It’s November 18th, 2018. Ariana Grande remains at number one with “Thank U, Next.” Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, Little Mix ft. Nicki Minaj, Halsey, and Freya Ridings also chart. While in news, Theresa May announces that she has Cabinet support for her Brexit plan. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab then resigned from the Cabinet in protest of May’s Brexit plan. So does the Secretary for Work and Pensions, but that’s not nearly as funny, is it? Also the five main bridges over the Thames in London are blocked by Extinction Rebellion protesters. Oh, and Amazon announces that it will open a headquarters in Queens, an announcement that will be rolled back three months later because, basically, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was mean to them.
Speaking of which, Kerblam! Ten minutes until the end, it could be Dark Water or World Enough and Time. Hold back that shot of the Kerblam Men til the cliffhanger and make them Cybermen, and you have the perfect setup, brilliantly executed. Like Demons of the Punjab, on a level of sheer craft, this is an episode that you do not have to make any apologies for. You could write a review of it that ended “if you don’t like this, Doctor Who probably isn’t the TV show for you” and not have to say anything that is untrue or poorly justified. This fact is crucial to understanding this episode. It is, indeed, the second most important thing about Kerblam!
The most important thing about Kerblam! is that it is staggeringly, viscerally, mind-wrenchingly evil in a way that only a bare handful of Doctor Who stories are. Most of these are, I would argue non-coincidentally, also abysmally made: The Celestial Toymaker, The Dominators, The Monster of Peladon, The Twin Dilemma, or Victory of the Daleks. Which is where the second most important thing plays in. Virtually the only point of comparison to it is The Talons of Weng-Chiang. But that was, as a matter of craft, the capstone to an absolutely astonishing classic of an era—Hinchcliffe and Holmes at their best. This is part of the Chibnall era—a “good episode in a sea of sub-mediocrity” beauty like The Caves of Androzani and City of Death, except implacably evil, unhesitatingly and unequivocally endorsing a political agenda that is, if I may conjure the spirit of Jack Graham, literally genocidal. And, you know, not nearly as good an actual episode.
The striking thing about those last two paragraphs is that nowhere in them do you find any of the stories that Kerblam! actually thinks it’s inspired by. Because what this is, under the hood, is the Chibnall era’s attempt to do an Andrew Cartmel story. This is Paradise Towers or The Happiness Patrol or Battlefield—overtly political, direct, and well executed. Except, of course, that it ends with the Doctor proclaiming that the system isn’t the problem, violent leftist activists are. This is an astonishing juxtaposition—one of the single least probable things anyone has ever tried assembling Doctor Who to do.…