“You don’t have to go to outer space to find monsters. There’s plenty of things that wanna kill you right here on Earth.”
Doctor Who continues it’s season 10 hot streak with this week’s ‘Knock Knock’; a fantastic haunted house episode in the vein of Nu-Who highpoint ‘Blink’ (even down to being filmed in the same house). It wasn’t as good as ‘Blink’ but ‘Blink’ is a very high milestone to reach so the fact it came this close is an achievement. I also wasn’t expecting to see Doctor Who’s take on the trials and tribulations faced by students when hunting for a house but they got it pretty accurate. Sure my student house wasn’t infested with human devouring termites but it wasn’t much better.
For the first 2 thirds of the story ‘Knock Knock’ fully embraces it’s genre trappings. There are creaky floor boards, mysteriously locked doors, and aptly eerie music playing. Cleverly though these tropes are there for a reason, rather than simply being genre set dressing. The episode doesn’t try to deconstruct the horror genre any further than this and is actually refreshingly old fashioned for much of it’s run time. The group of young stupid people in the house (University friends of Bill’s) will be immediately familiar to anyone who has seen even a handful of horror films. Here they fulfil their roles as necessary victims for the spooky monster at the centre of the episode, although the film thankfully mostly refrains from the stock horror archetypes of ‘The Jock’, ‘The Virgin’, ‘The Stoner’ etc. Although you could say Pearl Mackie’s Bill is the episode’s Ripley; the requisite ‘final girl’. Like Ripley she’s not inherently the strongest or the bravest but by making the intelligent decisions she manages to outlive all of her University buddies. Although Ripley never had The Doctor with her. Bill and her friends fit into the haunted house scenario perfectly but with the Doctor’s meta commentary and lack of fear ‘Knock Knock’ never quite goes full horror (unlike ‘Blink’ where a lot of the horror was born out of the Doctor’s absence) but it still manages a good few scares. And although the story unfolds slightly differently with the Doctor around for a good portion of the episode it’s just Bill, and writer Mike Bartlett just lets the story be a good ol’ fashioned horror film for a while.
The highpoint of of the episode for me though was David Suchet as the creepy landlord, a character I’m sure many of my fellow post-graduates know very well (right down to him letting himself into the house unannounced). Suchet embodied the spine-chilling and peculiar figure who’s little touch of tapping the walls with a tuning fork becomes as scary as any machete wielding villain could’ve been. But as the episode switches direction, so does Suchet’s villain. It’s revealed in the third act that the evil force behind the devouring of the house’s occupants is in fact the opposite – it’s all because of love. The termites (called Dryads) heal the ligneous tower dwelling home owner – Eliza – and the students gobbled up over he years are simply feeding the Dryads. And Suchet’s landlord is not Eliza’s father as the show has so far lead you to believe – he’s her son. And with this reveal Suchet changes. From imposing and actually quite frightening horror movie villain to an angry and scared little boy. You realise that all this time the Landlord has been simply a man trapped in a tragic childhood. Suchet is excellent throughout, even in the first portion of the episode when it would’ve been all to easy to turn the Landlord into an over-the-top moustache twirling horror villain. He gives the character the believability and weight so that the end reveal is as dark and heavy as possible. The Doctor then convincing Eliza into a murder-suicide with her own son, who wants nothing more than to look after her, was a pretty dark turn in in it’s own right too.
Capaldi was excellent in the episode, yet again, as was Mackie as Bill. Bringing back Bill’s dead friends at the episode’s close might be seen as a cop out for some but for me it was the required bit of hope needed so the episode didn’t end on that depressing murder-suicide. And it was good for Bill too. I know we didn’t really know her Uni friends but after last week’s episode dealing with her reaction to death I think their horrific, screaming demises might have have been too much for her. All in all it was another superb episode of Nu-Who, and season 10 seems to be off to a very strong start. The horror portion was excellent and the emotional reveal in the third act was even better. Some people might find the sudden change jarring but I think it worked. Throw in some excellent performances (Suchet especially), brilliant music, and inventive sound mixing and you’ve got a destined classic.
Next week sees the gang go to space for what seems like an Event Horizon type situation. Plus we get more Matt Lucas’ Nardole, which can only be a good thing, although hopefully he doesn’t go the way of anyone in Event Horizon (Nardole dying in a gory, sex filled orgy would be pretty special though). It’s an exciting premise, one which – based on this episode – I’m sure the show runners will pull of with style.