system isn’t the problem.

The system isn’t the problem, according to Doctor Who.

Fucking hell.

2/10

Related:

Doctor Who Series 11 reviews

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Doctor Who Review: The Tsuranga Conundrum

doctor who the tsungara conundrum chris chibnall jennifer perrott pting tim price jodie whittaker bradley walsh tosin cole

In my review last week, I mostly threw Arachnids in the UK under the bus, despite actually mostly liking it.

The reason for that was, enjoyable though the episode mostly was, Arachnids in the UK was the fourth episode in a row that was essentially basically fine. It was good, it was decent, it was entertaining, and it was a perfectly diverting way to spend an hour. Asking for anything more than that is, I suspect, maybe a little unfair. But I’m used to more than that from Doctor Who – the basically fine is the exception to the rule, I think, albeit not a rule where quality is the norm exactly – and I’ve been hoping for more than that to manifest itself.

Largely the same was true of The Tsuranga Conundrum, an episode which I’d actually be inclined to say was my favourite of the series so far. It was good, it was decent, it was entertaining, and it was a perfectly diverting way to spend an hour. Indeed, it was a perfectly diverting way to spend two hours, given I rewatched it ahead of this review, in the hopes of finding lots of things to say.

I am not sure I did find lots of things to say. Or, at least, not a lot of things to say beyond a series of bullet points – Bradley Walsh was excellent in that bit, I quite like the P’Ting, we’re clearly still struggling to balance the companions properly, and isn’t it a relief that – as far as I can judge, anyway – the episode wasn’t especially transphobic? That’s the sort of thing that you’d put together in a twitter thread, or maybe a general bullet point roundup on a forum thread.

What the episode was was good, decent, entertaining, and a perfectly diverting way to spend an hour. What it so far isn’t is especially conducive to a thousand odd words of discussion and consideration and dissection each week. And, hey, maybe that’s more to do with my limitations as a reviewer rather than anything else – there’s certainly plenty of them, after all, and it’s not like I’ve ever found reviewing particularly interesting or engaging exactly. It’s not my preferred style of writing, as evidenced by how often I’ll write around the topic when I’m trying to review something rather than actually engaging with it, and trying to review something as… superficial is the wrong word, because it sounds more critical than I mean it to… trying to review something like Doctor Who of late, which has become a very “does what it says on the tin” programme, is a little frustrating.

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This is actually the second draft of the review I’ve written – something of a rarity, because I tend to write these pieces with fairly limited revisions. (We can tell, I hear you cry.)

I had about five hundred words done, and the broad overview of the rest planned, before junking it entirely and starting essentially from scratch with the piece you’re reading now. There was an opening, essentially, about expectations, and how I’m starting to get to grips more and more with what the Chibnall era actually looks like, the shape and contours of his writing style. Because of that, then, little things like clunky exposition or awkward educational notes didn’t bother me as much, and I appreciated basic things like “the story has an ending” more than I would have otherwise.

It was a boring review, though. Boring to read, I assume, if only because of how boring it was to write. Like I said, I am not especially interested in reviews at the best of times – I think you should watch Doctor Who, I think it is a good way to spend your time if you’re someone who already likes Doctor Who, but if you don’t like it already this probably isn’t going to change your opinion on it. Spending ten minutes reading what I thought about it likely isn’t the best use of anyone’s time. Yes, I did really like the P’Ting. Yes, that scene where Ryan tells Yaz about his mum was nice, but the direction was weak and Mandip Gill really needs to be given some proper material very, very soon.

What’s frustrating isn’t that I’m not enjoying the current series, or that I don’t like it. Because I do! I really very much do. It’s just that the way I’m used to enjoying it doesn’t quite work anymore, because – and, again, I don’t want to seem like I’m being particularly critical, because I don’t mean or want to be – this isn’t an iteration of the programme that really rewards the level of introspection and consideration I’m trying to afford it. It’s a shame, because so much of it feels so specifically tailored to what I’d like to see from Doctor Who. Perhaps that, then, is the real conundrum here.

(No? Fine, fine, it was a bit of a crap joke.)

doctor who the tsungara conundrum chris chibnall jodie whittaker tosin cole bradley walsh mandip gill tim price jennifer perrott pting doc brown

Like I said, this is probably chiefly down to my own limitations. After all, they are vast and numerous, and responsible for a lot.

It’s not like, after all, Jodie Whittaker isn’t doing lots of genuinely interesting things with the role. Once again, much like in The Ghost Monument, she’s doing things I’d struggle to imagine Capaldi, Smith, or Tennant doing – the scene where she apologies to Astos is fascinating in its implications, even if there’s something admittedly at least vaguely concerning about the fact that it’s the first female Doctor who does things like apologise to the throwaway guest character. I wish it was the sort of thing that was being foregrounded a little more, to be honest, a focal point to actually unpack and engage with. It’d have been particularly interesting here, actually, to emphasise the Doctor’s injuries, because that’s not something we tend to see – there’s a version of The Tsuranga Conundrum which is, I think, a lot more compelling that it was. It’s just a few more drafts out of reach.

The same is true again of Tosin Cole; while Bradley Walsh is still probably the standout companion (a result of his sheer charm, and the fact his agent clearly negotiated for him to get all the best lines), Cole is doing a particularly impressive job realising Ryan. Granted, in saying that, I’m wanting to criticise a little bit again – I think at this point we’re yet to see “three companions” actually work, particularly given that Ryan didn’t have a line until about 19 minutes in and Yaz still has nothing to do – but that’s a little beside the point. It’s an impressive performance – more subtle and more nuanced than I think Cole is entirely getting credit for, actually, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how this all resolves. The presumably inevitable return of his dad should, in theory, be something Chibnall writes really well, and it strikes me as being something generally unlike what we’ve seen from Doctor Who in quite some time.

Also, I really liked the P’Ting. I know it’s been fairly unpopular, but everyone who disliked it is actually wrong: it’s funny and charming and a pretty neat bit of CGI. I would very much like to see the P’Ting again, actually. Maybe a swarm of P’Tings. A P’Ting Dilemma.

Anyway. So, another episode that I quite enjoyed but didn’t exactly have a lot to say about. Hopefully Demons of the Punjab tonight will break that somewhat difficult streak – that’s the episode I’ve been looking forward to most, actually, since it was first announced however many weeks ago. So, very excited about that, and hopefully it’ll give me something to write about.

8/10

(Like I said, I really did actually enjoy this episode!)

Related:

Doctor Who Series 11 reviews

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