This week, the Doctor helps Bill move into a new house with her friends, but all is not as it seems. With a creepy landlord, strange knocking and the Doctor discovering Little Mix’s music, Knock Knock was full of frights. But what did our team make of it? Let’s find out…
Knock Knock is a good episode. It’s genuinely scary, with an unsettling soundscape and some creepy visuals creating a powerful atmosphere in which this horror-lite movie plays out. It has a very good cast, with a fantastic guest performance from David Suchet. And, rarely for an episode so concerned with the journey, the final twist is a satisfying one – a welcome burst of fresh ideas in an episode that’s rife with interesting implications of the power of motherhood (in the way in which Eliza is able to ultimately control the situation once she knows her role) and the forced subservience of daughterhood.
Here’s the rub, though: all of this is achieved by aiming at a pretty low target, and hitting it. This is ultimately a very competent take on what has been done before, mixing in the horror house scares of Hide with the emotional, empathetic twist that can be seen in dozens of Moffat episodes like Time Heist. It doesn’t offer the same thematic depth of the first three episodes, and it strays away from the simple pleasure of extended character interaction between the Doctor and Bill that has worked so well as the foundation of this new run of stories in favour of a supporting cast who are fine, but distinctly unmemorable.
On the whole, though this is still an enjoyable episode, and by no means does it knock (knock) this impressive season off course.
Ben (Assistant Editor)
Knock Knock. Who’s there? David Suchet as a landlord that’s just creepy enough to still be pitiful at the end of the episode, Pearl Mackie as a believable young adult with real world issues, Peter Capaldi as a wonderfully protective Doctor and (my personal favourite) Colin Ryan as a Brummie!
This week’s episode saw us back in the present day and showed us how even the time and places we live in can be just as scary as anything out in space. The everyday challenge of finding a place to live may something that many people can relate to, but I doubt many people would accept an offer from a complete stranger, even if it was the amiable David Suchet. I’m sure if Bill and her friends had’ve gone to a more reputable estate agents, they probably would’ve been able to find somewhere that met their requirements better than a house with no modern amenities, but then where’s the adventure in that?
Mike Bartlett’s Who debut gave us a mix of the classic ‘haunted house’ and ‘murder mystery’ formats and although I had a number of questions about it – Why every 20 years? What happened to the Dryads after? Who was actually doing all the knocking? How did the landlord magically appear everywhere? How did the landlord control the Dryads? – the story was enough to win me over. The Dryads (I had to Google their name as it was quite forgettable) were potentially scary, but we didn’t see much of close up, it was just wide angle shots of them consuming people, not unlike the swarm in Smile. Personally, I think the flesh-eating swarm idea worked better with the Vashta Nerada. The wooden woman also looked like a rehash of the wooden people from The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe and didn’t really excite me all that much.
David Suchet was a perfect choice for the landlord. Essentially playing the opposite of the character he is most well known for, his gentle demeanour and quiet ‘not-all-thereness’ made his character intriguing and likeable. Capaldi was as brilliant as ever and seeing him try to ingratiate himself with the young adults was great fun to watch.
As mentioned, I was excited to see that one of Bill’s friends was a Brummie. Being from Birmingham myself, it’s not often we see many characters with that thick accent in the show – apart from Frank Skinner, obviously. Bill’s other friends were remarkably unremarkable; whilst their lack of quirks made them feel normal, they weren’t especially interesting to watch.
There was also the added feature of the binaural audio version available on iPlayer. Whilst the soundscape wasn’t as amazing and immersive as the promotions made out, it was still an interesting experience and something that makes an episode like this that bit more special. I hope the BBC continues to experiment with technology in this way, as it follows the ground breaking ethos of the show.
Overall, the episode was a strange one for me. I really enjoyed it whilst watching it; the tone, acting and directing were all spot on, but the more I analysed the story, the less sense it seemed to make. That’s not to say it wasn’t a good story though, and I feel it continues the series’ run of strong episodes.
And what’s this? Nardole in a space suit? That must mean he’s getting in on the action next week. Hooray!
I was most excited to know David Suchet was to take a starring role in the episode and can remember a great sense of anticipation some months back knowing the former Poroit actor would be contributing his formidable talent to Doctor Who. Neither he nor the episode disappointed. In fact, I’d like to think I’m quite thick skinned but this episode definitely scared me!
It’s lovely to get to know even more about Bill’s character (and extremely fascinating she introduces The Doctor to her group of student friends as her Grandfather!) and we really came to further understand the issue of LGBT in this episode as Pearl Mackie sensitively and bravely portrayed the stigma suffered.
With two such fine well known actors as Capaldi and Suchet we knew we could expect a great chemistry. I think this episode succeeded in providing this and the twist at the end of the story really transformed David Suchet’s ‘Landlord’ acting ability into a range of dark motives, contrasting with tragic beginnings and intentions. Dare I say when the Landlord approaches his own (sustained in living wood) Mother, well maybe the acting verged on the mawkish. But I don’t think this is a bad thing. I think when we look overall at Capaldi’s performance of the Doctor we should be extremely impressed by his great dedicated and thoroughly entertaining/thought provoking efforts and displays.
And of course, I will always enjoy the Nardole ‘sketches’ we get either at the beginning or end of the episodes and hopefully fully within the plot of future episodes.Death we see again in this episode and Bill’s horror at how the Doctor frequently experiences this on his travels. But she deals with what unfolds in front of her eyes and with what happens to her friends with great courage and reason.
This episode really was an action packed thriller, in about 50 minutes I felt I had watched almost a full movie such was the intensity of the plot and the amount the writers poured into Knock Knock. The visuals within the episode – as well as sound – were great. The ‘haunted house’ theme along with ‘windless’ thunder storms including creaking doors and floorboards, all embellished with great background music, made this a positively scary and creepy episode.I don’t think this is the best episode of Doctor Who that I have ever seen, but nevertheless I enjoyed it greatly. Compared to Series 8’s similarly themed Mummy on the Orient Express it’s hard to say which serves as a better classic murder mystery, but both episodes excel at providing us with this.
Knock Knock was a great standalone episode to keep us engaged a third of the way through Series. I can tell Series 10 is going to be a ‘Whopper’ (As the eleventh Doctor would say!)
Knock Knock is an ambitious first offering from Doctor Who newcomer Mike Bartlett, who puts his spin on the classic haunted house scenario. Suitably spooky and atmospheric – even more so in the subtly immersive binaural audio version – Knock Knock continues what has generally been a strong run of episodes in Series 10.
While Bill’s latest adventure may see her face off against more otherworldly threats, first she has another more earthly horror to deal with – the search for student housing. Knock Knock packs most of its humour into this first part of the episode, from the sequence where Bill and her new flatmates are shown some distinctly dodgy properties to the visual of the Doctor using his TARDIS to help Bill move. With the six housemates eventually settled in it’s not too long before the scene-setting gives way to the main action, with creaky floorboards, doors slamming shut by themselves and creepy scratching noises proving the adage that less is more when it comes to horror storytelling. Stunning CGI work, however, ensures that the visual reveals match up to the expectation, with the sight of alien lice crawling out of the woodwork and devouring their victims particularly shudder-worthy.
Knock Knock also deserves credit for managing to use its large ensemble guest cast well. Bill’s fellow housemates all feel distinct, and real, and likable, with them being given just enough time to establish themselves at the beginning so that it matters when they start getting picked off one by one. Mariah Gale also puts in an impressive and sympathetic turn as Eliza, particularly given the prosthetics she is required to emote through. The star of this episode, however, is David Suchet as the sinister Landlord, who hits every note of his wide-ranging performance – from quiet menace, to all-out villainy and ultimately little-boy-lost – with masterful subtlety.
Whilst all the above makes Knock Knock an engaging story for most of the episode, its conclusion is more of a mixed bag. The reveal that students have been going missing at 20-year intervals doesn’t quite bear up to closer scrutiny – why every 20 years? The later reveal of Eliza, although well-executed, suffers from the same problem of unresolved questions – why did the lice turn her to wood but kill everyone else? The twist of Eliza being the Landlord’s mother rather than his daughter is moving, however, as is her resulting poignant decision to give up her own life, taking her son with her. It’s a dark conclusion for family viewing, which makes the ‘everybody lives’ nature of the other housemates being returned feel less of a cop-out and somewhat more forgivable.
All in all, Knock Knock is a solid debut from Mike Bartlett, whose clear understanding of what makes Doctor Who tick will hopefully ensure his swift return. Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie are on top form as ever, as is Matt Lucas in another too-brief appearance as Nardole, while the mystery of the Vault also continues apace with its most intriguing hints to date – all combining to ensure that this series of Doctor Who remains a compelling watch week after week.