Doctor Who: 10.04 Knock Knock
Ah, the joys of student living. On one hand there's the freedom to sleep until you want to, have big parties, hang out with your friends and stay up until the early hours watching movie trilogy marathons. But on the other side, there are the arguments over who is going to do the washing up, the damp spreading over your bedroom wall and an overbearing landlord that won't pay for anything. But in all the good and bad times I remember from sharing a student house, never once did I have the fear that the house would become sentient, trap me inside, cockroaches would crawl out of the walls and I would be literally eaten alive. But that's the issue that faced Bill and her new student house mates this week.
After Bill's trilogy of adventures with the Doctor across alien worlds, meeting futuristic robots and monsters in the Thames in the past, things calmed down in Doctor Who this week. Pearl Mackie is already well established as a character, allowing for the Doctor to step up as the hero to face this new alien threat. And building on his excellent speech about humanity last week, this really was the Doctor at the forefront of the investigation once again.
There was a certain tongue in cheek charm to the first act of the episode; Bill using the TARDIS as a removal van was fun and her protestations that he was her grandfather when he stuck around was amusing, particularly when he decided to hang out with her new friends and eat prawn crackers. I'm glad to see Bill shared some of the same reactions of the Doctor when first noticing this grand gothic house in the middle of suburbia, with creaking walls all for a very low rental price.
Bill's friends were a nice bunch, if not particularly memorable. Mandeep Dhillon's Shireen was Bill's best friend but I didn't really get too much of a connection. Ben Presley's Paul was adorable, trying to get to Bill to be attracted to him without realising she was into girls. Colin Ryan was probably the strongest as Harry, getting to hang around with the Doctor as things started to fall apart. Apparently he was supposed to be classic Doctor Who companion Harry Sullivan's grandson but it was cut from the episode. I don't think it was necessary anyway, as I can't see Harry or the others appearing again. As I noticed in my preview, they could all as easily come from current Doctor Who spin-off Class (though I might have preferred those characters to these).
But David Suchet's landlord was deliciously sinister though, without ever venturing into hammy creepiness. There was obviously more to him from the moment he spied the group looking for a house to rent, but he had enough softness to his demeanour that there was never anything overtly evil to him, even when you began to realise he had lured them to the house with a contract just to sate the hunger of the alien cockroaches lurking within. And the moments where the landlord and the Doctor interacter were pure class; if there's one thing you could take from the episode, it was the joy of Capaldi and Suchet together. It's just a shame that he was a one-episode character. There was part of me hoping he was another version of the Master, the Meddling Monk or some form of Time Lord character to give him more recurring screentime with the Doctor this series.
After a decent build up, the episode really had fun as it ventured into haunted house mode, complete with rustling in the walls, doors vanishing, shutters trapping hapless victims and characters being split up. Bill and Shireen ventured upstairs in search of the missing Pavel (Bart Suavek) and discovered him fused into the wood-panelled wool Aliens style. It was a particularly nasty moment for Saturday evening telly, but then last week had a kid dragged into the ice and eaten so it's good to see Doctor Who hasn't lost its darker edge. The Doctor and Harry's descent into the basement also uncovered contracts belonging to tenants that vanished every 20 years, leading to the revelation that this house of horrors had been luring victims to their deaths for decades. After hearing Paul's gruesome death behind his bedroom door, seeing Harry consumed by the alien cockroaches was another horrific moment, at least for the younger viewers watching. If you're not a fan of creepy crawlies, then Knock Knock won't do anything help that. (I admit, I'm intrigued by the surround sound viewing option that will be available on BBC iPlayer after the broadcast).
The landlord's wooden daughter was a great creation, both fantastical and a little creepy. The reveal that the landlord was her son, keeping her alive was a surprise twist and added an interesting facet to his character. Suchet did a wonderful job of switching from grandfatherly old man to acting like a young child and it added an air of tragedy to the episode, particularly the moment the mother sacrificed both her and her son to save everyone else. It turned what had been a massacre into a triumphant win for Bill and her friends. It was quite an 'everyone lives!' moment, but it was close.
Finally, the vault. It's been an intriguing mystery over the last few weeks and I'm sure I'm not the only one eager to see why the Doctor and Nardole have been guarding it for the last few decades. We got our biggest clues to who or what might be in there and my money is on the Master. After all, the Doctor seemed well acquainted with his piano-playing captor, even bringing him chinese food. Of course, I could be completely wrong. It certainly looks to be a 'bigger in the inside' job too. Maybe a form of Time Lord prison?
Mike Bartlett's first script for the show delivered frights, action, mystery and laughter in equal measure and for me was the strongest episode yet. Part of that was the delight of seeing Suchet and Capaldi together on screen. Pearl Mackie was as strong as always, but it was good to see Bill settle down a little after an abundance of (admittedly brilliant) questions the last few weeks. Four episodes in and Doctor Who hasn't had a dud yet. And with Jamie Mathieson back next week to deliver what looks to be truly terrifying horror story in space, there doesn't seem to be any sign of Capaldi's final series slowing down yet.