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12 January 2019 @ 02:06 pm
Kerblam!  
This was another strong episode. The construction of the hunt for the villain, with its undermining of expectations was well done. The very on point parallels with Amazon also worked well. I'm not going to call it satire because I don't believe it was structured that way, but it isn't the first Doctor Who story to model its alien/future world on something existing in our world sufficiently closely that it can be treated as a critique and I doubt it will be the last. There was an actual villain, though not one who showed any real interest in chewing the scenery.

I had a lot of opinions about the whole depiction of Artificial Intelligence, specifically the system's decision to kill Kira in order to make a point to Charlie, but they would form a long essay on machine ethics and the likely legislation surrounding AIs. Suffice it to say on Thursday after the episode I pitched an article on the subject to The Conversation and actually got a response to the effect that they'd have published it if I'd thought of the idea on Monday. I won't bore everyone with it here. I think the AI behaviour works fine within the context of Doctor Who, but its highly unlikely it would work like that in the real world.

Lots has been written about the implicit politics of the episode. This is definitely a story I'd hold up as supporting my thesis that Chibnall (so by extension the Doctor Who he oversees) is interested in systems of oppression but recognises that the Doctor isn't really a suitable hero to tackle them. I think we see here something working towards the idea that you can change the system by engaging with it and influencing those with the power to enact change, and also the acknowledgment that change is show (despite the undertaking to employ more people* and to give the current workers a holiday, they only pay these people for half the time they are giving them off). All that said, on the assumption that that is the kind of discussion the episode is trying to have, I think the execution was a little clunky. Certainly many seem to have interpreted the story as ultimately in favour of Amazon Kerblam! and against people who agitate for better treatment of its workers. That's not my reading of it, but its a perfectly valid reading given what is on screen.

This is also the first time since The Woman who Fell to Earth that we see Yaz act in ways that are clearly influenced by her police background. I wish this kind of thing had been in the scripts from earlier in the series. It feels like too little, too late at this point. The juggernaut that is the relationship between Ryan and Graham has irretrievably sucked the oxygen out of the other characters and their interactions and episode 7 out of 10 is too late for them to gain any momentum.

I don't think Kerblam! is as good as either of the historical episodes that preceded it. It's probably better than any of the Chibnall scripted SF episodes though. It has a clearer idea of what its trying to do and a more equitable use of its characters and I think the series as a whole would have benefitted if it had been appeared earlier.

* The AI expert in me worries about how this would work economically, but I'm already overlooking the ethics and legal issues with AI in the story so lets overlook the economic issues as well.

This entry was originally posted at https://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/540552.html.
 
 
 
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on January 12th, 2019 06:58 pm (UTC)
I liked this, although the economics didn't make much sense to me. If almost everyone is unemployed due to automation, then how can they afford to buy so much stuff?

Agreed about Yaz.
parrot_knightparrot_knight on January 13th, 2019 12:58 am (UTC)
I hypothesised that Kandoka suffers for the rest of its neighbouring colonies, but it's an argument from silence I admit.
louisedennislouisedennis on January 13th, 2019 12:02 pm (UTC)
As noted in my reply below, 10% population is still a lot of people, and I suspect Kerblam is cheap compared to other vendors. We have to assume it exists within some kind of economic equilibrium where trade is still happening, even if it is one in which large numbers of people have comparatively little.
louisedennislouisedennis on January 13th, 2019 12:00 pm (UTC)
I wasn't too worried about the economics at that level. 10% population is still probably a lot of people (and that doesn't count the shareholders of companies like Kerblam! plus people working in, for instance, the arts where its unlikely automation could out-perform humans since the the evaluation of "good" is so subjective). At do that even the unemployed are probably buying from Kerblam! (it's delivery mechanisms would mean they wouldn't need to live close to a functioning space port or roads or anything).

My concern was more that since, presumably, it was only legislation forcing Kerblam to employ as many people as it did then increasing the number of human employees was likely to make it less competitive... but there are lots of ways to head canon that since we don't have a detailed understanding of its world.