Back in my TARDIS Eruditorum post on The Caretaker, I mused on what Gareth Roberts might have written if he’d been allowed to write Doctor Who that reflected his politics of English middle class supremacism as opposed to being constantly pigeonholed into writing comedy romps, suggesting this would have been preferable and interesting. With Kerblam! we finally test that, and the results are as fascinating and infuriating as you’d expect.
On one level, this is the biggest political fuckup of an episode in recent memory. I mean, it’s a satire of Amazon that comes down firmly on the side of Amazon. It’s consciously pitched as a critique of labor activists in favor of exploitative corporations—one that is overtly hostile to younger generations and that treats concerns about the effects of automation on individual workers as contemptuous. It is overtly in favor of of corporations that aggressively micromanage workers’ exploitation in favor of efficiency, of bullying and abusive bosses, and of automated systems that kill people to make a point. It’s like the Cartmel and Davies eras as rewritten by Nick Land.
The thing is, that’s actually a hell of a pitch. And the first part of it is key—this episode is technically steeped in what made those eras work. It’s full of good ideas that are intelligently put together. Warehouses are a brilliantly achievable setting for Doctor Who. The Kerblam! bots are a delightful mix of creepy and charming. It does a great job of satisfyingly leaning on Doctor Who tropes while still feeling fresh and weird. And I mean, it has killer bubble wrap. I’m ridiculously and overwhelmingly there for killer bubble wrap. The mixture of bright and colorful with spookiness and action sequences is a balance that almost always works for Doctor Who, and it works here. And, in common with scripts that haven’t had Chibnall’s name on them, there’s a sense of focus to this. It knows what it’s about and has the intelligence to focus on the theme. Indeed, it even uses its politics to good effect, trusting in the standard morality of Doctor Who to do the work of setting up red herrings without it having to actually comment on anything so that, for instance, the audience is suspicious of Kerblam! because of its labor practices even when the Doctor doesn’t actually say anything about them. It’s a perfectly good episode of Doctor Who that just happens to be, you know… evil.
In terms of judging its quality, that’s easy enough. Contrary to my detractors who accuse me of exclusively judging Doctor Who by its politics, I’ve been consistent in my view that well-done conservative science fiction is worth doing. This qualifies. I am fascinated by its pathologies—by what it does and doesn’t let itself notice about the world it’s set up, and by how it manages to make this completely and utterly fucked ethical and political assessment work in the context of Doctor Who. In one sense, the detail at the end of closing the plant for a month but only giving the workers two week’s pay is as fantastically perverse as the detail of Cordo’s father’s body being worth more than his life savings in The Sunmakers. Yes, this loses some points for its politics, but it’s not going straight to the bottom of the rankings by any measure. I mean, I wish its evil had been more insidious and seductive instead of just coming out in one “holy shit, really” exposition dump at the end, but honestly, this is fine.
That said, let’s think about what it means that the Chibnall era has this in it. I’ve remarked before on the strange passivity of Whittaker’s Doctor, and the fact that we’ve had a pro-corporation anti-labor story before we’ve had one in which the Doctor is just unambiguously on the side of people being oppressed makes this all the more damning. This is a Doctor Who whose ethics consist firmly of tone arguments and respectability politics; where what you say is less important than whether you say it appropriately. It’s a Doctor Who of “sure, one side is building concentration camps for babies, but the left graffitied Tucker Carlson’s driveway.” It probably thinks no platforming is awful and that restaurants shouldn’t refuse service to fascists. And it is clearly hostile to revolution, upsetting the apple cart, or being disruptive unless those things happen in an orderly and already historicized way.
In this regard, the overt focus on representation in front of and behind the camera feels odd. This is, after all, one of the most conservative eras of Doctor Who we’ve ever seen, sitting alongside the Innes Lloyd base under siege factory, the Dicks/Letts “you know what’s lovely, the military” era, and the Saward “OK but what if more toxic masculinity” approach. And yet it’s also doing more with diversity than any other era. The people saying ratings are falling because it’s all SJW politics are clearly wrong about both halves of that statement, but the fact remains that this kind of self-conscious push at diversity usually is the mark of considerably more leftist shows.
What this mostly serves to reveal, I think, is the shallowness of diversity as a sole or even primary marker of progressive cred. That’s not to say that diversity isn’t important; I’d argue that it’s necessary to being meaningfully leftist in 2018. But it’s not the be-all and end-all, and a lot of that is because it’s so cooptable. (The right, curiously, has always recognized this, hence the profusion of prominent people like Milo Yianopoulous or Candice Owens within the movement not because of any actual talent or insight they have but because of the favorable optics of “the gay alt-righter” or “the black woman who supports Trump.”) It is increasingly clear that Chibnall’s interest in diverse casting and production teams is a bit of canny brand management based on recognizing what’s hot in pop culture right now and aping it. In the more cynical reads of this, one might even suspect that Whittaker’s casting was more about getting free publicity from entitled man-children than about any actual investment in the benefits of representation; certainly it’s the most useful Ian Levine has ever been in promoting the show.
But beneath the surface iconography of “doing wokeness” it is increasingly and distressingly clear that the Chibnall era’s aesthetic purpose consists of packaging up the concerns of small-minded middle aged white men and selling them to kids who deserve better. (The big tell is that in a diverse cast full of young people the show is by miles most interested in Graham.) It thinks Trump is worth no more than a dirty look, that the past exists as nothing more than prologue for the perfectly adequate present, and now that trying to make a stand for labor rights in the face of automation is the province of madman terrorists. The ratings are still good, so it’s not doing any damage to the sow, and the diversity of this era will pay dividends for generations, but at this point I think we can confidently declare the Chibnall era to be a soulless affair with no investment whatsoever in the mercurial.
But hey, at least Kerblam! was pretty fun while revealing the dead-eyed cynicism at the heart of this era.
- Oh hey whaddya know.
- I know I’ve been complaining about a lack of thematic focus, but calling the company that’s hijacked into shipping exploding packages “Kerblam!” might be a smidge far.
- It’s a pity the delicious fucked-upedness of Kira being lured by the promise of the second gift in her life and then killed by explosive bubblewrap is undermined by the utter cheapness of the death, which amounts to a fridging needed purely because they needed Charlie to abruptly give up his involvement. This may be the most fucked ratio of brilliant death scene to terrible narrative purpose of the death in Doctor Who.
- Although I do have to say, burning “killer bubble wrap” in the last five minutes of an episode is a tragic waste. This gets at an oddity of Kerblam!, which is that it’s blatantly the setup for the best Auton story never to happen.
- It’s genuinely bizarre that seven episodes in we’ve only actually had two in which the Doctor defeats the villain. Like, aside from the general matter of the Doctor’s passivity, a 29% rate of “the Doctor actually takes deliberate action to stop the villain” as opposed to “the villain stupidly gets himself exploded in the course of the Doctor’s plan.”
- The podcast guest for this week will be the fabulous Deb Stanish of the Verity! podcast.
- In closing, I’d like to give Kerblam! real credit for finally and conclusively proving that there’s nothing inherently left-wing about Doctor Who as a format. You can do a profoundly reactionary pro-capitalist story and it still works. It might involve swimming against the tide of narrative expectation and a decent portion of the series’ history, but the idea that Doctor Who is magically immune from being conservative is blatantly nonsense. Mercury may be in its DNA, but there’s no inevitability here.
- Demons of the Punjab
- The Tsuranga Conundrum
- Arachnids in the UK
- The Ghost Monument
- The Woman Who Fell to Earth
November 20, 2018 @ 10:06 am
I don’t think I can enjoy the pleasures of the episode and rate it on technical achievement because what it’s doing is so blatantly unethical that enjoyment doesn’t matter. This is honestly a contender for worst new series story precisely because nothing else has so clearly and intentionally endorsed late Capitalism. It’s a story that’s so ludicrously mean spirited in its politics that the last ten minutes retroactively destroys all the good parts of the episode. Sure, I disliked The P’Ting Dillema and The Ghost Monument, but they were just incompetent, not pure evil.
I thought I’d be less angry about this by now, but I’m not. Fuck this era. Only Demons of the Punjab is salvageable.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:23 am
For all the kids watching Kerblam! the takeaway message is “I hope I’m lucky enough to get chosen for a job in a place like that”. Its target audience is people who routinely order crap from Amazon.
Couldn’t dislike the episode more.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:29 am
“Its target audience is people who routinely order crap from Amazon”
No, its target audience is people who can’t afford to routinely order crap from Amazon… because they WORK for Amazon.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:35 am
I think the episode was sneering at people who work at Amazon. The “happy ending” is don’t worry, Amazon’s fine. The loser who tried to bring it crashing down blew himself up. You’ll still be able to order what you want, and play with the bubble wrap. “English middle class supremacism” – as El wrote in the review.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:47 am
He didn’t even blew himself up. The Doctor killed him deliberately by ordering the robots to pop the bubble wrap (damn that bubble wrap idea is good).
November 20, 2018 @ 11:23 am
The Doctor had to blow up the robots or thousands of people would have died when the packages were (imminently) teleported. She made several appeals to the guy to get back to the group so that she could teleport him out
November 20, 2018 @ 12:06 pm
she expressly told them to do “what everybody does and pop the bubble wrap.”
If she hadn’t, they could’ve got rid of the bubble wrap in another way, or just later.
Not that this is the biggest problem of the story, and an explosion makes for a better ending, I guess.
November 20, 2018 @ 1:32 pm
Precisely! There was no reason for the end explosion. The threat of the blast was there solely for the purpose of creating a dramatic situation for the young lad (can’t even remember his name) to be in danger, and then get his (undeserved) comeuppance. The robots could just as easily have been told to not teleport, and dispose of their packages safely. They’re obedient robots FFS. He could have been apprehended safely and alive.
November 20, 2018 @ 4:05 pm
Bear in mind this is the same “Doctor” who had previously had a go at someone for being prejudiced against robots, because “some of my best friends are…”. And then she orders a multitude of them to commit suicide. Unbelieveable.
November 20, 2018 @ 4:46 pm
Still less startling than taking The System’s murder of Kira as a demonstration of its benevolence though.
Fuck this episode stinks.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:35 am
I think the thing that most annoyed me is that this was basically a 7 story, but filtered through the ideology of the Lib Dems. It strips everything vital and cathartic from the Cartmel era and replaces its heart with platitudes and incremental reforms. It’s ridiculous, black hearted, ignorant, and plain harmful.
The sheer harm it can cause with its influence makes this the worst story of new Who.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:41 am
A Cartmel-era story filtered through the ideology of the Lib Dems is a really neat way of describing this
November 20, 2018 @ 10:38 pm
This would explain why I enjoyed this story so much!
November 21, 2018 @ 10:45 am
That’s really not something to be proud of.
November 20, 2018 @ 11:36 am
I’ve defended stories like Rosa and Demons of the Punjab as having a “net positive” as a “fundamental social good” in the way they’ve encouraged children to think about difficult topics and to have conversations about privilege and prejudice with their parents.
But this? It is a morally bankrupt, evil act to put this out for children to watch. The only major positive was it actually really focussed my anger and made me see afresh and clearer than ever just how loathsome this fanbase’s politics can be. But that’s not worth the effect this could have on reinforcing children’s belief systems.
November 20, 2018 @ 3:36 pm
I think it’s interesting that this pretty, young-looking, white woman Doctor is proving to be someone who wants to help so much that they’ll help the system stay intact when it needs to be burned down, because the alternative would be doing something not nice/kind. She’s proving to be the enemy that many justly say white woman can be in their refusal to see why anything should be different. Wow, thanks for having the first female Doctor be so happy to help support the enemy. Remember when the Seventh Doctor and Ace brought down a government overnight? I know that “be nice and blandly unchallenging in the face of evil” was the message I needed in a time when narcissistic know-nothing Trump is in charge of my country, yay.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:11 am
I’m sorry, Liz. I know you were looking forward to this episode, back on the 5th. 🙁
November 20, 2018 @ 10:16 am
What I found bizarre was that, even if the story came down on the side of the oppressed underclass, fighting to be recognised in a world of automated corporations, that fight is for…the right to be oppressed by Amazon?
That’s an insane story to tell in a world where we know what working in an Amazon warehouse is like and it’s not ‘giving people a purpose’ (as I think was said out loud in the episode?), nor is it dignified, nor financially rewarding. Nor even good for your health.
You could tell this story by making it about people wanting to work in some huge corporation that actually treats people well – it would still be bad-tastingly pro-capitalist, but the motivations of the characters would make some kind of sense.
You could tell the story by having the bomb plan set up by the underlying AI of Kerblam, now so overstretched it’s falling apart and its failing logic circuits are considering killing all it’s customers just to get a day off. Then it would be an anti-exploitation story, which, though far from revolutionary, at least isn’t espousing anything actually bad.
But a story about a revolutionary underclass prepared to kill themselves for the right to trudge round an Amazon warehouse picking stock with a tag on their ankle and active interventions when they stop for a chat is just incoherent in a world where we know what Amazon is like. Even for died in the wool capitalists, working in an Amazon warehouse is one of those ‘should have studied harder’ jobs that are a cautionary tale for the middle class.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:26 am
I can’t stop thinking about this. It’s not even a defense of the dream of capitalism, where hard work gets rewarded and you enjoy a comfortable life because the system is fair enough to pay you fairly. I could at least understand someone defending that dream if they believe in it, even if believing in it requires more and more blinkers.
But this episode was a defense of the right to get worked to death by a corporation that treats you like a convict. It takes a good long look at the reality of how terrible working a menial job in 2018 is and says “yep, this is so good everyone should do it”.
It’s morally completely incoherent. It’s anti-terrorist (fine? Blowing up people who’ve ordered a radio from Argos is…rarely morally defensible?) but the terrorist gets what he wants in the end. So he’s proved right? But what he’s proved right about wanting is a recognisable moral horror in our own time.
It’s the Doctor Who story you’d get if you introduced Earth culture to an alien by giving them two books at random, some junk mail and a twenty minute bulletin from Fox News and then told them to knock out a fifty minute script.
November 20, 2018 @ 2:27 pm
Yes, this story really is odd when you think about it. While it has all the trappings of a pro-capitalism story and seems to want us to root for the company even though it treats it’s employees badly it also kinda fails to double-down on the idea as much as you might expect.
Kerblam doesn’t even want to employ humans in its warehouse – it is being forced to by the Kandoka government and it’s implied it was previously fully automated. Which is worse – a company that treats it’s employees like automatons and gives them “mindless repetitive” jobs, or a company that automates those jobs and frees up those people to go and do things they enjoy instead? Is it the company’s fault that Kanokan society has failed to transform itself into a more utopian form and is instead revolting against the government insisting they give them their shitty jobs back?
Even given that it is being forced to employ humans, it’s not even that they seem to treat their employees particularly badly. Sure they give them ankle bracelets and try really hard not to call them “organics” and there’s some talk about deadlines, but all the employees shown appear to just amble about taking their time, with the only “punishment” seeming to be one of the Teammates occasionally politely suggesting they get a move on! How much of a slacker do you actually need to be to get fired by this company?
This story leaves me a bit confused – is it a story about pro-capitalism and how everyone should feel privileged (or even entitled) to have even the shittiest of jobs – or is a story about the dangers of automation leaving society in a bad (and all too realistic) situation where people no longer have jobs and no-one has bothered to put into place an alternative way of putting food on the table (which thinking about it is also capitalist in nature, but still a rather different story)?
November 20, 2018 @ 4:09 pm
You’re working on the assumption that if you don’t work at Kerblam you get to go live on Kandoka and order things from Kerblam all the time. That’s EXPLICITLY false – Kira never received any kind of gift in her life, ever. The people working there are escaping grinding, horrible poverty, not some middle class utopia. Kerblam customers are the 1%. Good job the “Doctor” protected them.
November 21, 2018 @ 3:08 pm
I’m not sure how you got that from what I wrote, but that’s certainly not at all what I think – as I say in my last paragraph – it’s clear that if you don’t have a job at Kerblam you’re probably starving to death.
November 21, 2018 @ 11:06 pm
I got it from “a company that automates those jobs and frees up those people to go and do things they enjoy instead?”.
If Kerblam automates those jobs, it frees up its employees to go starve.
November 20, 2018 @ 4:49 pm
“it’s not even that they seem to treat their employees particularly badly” – yes, and I think this is problematical, in that it is clearly alluding to Amazon’s poor employment practices, but seems to be downplaying them, saying “look, it’s really not nearly as bad as you’ve heard.”
(Not That) Jack
November 20, 2018 @ 5:48 pm
That’s one of my big problems with the story-it gives our heroes all the trappings of working for Amazon, a company where your performance is monitored so intensely people have literally worked themselves to death, but then goes “oh, see, it isn’t so bad?”
In the real world, the Doctor and Ryan would have been written up along with Kira for how little work they did while Kira was doing exposition at them.
November 21, 2018 @ 3:17 pm
Yes, maybe it wasn’t clear in what I said, but this is exactly my point!
The story is ostensibly about “Evil Amazon” but completely fails to make Kerblam an evil company in any convincing way.
I don’t think it’s intentionally trying to paint Amazon in a good light, so much as failing to paint it as evil.
November 20, 2018 @ 4:36 pm
You could even keep the twist – that the “Help me” message actually came from the AI – by making it a second twist that the thing the overstretched AI wants the Doctor’s help with is its plan to ease its workload by killing off a load of its customers, which it has amorally calculated to be the most logical and efficient solution to its problem. Thus providing an interesting commentary on the dangers of carelessly implemented AI systems.
November 20, 2018 @ 8:25 pm
I like that.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:19 am
I’m beginning to see why Chibnall doesn’t want daleks in his new series. He wouldn’t know what to do with them apart from let the Doctor shrug whilst they exterminate lesser life forms.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:31 am
Davison’s Doctor would shrug. Whitaker’s would fucking help.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:52 am
Well, y’know. Very fine people on both sides.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:25 am
I knew that Chibnall was a Mediocre White Man, and I’ve never liked his work. The fact that he allowed this into S11, while posturing at diversity and feminism and the like, is a good sign of what a terrible showrunner he is and how much he should leave. Let’s have pretty young diverse people, and be most interested in Graham. Let’s have a female Doctor, and make her be completely ineffectual in accomplishing anything useful or challenging rotten, corript systems. Yeah, “fuck this era” is exactly how I feel, and I wasn’t even going to watch it, except that I’ve given every DW era a chance. S11 doesn’t deserve it.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:29 am
Oops, I see that “corrupt” ended up as “corript.” Can’t edit, right? Oops, hah.
I think I should also remark that I’ve seen people say this was the most DW S11 has felt and that Pete McTighe should be next showrunner. What the hell, no, please spare us that.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:27 am
“Fuck this era”
Agreed. I’ve come to the conclusion that this season is absolutely not what the MRA manbabies have been screaming that it is – an SJW-inflected PC-gorn-mad wokefest of diversity box-ticking lefty nonsense. That’s just been the surface. But this episode exposes the truth – that the whole thing has been an exercise in trolling the lefties who love this show. The only gratifying thing is said manbabies lacked the intelligence to spot that in fact the Chibby era is firmly on their side.
Yes, the Doctor can be a woman… but look what happens when you let her loose with a TARDIS. She makes a sonic that looks like it came from Ann Summers, minces around gurning at things and basically getting nothing done for more than half a season, and when she finally, finally DOES something, she picks what is evident to anyone with half a brain is the wrong side. She explicitly defends the 1% from the depredations of the peasants they’re exploiting to fund their lifestyle.
Were this still Moffat I’d suspect that the whole thing was building towards a reveal that we’ve actually been watching Missy’s next regeneration all along, and in the final episode Phoebe Waller-Bridge would step angrily into the console room and demand to know what the FUCK Missy II thought she was doing in HER TARDIS.
As it is… well, what Chicanery said.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:38 am
One further thing: I joked to my wife before the episode even aired, based only on the trailer, that obviously the robots wouldn’t be the villains, this being the so-PC-it’s-fucking-stupid Chibby era. I joked that Lee Mack was the most likely villain, being a straight white man, the only villain it’s permissible to have. And there were feints, and red herrings, and it turned out that the obviously evil massive AI subjugating and exploiting the humans was… the fucking VICTIM, the one making the cry for help. And the villain was… the straight white man. Obviously.
It’s a SATIRE of lefty politics, the whole thing from soup to nuts. I can’t see it any other way any more.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:48 am
I think that’s being harsh on Chibnall – I don’t think he’s on the side of the manbabies (Broadchurch 3 demonstrates, for me at least, that he has a strong contempt for toxic masculinity). So I don’t think he’s trolling the lefties on purpose.
I think what’s happened is that he wanted to bring the Doctor back from the ‘angry god’ presentation of Tennant / Smith / Capaldi (and there were quite a few fans who wanted the Doctor to be less powerful, so its not like he’s unique in wanting to do this), in order to take the Doctor back to something more like the Hartnell / Davison Doctors, AND I can believe he also sincerely wanted to have a female Doctor for the right reasons in terms of representation and it being the right thing to do for the show anyway.
But that’s lead to a situation where he’s ended up with a less powerful Doctor at the same time as the gender change, and he hasn’t thought through the implications of doing both of those things at the same time.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:56 am
The third season of Broadchurch ends with “not all men,” though.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:56 am
Yeah, I don’t think there’s an intentional trolling of the lefty audience going on. I think various decisions were made independent of each other (let’s have a more vulnerable Doctor! let’s have a female Doctor!) which, on their own, are fine ideas but when put together… it’s a much more awkward mix in execution.
With this episode, I think if you want to be charitable a lot of the political choices are accidental missteps (though why someone didn’t poke McTighe on the shoulder and go “mate… why is the company so exploitative and evil if you’re just making a point about automation – maybe edit this again aye” is a valid question to ask, although depending on what the turnaround for scripts was that might have been one edit more than was doable). It’s resulted in a season with some good moments, but its a season that’s too easy to be ambivalent about because on the whole it’s been… fine? Just fine I guess?
November 20, 2018 @ 11:01 am
It’s not impossible that the story got adjusted by committees of BBC lawyers, in which case, the solution should have been to not have such an obvious Amazon analogue as the subject of the story.
November 20, 2018 @ 11:46 am
Lawyers sounds like a good shout. If you look back at Arachnids in the UK as well, you can see that both the Trump-surrogate and his niece-in-law have compromising material on their phones, which is an enticing bit of set-up with no pay-off. My theory is that there’s a deleted scene which had the Trump-surrogate get arrested, that’s either on the editing room floor or didn’t quite make it into the final script. Probably someone at the BBC said “we can’t do that. we’ll get sued” and Chris Chibnall didn’t want to fight for it.
If there’s an episode next season about a big company that pressures people into silence through excessive legal maneuvering, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.
November 20, 2018 @ 4:11 pm
“don’t think there’s an intentional trolling of the lefty audience going on”
If it’s accidental, is that better, or worse? Discuss…
November 20, 2018 @ 8:28 pm
If it’s accidental, I’d say it’s more exasperating but less outright evil. Personally that smacks of”better”, but that still sounds far too positive…
November 20, 2018 @ 12:43 pm
I think you could do those things at the same time, but you’d need to write situations in which being nice and sensitive is actually the best way to solve the problem, where a “I have the white male licence to be a bit of an arse and have nobody really object” Doctor would mess things up with their arrogance and such. Don’t think Chibnall is capable of thinking like that though.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:34 am
In some ways there’s a lot to enjoy in this episode (I know that I watched the early preview clip which I think was released as part of Children in Need? and it was a fun clip which seemed to be setting up the whole Doctor VS Evil MegaCorp) – the callbacks are nice and relatively unintrusive (the fez is simultaneously a nice nod back to Eleven whilst providing a somewhat organic reason for this plot to happen), and there seemed to even be thematic callbacks to Robots of Death (robophobia, a whodunnit murder mystery involving uncanny-valley robots) and what I can only assume was a cheeky nudge nudge at The Ark in Space with the reveal that bubble wrap is killer.
But yeah. The politics of this episode. There were definitely threads that were lain out that could easily have been picked up (ankle collars! an utterly unregulated mega corp which OWNS A MOON and has no higher government authority to reign them in! dehumanising work hours where you’re told to stop chatting and get back to work!) and they’re… just… not. El’s right that there are some wonderfully perverse moments in this episode, but it doesn’t feel like McTighe was overly interested in engaging with them. I think it brings it down a bit, but the biggest problem I think is that technically the episode isn’t rubbish. Its politics are more conservative, but overall it’s a decently constructed piece of TV that – until the politics increasingly become clearer – is still enjoyable
November 20, 2018 @ 10:45 am
It’s enjoyable because you think it’s Doctor Who – the show where the hero(ine) turns up with some friends and makes things better.
It’s enjoyable until you realise, in the last ten minutes or so, that this is NOT the Doctor Who you’re used to. Not because the Doctor is a woman, or her companions are more numerous or diverse than recently trendy, but because the entire premise of the show has been upended and and not it’s the show where the main character turns up and basically either does nothing or sides with evil. I’m going to stop posting about this because I’m getting angry again just thinking about it.
FFS please tell us the whole thing was a bad joke or a buildup to revealing that Jodie W has in fact been cast as the Master/Missy in their next regeneration and let’s have the REAL Doctor turn up played by someone else. A man. A woman. A person of colour. A trans actor. A fucking chimpanzee with the voice of Joanna Lumley if you like. But FFS make it the Doctor and not this ineffectual actual villain I’ve been watching in increasing horror for the last ten weeks.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:41 am
I haven’t seen any of the pre-2005 Who so I’ve never experienced seeing it used as a vehicle to deliver reactionary politics. Before this episode, I wasn’t certain but Kerblam conclusively demonstrates that the Doctor’s passivity and inaction in the face of systemic evil is a feature, not a bug, of the way the show is being written. The fact that the show is solidly popular and doing very good in terms of viewers only means that there’s no incentive in going back to a more provocative, revolutionary narrative. So now I have to ask myself why I’m even watching it. There’s no shortage of pro-status quo, milquetoast small-c conservative, don’t-rock-any-boats shows on TV. I know what fascinated me about Doctor Who, what I loved about it, what compelled me to find out more and discover this amazing Eruditorium. This new show isn’t it.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:47 am
The last lines of your “The Zygon Inv.” TARDIS Eruditorum post read pretty distressingly in light of the actual Chibnall era:
“…every era, good or bad, lays down challenges for the next era to try to meet. Maybe the Chibnall era won’t rise to them. Certainly I understand anyone who’s pessimistic on this point. But nevertheless, we see hear what the challenge is. Going forward, Doctor Who is going to need to ask more pointed political questions, and offer more substantive answers than “be nicer to each other.””
November 20, 2018 @ 10:53 am
It would be deliciously fucked up if after refusing the job offer by saying she is only freelance, the doctor were told “oh all our workers are actually self-employed contractors”.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:56 am
Honestly, I wouldn’t say its even /that/ technically sound by the end of it anyway. Charlie as the twist villain is unexpected, but only really seems to have one throwaway gag line and one fridging 5 minutes or so before the reveal to set it up (fridging that also does no favours for the main statement of the episode of “systems not being bad”), and then proceed to basically tell the audience the villain is actually brilliant without the story having done any of the legwork otherwise.
Its a surprise villain twist in the style of modern Hollywood blockbusters e.g. recent Disney cinematic output: a “self-aware” subversion for the sake of it with story meaning being secondary, adequate at best and horribly unsatisfying at worst (which I guess is par for the course in this series anyway haha).
Perhaps, it makes more sense in further rewatches, but so far the impression is less of an “ooh clever” and more of a “wait huh”, and that’s before the moral integrity of the show got effectively thrown out.
At the rate this series is going, the next episode is probably gonna end up about how the witch-hunts were right actually and the fundamentalist Christians go about their business as usual by the end.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:56 am
For me, this becomes only the third or fourth (televised) story where bad politics destroy it, rather than just being a black mark against it. (Along with The Ark, Nightmare of Eden (prohibitionism) and sort of The Reign of Terror, although the last one is due to external factors.) Most of the time, you can factor this stuff out somehow. You can imagine in-universe it’s pure coincidence that the near-mute strongman is also the only black person, or say “sure, some alien species will be nasty and aggressive” or “yes, occasionally none of those gun-toting soldiers will listen to the clever man of words”, “that parasite isn’t actually extracting evil, it just looks like that to the sort of people who run prisons” or whatever.
But this managing to be thoroughly about its evil perspective means I just can’t get away from it. It’s full of important things which only make sense if you agree with it. Like, I’m so full of the understanding that labour activists just don’t do mass-murdering false flag campaigns like that, that it can’t be processed with anything other than utter rejection. I had thought at one point it was giving Jodie her best Doctor scene so far, when she confronted “I’m your boss” guy. But it just doesn’t work if he’s not actually implicated.
(This may because I don’t come to places like this out of any particular academic interest in storytelling, but just because stories are a big thing in my life so I naturally start thinking about them a lot. So it being very good at being evil isn’t of much interest.)
November 22, 2018 @ 1:25 pm
Even though he wasn’t implicated in any evildoing, it would have been nice to see Slade actually called out for the way he was talking to his staff, but it turned out to just be a lead-in to asking him about the big mystery of who wrote the message. I can’t see Ecclestone or Tennant being nearly so forgiving to someone who had just been so nasty to someone they’d taken a liking to.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:58 am
I wondered at the time if this was a bit of an Unquiet Dead situation, where McTighe needed to twist the ending somehow and scrabbled for anything unexpected, inadvertantly turning the last 10 minutes of this into a corporate Neo-Lib love-in. But yes, I agree that it’s a.) Far too calculated to be an accident and b.) Not exactly out of the blue when you consider it in context of the rest of the series.
I’m going to watch Paradise Towers to cheer myself up this evening, I think.
November 20, 2018 @ 11:13 am
One of the things that have been bugging me the most about this episode is the actual lack of bosses. Who is in fact benefitting from the savings of automation, the efficiency tracking, etc?
Because we are told that the managers have no one to report to. They feel completely helpless since they are, apparently, as high up as it goes. But they are obviously waged workers.
But if we don’t have actually bosses, owners, shareholders, if this is all a gigantic employee-owned cooperative, then there would be no reason for such cut-throat profit-seeking measures.
So in the STATED absence of a boss who would responsible for the things we are saying these things would not exist. It’s not so much a plothole as the whole plot is a plothole.
As others have said here, this Doctor has the strange tendency to be pushed out of narratives instead of imposing her own narrative rules as other Doctors used to do. So the racers in Ghost Monument literally take the plot away from her and leave her stranded in narrative wilderness. Robertson just walks away from the story.
Here the real antagonist didn’t even bother showing up.
November 20, 2018 @ 4:15 pm
“Who is in fact benefitting from the savings of automation, the efficiency tracking, etc?”
The 1% who can afford to shop there (you know, like the “Doctor”). Certainly not the peons who work there, so called “management” included. Bear in mind that both the managers we see are shown to be ineffectual and barely competent, and, btw, they have to literally LIVE ON THE MOON. Neither seem happy. They’re not bosses, they’re barely a step up from the cleaners.
November 20, 2018 @ 4:41 pm
Okay but are all the efficiency and automation savings being passed on to customers as lower prices?
There aren’t bosses and shareholders siphoning off the profits?
Is Kerblam a non-profit that just happens to be obsessed with efficiency and corner cutting? Is that why it’s so easy for one random manager to change their entire business model on a whim?
November 20, 2018 @ 4:53 pm
Okay but are all the efficiency and automation savings being passed on to customers as lower prices?
Probably, otherise the customers would be ordering from the company’s competitors instead.
There aren’t bosses and shareholders siphoning off the profits?
What profits? It’s a retail outfit. Retail profit margins are razor-thin.
Even for Amazon: Amazon’s profit margin is just 3.8%.
If it raised its prices — or its delivery charges — just a smidgin, it would lose all its custom.
So yeah: it is the customers who are benefitting.
(Not That) Jack
November 20, 2018 @ 5:53 pm
Amazon’s lower prices are to kill their competition, plain and simple.
My sister used to work at Barnes & Noble, and missed out on the big series of layoffs because they didn’t go after their her position as the cafe manager. B&N gutted their company to try to make it more profitable because Amazon is obliterating them with lower prices. (Amazon prices are, almost invariably, 1% lower than B&N’s online prices.)
When Barnes & Noble dies-and it is going to, it’s just a question of when it falls over like all the other brick and mortar stores it killed in the US-trust me, that $11.95 book is going to shoot back up to just below list price.
November 20, 2018 @ 7:49 pm
Amazon’s lower prices are to kill their competition, plain and simple.
When Barnes & Noble dies-and it is going to, it’s just a question of when it falls over like all the other brick and mortar stores it killed in the US-trust me, that $11.95 book is going to shoot back up to just below list price.
No, it’s not: predatory pricing doesn’t work. Because in order to make it work, Amazon would have to raise its prices to the point where it would become profitable for someone else to enter the market and undercut them, so that’s what will happen. After all it’s not like Amazon has some kind of natural monopoly: anyone else could build a load of warehouses, get a load of stock, and compete with them. The only reason they don’t is that they couldn’t do that and still charge lower prices than Amazon, because Amazon has the infrastructure already. But if Amazon raises its prices, then suddenly it becomes profitable for competitors to enter the market again.
Predatory pricing is one of those things, like cartels, that is a theoretical danger but has never actually worked in the real world.
Roderick T. Long
November 20, 2018 @ 8:27 pm
It would really have twisted the knife if they’d revealed that the moon had previously been known as Anarres.
November 21, 2018 @ 4:55 am
Ooof! That HURTS!
November 20, 2018 @ 4:35 pm
Who is in fact benefitting from the savings of automation, the efficiency tracking, etc?
November 20, 2018 @ 4:43 pm
See my reply above. Is no one benefiting financially?
November 20, 2018 @ 5:44 pm
Is no one benefiting financially?
Yes: the customers, who get stuff cheap, are benefitting financially.
November 20, 2018 @ 11:13 am
This series of Doctor Who is so full of stuff that looks like left-wing propaganda to the right (two lesbians, a pregnant man, trump jokes, evil amazon aesthetic) but which no left-leaning viewer would claim is in any way good or progressive. By the end of this episode, all three working class characters in the supporting cast are killed (including the most textbook fridging scene in New Who), but neither of the higher ups are even touched. And yet there are still people claiming this is Doctor Who sticking it to Amazon/capitalism.
Also, Ryan said he’d had something like a grouploop before in his previous job. I have no idea if it’s a thing in the real world or if he was just going undercover, but I’ve never heard of that sort of thing going on before? It’s really insidious.
November 20, 2018 @ 11:29 am
Let me just amend that. I think this series wants to be socially progressive, but really doesn’t want to lose the white male viewership (let’s not forget that Chibnall was a large part of that demo) So it will lightly touch on issues, in a way which probably seems to them as winking to the lefties, but won’t actually take on these problems in-universe. Lesbian representation! (but never two lesbians on screen at the same time and one of them has to be dead) Men can be pregnant too! (as long as this man is very obviously a cisgender alien who fit into a rigid gender role) Trump jokes! (but don’t let him face any consequences for his actions) Amazon critique! (but capitalism is fine, it’s just the people who are bad, but not the people at the top)
Doctor Who this season wants to take on social issues, which is great, but it doesn’t want to be too didactic about it, and I can see why because flawed didacticism can turn art into propaganda very quickly. But its ambition seems to stop at “let’s start a conversation”. Which is noble in a way, except it comes across just as flawed as that Kendall Jenner “join the conversation” Pepsi advert.
November 20, 2018 @ 4:42 pm
I doubt that politics of this sort can be explained as an appeal to “the white male viewership”, because “white male” does not work as a surrogate for “right-wing”. As regards the “male” part, at the last general election, 43% of women voted Tory and 1% UKIP, compared with 44/45% and 2% of men. Ethnic differences are a more meaningful concommitant of political alignments, but I think the white population is too preponderant numerically, and as the assumed default audience, to be a much of a distinct, conscious target for marketing the series. “Conservative” seems a more likely formulation.
(Hypothetically, it could be that Doctor Who’s white male viewership is disproportionately conservative in comparison with the wider population, but that hypothesis seems doubtful in reality, and still more so as a known fact or firmly-held belief influencing editorial policy.)
On didacticism, the funny thing is that Chibnall-Who is very comfortable about being loudly, explicitly and ponderously didactic (think of the Doctor’s speechifying in The Ghost Monument) – Chibnall just hasn’t hit on anything much to be didactic about beyond platitudes.
November 21, 2018 @ 1:47 pm
It’s interesting what you say about ethnicity being a stronger indicator of political allegiance than gender. Although ethnic minority voters in the UK vote largely and consistently for Labour (though there are variations between different minorities and some smaller ones vote Conservative), they tend to be more ideologically aligned with the Conservative party. On average, minority voters are more socially conservative (LGBT rights, capital punishment, abortion etc.) and in some cases more economically right-wing (wealth redistribution, trade union rights etc.) than the average white voter. Minority loyalty to Labour tends to stem from the fact Labour governments tend to be the ones to pass anti-racism legislation while the Conservatives are still struggling to cover up the open xenophobia of a lot of their members. It is also worth noting, though, that there is a big age divide in ethnic minority voters in terms of social attitudes. Age is increasingly a major cleavage in British politics – compare voter age differences from 2017 to even 2005. (Sorry, not that important but this is my area of expertise.)
Aside from this I would concur with many of the other posters that this series has marked a noticeable political shift. I wouldn’t say its gone full Thatcherite (as some have), but rather a sort of a old Labour to New Labour shift. The first two eras of the new series could be seen as well-meaning white men trying their best to make things better in a radical but non-revolutionary way, occasionally getting things wrong, but largely hoping people could just be nice to each other in a sort of non-conformist, social democratic way. Like Attlee or good-old Nye Bevan. Series 11, on the other hand, is seemingly more obsessed with how it appears than what it actually does. There’s a lot of focus on overt representation and on talking-the-talk, but when it comes to walking-the-walk – all that extra NHS money is being siphoned off by Capita and Virgin as part of some bizarre free-market love-in.
Like with New Labour, I expect that after all the hype and hope of the initial victory, people’s enthusiasm will wane once it is apparent what that actually entails. Moffatt’s biggest mistake during his tenure was not having a clear replacement, like he was with RTD. Instead we have this latter-day JNT (the comparisons are endless) who is presiding over one of the most disappointing and confusing series of Doctor Who in some time. I’m hoping that the next showrunner is of a younger generation, perhaps somebody whose first Doctor was Christopher Eccleston and perhaps even somebody who is not a white man.
Out of interest, does anybody know how much the writer’s room is involved in the finished scripts? Because a lot of them are coming across as utter camels.
November 21, 2018 @ 3:18 pm
You’re right, of course – I was gesticulating vaguely, with a “This makes a difference of sorts, but I don’t think they would have been thinking in terms of ‘white viewers’ as a group anyway”, rather than getting into the specifics of the difference, which was sloppy of me.
Getting a bit more specific on the gender front while we’re here, the headline figures do mask big variations in terms of age – in the oldest age-ranges, women are at least as likely to be right-of-centre as men, but far less likely in the youngest ones (right-wing women under 25 have become very rare in the last few years). But that means that the age-groups where men are markedly more conservative than women are also those where they are predominantly not conservative, so categorising men as a right-wing group doesn’t make sense either way.
Really, I think the only demographic surrogate for “conservative viewers” which matches up closely enough to be workable on this broad-brush level would be “older viewers”. Even class makes strikingly little difference to voting patterns, though perhaps, as you point out is the case with ethnicity, that masks contrasts in underlying attitudes on different topics.
November 21, 2018 @ 2:28 am
Doctor Who this season wants to take on social issues, which is great, but it doesn’t want to be too didactic
You don’t think “Rosa” was didactic? They literally had a scene where the Doctor gave a history lesson while writing on a blackboard. (OK, on a wall, but basically a blackboard.)
November 20, 2018 @ 11:18 am
So Andrew above said:
“It’s not impossible that the story got adjusted by committees of BBC lawyers, in which case, the solution should have been to not have such an obvious Amazon analogue as the subject of the story.”
I, too, wondered whether this story went through a very heavy late-stage rewrite.
My suspicion is related to that ominous scene in the beginning where we get a close up of a robot saying Kerblam is “fully automated, people-powered”. What was that about? Kerblam was not fully automated as 10% of the workers were human, and it was not powered by people.
In which I am beginning to think was the original version (but I’m choosing a my own personal version anyway), either the company or the system itself decided to cut its losses after the introduction of the 10% minimum by utilising the human workers “fully” to the benefit of the company: by turning them into fuel for the automated machinery. The enigmatic goo we see is the fuel/oil the humans become that is then fed to the machines. They had already built the black goo prop before they decided to change the ending.
It would have made a much more logical and consistent critique of the way that large companies exploit workers for the benefit of the company, and the way they get around government regulation. It would also underscore the irony of those who are grateful just to have a horrible job in the first place.
Charlie could have been fighting against the robots and the system that are killing his colleagues.
The system asked for help either because it didn’t realise it was doing anything wrong and wanted to be saved from Charlie or maybe because it did but was being forced to act that way and wanted to be saved from the execs.
Another thing that suggested a rewrite was the ominous way the lower levels were treated. Even the execs, who we learn are okay, are always threateningly telling people not to go there. It’s like there is something fishy happening down there they they know about and this is the real mystery. I mean, we suspect the reason why Dan and the other workers are afraid of the lower levels is because it is being used by Charlie as a hunting ground for the Kerblam Men to capture workers to get bubble-popped. But why do the execs are so shifty about the lower levels too?
Then Kira says that after the “People Power Protests”, the law says 10% of the workers have to be humans “at all levels”. Well, the Head of People had just told us that the lower level was entirely automated. So you get the suspicion that there are workers down there, but they are not really working but are being exploited in nefarious ways.
November 20, 2018 @ 1:09 pm
It’s going to be really interesting to learn about the behind the scenes of this season years from now.
(Not That) Jack
November 20, 2018 @ 4:42 pm
I will accept wholeheartedly that the story originally was about the robots murdering the people in order to use them as fuel and was probably re-written into this (possibly even by Chibnall, the lack of logic at the end fits his style), which left us with the orphaned pile of ooze.
I’d hate to think we got the ending we wound up with as the actual target they were aiming at.
November 20, 2018 @ 5:05 pm
It’s never explained why the basement comes fully equipped with an armoured cell with a 2-way mirror, and a person-liquidising machine.
Roderick T. Long
November 20, 2018 @ 8:31 pm
Standard equipment in the very best corporate offices.
November 21, 2018 @ 1:11 am
This is an interesting theory (re BBC lawyers getting involved), but my understanding has basically been that Chibnall basically locked the BBC out of the set, so I doubt they had any influence. The sad truth is (I suspect) that this episode was supposed to be like this from the outset.
November 21, 2018 @ 4:54 am
I’m with you on this. Further evidence being the scene where they get their ankle bracelets.
Graham explicitly asks if they’re under house arrest (likening working at Kerblam! to being treated like a convict), before Ryan casually mentions that he had one at his last job.
Kira mentions that she has only received one present in her life. Dan reveals that half the galaxy doesn’t have a job.
They are painting a picture of grinding inequality, as it currently exists in (hopefully-)late-stage-capitalism.
It’s only in those last few moments “It’s not the system that’s the problem!” (fuck me) that it takes a sudden turn into insanity. I’m fine with the Janitor being the bad guy. The AI Robots being the ones calling for help is a nice twist on what we expect from Doctor Who. And clearly: you can easily fix it.
As someone noted, the Doctor could have simply re-routed the packages, and then NOT told the bots to open them and pop the wrap.
Scrap the line about the system not being the problem, and insert one where the management say “No! You can’t blow up all the bots! How will we stay in business!?”
Then have the Doctor turn a mercurial, dangerous eye on them, and gleefully say “You know what? I don’t think you’ve got a very good business. Maybe you’ll have to come up with a better one!”
And … BOOM!
This MUST have been the product of a late re-write, due to interference, temerity, or culpability. I look forward to learning which, and by whom.
November 21, 2018 @ 11:03 am
“It’s not the system that’s the problem!” is basically the conclusion of Arachnids, too.
Also, I have to break it to you, but late-stage capitalism does not mean LAST-stage capitalism. It’s just the latest stage…
November 22, 2018 @ 1:15 pm
Also suggestive of a rewrite: Dan drew significant attention to the durability of his pendant, even mentioning that it will outlast him (a death flag if ever there was one!), but nothing really came of this. I suspect the original draft called for the pendant be discovered, not on the warehouse floor, but in the vat of goop. Certainly I think this would have been a stronger moment than what we got.
November 23, 2018 @ 4:44 pm
You’re obviously right. It is also baffling why his pendant would fall when being attacked by robots.
The durability of things as a death flag is the reason why Derrida says that writing things down reveals your mortality.
November 20, 2018 @ 11:24 am
I just want to brag here that I called it way back during Arachnids and Tsuranga that this was a pro-capitalist series.
I have the receipts to prove it!
November 20, 2018 @ 11:30 am
If the series is being intentionally pro-capitalist (and isn’t just being rewritten at the behest of legal so as not to offend the might benevolent Amazon and its ilk), that’s certainly a take for the series to have in 2018.
I’m not disagreeing mind, just commenting that it’s a wow of a take if Doctor Who is intentional about this
November 20, 2018 @ 1:12 pm
What’s weird is that the episodes seem to be setting up for some criticism that doesn’t come. Like, Arachnids in the UK seems to be missing an ending. Which makes me wonder how much the BBC has been meddling in the show.
November 20, 2018 @ 1:18 pm
Note also, that the BBC is pushing to sell this show in China. And I’m not entirely sure the Chinese buyers want critiques of autocratic systems, or a hero that burns them to the ground.
November 20, 2018 @ 1:25 pm
This might have some weight (I know that Doctor Strange was tweaked so they could cast Tilda Swinton in the role of a character who is Tibetan in the comics because… well, China has a real issue with Tibet), though unless China’s become more strict I would imagine they’d be fine with a character burning things to the ground just as long as the systems being burned were clearly Western.
I think I’ve read somewhere that China (the government) LOVES House of Cards, even if it features a fundamentally corrupt political system, because it’s a corrupt American political system?
November 20, 2018 @ 1:37 pm
It’s more likely the BBC will have come up with their own set of ‘cultural guidelines’ of things to avoid in order not to ‘offend’ their target markets.
November 20, 2018 @ 2:28 pm
I’d say it’s more a matter of the system being liberal-democratic than Western. Attacks on a rival’s form of government can still be unwelcome if it is too similar to your own, but go down much better when a clear ideological distinction can be drawn. (Trump may be an economic headache for China, but besides being a diplomatic asset, he’s an ideological boon in terms of discrediting democracy – “See where unrestricted elections get you!”)
November 20, 2018 @ 2:49 pm
It’s something to ponder in terms of the series becoming a victim of its own success, attracting more corporate scrutiny as a ratings giant, leading international earner and institutional flagship than it got when it was more remote from the central preoccupations of management.
Of course, as a mechanism for leaching out dissent, that tendency is multiplied by the increasingly commercial priorities forced on the BBC by the gradual undermining of its public funding, pushing it further towards the kind of conformist pressures more traditionally associated with privately-owned media operations. If you are financially dependent on selling your programmes to other broadcasters, you are more likely to self-censor in order to make your product more appealing.
November 20, 2018 @ 11:27 am
The Moffat era looked up at the sky and saw the moon as a newly hatching egg, a creature that needs protecting however unlike us it is, the possibility of exploration, the alchemy of the feminine. The Chibnall era looks up and sees the moon as a monstrous killer warehouse, and it thinks it good.
November 20, 2018 @ 11:32 am
That was amazing. Stole it and shared it on Facebook. LOL
November 20, 2018 @ 8:29 pm
Steal away! I’ve already seen it screengrabbed on Tumblr 😀
(Not That) Jack
November 20, 2018 @ 4:51 pm
Damn, that’s brilliant. Perfectly sums up the two approaches.
November 20, 2018 @ 11:30 am
So, is the pattern of Doctor ineffectualness that many people have picked up a conscious thing and, if so, is it building up to something?
This is getting some discussion on Gallifrey Base.
Could this be part of an arc, more specifically what Chibnall referred to as the ongoing character development? Does the Doctor have to face the fact that she’s almost useless, in the finale, and stop being so nice?
Are we going to get some kind of reckoning with the nine distress signals in the finale? Will they be related to characters the Doctor let down during the series and actions that fell short? I just want to shake her awake!
November 20, 2018 @ 11:32 am
Apparently I was still naïve to think that most Doctor Who fan/authors would perceive how horrifying this is — but a lot of Twitter was raving about it being the best one of the season. Or at least all the middle-aged men crowd
seemed to love it – not just GRoberts but Jonny Morris, Trevor Baxendale, Tom Spilsbury, Jon Blum, even Paul fucking Cornell. That last one stings.
November 20, 2018 @ 1:40 pm
Honestly though, this is about the third Kill the Moon of this season, and by now I’m sure people are just happy to watch a competent episode that doesn’t bore them to tears.
November 20, 2018 @ 1:45 pm
To be fair to Cornell, he has very vocally Absolutely Loved every single episode and aspect of this series, which comes across as less his genuine opinion and more a conscious push against the Not My Doctor crowd (which is fair enough in some ways). I think even an episode of sub-Twin Dilemma quality would still get a double thumbs up from him in the current environment, or at worst a dignified silence.
November 20, 2018 @ 3:37 pm
It is possible for people who are fundamentally in agreement about a large variety of matters (political, economic, social) to nevertheless have meaningful disagreements. I am concerned with the degree to which the amplification of Internet communities encourages everyone to reject individuals who are basically allies but who may be more moderate than the most frequent voices in those communities.
Honestly, some of the language here (and I’m not calling out TomeDeaf, just finding the comment about Cornell illustrative) goes so far that it feels like the leftist equivalent to someone on the right being accused of being a “race traitor.”
Nazism is worse than neoliberalism, but if you’re on the left, neoliberalism has betrayed supposedly shared values and causes while the Nazis never shared anything. Do not therefore conclude that Neville Chamberlain is worse that Adolf Hitler. (That does not require you to think Chamberlain is good–although he wasn’t as bad as most people today would think, just as Churchill wasn’t as good.)
November 20, 2018 @ 4:20 pm
Sorry, are you saying we shouldn’t criticise this story because it isn’t explicitly pro Nazi?
November 20, 2018 @ 8:37 pm
Hi David, thanks for your measured response — I actually do agree with quite a lot of what you’re saying here, and remain a long way off pompously declaring Cornell a “class traitor” or what-have-you. Where I particularly agree is the idea that the moderates on one’s own side sometimes end up receiving stronger vitriol than that vitriol reserved for, and deserved by, genuine opponents. I find that state of affairs frequently tiresome, sometimes deserved, often unhelpful (it’s why the left seems to tear itself to pieces particularly when in opposition – debating over the minutiae of principles because everyone’s so gorramm principled, as opposed to the Tories or the Republicans, who might do a few very public stabbings-in-the-back but basically all rally round and toe the line). I’m reminded of Brecht’s play Die Massnahme (The Measure Taken), in which the communists hate the socialists far more than they do the capitalists, which doesn’t really end up helping matters any. But I digress.
I can see the argument that actually naming and shaming individuals was a bit extraneous to the point being made, and I’ll ponder that. But the expletive and use of the word “stings” were meant to signify no more than disappointment in Cornell rather than anything even close to hatred — he’s just another creator figure who I admire (and still do!) who’s less than perfect (like every other creator figure I admire). It’s like finding out Neil Gaiman is hiring Toby Whithouse to write a Gormenghast TV series. The comment was meant to come across as the internet version of throwing my hands up in the air in dismay rather than “get your Molotov cocktails prepared, lads” or anything similarly crass and witch-hunt-y.
November 20, 2018 @ 9:08 pm
Without naming any other names, if you can think of a professional Dr Who writer on Twitter, then, chances are, they praised Pete McTighe’s episode on Sunday, even him, even her (Except ,oddly, Toby Whithouse who has retweeting anti-fascist stuff for the past week)
I think for many of them, Pete McTighe is a friend who they’ve known for a while (In fact I know that’s the case with Mr Blum) He’s an important name in TV circles & he was the one who got his friend Sarah Dollard into Doctor Who the first place (still his greatest contribution to the show)
So I can’t feel too upset at them for supporting him now.
November 20, 2018 @ 9:17 pm
“if you can think of a professional Dr Who writer on Twitter, then, chances are, they praised Pete McTighe’s episode on Sunday, even him, even her”
…apart from the Sarah Dollard who’s his friend and apparently owes him so much. Curious.
November 20, 2018 @ 11:44 am
How. How does any functioning person write the first forty minutes of this script, look back at what they’ve written, and then think, “And I’ll let Kerblam! go on behaving exactly the same but to more people, and the Doctor’s fine with that.”
I mean, you want a twist, McTighe? If the warehouse AI has a conscience, have it fucking go on strike. No more deliveries until Kandoka introduces a universal basic income or something. The idea of the AI being sympathetic is the only good thing in this story, but the way it came out? Ye gods.
(And the captcha asks me if I’m a robot. Not if this is what robots become. IDW Soundwave or nothing.)
November 20, 2018 @ 1:06 pm
My partner had pretty much the same idea in response – the system designed the ‘maximise efficiency’ growing a conscience and striking back against the management who are only interested in maximising profits.
I meanwhile am still, like you, struggling to see how anyone could build a setting so obvious malign and then conclude the problem is not enough people are allowed to work there. The swing to ‘the problem is automation’ seemed so at odds with the depiction of a system that treats people like interchangeable machine parts as to seem utterly confused. But the saccharine attempts to sell how positive Kerblam! was suggest that the evilness of the setting was in fact meant to be a red herring rather than half a misunderstood issue.
November 20, 2018 @ 1:09 pm
Possibly that would have been clearer as, “was an intentional red herring rather than half a misunderstood issue.”
Blinded with rage at the idea that ‘people like getting gifts’ somehow justifies it being provided by something a hair’s breadth from enforced labour. I swear that scene was filmed like we were supposed to think poor Kira had been mind-controlled or something.
November 20, 2018 @ 11:51 am
WHO ELSE hype for the episode where Whittaker’s Doctor gives a dramatic speech about how it’s right that the Daleks are concerned about other species of alien using their spaces and public bathrooms
November 20, 2018 @ 12:23 pm
The worst part about Kira’s death is the complete lack of attention anyone pays to it except for Charlie. Imagine how Davies and Moffat would have had their Doctors react to the system killing Kira with Charlie’s weapon. All Jodie gets to do is frown a bit, after which Charlie is rewarded post-death and getting exactly what he wanted.
November 20, 2018 @ 2:09 pm
Davies absolutely would have had the Doctor destroy the system and Charlie. Because both of them were trying to kill innocent people to hurt someone else.
The issue is, once that plot point is given, the whole difference between the two becomes a matter of scale, and the rest of the episode doesn’t imply the system is helping much.
November 20, 2018 @ 2:46 pm
Well, both of the “villains” helped. The system initially tried to put the Doctor in maintenance, where Charlie was, and sent out the one killer robot who was aiming for Charlie.
Charlie for some reason literally gives Graham a map and the original Kerblam bot to point him to where his army of robots is. Because he’s a good bad guy or a bad good guy?
November 20, 2018 @ 10:57 pm
Yeah, I’d forgotten about that. Obviously any episode of Doctor Who has plotholes, but episodes that build themselves as who-dunnits need to be a little less flimsy than romps through spider-hotels or treks across alien planets. Careful construction is the name of the game.
I mean, Charlie didn’t think that Graham was spying on him, but he still shouldn’t have been that worried about helping him considering what he was actually going to do in what’s implied days after the event.
But this episode hasn’t really earnt the benefit of the doubt.
November 23, 2018 @ 6:11 am
The first thing Graham said to Charlie was that he was glad to see “another real human being”.
Charlie was also visibly surprised and unhappy about Graham showing the map to the Doctor.
November 20, 2018 @ 1:35 pm
The perfect subtitle for when you finally get round to fully reviewing this: “’it’s impossible. I hate it. It’s evil. It’s astonishing. I want to kiss it to death.”
November 20, 2018 @ 1:41 pm
“…one of the most conservative eras of Doctor Who we’ve ever seen… And yet it’s also doing more with diversity than any other era…”
From a British perspective, this is not a surprise.
Social diversity is an important strand of modern British conservatism, most obviously exemplified by David Cameron’s government legislating for equal marriage (and, yes, I know most of his MPs voted against it – I’m not saying it’s the only strand).
November 20, 2018 @ 2:04 pm
I absolutely loved this episode, and I’m not ashamed of that. And I believe that anyone who dislikes it, or considers it ‘the worst of new who’ really needs to take a step back and reassess the show and themselves. Doctor Who is first and foremost an entertainment series, not a vehicle for political expression. I love the political elements, naturally; oxygen was brilliant, with a compelling message. However, disliking an episode because its own, valid message does not align with your own is a step to far in my books. Doctor Who as a pro-capitalist series is fine, even if I dont agree with the sentiment; however, I dont see this episode as being as pro-capitalist as some say. I find that the villain was a lone, angry white man fascinating, and the two week/one month situation was totally realistic, and I view this as a criticism of corporation ‘compassion’. So yeah, I see the response from the left wing of the fandom as an overreaction, and I know people will disagree with me on that. But I think disliking fiction for having ‘bad politics’ (i.e. politics you disagree with, but is still morally valid), is a step too far. For all those saying ‘fuck this era’ and generalising that its just middle class men who now like it, I think you should reassess your approach to this TV programme, and decide if you want to be entertained, or if you’re just looking for your views to be reinforced.
November 20, 2018 @ 2:32 pm
No. My problem is not that I disagree. I disagree with most media. My problem is that it is actively hostile to the working class. It’s more than a simple disagreement.
Thats purposefully putting up valid criticisms before rubbishing them by claiming Amazon is actually good.
It positively depicts constant surveillance as a means of controlling worker. It positively depicts workers being separated from their families. It positively depicts companies existing as their own sovereign state.
The problem isn’t that I just disagree, the problem is that I think the ideology it pushes is monstrous.
Maybe you could say it’s the degree of the disagreement, but I hate this because it’s actively hateful.
I wouldn’t say anyone who thought a piece of media was homophobic needs to take a step back. I don’t see why class should be any different.
November 20, 2018 @ 2:50 pm
To call ‘Kerblam!’ hateful is an exaggeration though, I’d say. ‘It positively depicts constant surveillance as a means of controlling worker. It positively depicts workers being separated from their families. It positively depicts companies existing as their own sovereign state.’ Does it? The Doctor and Ryan don’t support the constant surveillance. The separation from their families is meant to elicit sympathy in Dan and the other workers. While I wouldn’t say its a positive depiction like you, I would argue its a realistic depiction.
All the characters have contemporary, 21st century names. The warehouse looks realistic. The workers look and act similar to people today. Virtually everything about Kerblam is evident in our world today. You may think, like many people did with Rosa, that actually the reality we all live in should be rectified by the Doctor. That episodes resolutions should end with the ideal – e.g. capitalism should be overthrown. I believe the resolutions this series, such as Demons of the Punjab, or Arachnids with Robertson getting away with it – is totally realistic. I think that’s actually more politically impactful on an audience than when evil is defeated – it shows us that if we don’t act, things don’t change, and actually the results are shocking and immoral. I would argue that a happy ending where everything is ok and evil is destroyed simplifies the challenges in our world, and that can be damaging. Oppression and injustice cant be solved by a sonic screwdriver – and that’s an important point to make.
So in answer to your point, was ‘Kerblam’ anti-working class? No – otherwise the sympathetic portrayals wouldn’t exist. You may feel the ideology is monstrous, but I personally think to say that is an exaggeration.
November 20, 2018 @ 3:26 pm
I don’t think your response addresses Chicanery’s objections. When they say that the episode “positively depicts workers being separated from their families”, for instance, for instance, they’re not saying that in the scene with Dan early on we are meant to go “har har ! what a hoot! how lovely that he can’t see his six-year-old daughter apart from twice a year!” … clearly, we are meant to sympathise with him. But the ending of the episode ALSO comes down on the side of the system continuing as it is with more and more people being put into jobs like Dan’s, and this is considered to be ultimately A Good Thing. Ergo, the episode condones the practice.
November 20, 2018 @ 3:49 pm
The episode doesn’t end with the Doctor’s speech endorsing the System (or the system). It doesn’t end with the final chat with the two human management-types. It ends with Yaz asking the Doctor to return the “Dad” necklace to Dan’s daughter and to explain what happened to him.
While we’re inventing other versions of this story that would sit better, let me contribute this one: the Doctor, after they deliver the necklace, explains to the others that the daughter grows up to lead a social revolution that leads to massive reforms of companies like this one.
What does that do to the story? Does it redeem it? Not counteract the cumulative effect of what we saw on screen? Too little, too late? What if you have the end of Oxygen without as many of the prior bits?
November 21, 2018 @ 5:31 am
it doesn’t follow, because Ker-Blam didn’t really kill her dad, the Disgruntled Employee did
November 20, 2018 @ 3:28 pm
More significantly – I don’t think anyone would disagree that it’s realistic. The problem is that the episode shows us something realistic, and then says “yep, that’s OK.”
In fact, if anything the reality it shows isn’t horrible enough (I think someone somewhere has already pointed out that shelves at Amazon are normally much closer together / people have less space to work than they do here?)
November 20, 2018 @ 3:35 pm
What it says about the world today is that people should be pathetically grateful to be exploited, spied on, bullied, and expected to smile through it all, because the only alternative on offer is destitution. And it says that this situation is nobody’s fault, that the institutions that impose it are morally neutrally or positively benign, and that true wickedness comes from trying to challenge the status quo. Meanwhile those who, in reality, benefit from all this sort of thing are removed from the picture entirely, in order to maintain the illusion that all this merciless exploitation is somehow unchosen, unplanned, unmotivated, just the inescapable way of the world, about which one should only shrug and say “mustn’t grumble”.
The problem is not simply that The System is not overthrown, but that it is approved – “the systems aren’t the problem”.
November 20, 2018 @ 4:48 pm
While agree the systems probably are the problem, you have to consider that this view is not universal, and that’s ok. The episode, Mctighe, Chibnall, the show – whoever – are allowed to say that and that’s fine. You may fundamentally disagree – but I think its wrong to argue that the programme is in fault for conveying those ideas. The exploration of these ideas are legitimate, and therefore I think its strange it takes peoples enjoyment away from the show, and that people want to claim its not ‘canon’.
November 20, 2018 @ 8:39 pm
I’ve not seen anyone claim it’s not “canon”.
November 20, 2018 @ 8:41 pm
Apologies, Graham, I hadn’t seen the comment below when I posted that.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:11 pm
I think this is a bit of a non sequitur from my comment, which was a direct response to your suggestion that the episode was saying, essentially, “Treating workers this way is wrong, and it should be done away with, but it will be difficult”. I don’t think that was an accurate description of the episode, which, as I see it, said “Treating workers this way isn’t perfect, but it’s not that bad really, and anyway no one’s to blame, it’s just the way things are, and the only really bad thing is for workers to seek radical change”. Hence my reply.
As for what you are saying here, and in other similar comments, that seems to me to boil down to “You may think this is evil, but that doesn’t mean you should say so”. To be honest, it’s verging on the kind of “Free speech means no one criticising what we say” line that we’ve been hearing a lot from people on the right wing lately.
November 20, 2018 @ 2:47 pm
I would love to be entertained. It’s just that a story that fridges women and glorifies working in awful conditions is not entertaining to me.
November 20, 2018 @ 2:51 pm
Does it really glorifies working in awful conditions though? Also could you explain your point on women?
November 20, 2018 @ 3:17 pm
I’d say it does – it treats work, even in awful conditions like that, and in a society which seems like it would potentially be able to just go 100% automated, as the preferable option which gives life meaning. (Ryan’s protests are dismissed, Kira’s attitude is praised by the Doctor.)
“Fridging” is a common way to refer to the sexist “Women in Refrigerators” trope, in which a woman is killed to elicit an emotional response from a male character (typically a love interest). Kira being killed by the system to teach Charlie a lesson is a textbook example.
November 20, 2018 @ 4:19 pm
Admittedly, Kira is killed to move the plot on and inform the audience that Charlie is the villain – however, I think it’s a good, shocking twist. I don’t see a huge problem in killing someone off if its needed for the plot, and don’t therefore see McTighe as sexist for killing off a women. I agree that it is probably an example of ‘fridging’, but is it damaging? Must we criticize all plot/character decisions like this, should we complain every time a female love interest is killed, even when it is well handled? I just struggle to see its massively negative affect which means you dislike this episode.
To your point on workers, I would argue that the poor conditions for these workers is better than the alternative – Dan weighs up that working is better than his daughter having no education, the other characters living in poverty. As sad as that may be, it is a reality. I believe Mctighe does challenge the awful working conditions through the sympathetic characters. I believe the Doctor supports Kira’s positivity and outlook rather than her view which gives her a meaning to life (although correct me if you think this is an incorrect depiction)
November 20, 2018 @ 7:13 pm
“Must we criticize all plot/character decisions like this, should we complain every time a female love interest is killed, even when it is well handled?”
I’m not sitting in front of the TV with a list of sexist/racist/queerphobic/etc. tropes looking for things to criticise (just thought I’d mention it, because it seems to me like that’s what you’re implying). But the very decision to use that trope signifies lazy writing and is profoundly boring to me, however well-handled it would be (and it’s not in Kerblam) – it’s an aesthetic and emotional judgement as much as moral or political. And if you remove all those aspects from a work of art, what’s left? I’m not interested in competent craft alone.
Roderick T. Long
November 20, 2018 @ 8:56 pm
Indeed, they could have avoided the trope by having Kira rather than Charlie turn out to be the villain. Which would have been more interesting, actually.
November 20, 2018 @ 11:25 pm
Ooh. And she’s the only one who actually thinks the work is purposeful in itself.
November 20, 2018 @ 9:26 pm
“I believe Mctighe does challenge the awful working conditions through the sympathetic characters.”
He implicitly acknowledges that Kerblam!’s business practices are bad, but by not having the Doctor even try to change them, he takes the view that they are ultimately not important. She doesn’t even SAY anything. It would have been so easy. In that last scene with Maddox and Slade the Doctor could have rounded on them, saying their business practices were shameful and that of course their workers were going to be dissatisfied, and unless they did something about it things like this were going to happen again. She could have played it as advice or a demand or a request, just something. It would have been disappointing that she wasn’t doing something about it, sure, but at least it could have been enough of a sticking plaster to convince me that this Doctor cares about the working conditions at all.
November 20, 2018 @ 3:05 pm
Its politics are not morally valid. As I said on GB, at a time when the system is killing hundreds of thousands even in rich countries, while worker’s activists are not actually killing people at all, but anti-fascist campaigners are being viciously libeled as sources of violence, it actively goes to lengths to show a system which mirrors recognisable targets of criticism in our own, but isn’t actually killing anyone, isn’t wrong, and is calling for help, and a worker’s activist trying to kill thousands. It joins in with the libel 100%.
And even if it was, there are many ways to be entertained, and most of them don’t require any sort of involvement with things which are wrong. Maybe this would be different for someone who watches every superhero movie under the sun and so forth. But Doctor Who is the only piece of Western live-action which I really watch nowadays. And that’s because of its underlying politics. It’s because the Doctor is a hero who fights with his brain instead of a gun, who rejects and avoids military command structures and has no subordinates, isn’t part of a nation or anything like that, and who brings change, topples empires, battles against power, and refuses to take authority seriously. Remove that, and what distinguishes it from all those things I don’t want to watch?
November 20, 2018 @ 4:41 pm
If that’s how you feel, I suppose that’s fair. Do you understand why people would enjoy it though? Like, outside these sort of circles, I think the consensus on this episode was that it was rather good. Can you see why that is? If you only look at this episode through a political lens, and if you only consume all media through a political lens, I feel its harder to enjoy things. I’m currently doing a politics degree, politics fascinates me; but if your enjoyment of TV comes primarily from your politics being the backbone of a drama, and when its not evident or is challenged you hate it, I feel that you’re sort of missing the point of entertainment.
November 20, 2018 @ 6:22 pm
Oh, there’s nothing I love more than having my politics challenged (coherently). Revolutionary Girl Utena, when I first came to it, was almost incomprehensible to me thanks to how unready I was for its politics. And this was absolutely fascinating, and now it’s one of my favourite pieces of television ever.
But challenges always come from the left. Right-wing politics is what you believe by default, because it’s a set of lies which are just repeated again and again and again and again, everywhere, from the moment you become conscious enough to process them, until you don’t even question them.
I also love many things in which politics are almost irrelevant. But you can’t remove that political lens completely. (You can just fail to notice it when it’s the reiteration of the status quo.) K-ON says nothing of workers or imperialists or soldiers. It’s about a group of friends interacting, having fun and growing closer, its quality is in how every subgroup of them has a slightly different dynamic and genius-level conveying of mood and feeling by the director and animators. But still, it likes to get gently deliberately unrealistic sometimes, and I’m sure I wouldn’t like it so much if it didn’t, because that is the sort of input my experience of living in a world full of pervasive right-wing lies has shaped me to accept.
(And sure I understand why many people would like this one.)
November 20, 2018 @ 11:30 pm
Try to look at these words without reading them. Look at them without your “word lens”. That’s the kind of thing you’re asking us to do. It’s not only impossible but pointless, as then you don’t understand anything. What you’re calling a “political lens” is an interpretation framework to decode texts and is not more or less valid than any others, including the ability to read (the “word lens”).
November 20, 2018 @ 3:16 pm
Graham, I’m not really sure this site is the best site to have this debate.
November 20, 2018 @ 4:06 pm
Fair enough – I’m just genuinely intrigued and want to engage with others views. I am more than happy to concede to points, or be won over – I just wanted to explain my view and others to engage with it so I can consolidate my own opinion.
Roderick T. Long
November 20, 2018 @ 8:49 pm
“disliking an episode because its own, valid message does not align with your own is a step to far in my books”
That makes it sound as though political convictions are mere matters of personal taste, like preferring raspberry to blueberry. Surely not.
Now I do agree that political convictions and the like should not be the SOLE basis for judging a work, and that a work can have genuine artistic greatness even if its ethics and politics are screwed up. (After all, most of the great artistic works throughout history have had screwed-up ethics and politics. I’m glad that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy their virtues.) As Tolkien said about E. R. Eddison:
“I read his works with great enjoyment for their sheer literary merit. … Except that I disliked his characters … and despised what he appeared to admire … I thought that, corrupted by an evil and indeed silly ‘philosophy’, he was coming to admire, more and more, arrogance and cruelty. … In spite of all of which, I still think of him as the greatest and most convincing writer of ‘invented worlds’ that I have read.”
But moral and political convictions are useful for judging a work TOO; and they’re not extraneous to artistic considerations. After all, illuminating the human condition, deepening our understanding — those are aesthetic virtues, not just moral or political ones, and they’re values that depend on the views expressed being correct. To be sure, they’re not the only aesthetic virtues, and a work that scores poorly on them can nevertheless score well aesthetically overall. But they’re always relevant.
November 20, 2018 @ 11:34 pm
HAhAH Illuminating the human condition…
This is a good one.
November 20, 2018 @ 11:33 pm
“However, disliking an episode because its own, valid message does not align with your own is a step to far in my books.”
This betrays a misunderstanding both of disliking and of political alignment.
I cannot choose to like or dislike things.
Also, if I see something I don’t like, I will disagree with it. Not the other way around.
November 21, 2018 @ 11:32 am
I’m used to disagreeing with the politics of most media forms and can usually shelve my political issues away in order to enjoy whatever I’m watching on its own terms. “Arachnids in the UK” is one of my favourite episodes this series, in part due to the fascinating way that it pretty much lets the Donald Trump analogue win.
But this is a harmful hour of television. There is no way of reading Kerblam! as being anything but Amazon, as the Kerblam! warehouse being anything but an Amazon warehouse, and the Kerblam! robots as being anything but Amazon drones. Amazon are infamous for being draconian work practices. 600 people have been hospitalised in Amazon warehouses over the past 3 years, either due to workplace accidents or due to the extreme pressure that the employees are put under resulting in them having panic attacks during work. Many employees pee in bottles for fear of being reprimanded of going on toilet breaks. And they didn’t even get paid a living wage for putting with this until last month, and they only got it due to several strikes and the work of many activists.
To have a Doctor Who episode which thus not only walks into an Amazon warehouse filled with several draconian work practices and concludes that a) there’s no real problems here, it’s just the system working as well as it can, and b) actively sides against any activists trying to completely reform the way this place works, then we have an episode whose reaction to a work environment that is literally hospitalising people is “This is fine; what are people complaining about?” If the episode was some abstract thing which discussed these things in an obstuce way, then it would be palatable. But it’s the way that the episode has directly tied itself to real-world situation that is in the papers right now and completely dismisses that there are any issues with a situation that is hospitalising people that makes it unpalatable to me. And the idea of doing this in the name of entertainment is, in my opinion, disgusting.
There’s nothing wrong with Conservative art, nor is there anything wrong is a Conservative episode of Doctor Who (I mean hell, there’s enough to pick from). But this is one step too far for me and if some strawman somewhere does want to consider it not canon, that’d be fine by me.
November 24, 2018 @ 9:34 am
Why did Dan die? Why did Charlie help them investigate his own plan? When did Yaz and Ryan find out that he was planning to blow people up? How did he get bombs into all the bubble wrap?
There are a whole bunch of logistical problems that are all caused by the sudden, bizarre decision to make the cause of the evil “the nice-seeming janitor”.
November 20, 2018 @ 2:04 pm
Regarding the Chibnall era – I don’t know if I’ve ever wanted to like something so much and have it push me away so hard.
November 20, 2018 @ 9:34 pm
I’ve been more or less on board so far, having been assuming that the lack of consequences for the villains was a conscious decision that was leading to something. This episode made me doubt that.
I’m clinging to the hope that it is leading to something, McTighe just drastically misread his brief.
November 20, 2018 @ 2:09 pm
I came to this season with considerable reservations; Chris Chibnal (really, they actually chose Chibnal), a female Doctor (my very mild objection was similar to Davison’s, so obviously I’m a sexist nazi), diversity for the sake of diversity, overt leftist propaganda, PC (oh, god, not PC)….
And if the series is guilty of any those things it’s so surface level and lame they’re not even worth commenting on. It’s as if the writers are either not capable of bringing those the themes to the fore, or are not allowed to. I can hate watch Doctor Who, I’ve done it before, but at least hate watching makes me think, question and, perhaps, change and grow. This… this is just…
Where are the layers of meaning? Subtext? Metaphor? There’s almost nothing for discussion here. I can’t even raise the ire to be upset by the leftist politics, because they are barely there. I’m not offended, or challenged, or thoughtful, or vilified, or justified, or, or anything, but…
November 20, 2018 @ 2:43 pm
What leftist politics?
November 20, 2018 @ 4:15 pm
Exactly. That’s sort of what I’m saying; the ‘expected’ extreme left lean is not really there in any substantive way.
November 20, 2018 @ 3:30 pm
I wonder if Jarva Slade is related to Rickston from “Voyage of the Damned”. This ep is like the sequel to that, except this time Max Capricorn wins.
November 20, 2018 @ 3:31 pm
Well, that screenshot I took of Roberts sure is traveling! Those tweets were when I really started to fear.
Excellent piece, though. I’m taking to thinking of Kerblam! as a modern Talons, if better and less offensive. Doctor Who still has it in it to make a brilliant story that acts against what we want Who to be.
I think the really concerning part is just that this seems to crystalize the era into a point, finally, and that the point is that. And I’ve gotta say, it’s Chibnall’s fault for letting this happen and letting it define an era he’s failed to.
November 20, 2018 @ 3:52 pm
The comparison to Talons seems apt: it isn’t that the episode doesn’t criticize the thing that it participates in and contributes to, it is that the criticism doesn’t seem adequate to excuse the participation.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:24 pm
Kerblam is certainly not better than Talons.
November 21, 2018 @ 12:47 am
I’m gonna agree to disagree. I find killer bubble wrap weighed down by economic blindness preferable to laser dragons weighed down by unambiguous racism. But I think it’s a worthy comparison of stories and a good point of discussion.
November 21, 2018 @ 1:37 am
I find the writing, wit and general subtlety of Talons (not to mention fantastic atmosphere imo) to be preferable to this, which felt more like a misguided episode of The Flash, but I mean each to their own.
November 20, 2018 @ 3:44 pm
Here’s what I wrote on Facebook after the episode aired:
The system is broken, Pete McTighe and Chris Chibnall. Amazon treats their workers like shit because it would be more expensive and less profitable not to. As do most such of corporations, as it’s been throughout modern history. When conditions have improved, it’s because people – workers and those sympathetic to them- fought for them, for their human rights.
The system is broken. My country has been putting immigrant families into concentration camps, banning peoples of certain faiths and ethnicities from returning home, and plotting to strip transgender people of their rights. They’re plotting to put a lobbyist as the head of the EPA. They already have an extremely probable rapist on the Supreme Court for life. A rapist is president right now. A system that worked at a fundamental level would not have let this happen. We need to fight for one.
A fascist-type just came to power in Brazil. Brexit is happening. The west continues screwing over the Middle East, creating conditions that enable dictatorships and right-wing extremist groups. Russia and China, for all that they delude themselves that they are left-wing and pro-worker, are flexing their very right-wing, exploitative, authoritarian muscles as well. Climate change will be irreversible in 10 years, because of entities like Amazon and Kerblam!
And the young people of the current generation? Young people like me? The young people who have cared in all previous generations, who have demanded change from a cruel and unfair world, many times at the cost of their own lives and well-beings? The activists? Whoops, sorry, looks like we’re all crazy and resort to indiscriminate killing of the people we want to make a difference to as a first resort, amiright? I guess any more radical form of fighting for change than doing so on the establishment’s terms leads automatically, inevitably, immediately to violence? Gee, thanks Chibnall and co! Sure glad you taught me that politely asking the establishment for change is the only acceptable way to affect it. Guess that worked out well for the civil rights movements, huh? One filed complaint and Society magically improved thanks to the benevolent bosses, yippee!
This story goes against everything good that Russell T Davies, Steven Moffat, Robert Holmes, Douglas Adams, Andrew Cartmel, Rob Shearman, and heck, Vinay Patel ever did for the program. It is a betrayal of the revolutionary and justice-oriented spirit that Doctor Who channels at its best and truest, and it would be a bad episode regardless of which season it was part of. To broadcast it in the cultural context of 2018 is a travesty.
I declare this episode non-canon.
November 20, 2018 @ 3:53 pm
November 20, 2018 @ 6:39 pm
November 20, 2018 @ 4:08 pm
You wonder why she doesn’t head back to Gallifrey to settle into a nice, cushy Time Lord job. Somewhere where her non-intervention, status quo-maintaining outlook will fit right in.
(Not That) Jack
November 20, 2018 @ 4:13 pm
(Name altered so people don’t mistake the Guy Who Doesn’t Rewatch for The Jack Who Writes Around These Parts. It happened last week, after all.)
You know, I was about a quarter of a way through a post about this where I took apart the story on a logical level and discussed how the logical failings of the show contributed to the messy politics and…I just can’t. I watched the Doctor walk away as more people were told to become wage slaves for a blatant stand in for a company that people in the real world have died on the floors of their fulfillment centers trying to keep up the pace and leave that system in place. I watched a show where the villain was someone striking against automation so more people could be put to work for Amazon, as if that was something to aspire to.
I don’t know what show this is, but it isn’t Doctor Who. And I hate saying crap like that, because it sounds like the screed of an angry anorak that thinks it’ll be good if the show has monsters in it we recognize and the Doctor does Doctorly things, but the damn show has driven me to that.
I might as well stop the re-watching count, because nothing about the Chibnall era appeals to me at all.
November 20, 2018 @ 4:30 pm
“I don’t know what show this is, but it isn’t Doctor Who. And I hate saying crap like that, because it sounds like the screed of an angry anorak that thinks it’ll be good if the show has monsters in it we recognize and the Doctor does Doctorly things, but the damn show has driven me to that.”
This. All of this. So much of this. This squared. I’ve been fucking DEFENDING this show to less progressive friends, and now this. Fuck this.
Suggestion: from now on, any reference I make to the character played by Jodie W will be contained within quotes. As far as I’m concerned, Kerblam featured the “Doctor”. Not the Doctor, out of Doctor Who – not that one. I don’t know where that one is.
(Not That) Jack
November 20, 2018 @ 4:47 pm
I wouldn’t go that far, because Jodie’s being brilliant as the Doctor, she’s just not being allowed to BE the Doctor. I do approve of taking the title of the show out of italics and into quotation marks, though.
November 21, 2018 @ 11:18 pm
” Jodie’s being brilliant as the Doctor, she’s just not being allowed to BE the Doctor.”
Those seem logically inconsistent statements. I’m currently being brilliant as the Prime Minister, I’m just being allowed to BE the Prime Minister.
My headcanon is that she’s doing a reasonable job at playing what Missy thinks the Doctor is, which is why the wheels keep coming off and she gets nothing done, evil consistently triumphs, and she’s cool with flat-out murder. And to be explicit – I am in no way dissing her performance (apart from her massively overtheatrical Play School presenter stance every time she wields her sonic, which I hate). My heavy-hearted heavy quotes are a criticism of the character (i.e. the writers and producers), not the actor.
November 22, 2018 @ 9:30 am
Dammit, just NOT being allowed to be Prime Minister. Obvs.
November 22, 2018 @ 2:06 pm
Sorry, Theresa, you’re busted.
“It’s too late now, we all heard you doing the Evil Voice!”
November 22, 2018 @ 11:20 pm
“apart from her massively over theatrical Play School presenter stance every time she wields her sonic, which I hate”
Thank goodness someone else mentioned this. Aside from the swath of negative issues surrounding this season [side comment: please, please get better], Jodie’s approach to using the sonic has been doing my head in for weeks!
John G. Wood
November 23, 2018 @ 9:02 am
Despite being overwhelmingly positive about Jody in general, Sophie Aldred complained about the overuse of “waving the sonic” in a panel recently. She observed that Sylvester didn’t have one and didn’t need it. When Jane Slavin interjected that “he had a penis”, Sophie came back with “yes, and he didn’t wave that about either” (or words to that effect).
We briefly considered having a drinking game where you take a swig every time Jody waves the sonic, but didn’t want to die of alcohol poisoning…
November 20, 2018 @ 5:59 pm
Isn’t this going a but too far…this is a TV show. I feel the reaction by the left for this episode is just way to much. You don’t have to like it, but sheesh.
November 20, 2018 @ 6:26 pm
Graham, this is an overtly and explicitly leftist pop culture site historically focused on Doctor Who. Of course we hold the show to a bit of a standard on this point, and of course people are upset when it so ostentatiously comes down on what’s widely perceived as an anti-leftist side.
If this is something that bothers you, the comment section here really isn’t a good fit for you.
(Not That) Jack
November 20, 2018 @ 6:29 pm
You stated above that you wanted to engage with other viewpoints.
Not accepting anyone’s at all other than your own is a pretty awful way to do that. And you know, El told you to stop, so…listen?
Paul F Cockburn
November 21, 2018 @ 11:52 am
Is simply asking if people are “going too far” synonymous with not accepting their point of view? Maybe. But essentially telling people to go away is hardly conducive to good argument.
(Not That) Jack
November 21, 2018 @ 3:55 pm
But that’s the point: this isn’t a good argument.
Starting off from the viewpoint of “you are going too far” stops the conversation right there; it renders your viewpoints null and void from the start. What the person really says when they do that is “I will never see your viewpoint because it is absurd, therefore mine is right.”
It’s pretty standard internet argument rhetoric 101.
Furthermore, here’s the one thing you don’t get; this is her blog, her site. She doesn’t HAVE to tolerate someone coming in and telling everyone that they’re wrong, they’ll always be wrong, and they’re overreacting. Especially when El had already told Graham that this likely wasn’t a receptive audience to the “argument.”
There wasn’t a good argument, there was someone coming into here and telling everyone they were wrong. And you know what, I think it’s bullshit that you have to always tolerate and acknowledge different viewpoints when the other side has zero interest in yours. So, there’s that.
November 20, 2018 @ 4:15 pm
I hold only disdain for this series now. “Doctor Who” in 2018 is utterly moribund.
November 20, 2018 @ 4:31 pm
Can I just say I’m so glad to see other people agreed with me on this though I’m less ok with the ending then you seem to be. It was going so damn well until that end reveal. I can kind of give them props since it works on a purely structural level and is an interesting and unexpected twist but it seriously undermines the social commentary of the ep to the point that it legitametly annoyed me.
I’ve been watching this season with a friend and I think the last ep we were this disappointed about was the Rosa Parks ep but that was honestly better. We felt that that ep just didn’t go far enough and was a pretty standard “this is what systemic racism looked like in the south back then. it was bad” history lesson. This was even worse though since this is insanely topical (not to say that racism isn’t of course but this is trying to say something about the modern era and I’d argue that Rosa wasn’t necessarily ) and the ending completely fudged it for us. A shame since it was otherwise on it’s way to be our favorite ep of the season.
It’s funny too, I spoke to at least one other (quite liberal) person about it who loved it and didn’t seem to think there was an issue with the ending. Guess others have different standards.
On the plus side, I think we can all agree that exploding bubble wrap is a truly delightful idea.
(Not That) Jack
November 20, 2018 @ 4:46 pm
That might be the biggest crime of the episode: it wastes one of the best purely Doctor Who notions-exploding bubble wrap as a weapon-on this mess.
I mean, right now the Delgado Master is just KICKING himself over missing that one.
November 24, 2018 @ 9:48 am
Is it a structurally sound twist? Why did Dan die? Why did Charlie help them investigate his own plan? When did Yaz and Ryan find out that he was planning to blow people up? How did he get bombs into all the bubble wrap?
There are a whole bunch of logistical problems that are all caused by the sudden, bizarre decision to make the cause of the evil “the nice-seeming janitor”.
November 20, 2018 @ 4:47 pm
I am ambivalent about this episode. I think it may itself be ambivalent about what it’s presenting. I can’t even tell if its focus on automation means that it doesn’t care about the workers as workers in-situ; certainly, if it’s arguing that working under these conditions just to have a job is a good thing, then it’s confused both about presenting this working environment and about the absent alternatives. With no sense of the associated governing structure (aside from the mandated 10% human workers and reference to a “First Lady”), it can’t propose a solution to a societal problem because this one company is its only point of reference. It would be like asking if, after the Company is overthrown in The Sun Makers, there are sufficient resources to feed all the workers, and who decides whether those people keep working at their original jobs. (Is the new leader Mandrel? Is that good?)
I’m also getting a feeling that the whole series is presenting a humanist message in an historical sense. I’m thinking Erasmus, specifically. Strongly humanist, trying to hold to a middle way that ends up non-viable under the contemporary contexts, making some points that support liberal agendas and arguing for reform while also reaffirming existing power structures and advocating patience in the face of suffering. Conflicted. I certainly prefer it to the violent hypermasculinism we saw in Five and Six’s era, but I can also see how from some ideological perspectives it is more dangerous. Kerblam! is more likely to convince its watchers than The Dominators.
In the end, I’m not even sure that the episode is expressing the views it is being critiqued for, because it builds in a criticism of this corporation while also defending it. On the automation end of things, calling out Robophobia and depicting needless and inhumane organic busywork–even at the managerial level: the head of HR greets people at a desk when they enter the warehouse, and the manager doesn’t exactly seem busy (or competent)–as if it’d be better to have Kerblam! 100% robot and have the state support unemployed humans, while also suggesting that people need work in their lives and having the Doctor blow up ten thousand robots prior to the company going majority organic. Is that pro-automation? Anti-? Is it even coherent?
On the workers end of things: depict an Amazon-like corporation which actually has better working conditions (look at that green-space when they’re on break) despite having killer robots and where the executives (that we see) seem to care about their workers on at least a minimal level could represent an indictment of the actual Amazon, if that actuality registered here. (I do wonder how many casual viewers will find out about how much of this is based on real Amazon practices who didn’t know before.) Imply all sorts of creepy things about corporate policy, like being watched all the time, having an abusive manager and intrusive creepy robots, but then depict work that doesn’t feel especially dystopic and seems to happen at a relatively casual rate, while scripting all the human workers to die by the end of the episode.
Even the “two weeks pay” bit near the end could be satiric, or critical, or uncritical. If the episode is pro-capitalism, why bring this up? If it is anti-, why allow it to stand? I wonder about differences between script and direction (would a shot of Ryan hearing that “two weeks pay” comment help it land better? do the workers need to be under more pressure?), but I also wonder about Pete McTighe. I’m not familiar with his past work. I assume he isn’t another Mac Hulke. Bob Holmes was actually politically on the right but also had an anarchist streak. I don’t see immediate evidence that McTighe is another Gareth Roberts despite El’s opening here: Roberts is in no way seeking a “via media,” and at least some of the time this episode seems to be. Anyone familiar with McTighe care to weigh in?
Could this be technically and formally strong while simultaneously being ideologically and thematically incoherent? And if so, why the disparity in terms of how people read its ideology? Can Chibnall’s series be unintentionally neoliberal? His concerns seem to remain very human-centric and even the episodes which should engage with economic systems and capitalism seem to have less to say about them than The Witch’s Familiar did about sewer systems.
November 20, 2018 @ 8:45 pm
I’ve not seen Wentworth, but I’m told it had similarly iffy politics.
I think it’s notable that McTighe’s close friend Sarah Dollard – not one to shy away from effusive tweets – hasn’t made a single comment about the episode. Not one.
November 21, 2018 @ 3:27 am
In the end, I’m not even sure that the episode is expressing the views it is being critiqued for
I don’t think it is. I’ve been having trouble getting a bead on the story’s politics. It’s either extremely confused or making a satiric point so nuanced that I may be missing all of it.
Building on what you’ve already said: It isn’t simply the case that the story begins as a straightforward satire of Amazon but then turns around and endorses the company. Even in the first 40 minutes, there’s an odd tension between what looks like a critique of dehumanizing working conditions and what looks like a critique of automation—that is, a critique of letting that dehumanizing work be done by actual inhuman machines rather than foisting it on people. The implication I got is that the company wouldn’t hire any human beings at all if it weren’t for the government’s mandate—which sounds to me like a recipe for make-work, not a recipe for Amazon-style pressure to constantly produce at all costs. In any case, you can already see this conceivably going in at least two directions: either attacking the company for the way it treats its workers, or attacking the idea that people need “jobs” rather than needing an income.
Then we learn that the managers don’t know what’s going on either and that the system has a mind of its own. The revelation that the managers were trying to do the right thing could be taken as a radical rejection of the reformist idea that you just need to get the right leaders in place to make the system work properly. At least until we learned that the system itself was desperately trying to do the right thing, which turns things on its head. Except: It tried to do the right thing by murdering someone. It decided to stop a terrorist by emulating his terrorism. (Machine learning!)
And then—did Charlie’s terrorism actually work? He pressured the company into making changes! But he kept the basic structure in place, and we get that detail of giving the workers only two weeks’ pay. I feel like I’d need to watch the episode again to decide whether this is utterly incoherent or if it’s one of those jet-black farces that’s sending up everyone—and, if it’s the latter, if it has a deeper argument to make or if it’s just deeply cynical.
(Perhaps I will watch it again. Just looking at this as a piece of televised entertainment, it’s one of the few episodes of the season that I can contemplate rewatching for pleasure.)
November 21, 2018 @ 3:42 am
P.S. The other possibility, of course, is that the episode is just trying to have it both ways at once. That was my initial reaction, in fact—that it reminded me of the “you radicals have a point, but your methods are bad, and isn’t it grand that we have this secret military force to set things right” stories of the Pertwee era. But things like the two weeks’ pay make me think things just might be more complicated than that. Maybe.
November 21, 2018 @ 1:56 pm
That’s very much the impression I got. While I loved the first 40 minutes as I was watching, I felt a bit like the story was very much trying to have its cake and eat it. Like the well meaning head of people (“Go organics!” made me chuckle) to Kira’s enthusing about gifts (am I the only one that got a big Robert Shearman vibe from that and other parts of the episode? The whole being grateful for a job that might as well be automated smacked me very much of something like the servants in Chimes of Midnight.) And I’m glad someone else in the comments picked up on the people powered line, as that’s where I thought the goop vat was going.
And then it spectacularly failed to stick the landing. Politics aside, the twist just felt dramatically unsatisfying. Every alternative people have suggested on here for the ending feels like a more thematically fitting conclusion, even if you keep some aspects of the twist.
As it is, it just seems like another damming indictment of this era’s lack of cohesion. Which is a shame, as much like El, I was psyched for this episode (especially after Demons of the Punjab got my hopes up for an uptick in quality.) Now I’m back to feeling weirdly ambivalent and unsatisfied about the whole series. And I love Doctor Who. I hate feeling this way about my favourite TV show.
Apologies, rant over
Also apologies if this posts multiple times, I’m having fun with the captchas!
November 20, 2018 @ 4:58 pm
It’s an oddity of modern politics that the word ‘conservative’ is used to mean ‘neo-liberal’, which is pretty much the opposite of conservative. One could argue that Corbyn is the most conservative politician in the UK at the moment.
I suppose if one’s looking for a redemptive reading of the story it would be that the twist at the end (the corporation’s not really the bad guy!) is simply unable to undo all the dystopian worldbuilding that leads up to it.
The managers may be good guys but they’re clearly ineffectual compared to the overall dystopia, which is therefore not something you can blame on a few bad apples.
I’m not sure I can agree with El that this is well-constructed. In so far as it’s evil it’s evil through carelessness, driven by the need to have a twist revelation of the villain to the point that trumps coherence between the set-up and the resolution.
November 20, 2018 @ 5:17 pm
One could argue that Corbyn is the most conservative politician in the UK at the moment
It’d be a difficult argument when he wants to nationalise everything, which would be quite a big change.
You’d have a better case with Vince Cable. I mean returning to the status quo ante with the EU and ballroom dancing, how conservative can you get?
November 20, 2018 @ 6:48 pm
He isn’t AFAIK planning to nationalise anything that hasn’t been in public ownership in his lifetime.
November 23, 2018 @ 10:37 am
Even in the seventies Labour didn’t propose, let alone enact, confiscation of 10% of every company with over 250 employees.
November 20, 2018 @ 8:27 pm
Really? I would’ve thought it’d be one of the Conservatives. Like Rees-Mogg.
Saying that, it’s probably one of the DUP. Sammy Wilson is a real piece of shit.
November 21, 2018 @ 1:51 am
Rees-Mogg’s affectation of conservatism is entirely fake: in reality he’s a thoroughgoing disaster capitalist.
November 21, 2018 @ 12:52 pm
Rees-Mogg’s affectation of conservatism is entirely fake
I think his voting record on social issues rather belies that.
November 20, 2018 @ 11:16 pm
I don’t think the suggestion that this episode was well-constructed can survive Maddox’s line about increasing the human quota, which both suggests the villain was right and contradicts the Doctor’s big speech about how it’s people that are the problem.
November 21, 2018 @ 9:20 am
‘It’s an oddity of modern politics that the word ‘conservative’ is used to mean ‘neo-liberal’, which is pretty much the opposite of conservative.’
Although, it was Margaret Thatcher that forced neo-liberalism on the people of the British Isles.
November 20, 2018 @ 5:11 pm
As others have pointed out, it didn’t really start falling apart until near the end, and I do wonder if it wwasn’t supposed to end up this way.
Someone clearly came up with the twist of the call for help actually being from The System (nothing wrong with that, it’s a good twist), and in the course of trying not to give that away too early, they came up with the twist of Charlie being the bad guy (again, not a bad twist, except for fridg-ing Kira), but then by the time they’d written the rest of the story there was no real way to end without ‘The System’ ending up on top. It called for help, the Doctor came to help, it ended up being helped.
Basically, they weren’t intending for the politics of this one to be so messed up, they just messed up the story.
tl/dr maybe it was incompetence, not malice.
November 20, 2018 @ 6:24 pm
As others have pointed out, it’s entirely possible that this was heavily rewritten and the original revelation was that the robots were liquidising humans to use as fuel or something. That’s why the sets had a secure interrogation room, liquidising machine, and a vat full of black goo which is not explained by the story we got.
November 20, 2018 @ 7:03 pm
What’s a shame is that you could still have had another juicy twist: the System could’ve still sent out “help me” but to instead mean “help me kill more humans so the system can take over.” You then have the episode as is, with Jodie thinking someone needs help; turns out they all do but are too scared to speak up, and the over-stretched AI inadvertently brought about its own downfall by recruiting the Doctor rather than someone who would side with it
November 20, 2018 @ 6:17 pm
Mildly amusing (in fairly superficial ways) until the last ten or so minutes, which were just a confused mess. It truly is the Series 11 equivalent of Smile, but with less of an ethical centre.
Would have been vastly better if it just kept up being a big, camp joke of an episode, because it clearly didn’t have the substance to get serious the way it did at the end. And frankly, it was just low on ideas. All it can think of to say with a dystopian Amazon is…”terrorism is bad”. It can’t even come up with fun uses for killer bubble wrap.
It’s not that hard to tune out broken politics and shallow caricatures of activism if the execution is decent, but…The Zygon Inversion this ain’t.
November 20, 2018 @ 7:07 pm
Honestly feels like a missed opportunity to wink at The Ark in Space even more by not having the villain’s comeuppance being the killer bubblewrap smothering him to death
November 20, 2018 @ 6:38 pm
So obviously this episode is ethically indefensible – I said on twitter that it’s as if an evil capitalist monster killed the Cartmel era and was wearing it as a skinsuit. But, based on some word-of-mouth stuff I’ve heard, it’s completely unintentional – Pete McTighe apparently read a book on how to write a Doctor Who story and decided to make it more interesting by subverting the typical elements of a Doctor Who story, which in this case takes the character from being a revolutionary figure of chaos into a reactionary figure of stasis. You can see this process easily – the Moffat era’s “evil corporate woman” is a benevolent HR manager, the massive evil corporation is actually good, BOSS is benevolent, the minor character the companions hang out with is evil, the Doctor is on the side of the authorities. The problem is that all of these issues – obviously ethically repulsive, but potentially written by someone more inclined to surprise and subvert than to think through said ethical implications – should have been fucking fixed by Chris Chibnall somewhere along the line. It’s very easy to imagine this getting turned in as a script in the RTD or Moffat eras, but outright impossible to imagine it getting through in this state in either era.
Also, as somebody who spent 4 years of their life working in a warehouse, this episode really really resonated with me up until it suddenly didn’t. The “let’s keep the conversation to our scheduled leisure breaks” was so real.
November 20, 2018 @ 8:52 pm
That’s an interesting comment about the writing process here, and I buy it – it fits well with the episode as broadcast.
I can even see it as an interesting thought experiment round the table in the pub (“what if the Doctor…”). But the problem with McTighe writing that philosophy into Doctor Who even as a thought experiment, like the Oxford Union inviting Steve Bannon to speak and claiming that this is the free marketplace of ideas, is that he (and they) are not the people who are going to be adversely affected by it.
November 20, 2018 @ 11:40 pm
There’s an actual book or are you being metaphorical?
If this is true, than it proves that Chibnall has no idea what he’s doing and I have thus no expectations for the finale.
November 21, 2018 @ 7:30 pm
apparently a real actual physical book
November 21, 2018 @ 2:10 am
Moffat/Davies even did do a story in which the “evil capitalist” turned out to be good. In “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead”; it worked as a twist for about the same reasons as in “Kerblam!”, but wasn’t sketchy politically because the twist was he wasn’t actually an evil capitalist, he was just pretending to be one.
Davies also did a variation in ‘Voyage of the Damned’, but in that case the twist was that the evil capitalist survived, period, not that he wasn’t evil (and the Doctor is kind of bummed he was the survivor).
November 22, 2018 @ 1:05 pm
While we’re making comparisons, I think a comparison can be drawn here to Steven Moffat’s “The Beast Below”. The set-up is similar with the oppressive police state, we have visually similar robots, and the initially sinister seeming character of Liz 10 becomes an ally (compare Slade), only to later turn out to be complicit in the evil goings-on on board (compare Charlie). The latter twist is all the stronger in this instance because Amy is also complicit. We are similarly led to assume conspiracy and suspect the non-human element in the form of the star whale, only to discover that the whale is the victim and humans are responsible.
So it’s the same set of twists, repeated almost verbatim, but the specific details here mean it plays out completely differently. Crucially, the whale itself is not equated with “the system”, and the violence against the whale is itself systemic.
November 20, 2018 @ 6:44 pm
From Chibnall and Whittaker, we’re given a Doctor that placates the status quo at every opportunity with banal platitudes and cheap posturing. She points her sonic screwdriver around in lieu of interacting with the situation at hand. At the end of each episode, she gives us a ~sad~ face to express her ~deep empathy~ with the ~complex moral situations~ and runs away.
These are not even competent stories. They are not even that. Let alone all of the political problems.
It’s beyond belief that anyone can defend either of them.
November 20, 2018 @ 7:37 pm
I think you’re reading a bit too much into things here. Yes this episode’s message is a terrible one of “Activism is bad and Capitalism is good” but one episode does not make the era as a whole conservative.
Like, I would argue that Rosa, Arachnids, and Demons all say the opposite of Kerblam!: that activism/revolution are good things (Rosa and Demons) and Capitalism isn’t good but instead insidious (Arachnids).
Now, there are three episodes left of the series so things could change but thus far I wouldn’t really say this era takes the side of the conservatives at all.
November 20, 2018 @ 8:31 pm
If you can’t read too much into a work on the Eruditorum, where can you?
November 20, 2018 @ 11:42 pm
Arachnids was very careful not to criticise capitalism or any of Robertson’s business practices.
November 21, 2018 @ 1:20 am
What? Arachnids was all about how Robertson was in the wrong for his practices. Like did you miss every time he was called out and told he was doing things wrong or questioned about his business practices by Yaz’s mom/the Doctor? The episode was absolutely calling out capitalism and Robertson’s practices. Like, that was the entire point of that lengthy scene where they discover the place where all the trash is dumped.
November 21, 2018 @ 11:15 am
The Doctor criticises the fact that the trash dumping is being done incorrectly. That’s it. That’s the only economic criticism she levels at him. All her other criticisms are about his personality. “It’s not the system that’s the problem it’s the people.”
She does not criticise the fact that he has a web of hotels, does not criticise the private-public partnership of giving land to be developed by big business, does not criticise dumping trash under a hotel per se, does not criticise building a hotel on a mine, etc. She is much more outraged that he fired Yaz’s mum from a job that probably doesn’t even exist anymore, since the hotel is a garbage dumb full of a mutant spiders.
November 21, 2018 @ 11:17 am
Again, the outrage about firing aligns with the view in Kerblam that having a job is the most important thing, even if you’re working for predatory capitalist as is the case in Arachnids.
November 23, 2018 @ 2:31 am
“The Doctor criticises the fact that the trash dumping is being done incorrectly. That’s it. That’s the only economic criticism she levels at him.”
Yes and I would argue that that is a criticism of his business practices and by extension capitalism. Yes she didn’t criticize all of his actions but I don’t think she has to for it to be a criticism of capitalism. I would argue that criticizing even just one aspect of capitalism, as in his improper dealing with trash, still counts as criticizing capitalism.
November 20, 2018 @ 7:40 pm
I wonder if it’s a side effect of this Doctor being positioned as working class that the show is comfortable fetishizing work.
November 20, 2018 @ 7:50 pm
This is a small detail, but if they’ve invented teleportation and stuck it in thousands of robots, why are employees only allowed to see their families twice a year and why do they have to take a ship to Kandoka to do that? Couldn’t they just teleport home at night, instead of living on a moon?
Roderick T. Long
November 20, 2018 @ 8:17 pm
What’s weird about this episode is that politically it’s the worst of the season so far, but otherwise it’s one of the best. It actually has a clever plot and an unexpected twist; and the bubble wrap is simultaneously a callback to Moffat’s making-ordinary-things-scary trope and the specific notorious use of bubble wrap as a threat in “Ark in Space.” Plus the observation that the janitors can go anywhere without being noticed or suspected is a callback to “A Study in Scarlet/Pink.” (When that remark was made early on, I caught the Sherlock reference, but was too dim to make the obvious inference, being distracted by the episode’s misdirections.)
But the episode achieves its story virtues precisely on the back of its political flaws. The reason that the surprise twist works is that the story initially leads us to expect Kerblamazon to be bad and its crapped-upon workers to be good, so yeah, reversing that is quite the surprise, but a surprise achieved only by taking the wrong side
Specifically, the episode invites us to expect a conflict between a radical narrative (“the problem is the System itself”) and a reformist narrative (“no, the problem is the particular people who happen to be running the System”), which is a conversation worth having — only to surprise us instead with a reactionary narrative (“ha, you’re both wrong, the problem is the people being oppressed by the System”). This works at a mystery-story level because it’s an effective surprise twist — following Agatha Christie’s rule (which Doctor Who seldom follows) that the perpetrator should be someone you least suspect (which here, main characters aside, would be either Charlie or Kira). But the twist works only by tossing the opening principles under the bus. I mean, the Doctor kissing Hitler would be a surprise twist too. One needs to find a surprise PLOT reversal that isn’t also a MORAL reversal.
So there are two ways of reading this episode. One way is that the reactionary upshot is the intended message. The other way is that the reactionary upshot was simply a tool to bring about the surprise twist. (“Of course the audience will expect Amazon to be bad, so we’ll make it look bad at first and then switch things around.”) The difference would be whether labour activism was the targeted victim or merely collateral damage.
Some evidence for the latter, maybe, is the fact that the way both the management’s labour practices and the System’s killing Kira are initially presented as horrific, only later to be more or less forgiven and/or forgotten, is an odd reprise of Chibnall’s “Hungry Earth”/”Cold Blood,” where the Silurian physician is about to vivisect our heroes but then suddenly gets treated by the Doctor as a good guy, all vivisection intention forgotten. It’s harder to see that as politically motivated.
Of course insouciance about collateral damage is as much a moral failing as deliberate targeting, so it’s not like that explanation would get anyone off the hook.
November 20, 2018 @ 11:46 pm
Curiously, the Doctor’s speech does refer to “the people running the system” as the real problem, but she uses Charlie as the example, since he has been programming the robots…
November 21, 2018 @ 6:01 am
I think there’s a very good chance the desire for a surprise-twist was, rather than malice, the main source of political trouble here. In which case it would be rather like “the Monsters of Peladon”, which was awful (ha! You can’t reform the Ice Warriors! They’re evil and always will be!) but doesn’t seem to have had any intentional message. The message merely being the toxic result of wanting to surprise “Curse of Peladon”‘s fans.
My progression, watching the episode, went
A. “Well, this isn’t anywhere near imaginative enough to be ‘Paradise Towers’, but I guess I should give points for wanting to be ‘Paradise Towers’, right?”
B. “Huh. So it’s trying to make ‘Oxygen’ out of ‘Paradise Towers”s tools, I think. I’m not really sold, but I wonder if it will pull it off in the end?”
C. “…… What. The. Everloving. Fuck.”
The reason I haven’t moved beyond reaction C, unlike Elizabeth and some others here, is that I’m not sure how different “WTEF” moment is from “Ah! The Doctor stands up against murdering sentient creatures with guns! Because that’s immoral! And you should…. murder them some different way”. Or “Ah! The Doctor has transformed the very nature of this deadly trillion-dollar prize race! And taught some kind of lesson! And… we will never know how that turns out”.
I’m enjoying Chibnall’s show moment-by-moment, but I am unlearning the expectation that anyone has thought about how the different moments might relate to each other.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:19 pm
I am holding out hope that this is building up to a series finale where the Doctor finally takes a stand (If it were me, I’d literally name the season finale “The Doctor Stands”, and have the Doctor
destroy global capitalism once and for allI dunno, let the Zygons stop hiding out in human form or something).
I’m trying not to be too hopeful that this is indeed where it’s going, but I have more hope than I would if it were Moffatt doing this (Not that I believe Moffatt would actually do a season with a recurring theme of the Doctor standing back and preserving the injustice of the status quo in the first place).
Roderick T. Long
November 20, 2018 @ 10:25 pm
She does at least say (in the previous episode) that she’s been too nice. Hasn’t done anything about it yet, though.
November 21, 2018 @ 1:51 am
She says she has been too nice in the Punjab episode which was, I believe, originally scheduled for later in the series. Which might explain why she doesn’t do anything about it in what was set up as an earlier episode.
November 20, 2018 @ 11:50 pm
Some people on Gallifrey Base are desperately hoping that something like this will be the case. That Chibnall will show at least a shred of knowing what he’s doing. Maybe the nine different distress signals that the Doctor has to address in the finale are related to the previous 9 episodes where she fell short somehow. And then she will wreak havoc.
November 21, 2018 @ 2:35 am
I am loathe to agree with Gallifrey Base on anything at all, but it sure does feel Relevant that so many of this season’s episodes have been deliberately open-ended, with the antagonist literally teleporting away in the middle of the showdown multiple times.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:38 pm
I’m not even particularly economically left-wing but this episode really rubbed me the wrong way. Morally indefensible.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:44 pm
I, too, hated the ending, wanting to see a “Paradise Towers” or “The Happiness Patrol,” where the Doctor unambiguously faces down the evil entity and pulls the whole structure down. At the same time, I have a hard time viewing this episode as a conservative hit piece. This season, if nothing else, is making me think carefully about what I want from Doctor Who.
For one thing, I’m willing to give the show some credit for doing an Amazon analog as opposed to doing a generic evil corporation. Its easy to hate Walmart, but many on the left, myself included, are complicit in Amazon’s success and continue to give them business even though the reports of their exploitative labor practices have been circulating for years. (Most of my Doctor Who DVDs, including “Paradise Towers” and “The Happiness Patrol” were purchased from Amazon, and the early TARDIS Eruditorum entries included Amazon links.) Doing an Amazon analog gives the episode teeth in a way that generic evil corporation or dystopia wouldn’t, in large part, because of this complicit relationship with them. (If nothing else, this episode finally motivated me to cancel my Prime membership).
There’s a material aspect to this season where the show seems to be reflecting the times more than transcending them. The Amazon workplace abuses – bullying, surveillance, employees not being permitted to talk – are all displayed. The viewer is not meant to like or admire Kerblam. Dan and Kira don’t get framed as people pulling themselves up (as I would expect from a conservative piece), but as people in desperate times who are grateful to have a job when too many people don’t have one. I, at least, read them as an analogy for the thousands of people applying for Amazon jobs even as horror stories about Amazon warehouses make headlines. Maddox and Slade get portrayed as “banality of evil” impotent middle managers rather than manipulative (like Stevens in “The Green Death”) or condescending (like Hade in “The Sunmakers”) ones, which was interesting. On the other hand, the system kills Kira to preempt Charlie.
The ending still sucks, if only because Charlie is too muddled to be an effective analogy. If he’s read as liberal, which was my original reaction, he makes for an odd revolutionary. He’s not pushing for better wages or working conditions or corporate accountability; he wants the robots to go away and to turn back technology. The line about people looking up from their phones is particularly salient. It gets at the difficult relationship between advances in technology and diminishing opportunities without staking a clear position.
I’m still torn about exactly what I would want the Doctor to do with Amazon beyond force them to adopt better practices. This makes it harder for me to condemn the episode for not having the Doctor burn it to the ground. At the very least, I prefer Whitaker telling Charlie that he is right to be angry but is misdirecting his anger to Capaldi responding “so what” when Bonnie complains that Zygons were treated like cattle.
November 20, 2018 @ 10:55 pm
I’ll admit, I only found this blog because this review was mentioned in the comments on Joe Ford’s over at Doc Oho Reviews. It seems this reviewer considers herself a leftist. I’d put myself left of centre politically too, but our outlook on automation, what it means for workers and how this episode handles that clearly diverge.
I disagree with the ‘classical’ Marxist-Leninist/anarcho-syndicalist/socialist approach to employment. I don’t think everyone wants to work, given the choice, so I don’t think they should be forced to do so on pain of homelessness or starvation. That’s just slavery by another name. Work doesn’t bring dignity, as is demonstrated at some points in this episode. Measuring success by maximum happiness rather than full employment is the way of the future instead of a 19th-century solution to a 19th-century problem. I believe in the 21st-century solution to technological advancement, namely a universal basic income, which would render the plight of the characters in ‘Kerblam!’ irrelevant.
The ending was the only part that disappointed me. No, it wasn’t the aforementioned ‘two weeks pay’ line (though in isolation that would obviously be a bad development) but rather the line that the head of Human Resources would look into making the distribution centre majority-organic when it reopened! So, the terrorist got what he wanted in the end? Some moral lesson that is! The manager on site should’ve said he’ll lobby to get the law changed so that the factory can become 99.9% automated in order to minimise the risk of rogue elements reprogramming the robots to kill or injure the clients, whilst ensuring the remaining human workers are able to live out a comfortable existence.
In a show where roughly every other episode tries to be science-y and futuristic, it was sad to see the programme’s morals coming down on the side of the neo-Luddites. Yes, one lesson of NuWho is that humanity and compassion should be able to defeat evil (which is fine now and then, but they do tend to lay it on a bit thick), but historically the show bested malevolent forces mainly through logic and reason. In that context, benign automation should always be welcomed rather than resisted. The Doctor rightly berates someone for robophobia in one line, after all.
[Also, the Letts/Dicks era was pro-military? That’s a new one on me! Yes, the army-worship in the USA in 2018 is worrying. Yes, the Pertwee era contained lots of military characters. I’d argue the way they were portrayed shows that the producers had less deference for that institution than most people involved in television at the time. There’s no need to look back at that period through a modern-day prism from a different country.]
Jacob Leo Webb
November 21, 2018 @ 2:32 am
So this gets at my closest stab at making the episode worth a second viewing (personally), which would be to see if there is room for a reading of this story set in a (galactic?) society with a Universal Basic Income, or similar.
Obviously automation as a contemporary issue is obviously a complex subject with benefits and detriments to the working class. But, to engage with it on the speculative rather than analogous level (and SF can certainly be looked at through either lense), it represents a potential technology of emancipation from the drudgery of labour (admittedly often by increasing the drudgery at first, hence the complexity of the issue).
Transposing this story to be about the conflict between those who romanticize deadheaded drone work that makes machines of us all, in a society experiencing the awkward transition to an age of fully automated luxury space communism, and political pushback against this etc. etc. may redeem it.
Not that I find this reeding smacks of authorial intent, nor does it help me feel trustful of the Chibnall Era going forward, muddled and performative as it seems in its alignments.
November 21, 2018 @ 1:49 am
Even setting aside how just off the politics were, I mean, this was a really boring episode.
November 21, 2018 @ 2:50 am
Oh, yeah. Just found out this was happening in my hometown. Thanks for the advice on how to handle it, Chibnall and McTighe. Assholes. http://www.alexandriagazette.com/news/2018/nov/20/opinion-letter-editor-will-amazon-save-wetlands/
By the way, don’t you guys just love how the dangerous leftist totalitarian anarchist begins to doubt his plans because he meets – gasp – a gurrrrl? If only those poor clueless naive deluded virgins found someone to fuck, they’d give up their delusions of grandeur of trying to change anything. If only he had a nice heteronormative relationship to distract him from all his time writing sad political posts in his mom’s basement or something. The implications of this episode just improve the more you think about them! It’s the Kerblam! gift that keeps on giving!
Actually, that’s the other perfect metaphor for this episode, after the Cartmel-skinsuit suggestion. This episode is a gift to Doctor Who, full of lethal bubble wrap inside.
November 21, 2018 @ 3:58 am
Charlie the terrorist meets a cute girl, realizes the emotional impact of what he’s doing — and he still decides to pursue his plan because it’s still important. Without defending that plot thread’s existence (ugh), the episode does leave him that bit of dignity.
November 21, 2018 @ 11:23 am
I was also disgusted that Charlie is clearly framed as a millennial activist when he boasts that people of his generation are different, in that they question things and actually do stuff. Ugh.
November 21, 2018 @ 3:25 am
I used to work for Amazon in a warehouse so I was ready for this to be a more vicious takedown. That having been said — I used to work for Amazon so I can also confirm how spot-on a lot of the corporate culture stuff was and just the ‘feel’ of even things like the welcome lobby were.
So I was surprised by the ending but also… weirdly satisfied? This might be the first Doctor Who story EVER to deal with emergent artificial intelligence in a manner that might occur in our lifetime. And not an antisepetic presentation either… this is against the backdrop of widespread joblessness caused by that automation.
Do I wish we had gotten a skewering on Amazon today? Yes. But this is an episode that actually might MATTER in 10-15 years. It articulates the flight of the workers, the unreasonableness of the fanatics, the poverty of the people who grew up in this system, the way it separates families, the degree to which middle management itself is paralyzed and most importantly… the emergent AI of the Kerb!am system is not presented as a monster, but it certainly isn’t an angel either — it killed Kira just to get attention to its plight. …which is something an emergent AI who doesn’t know how to communicate might do.
So what it did with AI is fascinating. I think a The Robots of Death fairly regularly and the Fourth Doctor’s pronouncement that any society which becomes dependent on robots is on the road for an inevitable collapse. I just wish that Who had done two separate episodes; one about the complexities and stresses of artificial intelligence and one skewering Amazon.
November 21, 2018 @ 3:33 am
Back in the RTD days, and into the Moffat era, there was always the rumour (defense), pretty much explicitly confirmed by both former show-runners in interviews, that they weren’t able to hire a more diverse writing team because the BBC insisted on the Doctor Who writers being at least ‘very experienced’ TV writers, and preferably (IIRC) at near show-runner level themselves. There were some high profile and obvious exceptions, Paul Cornell for example, but for the most part, that’s the way it went.
So when the story didn’t quite reach the heights expected, the fall back position was at least competent television, that could carry a unifying theme and slot into the season as a whole without upsetting the apple-cart.
With so many new and, from a television standpoint, inexperienced writers, are we seeing the result? That writing Doctor Who successfully is actually pretty damn hard to do? (As many former classic era script-editors have claimed) And that Chibnal has lost control of the scripting/writing process because the task of getting all of these scripts up to standard has been too great for his talents?
I’m not having-a-go at the writers, so much as pointing out that brilliance in one area of writing is no guarantee of success in another. I give you Stephen Kings scripts as example A…
November 21, 2018 @ 3:45 am
This could add credence to the current, and completely unsubstantiated, rumour doing the rounds that Chibnal will be quitting after Series 12, and/or that S12 will be only 5 or 6 episodes as Chibnal believes that a full season of Doctor Who each year is unsustainable. Reported in Starburst and various other sites.
And that the New Years Day shift is because he’s ‘run out of ideas’ for Christmas episodes?!?
November 21, 2018 @ 11:17 am
The “we’ve possibly run out of ideas” is a misattributed quote originally by Moffat. If I remember correctly, so was the “I’m looking for showrunner-level writers with interest in writing Doctor Who” – a philosophy that was particularly visible in the Matt Smith era.
November 21, 2018 @ 1:34 pm
Chibnall and the BBC haven’t given a reason for the move to New Year’s Day other than general scheduling excitement (personally I’m sad, as I enjoy watching it with my family but also my feelings aren’t the same as what’s good for the show).
The ‘running out of ideas’ quote came from Stephen Moffat, and was added to the story by the Mirror, I think, to make it more of a story than a scheduling rumour. Let’s be fair to him: that’s from a man who’s recently stopped doing Doctor Who after his 8th Christmas story. He probably is feeling fairly burned out on the endeavour.
November 21, 2018 @ 8:57 am
McTighe isn’t an inexperienced scriptwriter, though. He’s written 77 episodes of Neighbours, 10 of EastEnders, 16 of Wentworth.
(The other writers of the season? There you’d have more of a point).
November 21, 2018 @ 1:58 pm
True, but have you ever actually watched Neighbours… and I’m an Aussie!
Joking aside. I wasn’t specifically referring to McTighe, and I only vaguely remembered the writing credits. Although it may be worth remembering that The Twin Dilemma was written by Anthony Steven, an experienced TV writer with nearly two decades of drama for the BBC experience under his belt by that time. Including shows like All Creatures, and The Forsyte Saga.
Maybe, just maybe, writing Doctor Who is not quite as easy as we’d all like to think.
November 21, 2018 @ 4:47 pm
Fair point – certainly there’s no guarantee that an experienced scriptwriter is going to write good Doctor Who (as is arguably the case here). In fact I’d say Vinay Patel (playwright, done bits and bobs of TV but not all that much) managed it more successfully than McTighe did… truer to the spirit of the show, if not necessarily its form, aesthetic and structure.
November 21, 2018 @ 3:51 am
Just to see if it works, I want to make the best case I can that this episode wasn’t actually pro-status-quo evil — or competent, or coherent, either. We’ll see how it goes:
1A. Except, you know, they also have Jodie repeatedly going “I love Kerblam!”
But the episode is obviously arguing that we urgently need to start that debate: that automation is making the world worse, but we need a better solution, a more imaginative solution, than holding on to the everyone-works-for-a-corporation solution we have now. Which is radical, and which I strongly agree with.
2A. Except the happy ending is Judy declaring that they’ll make more crappy jobs now. Plus no other alternative solutions are ever mentioned.
Basically, I’ve seen a lot more evidence this series that Chibnall’s Doctor Who is terrible at crafting a decent through-line than that it has bad politics. So “this episode was terribly crafted” is not an idea to throw away so casually. I think it may have been intended to be subversive and, relative to Jodie’s prior standards, bombs-away. I think it may have just been done ineptly.
I’m not sure. But I’ve been finding the series fun, in its badly-made way, so I’d rather be able to still do so. Thoughts?
November 21, 2018 @ 5:01 am
Honestly, yeah, that was my first thought on viewing this one, and a rewatch only reinforced it: that politically, ideologically, this one was a muddle. The Doctor goes from “that’s robophobia” to blowing up robots en masse 40 minutes later. “People are the problem” so the solution is to hire more people. And of course, we get half an hour or so of biting satire of modern employment with absolutely no follow-up at the end.
The horror was competent enough, and the script was witty (i loved the fez, and the upselling), but i don’t think this episode had any clear idea what it was trying to say, probably symptomatic of trying to do a story about the indignities of minimum wage employment at the same time as this thing about automation.
November 21, 2018 @ 6:11 am
Oh yeah, the upselling bits! Classic horror-comedy. Another point against the assumption that this episode was pro-Amazon/ pro-corporate out of planning and intent — it was making fun of Amazon’s sort of here’s-some-more-things-to-buy “efficiency”.
Ironically, Elizabeth’s rating this the 3rd-best episode of the 7 so far in her respect for skillful evil, and I’m rating it 6th (ahead only of ‘Ghost Monument’) due to my hunch that it meant well.
November 21, 2018 @ 4:04 pm
I think most of the issues with the last 10 minutes would have been greatly alleviated by the Doctor having a stronger reaction to everything happening. Because the critiques of the first 40 minutes are still there and my first reaction to the twist that the system sent out the distress call was that this sets up an even more interesting theme. Because the system wasn’t protecting people, it was protecting customers. It couldn’t care less about people as such, as seen by its fridging of Kira. This is a world where employees and customers are explicitly different groups and the system/System reacted accordingly by its own internal logic. And yet the Doctor ignores all these things that the episode did include. It’s so strange.
November 21, 2018 @ 8:59 pm
Yeah, I agree with you that the episode is more likely an attempt at a radical critique, that failed spectacularly, than an intentional pro-corporate message.
Thinking about what Graham said upthread, it’s not that I think all sci-fi should reflect my politics, or that it should all have a lefty message. I enjoy some libertarian-flavored sci-fi and the occasional South Park-ish bit of contrarianism. I have time for an “Amazon.com is good, actually” take if it’s intelligently done.
But an intelligently done “Amazon.com is good actually” wouldn’t look anything like this episode. Assuming you wanted to write that, you would need to, like, focus on how Kerblam! has made peoples’ lives better, show that criticisms of them are overblown, show that they’re trying to improve, etc.
And there’s none of that. The first 2/3 of the episode unambiguously portray a system of oppression. It has a focus on the creepiness of the surveillance system and the micromanagement, and on the desperation of people to work these shitty jobs because there are so few jobs left due to automation and the only alternative is poverty. The libertarian sci-fi version of this story would not focus so much on how Kerblam! has sucked the life out of the economy and the dignity out of work.
You could also try to write a story where the point is moral ambiguity, and both sides have good points. But that goes out the window as soon as you make one side a terrorist. No quicker way to destroy any moral ambiguity you’ve created.
It’s just incoherent. Maybe the writer was so focused on making the Shocking! Twist! happen that they didn’t notice the last 1/3 of the episode contradicts the first 2/3.
If I was writing this story (and I know I’m not the first commenter to make this point) I’d have the twist be that the labor activist is wrong to want more people to work for Kerblam! Instead the solution should be for Kerblam! to go fully automated, and there should be some kind of UBI or all the products should be free, because a society that has the technology to automate all work is clearly post-scarcity and clinging to obsolete ideas of “money” and “jobs” is making everyone miserable for no reason.
The Doctor could make a big speech about how automation should be used to set people free, not the reverse! It would be revolutionary and socially relevant. I love when the Doctor helps get a society un-stuck by pointing out the solution to the dilemma that nobody else has considered.
November 21, 2018 @ 5:30 am
//Although I do have to say, burning “killer bubble wrap” in the last five minutes of an episode is a tragic waste. This gets at an oddity of Kerblam!, which is that it’s blatantly the setup for the best Auton story never to happen.//
I was convinced from early on that this was an auton episode, even the Kerblam man had an auton vibe (even taking into account that it was explicitly a robot).
November 21, 2018 @ 5:38 am
Hello, Ms Sandifer. 🙂
Both the article and the comments here are a fascinating read, as ever, but – speaking as a left-of-centre Briton – I’m not really convinced that the episode – or the Chibnall era thus far – are a perfect fit for the political positions that have been assigned to them.
There seems to be little room for The Chib being anything other than a fairly right-wing person, himself. His Merseyside origins notwithstanding, he’s had a straightforwardly-privileged life and career and most of the characters he’s written for are all varying degrees of right wing. You only have to look at his treatment of UNIT in Torchwood: Fragments to realise he’s not really the go-to-guy for stories that upsell universal harmony and diversity.
Now here he is, seemingly trying his best to write one of the most left-wing drama shows the BBC’s ever produced. I’m not surprised he didn’t want to do it – and I’d be very surprised if the show under his leadership didn’t get some of the notes wrong, at least some of the time.
That’s not to excuse the dodgy politics of the episode and the series, but it does perhaps cast a slightly more plausible and forgivable light on things than the idea that Chibnall’s on a mission to quietly convert the nation’s children into an army of neo-conservative true-believers.
Chris Chibnall’s career owes a great deal to Doctor Who and deliberately betraying it’s entire ethos would be astoundingly impolite and ungrateful, for all but the extreme-right-thinking persons. I’m inclined to think that incompetence is more believable here than malice. YMMV.
On the topic of Amazon’s employment practises, I appreciate and fully agree with the general desire for them to treat their employees far better than they do.
That said, I’m an autistic man in the wrong half of his life who spent decades out of work. These days, I’ve been lucky enough to be in full-time work for most of this decade, but I still remember. The unending sense of impotence and dependency, the endless, grinding poverty, the feeling that those around you are full of secret – and sometimes not-so-secret – contempt for your perceived uselessness, these are not fun things to live with. Worst of all is the eternal, all-pervading fear that nothing in your life will ever get better.
There’s no human dignity in not being able to take care of yourself and your family, I think even if the reasons for that situation come from the highest of moral and social principles. There’s no place for hope in such endless grey misery. Even though the best jobs I can get are usually terrible, I enjoy them as much as one can and count myself very fortunate indeed to be able to get them.
Amazon’s workers have jobs – and to my mind, that means most should at least have something to work for, some sense of their own practical worth and the prospect of something better in the future.
I condemn Amazon unreservedly for it’s abuses, but I can never hate them for it, given that they employ and give some hope to so many souls. When you’re lost in the darkness forever, even the faintest of lights is better than nothing at all.
November 21, 2018 @ 11:19 am
November 21, 2018 @ 10:49 am
In fairness to this story, by the end of it, Kerblam is left without any delivery machines and an undisclosed amount of their infrastructure destroyed (you hope it’s contained to the lower levels so no more workers are killed) and the execs promising reform to the company. I think this script has more faith in the execs to create a better system than it has any right to, and asks you to believe that significant reform in the way they run things will happen, but offscreen. And no mention is made of whether their more insipid business practices like the group loop and the random monitoring will be specifically changed. If you squint really hard, you can believe that those problems will be fixed (although amazon is 100% human run at the moment and it’s still abusing workers) . And lastly, though the ending of the episode is a tonal mess, we are presented with the image of a cardboard box as a potential danger. It asks us to reconsider ordering from Amazon, with the suggestion you might die from doing so. It’s not so much a “don’t buy from Amazon for ethical reasons” as scare tactics, but I do think more Doctor Who viewers will at least think twice before using Amazon again. Despite the best efforts of the last ten minutes, I don’t think anyone’s going to come out of this episode with a higher opinion of Amazon. But also, one wonders of this episode would be more damning if Doctor Who wasn’t available to stream right now on Amazon Prime.
(also sorry if you see this comment multiple times. I had difficulty submitting.)
Roderick T. Long
November 21, 2018 @ 6:45 pm
“although amazon is 100% human run at the moment”
That’s what the Squid People want you to think.
November 21, 2018 @ 6:51 pm
(I haven’t read all the other replies, so I’m almost certainly repeating what others have said somewhere.)
I finished this thinking “Goodness, an episode where the politics are so problematic even I can recognise them without Elizabeth explaining it to me.”
What’s really weird about it is that the set-up is one of the most pointed attacks on capitalism I’ve ever seen in Doctor Who, possibly more so than “Oxygen”, And then it doesn’t seem to realise it’s done this, because capitalism is so built into its worldview.
Like, the problem isn’t that Kerblam isn’t employing enough people in horrible repetitive jobs a machine could do, the problem is that Kerblam is a society where people still need horrible repetitive jobs a machine could do. But at the end we’re assured that the solution is that Kerblam will be hiring more people to do horribly repetitive jobs a machine could do, because that’s how benevolent they are! No, the solution is to let the machines do the horrible repetitive jobs, and get on with turning into the Culture.
“the Doctor actually takes deliberate action to stop the villain” as opposed to “the villain stupidly gets himself exploded in the course of the Doctor’s plan.”
Although, if the Doctor’s plan wasn’t to blow Charlie up while hand-wringing about how she tried to save him, I’m not entirely sure what it was. I mean, why else did she need all the robots to detonate their bubble wrap right now?
November 21, 2018 @ 6:53 pm
“…the problem is that Kerblam is a society where…”
Flip. “… is part of a society…”
(Not That) Jack
November 22, 2018 @ 1:52 am
I tend to watch Doctor Who with a deeper critical analysis shut off-one thing that I like about the Eruditorium, even if I occasionally disagree with some of it,is that it allows me a chance to review the show with a more critical mind after the fact-but Kerblam! was so obviously broken politically that it kicked in the door and went HEY LISTEN at me.
I also wonder why, if the Doctor’s link to the system was enough to countermand the robot’s teleport orders and give them an order to open deliveries, she just didn’t tell them to shut down. I suspect that blowing the robots up was an artifact of an earlier draft that just got kept in without really fitting the ending.
November 22, 2018 @ 3:14 pm
I read it as the Doctor deliberately destroying 10,000 delivery robots (out of how many? The shut-down suggests this was a significant blow to the corporation) as well as whatever was on that level. In most cases, we’d read that collectively as the Doctor expressing disapproval of the way the company operates. The twin problems are that it’s never played that way and all the prior discussion of robophobia implies that the Doctor has just murdered 10,000 robots who are not responsible for being reprogrammed.
Actually, from that perspective, Charlie is right: automation of this sort is dangerous. Instead of being impressed at how brilliant our Taren Kapel figure had to be to get robots to kill, we’re supposed to be impressed at the System fighting back against being reprogrammed-feebly so-while also evidently accepting murder as an acceptable solution to the problem. It’s not even clear whether the robots are slaved to the System or whether each has its own version (certainly implied) and thus they’re all clones of a sort; having delivery robots as a separate category complicates that further. In any event, there don’t seem to be adequate safeguards; indeed, if the System’s attempt to stop Charlie is any indication, nobody programmed any meaningful safeguards into the System and it’s something of a surprise that it fought back at all.
In any event, I think the Doctor deliberately chose the simplest solution that would also damage the company and force it to use more human labor. Jodie just didn’t have a moment to do the Troughton thing where he suggests that he was being more clever than he was letting on.
November 21, 2018 @ 9:00 pm
Meanwhile, at the real Amazon:
“He drew a line alongside an inverted pyramid, writing “least important” on the bottom and “most important” higher up, with the word “customer” scrawled along the very top.
“Where do you think Jeff Bezos sees himself on this chart?”
Silence. He points to the bottom of the pyramid.”
If Jeff Bezos sees himself as the least important person in the company why doesn’t he get paid the least? (thinky emoji)
November 21, 2018 @ 11:14 pm
I highly recommend this review of the episode (by ScarvesAndCelery, who sometimes comments here):
November 22, 2018 @ 12:55 pm
Thank you for the plug, TomeDeaf!
November 22, 2018 @ 2:11 am
In a season big on seasonal tie-ins (Halloween, Remembrance Day), this is the episode immediately prior to Black Friday. Was that McTighe’s remit? “Black Friday …. Let’s do Amazon something something…”
Even an ‘Evil Space Amazon Eats Its Workers’ story might have just served to prime people for deals. So if it’s true this had Amazon-appeasing rewrites, that’s a really wonderful marketing boon for them.
November 22, 2018 @ 9:33 am
Holy FUCK I only just realised this was a tie-in with Black Friday (it’s an American tradition that has almost entirely passed me by this year as ever before).
If anything that makes me even more angry than I was before, it that were possible.
November 23, 2018 @ 4:48 pm
In my headcanon this is still a story about evil space amazon eating workers despite any stupid rewrite they may have done.
November 22, 2018 @ 3:50 am
I probably could have forgiven just about everything (Suggested to my wife shortly before the fridging: “Oh, the system’s sentient and benevolent, but it is only able to communicate in the form of murder.”) up to the point where the Doctor’s big speech is essentially “Cool it and stop acting out against your elders, you entitled millennials who aren’t content to be cogs in the system; capitalism will naturally evolve a conscience to prevent abuses; antifa are the real terrorists.” Wrong in all the ways that The Zygon Inv*’s “Quiet down and be content to live a lie your whole life,” speech was, but without the layer of abstraction that comes from being a setup that involves shapeshifting aliens rather than Amazon.
Also, is this the first time a camera angle has revealed that the big support pillars bend down in time with the central column? In this house, when the kids are in bed, we refer to this motion as “going all wiggly-penis”, because they kinda look like big crystal sex toys when they genuflect like that.
November 22, 2018 @ 9:03 pm
Not as bad as the first Smith control room. (Don’t get me wrong, it’s my favourite, but oh deary me.)
November 22, 2018 @ 6:05 am
I really respect this review. I think it encapsulates problems with the latest season as a whole.
The point about wokeness as window dressing is a really interesting one…gonna keep an eye on that for the remaining episodes.
Is the series really most interested in Graham? Not sure about that. But I guess there have been bits like his explaining how he met Grace that the other two haven’t been given equivalents for.
“White Riot…I wanna riot!”
“Darhling! I’ll buy you one then!”
November 22, 2018 @ 1:27 pm
There’s a sense in which it seems like they don’t trust Jodie to give the “dad” speeches – they’ll give her the “picard” speeches about how she’ll protect the earth from monsters or how it’s wrong to undermine capitalism or murder holy men. But when it’s time for the more real-world heartwarming one about what it means to be a grown-up or muddling on despite your grief or keeping calm and carrying on, or making friends with the murderous millennial, that has to go to the Old White Man, because being Old, White, and a Man gives him a kind of real-world moral authority: a female Doctor, I fear, is still permitted to fight the monsters, but she’s not trusted to tell the boys how to be Good Men.
John G. Wood
November 23, 2018 @ 9:29 am
I really struggle to know how to rate this one. I don’t mind hating something like The Twin Dilemma which is badly made as well as morally repugnant, but this is more like Talons – well made enough that I would be quite likely to pull it out and watch it fairly regularly if it weren’t for the racism, sexism, and colonialism.
In Talons’ case, I’ve left it fairly high in my rankings (53rd place) because of that quality, even though I never choose to revisit it. I’m too close to Kerblam! to do the same there so it currently sits 2nd from bottom. The strength of my reaction will certainly fade with time, but I have no idea how long that will take. At the moment, though, I am one of the oh-so-many who are feeling seriously annoyed.
November 23, 2018 @ 9:55 am
Matt C – “Its easy to hate Walmart, but many on the left, myself included, are complicit in Amazon’s success and continue to give them business even though the reports of their exploitative labor practices have been circulating for years.”
Yeah good points! Thanks for a great review El!
One of the things that seemed to be being presented to the audience in the climax of Rosa was people’s complicity, even when they regard themselves as separate ideologically from a situation. I would have really loved to have seen some element of Kerblam! to mirror to the audience their own complicity in the present (I know I am am complicit) with their use of Amazon – but sadly the desire for more ‘things’ goes unchallenged and the addicted consumers get off scot-free (Have more! Buy more! The company will keep running!)
I thought for a magical moment that in the Tardis we were going to get some kind of weird advert ala Greatest Show in the Galaxy; and I was intrigued for a while when we were being presented with what felt almost like “Amazon warehouse as horror story’ – but in many ways the heart of the story as it was presented felt hollow, although I am going to be fascinated on rewatches to see it from the point of view as a well done conservative Doctor Who story!
I have not been able to comment much recently but I have been having a good read of everything. Been a bit (ironically!) overworked – so I guess I might have enjoyed a deconstruction of ‘work’ as an idea a bit more and maybe even had the Doctor espouse ideas to the workers and within the story generally that there is more to life and the universe than the idea of work.
November 25, 2018 @ 8:45 pm
Hey, this just occurred to me: am I misremembering, or does the episode treat the statements “10% of the workforce is human” and “10% of humans have jobs” as functionally equivalent? Guess we can add basic maths to its problems…
November 26, 2018 @ 6:35 pm
I suppose they could, technically but unrelatedly, both be true.
November 27, 2018 @ 6:18 pm
Ah wait, I’ve just realised what you meant – Charlie’s line is “10% of workers at Kerblam! are organic. So what about the other 90% of the human population?” — yeah, that makes no sense.
November 27, 2018 @ 6:16 am
I thought the episode very clearly criticized corporate exploitation of workers. People seem to think that because it wasn’t the corporation killing its workers, but rather a terrorist pretending to be one, that somehow it was endorsing the behavior it literally and repeatedly criticized. It’s a sign of our ultra-divided political times that people no longer accept that a TV program cannot depict a party we disagree with as anything other than utterly sinister without ‘endorsing’ it.
November 27, 2018 @ 1:28 pm
The show didn’t criticise corporate exploitation, though. It – in the person of the “Doctor” – explicitly DEFENDED it from the depredations of the poor, people so lacking in aspiration that their idea of an improvement in their situation is MORE dead-end meaningless jobs.
And then for an encore the “happy ending” was that the terrorist’s aims were in fact realised, and more dead-end, meaningless jobs would indeed be created, after an enforced hiatus for which the existing workforce would only be paid half.
November 27, 2018 @ 4:07 pm
It’s quite possible to read the bulk of the story, up until quite close to the climax, as critical of corporate exploitation, and the culture of Amazon in particular, right down to the irritating buzzwords and Twirly suggestive selling cushions to brighten up the dreary workplace. We are surely not supposed to think it’s OK that Slade calls Kira brainless, or that the employees are constantly monitored via group loops, or that Dan hasn’t seen his family in so long.
November 27, 2018 @ 6:21 pm
I’d agree with you, tachyonspiral, which is why the ending is so appalling — it’s like someone set out to write a story that had all the trappings of an Evil Corporation (not just creepy signage or weirdly optimistic jingle music but actual bullying and exploitation, as you say), but then does a volte-face and says because the Evil Corporation isn’t quite as bad as blowing up tens of thousands of people as an act of protest it is, and the very exploitations the episode has criticised are, therefore something we can live with. Eurgh.
Roderick T. Long
March 12, 2019 @ 10:11 pm
Update from the real-world Kerblamazon:
April 29, 2019 @ 9:25 pm
I am amused (and I do not mean this in a mocking way—I appreciate the chutzpah) by the way you agree not to judge the episode purely because you disagree with its politics, yet then go and label it as “evil” anyway.
When it comes to my opinion on this episode’s politics, I don’t know what to make of them, frankly, because the world presented doesn’t make a lick of sense. If fully sentient artificial intelligence is mass-produced the way shown here, it is beyond me that humanity would still want to have jobs, let alone need to.