Fiction Reviews

Doctor Who

(2023) Pete McTighe, BBC Books, £9.99, pbk, 176pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94823-7


“Ding! Dong!”

The TARDIS is invaded. A plea for help delivered by a robot summons the Doctor and her friends Yaz, Graham and Ryan to Kerblam - the biggest retailer in the galaxy. Posing as new recruits among the thousands of human workers, the TARDIS crew uncover a deadly plot that threatens the life of every person in the warehouse - and beyond. Who has sent for the Doctor? What is the dark secret at the heart of Kerblam's operations? And who will escape the merciless Postmen...?

And here we are, with the BBC/Target novelisation of an episode first shown in November 2019 from Series 11 of Doctor Who, with the title coming from the name of the galaxy’s largest retailer, any similarity to any current Earth-bound retailer is purely… accidental, and unintentional, obviously, but Pete McTighe’s novel, based on his own script, is a lot of fun and pretty faithful to his own creation, although he has taken the opportunity to give us little vignettes into the life of Judy Maddox, Kerblam’s Head of People, showing her development into this key role, and also some interludes about Max, the company AI, even giving the AI some personality and motivation.

The story starts with a cry for help as the Doctor gets a robotic delivery from… well, a robot, better known as a Kerblam Man, who materialises in the TARDIS and gives her a package with a Fez inside. Despite his wide, smiling face, the Kerblam Man does exude a certain creepiness, in keeping with past automations that the Doctor has encountered. Being the thirteenth incarnation of the Doctor, and a bit scatty, she can’t actually remember ordering the Fez in the first place, but the packaging also contains two words: “Help me” which is enough to send the Doctor and her family off to the moon of Kandoka which is where Kerblam’s main office is based. With the help of her psychic paper, the Doctor and the gang are given ankle bracelets that display different colours with each one denoting a department they have been assigned to, like packaging or storage, although Graham ends up becoming a janitor, and thus the investigations begin.

Those investigations take the Doctor and her companions into a fun, fast-paced adventure in a novelisation that irons out some of the kinks and preachiness of the TV version involving huge mega-corps, and slave labour. Minor characters are fleshed out among the sinister goings on, shocking reveals, even more shocking deaths, all which are enhanced by a vast, spooky setting.

The tale unfolds over 20 chapters, and a mere 160 pages, but is it really over? Keep turning those blank pages at the end to find… Oh, and hats off as always to Anthony Dry for his old-school Target cover illustration. All in all Kerblam is another solid addition to the Doctor Who library, and probably better than the broadcasted version as it tries in an, albeit, rather rushed way to deal with the unsatisfactory ending of the original regarding mega-companies and the labour they employ.

Ian Hunter


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