As I vaguely hoped for in last week’s Doctor Who review on ‘Thin Ice’, this week’s episode ramped up the action a little and delivered a thrilling story with more complexity and less predictability. ‘Knock Knock’ is perhaps a little less conceptual than previous stories this series, which dealt with issues such as infatuation, grief, and racism, but instead it uses its running time to focus on a suitably creepy plotline.
‘Knock Knock’ kicks things off with Bill and some new friends of hers house hunting in an energetic montage set to Weird People by Little Mix. It’s not very often Doctor Who uses a song in its soundtrack instead of musical scoring, but when it does happen it is most often brilliantly used (whether it was Britney Spear’s Toxic being considered a traditional Earth ballad in the distant future, or Foxes’ smooth jazz rendition of Don’t Stop Me Now on the Orient Express). In this case, Little Mix’s energetic and youthful enthusiasm tells us upfront that this episode will be playing by the tropes of the teen horror genre.
Bill and her friends run into constant failure in their search for an affordable, liveable house, and it seems to be a stroke of luck when a mysterious man turns up offering a large mansion at an unbelievably cheap rate. Here, we encounter a true highlight of the episode – David Suchet, playing the scheming, secretive Landlord of the estate. He may be one of the best guest actors to have graced Doctor Who in recent years and delivers a beautifully captivating performance, but more on this later.
While David Suchet’s Landlord is our villain of the week, he is accompanied by an infestation of monsters likely to haunt our nightmares (at least up until next Sunday). The giant woodlice, or Dryads as the Doctor dubs them, pick off Bill’s housemates one by one in true teen horror movie style and absorbs them into the creaky wooden walls of the house.
The building tension in the first two acts of ‘Knock Knock’ culminates in the third, as the Doctor and Bill discover Eliza, the Landlord’s apparent daughter (later revealed to be his mother) who has been turned into wood and is locked away in a tower. The Landlord has been using the Dryads to prolong Eliza’s feeble life, and they do this by drawing on the life force of the young people absorbed into the house. The Dryads were also responsible for Eliza’s illness, having turned her into wood 70 years ago.
One of my few criticisms of the episode is in regards to the unclear and confusing nature of these creatures. How come they merely turned Eliza into wood, but appear to eat and absorb their other victims? How and why do they knock in response to Shireen’s knocking? There are a few too many questions left unanswered regarding the Dryads, and this unfortunately detracts from the episode’s clarity a little.
Aside from this minor slip-up, Mike Bartlett’s first shot at writing Doctor Who is confident and memorable. While his story begins as a simple but fresh take on the haunted house genre, the last third of the episode closes in on the Landlord and his tragic relationship with his dying mother. Despite dressing in a musty old suit and having the appearance of an old withered man, David Suchet masterfully performs with the quirks and vulnerability of a little boy desperately hanging onto his dear mummy. His absolute helplessness brings out a depth to the Landlord who could have easily been written to be yet another stereotypical, moustache-twirling baddie.
As the episode wraps up, Eliza sacrifices her and her son’s life to revive Bill’s recently deceased housemates. In ‘Thin Ice’ last week Bill’s negative reaction to death was made a big point of, and so it is likely that bringing these characters back to life was just an easy way out of reusing recent plotlines.
Finally, this week’s clue to who is in the vault: it is someone who plays piano, is a little moody, and yet finds great joy in stories about people being eaten. The Doctor also has some sort of sympathetic attitude towards them, while Nardole is a little more cautious.
Obviously all of this is sounding very much like Missy, but I wouldn’t put it past Moffat to throw a twist at us out of nowhere. Could this be John Simm’s Master? Ashildr/Me? A completely new character? Time will tell, and according to Moffat we only need to wait until episode 6 to get some answers.
Next time: Nardole’s first proper adventure with the Doctor and Bill, a space station running out of oxygen, space zombies, and Bill comes dangerously close to death!
What did you think of this week’s episode? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!