Hey, everyone – Doctor Who’s back.

You remember, the quirky sci-fi series in which an eccentric alien visits strange worlds, overthrows oppressors and inspires the rest of the crew of the TARDIS. Yeah?

Okay, let’s get a few negatives out of the way first of all. This is a terrible title for a Doctor Who story, and a fairly terrible idea. Like Russell T Davies’ Bad Wolf the problem with up-to-the-minute satire is that it dates awfully quickly. The setting of a featureless warehouse populated by humans doing menial work is timely now, but unlikely to endure the way that Genesis of the Daleks has.

On the other hand, the Chibnall Check List of Boredom has been entirely abandoned. Even the trio of regulars are given personalities, a stake in the narrative, something to do. I swear Ryan even got a line of dialogue at point. (I think he mentioned his dyspraxia – for the first time since the pilot – while demonstrating his graceful and efficient skill at packing boxes.)

The set-up has a faint whiff of reverse-engineering. We want a warehouse with lots of people who can be spookily bumped off, and we want some creepy robots. But it’s in the far future, so why wouldn’t it be fully automated? I know – there’s a political movement which is pushing for humans to be employed. The robots are fairly ridiculous (not quite as nonsensical as the ones in Smile but close) and there’s clearly no need for human-looking robots when the whole system could be fully automated, but at least someone (presumably first time Who scribe Pete McTighe) has thought about these issues and provided an explanation.

And, you know what, none of this really matters. And the unexplained crisis at the beginning doesn’t matter either, and nor does the startling ease with which the Kerblam! Man penetrates the TARDIS. Because this is a proper adventure. Big name guest stars get killed off horribly in a lovely display of casting profligacy. Tempting clues are left throughout and do then build to something. Compare the sudden power outages in this to the Doctor’s sudden visions of demons early in last week’s episode. One is there for a reason and helps the Doctor and us to unravel the mystery. The other is not only never explained, it actively contradicts the reason given for the aliens’ presence.

And then, as the Doctor starts putting the pieces together, the crisis gets worse! It doesn’t suddenly go away. There are some stumbles in the directing, as poor misguided Charlie just looks around forlornly, waiting for the Bubble Wrap of Doom to explode – and the regular cast just sort of stare back at him. But as a piece of early evening adventure for all the family, it genuinely does work pretty much all the way through.

Not only that, Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is starting to emerge. There’s a really engaging childish streak which she’s discovering. Watch her as the instructions not to ride on the conveyor belts are given with increasing clarity and severity. It’s delightful. And what’s the point of being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes?

This was never going to be a five star masterpiece. It’s ambitions are not to rewrite the rules of the series, or push the Doctor to places she’s never been before. There isn’t really much of a theme or deeper meaning here, and what little we do get along those lines is fudged in the ending – it’s not the faceless corporation to blame, it was one of the human workers. Much more The Dominators, much less The Sunmakers. Obvious conclusion – more human workers are needed! Huh?

And the very last scene is fumbled as well. I can (just about) take deadly bubble wrap, but what the hell happened to that joke at the end? Why isn’t written, shot, timed or edited to be light and funny and a neat punchline? It just dribbles away awkwardly.

Looking at Kerblam! in the context of the season as a whole, it’s basically competently written all the way through, but it has rather more than its fair share of niggling execution errors. The other basically entertaining story this year, Arachnids in the UK, arguably aimed a little higher, and had fewer execution errors, but had some rather more fundamental storytelling issues in its last third.

In the end, it’s probably a wash. Four stars and on we go. The question remains – is this a blip of quality or are we ramping up to a rousing conclusion to the series…?

4 out of 5 stars
So... what did I think of Demons of the Punjab?
So... what did I think of The Witchfinders?