Let me start by saying that I liked Kerblam! I want to open with that because the fallout from this episode is ugly, which will probably come off as sounding like a critique. The fact is, I found it a layered story with a message. The unfortunate side of that fact is that the message went wrong.
As we know, the Doctor and team TARDIS arrive at Space Amazon headquarters after the robot population has managed to send a message to the TARDIS and used the one piece of bubble wrap that was not tainted with explosives. It seems one of the maintenance guys has been spiking all the bubble wrap with the intention of killing customers because he wants to make a statement against robots, thereby creating more jobs for humans. The Doctor manages to get to the bottom of the mystery later than she should have because she double guessed the machine, which leads to the lovely Kira being killed in the process, but the mystery is solved. Our lead villain runs into the crowd of soon-to-detonated robots and dies in the explosion. And then things go pear-shaped because his death causes the very changes he was aiming for. There’s a big problem with that.
We all know the adage: never give in to terrorist demands. The minute you do so, you give them power and every time they want something, the violent action is basically a proven way of getting what they want. Even children who, if we’re honest, are miniature terrorist, when you give in to their demands, that just makes the kid do the negative action again, because they have received positive reinforcement. “If I throw things, I get my way” or “if I cry, my needs are met.” There’s no teaching negotiation or patience to a child when parents give in to their demands. (Sure, real life is complicated and so is parenting, but the general idea is sound!) This is exactly not the take-away you want our family terrorists to pick up on. When dealing with a real terrorist situation, giving in just tells others “if we do this violent action, it gets the result we want”. Again, not the right take-away! But that is exactly what does happen in Kerblam! Charlie says that robots have taken away human jobs, and sure, that’s a concern every generation has had to face since the industrial revolution (automation reduces jobs, but it often also create others, like maintaining that automation). What he needs to do is come up with a non-violent rebellion. What should have happened is that he brakes down all the machines. By doing that, no one would have to be killed and it would have made him a more likable “villain”. Instead, he dies, which creates the very reform he was pushing for, which makes him a martyr for his cause and instead of being remembered as a terrorist, it will probably have him remembered as the hero who brought back jobs to the human workforce. If the Doctor really wants to do the right thing, she needs to prevent that from happening, not because the outcome is bad, but because the message that it conveys is. “Do what the terrorist says; they win!” The Doctor is supposed to be a moral compass. In what way is this morally astute? Then again, if we recall in Capaldi’s season 8 finale, the Doctor also makes the questionable choice of giving in to Clara after she throws the TARDIS keys into a (believed) volcano. Sure, he does it under the guise of caring about her regardless, much like a parent to a child, but it’s still a very uncomfortable message. (Especially since Clara is not the Doctor’s child! Imagine if Susan did that? She’d get a “jolly good smacked bottom!”)
When the system, in effect, teaches Charlie a lesson by killing his love interest, it’s a hard thing to stomach, because we all like Kira. But the computer is the only one that sees the dangers of acquiescing to the terrorists’ demands and it tries to jar Charlie emotionally. The Kerblam network turns itself into a bad guy when it kills Kira, but that does not take away from the choices Charlie has made. Here again we have a woulda-coulda-shoulda moment. Rather than kill Kira, the system could have used the same batch of bubble wrap used in the Doctor’s package. Just as Kira is about to pop one of the bubbles, block out Charlie’s ability to see what happens. Charlie would think she died. In his grief he could come around and stop the evil actions he was committing, renounce his ways and turn himself in. Kira would then be revealed to be alive. The company would then decide that, though Charlie will be fired (and put on trial), they could now make the change the he was pushing for because ultimately he was right and did the right thing in the end.
When I watched Resolution and decided to look at the fallout from all of season 11’s episodes, I knew Kerblam! would be a big one; it would have to cover what was ultimately an episode that had all the worst kind of messages and left the most negative fallout. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that the Doctor may have helped stop the criminal, but she’s partly responsible for the crime. Her involvement caused Charlie’s death and contributed to making him a martyr. This poses an incredibly big problem for the human population of the time. Unfortunately, per Doctor Who’s standard, we’re not likely to ever see that era or the fallout from the event again, but if someone were to ever put together a comprehensive history of the series, one would wonder how Space Amazon impacts the rest of the Universe from this point on. Alas we know there will never be any fallout and the message of the episode will be lost in a sea of other stories. And that’s a shame, because Doctor Who could have a very vibrant life in a cohesive universe. ML