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
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.
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.
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
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.
In total, “Knock Knock” receives 30/42
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.