“Suppose we’ve only got ourselves to blame. Whilst we were busy staring at our phones, technology went and nicked our jobs.” Dan Cooper
The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) is busy trying to evade an object that is chasing the TARDIS. The object is a Kerblam! man, a delivery bot from the largest retailer from the galaxy. The Kerblam! man delivers a fez to the Doctor. She might have ordered it a few regenerations ago. The back of the packing slip has ‘Help Me’ written on it. Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole) thinks it could be a prank, but Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill) thinks they should investigate. The Doctor agrees with her and heads to a moon orbiting the planet Kandoka, where the Kerblam! warehouse is located.
They enter the warehouse planning to go undercover as warehouse workers. They meet Judy Maddox (Julie Hesmondhalgh) who is ‘Head of People’. The Doctor uses her psychic paper to make Judy think they were sent by the First Lady. Kerblam! is 90% automated and has a 10% human or as Judy keeps saying, ‘organic’ workforce. They created this quota because people on Kandoka were complaining about lack of jobs. The four of them are scanned for work related fitness so they can be assigned jobs. Jaz asks Judy about employee morale. Judy thinks it is good. She gives the Doctor and her companions a tour of the warehouse. They are given ankle bracelets that tells them which departments they will work in. The Doctor switches with Graham O’Brien (Bradley Walsh) because she needs to work in the Fulfillment department with Ryan to investigate where the packing slip came from. The Doctor and Ryan meet a sweet and shy young woman named Kira Arlo (Claudia Jessie). She seems to be an orphan who hasn’t had much in life. She is grateful for her job and the little things she has received. She thinks of their job as sending, “Like a little box of happiness.” The Doctor tells her she has a great approach to life.
Yaz is in Dispatch with Dan Cooper (Lee Mack), the worker we met earlier who was slyly making fun of the robots. Dan warns Yaz that the robots called Team Mates, monitor them. He has a little girl back home on Kandoka. She gave him a heart shape charm on a necklace that says ‘Dad’. He works hard to make sure her life will be easier than his. He comments that while we weren’t paying attention, technology took our jobs. An antique lamb arrives that is to be taken to the triple nine section of the warehouse. Dan warns Yaz not to go there, he’ll do it himself. The warehouse’s power drains again.
Back at Fulfillment, Mr. Slade (Callum Dixon) arrives. The Doctor: “I’m The Doctor. I’m new. And you are?” Jarvis Slade: “Jarvis Slade, warehouse executive. Your boss.” The Doctor: “Well, you’ve certainly got the clipboard for it.” He’s very curt with Kira. The Doctor warns him about being mean to Kira. Jarvis Slade: “How would you like a warning for insubordination?” The Doctor: “I’d love one. I could add it to my collection.” She asks Mr. Slade if he knows anyone who needs help, he says he doesn’t. Once he leaves Arlo mentions that some of the staff has gone missing.
Dan goes to triple nine and runs into two Team Mates. These two aren’t acting friendly. The two grab him. Yaz has gone down there to investigate when she hears Dan scream for help. When she gets to where he was, she finds his broken scanner and the necklace his daughter gave to him. Two Team Mates menacingly walk towards her. She is able to escape them.
“I can’t concentrate when I’m near her. It’s like I forget everything I’m supposed to be doing. I mean, have you smelled her?” Charlie Duffy
Because of the Doctor’s switch, Graham is stuck in maintenance. He meets Charlie Duffy (Leo Flanagan), an awkward young man. Charlie gives him the lay of the land. In the Home Zone, where the ‘organic’ workers take their break, Yaz tells the Doctor about what happened to Dan. Kira drops something on the ground and Charlie immediately goes over there to clean it up. Kira: “I’m just such a butterfingers.” Charlie: “I love butter.” It is clear to everyone that Charlie has a crush on Kira. The Doctor gives Graham some instructions. The Doctor:” I need to you find out the history of the company and try to get some plans of the complex.” Graham: “How am I gonna do that?” The Doctor: “You’re perfectly placed. No one questions a cleaner. You’ve got unrestricted access.” Graham: “Yeah. And chronic skin irritation.”
The Doctor, Ryan, and Yaz march into Slade’s office and Judy Maddox is also there. They tell them that Dan and other warehouse workers are missing. The Doctor shows them the packing slip with the help message on it. Slade and Judy say they don’t know anything about this but that they will look into it. The Doctor gives them a stern warning if they are involved in this. She tells Yaz and Ryan, “Don’t like bullies, don’t like conspiracies, don’t like people being in danger, and there’s a flavor of all three being here.” Back in maintenance, Graham asks Charlie about his crush on Kira. Charlie’s words stumble as he tries to explain his feelings. Graham says he’s getting lost in the warehouse, and to help him get to his assignments quickly, does Charlie have a diagram to the warehouse layout. They ‘borrow’ a diagram from a company display case.
The Doctor, Yaz, and Ryan break into Slade’s office to go through his file cabinet. Judy catches them. The Doctor shows Judy that Slade is keeping a running tally on missing staff. Another total system blackout occurs. Charlie is there now and even though all the robots should be down, an active Team Mate attacks Charlie. They are able to disable it. The Doctor tells Judy they can’t trust the system at Kerblam! The Doctor needs access to Kerblam!’s original system to hack into the current system. Graham has an idea, they can take one of the original delivery bots, Twirly out of its case for the Doctor to use to access the original system. Slade watches them on his monitor and grabs a gun. Two Team Mates tell Kira that she is the Employee of the Day, and that they have a gift for her. They ask her to come with them. The system sends a message that Kira is missing, something it hadn’t done for the other workers. They quickly figure out that she is being taken to Foundation. Charlie is in a panic. Ryan, Yaz, and Charlie volunteer to go and rescue Kira. The Team Mates lock Kira in a room.
“We did it! We’re not dead! We’re totally not dead!” Ryan Sinclair
Ryan, Yaz, and Charlie go down a series of conveyor belts that are meant for packages, not people. It is a perilous journey with several near escapes. The Doctor hacks into Twirly. The Doctor: “Could you pause all sales protocols for a bit?” Twirly: “Even the upselling?” The Doctor: “Even the upselling. You’ve just had a nap of about 200 years so your offers are out-of-date anyway.” Twirly: “Without upselling, my only purpose is delivery.” Graham: “We don’t need you to do that either, mate.” Twirly: “The future is very confusing for my protocols.” The Doctor needs Twirly to patch into the system to tell them what’s happening. When Twirly does it, the system asks for help, it sent the packing slip to the Doctor. It tells them to go to Dispatch. Yaz, Ryan, and Charlie arrive at Foundation. They can hear Kira’s voice. The Doctor plans to use one of the delivery bots circuit to teleport them to Dispatch. Slade walks in on them with his gun, but he is teleported with them to Dispatch. Once there, the doctor uses a little Venusian Aikido to disarm him. She confronts him about his list, he tells her he’s recording the missing workers because he knows something is wrong with the system and he doesn’t know who to trust; that includes the Doctor and Judy. They come upon a barrel that has the liquefied remains of the missing workers. At the loading dock they find an army of Kerblam! delivery bots.
A box is teleported into the room Kira is in. Charlie, Yaz, and Ryan can’t get her out. The Doctor figures out the power drains have been used to store energy for one huge simultaneous teleport for the Kerblam! delivery bot army. The Doctor inspects the boxes the bots are holding, she doesn’t find any weapons, only toys and other everyday items. She realizes all of the boxes have one thing in common, bubble wrap. Kira opens her box, it only has bubble wrap in it. Charlie looks on in complete dread, Kira pops the bubble wrap and disintegrates. Ryan and Yaz can tell Charlie knew that this would happen. He says that the system did this deliberately.
“Kerblam’s trying to kill their own customers? That’s the worst business plan I’ve ever heard.” Graham O’Brien
The Doctor explains to her group that the bubble wrap is, “Sheets of tiny little bombs…every package a death trap.” These weren’t meant for the workers but for the customers. Ryan and Yaz run in to tell them that Charlie is involved in this. Charlie runs in behind them and begins confessing his crimes. Charlie isn’t a mere custodial worker, but an engineer who designed the killer bubble wrap and hacked into the system. He is an activist who is trying to increase the human workforce by making people distrust automation. Ten percent of the workforce isn’t enough, and what happens if they cut it below that. Charlie used the missing workers as test subjects to make sure the killer bubble wrap worked. The Doctor tells him the system isn’t the blame, the blame goes to how people use the system. She tells him the system was on to him and was trying to fight back. It killed Kira to get him to feel how everyone else will fill when he kills all of those customers. Charlie says he doesn’t care. Yaz restrains him as they try to talk him out of activating his army. Charlie escapes from Yaz and joins the bots to send them on his mission. The Doctor uses Twirly to get the delivery bots to deliver the packages to themselves, and then open the boxes and pop the bubble wrap themselves. They try to get Charlie to come back but he refuses. The Doctor teleports them out before the explosion.
Judy informs them that they’ve closed the warehouse for a few weeks to repair the system. They are giving all the human workers paid time off and pay the shuttle costs, so they can visit their families. Kerblam! will also work towards making their workforce majority human. Back in the TARDIS Yaz asks the Doctor if they can go to Dan’s daughter to drop off his necklace and tell her how much her dad loved her. The Doctor agrees to the trip.
A new fez is delivered to the Doctor along with a message on the back of the packing slip asking for help. The Doctor and her crew go to a moon orbiting Kandoka. The moon contains the warehouse for Kerblam! the largest retailer in this galaxy. The Doctor finds out that the Kerblam! system sent the message. A man named Charlie is an activist who is trying to use the Kerblam! delivery bots to deliver death and destruction to the company’s customers, undermining people’s faith in automation. He hopes it will lead to more humans getting jobs. To test the bubble wrap bombs he has created, he has Kerblam Team Mates [robots], kidnap workers who are then disintegrated by the bubble wrap. Aside from requesting help from the Doctor, the Kerblam! system kidnaps a young woman Charlie likes, Kira, and kills her using his bubble wrap. The system hopes he’ll feel the same way his intended victims’ families and friends will feel from their deaths, causing him to cease his plans. Charlie is too far gone for it to have any effect on him. The Doctor figures it all out and prevents the massacre from happening, programming the delivery bots to deliver to themselves and pop the bubble wrap, destroying themselves and Charlie.
A good but flawed episode. I’ll discuss the good first. It was generally a light-hearted episode that told an interesting story about how automation is taking jobs away from people. Kerblam! is a stand in for Amazon, with it being so massive, and its reputation for how it treats its workers. The guest stars were very good, and our regular cast was fine too. The Doctor was more assertive this episode and kept Judy Maddox and Jarva Slade on their toes. She was very quick witted and saved the day. The interactions between the ‘organics’ and robots was funny. The Team Mates felt threatening, and I didn’t see Charlie being the mastermind behind all of it. That was a nice twist. My problem with the episode was their treatment of the issue. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that Jeff Bezos wrote the episode. It looked like an episode that would take the piss out of Amazon, but by the end, it seemed to be very complimentary about the company. I don’t dislike Amazon, I’ve bought enough products from them to prove that. This story made Kerblam! the victim a bad worker. The two managers, Judy and Slade were looking out for their workers. The bad things the system did were the results of Charlie’s interference, and when the system killed Kira to teach Charlie a lesson, the Doctor just saw it as the system fighting back, but she didn’t seem concerned the system killed an innocent young woman. That bothered me, and I believe it would have bothered the previous Doctors. I would guess that wasn’t the writer, Peter McTighe’s intent, but the message of the episode is confusing. I didn’t want it to be an anti-Amazon screed, but I wanted something that had some bite and insight. Oh yeah, and the threat is from humans, again.