Doctor Who Review: “Knock Knock”

We’re catching up on this season’s Doctor Who.

This season continues to find a Whovian sweet spot, its premises outlandish, but not so outlandish as to be in a completely foreign country from its audience.

This week finds the Doctor, Bill, and a bunch of millennials in a house of horrors. Dark doings and terrifying tropes are afoot—and (of course) the cell phones won’t work.

Title: “Knock Knock”1

Cast and Crew

Director: Bill Anderson
Writer: Mike Bartlett

Peter Capaldi as The Doctor
Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts
David Suchet as the Landlord
Mariah Gale as Eliza
Mandeep Dhillon as Shireen
Colin Ryan as Harry
Ben Presley as Paul
Alice Hewkin as Felicity
Bart Suavek as Pavel
Matt Lucas as Nardole
Sam Benjamin as Agent
Tate Pitchie-Cooper as child

Premise

Bill and her band of millennial acquaintances rent rooms in an absurdly Gothic old house with a mysterious Landlord and a dark secret. The Doctor (whom Bill identifies as “her grandfather”—nice touch)2 investigates.

High Point

The episode features an entertaining level of self-awareness. To the shenanigans in the Old Dark House, with its Gothic trappings, disappearing young people, and horror-movie clichés, we have Bill learning about the Doctor. Few companions have made that process so much fun.

She even uses the Tardis to facilitate her move.

Low Point

The episode raises a number of questions, many of them intrinsic to the horror tropes being recycled. Why has no one noticed the cyclical disappearance of people who rent the house? And why are Bill’s friends so blasé in the wake of their experiences?3

The Scores:

Originality: 1/6 We’re retreading familiar territory here and, even if the solution is moderately original, the episode is a self-conscious compendium of horrorisms and Whoisms. It feels strangely like an episode of some old horror/SF anthology series into which the Doctor has inserted himself…

Story: 4/6 …Of course, since this isn’t an actual horror story (or a Game of Thrones episode), the ending must cheat the potential for terror. Except, I suppose for the previous tenants, who are, what? Too long gone to be savable? The episode never really addresses the fact, but it seems likely they’ve been long consumed in some fashion.

We learn more about another bit of knocking in the show’s final moments. Any bets on the person in that vault? The Master/Missy, maybe?

Effects: 5/6 Can I give a 4.5? The effects are a blend of decent CGI (Eliza), mediocre but typical TV CGI (the swarming), and old-school cheesy (the lightning).

Acting: 5/6 “Knock Knock” features some strong performances: not just Capaldi and Mackie, but also David Suchet as the mysterious Landlord. He comes on like Mephistopheles; we later realize he’s Faust– with Oedipal issues.

Emotional Response: 5/6 “Knock Knock” takes us on a walk through a Haunted House. It’s neither brilliant nor groundbreaking, but I found it hugely entertaining.

Production: 5/6

Overall: 5/6

In total, “Knock Knock” receives 30/42

Note

1. The episode was originally entitled “The Haunted Hub.”

2. According to Digital Spy, one of the show’s most interesting references (and it makes many) was cut. The deleted scene reveals in passing that Bill’s pal Harry is the grandson and namesake of Harry Sullivan, who traveled for a time with the fourth Doctor.

3. I suppose because it’s Doctor Who. We know they’re in a show where these things happen; they know they’re in a universe where alien invasions are a matter of record, especially around Christmas.

Their final reaction as the house is ushered out of existence also functions as a kind of joke.

4 replies on “Doctor Who Review: “Knock Knock””

  1. zocalo says:

    I suspect the leading theory about it being the Master and/or Missy in the vault are probably correct too, although that seems perhaps too obvious given the leaks and reveals about both Simm and Gomez making a return this season. I’m hoping they are going to be a little more original than that and have a bit of a twist in the reveal, but we’ll see… It’s certainly someone/something who has the dexterity to play a piano, that the Doctor doesn’t mind sharing a meal with, and appears to like stories of young people in mortal peril, all of which would seem to limit the alternative options of characters we’ve already met quite a bit. I’m actually more interested in the oath though; what was it, and particulary in to whom was it made and under what circumstances.

    • the Doctor doesn’t mind sharing a meal with

      I think that rules out The Doctor.

      Given that we’ve heard that The First Doctor is going to make an appearance, and we got Susan’s picture, I wonder if it’s related to that?

      • zocalo says:

        I did think it might be the first Doctor in there too, it would certainly make a nice twist, and not just because “Who is in the vault” would be a statement rather than a question, but I nixed that idea with the piano and choice of music. I can’t imagine Nardole would react as he did to the news about the piano, or the switch from a melancholy take on “Fur Elise” to a lively version of “Pop Goes the Weasel” on the news that some kids had been eaten, if it was another version of the Doctor in there. Didn’t think of the sharing a meal angle though; the Doctor’s take on “hell is other people” is almost certainly going to be “hell is other regenerations” – what could you even talk about without spoilers? :)

        The first Doctor *might* make some sense as to who the oath was too though, given the pictures of Susan and River (one of Susan’s most likely grandmothers) on his desk, so some link to the first Doctor is presumably going to be revealled at some point. Problem with that idea is that the Missy/Master episode is airing next weekend (the 20th in the UK), whereas the first Doctor is supposedly returning for Capaldi’s regeneration, so unless the Master/Missy are back for the finalé as well I’m not so sure they’d manage to tie it all together. Another long shot theory I have is that there has also been mention of an “old friend”, and since the oldest “friend” the Doctor has is probably Jack Harkness / The Face of Boe – someone else that has been mentioned as possibly making a return – maybe that’s who the oath was to?

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