Doctor Who S10E04 “Knock Knock” REVIEW
Essential Plot Points:
- Bill and five pals are looking for a shared house to rent, with little success.
- A creepy landlord (who, incredibly, isn’t unmasked as “Old Man Withers” at the end of the episode, Scooby-Doo-style) intercepts them outside an estate agent’s office and says he has a place.
- He shows them around his large, creepy house. Despite the fact the place has no internet, no washing machine, power sockets from the dark ages and creaks loads, Bill and her mates sign the contracts and move in.
- When the Doctor helps Bill move in, he’s immediately suspicious.
- The house starts “swallowing” its new tenants – they are sucked into the wood.
- Before the others can escape, the house goes into lockdown – shutters cover the windows and the doors won’t open (even though they aren’t locked).
- Alien insects start swarming from the wood and taking more victims.
- On the run from the insects, the Doctor discovers contracts for previous tenants going back many, many years.
- Bill and the Doctor discover a wooden woman in the house’s creepy tower.
- The landlord claims she is his daughter, and he’s trying to keep her alive.
- But the Doctor, with Bill’s help, realises the truth; the landlord is the wooden woman’s son, who’s spent all his life using the alien bugs to keep her alive. They need to feast every so often so they can carry on maintaining her in wooden form.
- The woman is horrified to realise the truth, and the Doctor convinces her to sacrifice herself; she takes her son with her.
- As a result, all of Bill’s friends are released from the wood.
- Back at the University, the Doctor enters the vault to talk to whoever’s in there.
It’s rare to have a Doctor Who episode that sounds better than it looks (“Kinda” comes to mind). The clever soundscapes created here – an edgy symphony in creaking, thundering, knocking and banging – constitute about 50% of what’s good about this episode.
It’s a shame that care and attention wasn’t put into the look of the episode. Director Bill Anderson, who made “Thin Ice” look so lush last week, seems totally ill-suited to psychological horror. Many of his choices – from the camerawork and editing to the production design, locations, lighting and the performances he gets out of the guest characters –fail to capitalise on the spooky set ups in the script. Where are the unmotivated camera moves? Where are the unnerving panning shots? Where are the extreme close-ups? Where are the pools of shadows? Where are the attempts to make the house itself a character in the episode?
And while the whole “wood” lice vibe dictated that there had to be a lot of wood, the episode was almost suffocatingly brown, not helped by some very flat lighting.
It’s a shame, because the script is serviceable enough. Hardly the most exciting Doctor Who ever, but some stylish direction could have varnished over a lot of the cracks and elevated the material. It’s pretty much left to the sound designers and wonderfully creepy performance from David Suchet to inject some tension into proceeding.
The story itself suffers slightly from the fact that Who gave us a far superior haunted house story relatively recently in “Hide”. Also, it’s a little one-note. While “Hide” had that lovely time travel sequence and the bubble world to give the genre an intriguing Doctor Who twist, “Knock Knock” is pretty much a standard ghost story that pays lip service to a sci-fi rationale. There’s even a hidden passage behind a book case and a strange relative locked up in a forbidden part of the house. Even the denouement feels more Edgar Allan Poe than Doctor Who. There are no great surprises or sci-fi twists; discovering that the landlord is Eliza’s son and not her father is kinda charming, but no great shakes.
Bill’s house mates make for good “and then there was one” material; they’re all given just enough character moments and quips to make you care about their fates, though Felicity looked scarily like she could become the Doctor’s stalker.
But after three episodes of Doctor/Bill magnificence, they’re not quite as in the spotlight as normal, but that’s okay. There are still some sweet moments between them and the whole shtick with Bill calling him her grandfather will make true fans go, “Oooooooohhhh.”
Then there’s the “vault-scene-of-the-week” which reveals that whoever’s in there can play piano. Oh, and that they’re a prisoner. Interesting.
All in all, a pretty average slice of Who. Nothing really bad about it; nothing particularly outstanding.
- The running gag with Bill referring to the Doctor as her grandfather is a great tease; could this be another allusion to the first Doctor’s era when his original companion, Susan Foreman, claimed the Doctor was her grandfather?
- Why has no one ever used the TARDIS as a removal van before? It’s so obvious.
- Harriet Jones get a namecheck!
- “Have you got a cat?” We loved the Doctor trying not to crunch his prawn cracker in the silence following that humdinger.
- “There’s nothing going on. Nothing weird. Nothing alien. Just an old house and a dodgy landlord which is pretty standard for a student.”
- “Basically, this is the bit of my life you’re not in.”
- “Do you like this music, Doctor?”
“Reminds me of Quincy Jones. I stepped in for him once. The bassist he’d hired turned out to be a Klarj Neon Death Voc Bot. What was worse, he couldn’t play.”
- “I’m scared.”
“It doesn’t help.”
- “You’ve got something just… just there.”
- “You’re being cheerful. I’m against cheerful.”
- What was the business with the wind all about? Were the alien bugs creating a breeze inside the house? It’s never quite clear.
- The sound design is amazingly good; really immersive.
- “Right you lot, back to the estate agent. Better luck next time.”
- The direction is fairly bland and there’s little use of standard psychological horror filmmaking techniques.
- The wooden Eliza is a bit… rubbery.
- The house interior isn’t spooky enough.
- The twist about the landlord being Eliza’s son and not her father is hardly a jawdropping revelation – we don’t really have enough emotional investment in the characters to care either way.
- Some of Shireen’s reactions to the horrors she see are really… weird.
- Bill’s housemates being restored alive at the end is a tad handy.
- And… erm… has the Doctor left a whole colony of super-powered wood lice free to roam as they like?
And The Random:
- A special “binaural” audio edition of this episode was made available on BBC iPlayer immediately after its broadcast on TV. This creates a 3D surround sound effect for anyone wearing headphones.
- Is it just a coincidence that “Thin Ice” ended with Nardole worried about the knocking coming from within the vault?
- THIS WEEK’S BIT OF WHO LORE THAT BILL TAKES THE PISS OUT OF: the term Time Lord sounding really pretentious.
- The track playing during the opening house hunting montage is “Weird People” by Little Mix.
- The track that the Doctor plays on Bill’s phone is “Black Magic” by Little Mix.
- The music that Pavel plays just before he gets sucked into the wall is “Sonata For Solo Violin No 1 in G Minor, BWV 1001” by Johann Sebastian Bach.
- Whoever is inside the vault plays “Fur Elise” by Beethoven on the piano. So they’re probably around Grade Five then.
- They then play “Pop Goes The Weasel”. This was last heard in Doctor Who being sung by a giant spider in “Planet Of The Spiders” (1974). We doubt there’s a giant spider in the vault.
- We’re slightly confused – at least two of Bill’s friends seem to identify the Doctor (presumably either as “that weird lecturer” or “that old guy Bill’s always going on about”) so why does she pretend he’s her grandfather?
- “It’s a heartbreaking experience to leave one’s charge alone in the big wide world,” says the landlord. This seems to be another allusion to the first Doctor, specifically when he left Susan behind on Earth at the end of “The Dalek Invasion Of Earth” (1964).
- “It’s just pipes.” This could be a reference to Ghostwatch (1992), the BBC’s famous Halloween mockumentary about a London house haunted by a malevolent ghost nicknamed Pipes.
- Harry picks up a copy of David Bowie’s single “Heroes” from out of the box of one of the 1977 victims.
Review by Dave Golder