Reviewed by John Hussey
Series 10 has certainly proven its worth as being a consistent run, resulting in my love for the show to rekindle. I actually grow more and more excited as the week’s go by because I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next. Although I will agree with my partner that it is sad to know that with each passing week we draw closer and closer to Peter Capaldi leaving the show, which is truly sad considering this has been his strongest series to date.
It’s such a shame (therefore) that it took Steven Moffat three years to finally utilise the brilliant talent that he went out of his way to cast for the iconic role. But, to give the show-runner some credit he has (at least) been learning from his past mistakes and has been doing the very things that I’ve asked him to do for Series 10 (not that he’s personally obeying my every instruction just because I’ve been writing so many negative articles about him or anything).
“Knock Knock” decides to take a step back and return us to modern-day Earth, but with a neat twist. Instead of having a mundane modern-day narrative that we’ve come to expect from New Who we received a Horror story. I actually really enjoy Doctor Who when it decides to take a darker approach. Look at the wonderful Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe era.
The two of them were masters of making the show both enjoyable and terrifying, blending together the macabre with the science fiction aspects (we’d come to know and love from the show) in order to create some really vivid serials that have stood the test of time due to their unique content.
New writer Mike Bartlett certainly isn’t shy from being reminiscent of that style of storytelling, bringing together vibes from the likes of “Image of the Fendahl”, “Ghost Light”, and “Hide”. Three very different episodes linked by the presence of an old English house that resides around a malevolent force (though the latter did retcon this at the last moment, but we won’t dwell on that fuck-up for this review). “Knock Knock” does the same, whilst adding in some usual Horror traits such as “the gathering of youngsters”, “the creaking walls”, “the lightning storms”, “the lack of communication”, “isolation”, and of course “the creepy landlord”.
Despite the Horror aspects present throughout, “Knock Knock” finds time to develop the wonderful relationship between Bill and The Twelfth Doctor. Having travelled around with The Twelfth Doctor, i.e. forced on a chase throughout space and time, travelling to the first human colonist, and attending the 1814 frost fair, Bill has grown accustomed to her life with the Time Lord and their unique chemistry. What is particularly interesting within this story is The Twelfth Doctor’s over-protectiveness, a trait that is both played out for emotional factors, whilst also giving us a few laughs.
I think the reason I’ve enjoyed Series 10 so much (thus far) is it feels like Moffat (and the team) are trying to appeal to a modern audience in the best way possible, whilst also delivering the usual Doctor Who goodness for older fans (such as myself). By dealing with the idea of students trying to find a place to rent (which let me tell you is an impossible task within this broken fucking country) just felt really appealing to me. It’s simple, but affective, and allows Bill to feel more organic and relatable because she’s going through what other students of her age are going through.
They too are trying to get by in life, trying to study hard, and heck, trying their damdest to reach a higher point in life, ultimately accomplishing their life-long dreams. I know in Bill’s case she just happens to have a tutor that is also an alien from another point in time and space, who can travel anywhere in his space-time capsule that is bigger on the inside, but the point still stands. I think the show has done good by getting rid of the over-convoluted companions that aren’t relatable and serve only to develop the ongoing narrative rather than evolve as an organic organism.
Plus, it does feel like a natural progression of her character. In “The Pilot” we saw that Bill wasn’t going anywhere in her life, had a depressing job, no real trajectory, and was overall lonely. Upon meeting The Twelfth Doctor ambition was thrust upon her, allowing her inner-self to take shape and thus developing her confidence, allowing herself to be somebody. It’s a sweet notion that Bill became a better person because The Twelfth Doctor believed in her and wanted to extract her greatness in order to better herself.
And after learning from The Twelfth Doctor, both in class and on their three adventures together, Bill has now got the motivation to move away from her aunt and find a new life with friends. But of course (like always) this is Doctor Who and nothing is straightforward. Enter The Landlord (played by David Suchet), a creepy old man that just happens to offer Bill and her gang of friends the keys to an old English house for a low rent price. Suspicious much?
Granted, Bill’s intelligence here does seem a little off. I mean she has encountered some strange things since meeting The Twelfth Doctor, so you’d expect her to be a little more cautious when a strange old man tries offering them a deal that is filled with some dodgy questions. You know what, fuck the fact that Bill has met Daleks, water monsters, killer Emojibots, and a monster beneath the Thames, you’d expect any normal, rational minded person to hear alarm bells ringing when this kind of shady deal is thrust upon. “No fuck this! You’re probably some kind of paedophile, or psychopath, or just some creepy weirdo that is more likely to stand in the corner and watch me sleep rather than come round to make sure everything is alright.”
But, to be slightly fair, Bill does have her moments of doubts (whilst the rest of her gang jump up and down at the offer like it was fucking Christmas). However, she tries to pass these thoughts off as nothing, trying carefully to draw the line between normal life and her life with The Twelfth Doctor. It’s a fair point really as you can see that Bill is trying to find herself an existence, having finally been given the chance to find herself and feel important.
This doesn’t last long though as The Twelfth Doctor quickly becomes suspicious of the house, and The Landlord, to the slight embarrassment of Bill. As I said earlier, it’s a lovely notion to see The Twelfth Doctor so caring. We had seen this side of him develop with Clara during Series 9, with him believing he had to watch out for her (particularly since she was becoming dangerously close to becoming him after she no longer felt grounded after the death of Danny Pink, to which The Twelfth Doctor felt responsible for, now placing her under his care).
The whole Classic companion vibe really comes to the surface with this episode as Bill refers to The Twelfth Doctor as her grandfather (to which she refers to him to her friends to avoid further embarrassment), rekindling that old unique chemistry that made the Classic Series so memorable. Bye-bye pointless romantic subplots, don’t let the door hit your arse on the way out!
Pearl Mackie continues to be great and really displays an air of innocence about her, as she tries discovering the world. But it’s nice to see her just trying to relax and find a new calling as an ordinary student, which is totally understandable considering she’d spent the last couple of episodes travelling through time and space and living everything but a normal existence. And of course her sweet relationship with Capaldi is just delightful to watch, making me really sad that this beautiful chemistry will soon be taken from us.
Despite Bill constantly telling The Twelfth Doctor he has to leave (thus informing him that he cannot be apart of her entire existence) he continues to find excuses to stick around, whilst inspecting the strange noises the walls and floors are making throughout the old house. Then the mysterious comings and goings of The Landlord make the situation scream suspicion, not to mention that one of their friends (Pavel) hasn’t been seen in days. The Twelfth Doctor is the only one that is putting the pieces together, realising that something is wrong despite Bill trying to believe that everything is fine and that everything odd doesn’t have to be the result extra-terrestrial activities.
The house starts to come to life and slowly locks down all possible escape routes, and thus the students start to be picked off one by one. I will admit that it’s always quite lazy when characters are merely introduced to be fodder, especially when they are either generic or stereotype characters. Though for the most part the students have believable characteristics for the brief scenes they appear in, and thus, become quite likable. I mean they’re not exactly characters that you want to see come to harm. None of them are particularly arseholes, and all appear to be really good kids who just want a place to stay whilst they commit to their studies (and occasionally party like normal students do).
But it’s fairly clear that The Twelfth Doctor steals the show, with Bill taking a slight back-seat (though she does have her moments). Bill does keep a cool head in this sinister situation (having had experience with the unexplained) and tries to help her friends (particularly Shireen) get to safety. It’s soon revealed that the walls contain strange alien woodlice (which The Twelfth Doctor dubs the Dryad) that are set on consuming the house’s occupants.
It becomes a life or death situation as The Twelfth Doctor tries getting Bill and her friends out alive, whilst trying to piece together the strange mystery revolving around the house. In fact, things become rather unsettling when you see the students bite the dust one by one in a gruesome manner, merging with the house as the Dryads engulf them, whilst it’s discovered that The Landlord has been luring youngsters to the house for decades (acting out a sadistic ritual every 20 years).
The Landlord continues to create a creepy presence as he strangely materialises throughout the house, unsettlingly being okay with his activities of killing students as he continuously lures the Dryad to his victims location, creating sound waves through the wooden walls like ringing a dinner bell. The episode later tries to make The Landlord sympathetic after it’s revealed he’s doing this to keep his child alive, but his insanity is far too much to contain, even after such a reveal.
It’s fair to say that he’s too committed to his purpose. Sure, it is the simple notion that you would do anything for the ones you love, especially when you know that their dying. But The Landlord is far too emotionally attached to his course, to the point where he has lost all of his humanity. He doesn’t care about the deaths he causes, all that matters to him is preserving his loved one. But what he doesn’t realise is he’s destroyed his life. He no longer has an existence, and instead has committed to lurking in the shadows like a Bogeyman, luring in students like the Child-Catcher in order to murder them, and for what, to keep his loved one alive in a hideous state of existence.
Things become more complicated (making for a really intriguing, and surprising, twist) as it’s revealed that The Landlord has lied to Eliza. He’s in fact her son rather than her father, to which Bill pieces together when his story of finding the Dryads and bringing them to Eliza didn’t match the behaviour of a parent, added with the obvious clue that The Landlord has somehow preserved his age without succumbing to the Dryads means of preservation (like with Eliza, who has become a wooden creature).
This shock makes Eliza re-think everything that has happened, ultimately becoming saddened by her son’s words and what he has done in order to keep her alive. Despite his mother’s pleads The Landlord still insists that he has to kill for her, showcasing how unhinged he’s become and how dependent he is on his mother’s existence. Knowing this Eliza makes the ultimate sacrifice and turns the Dryad against them, ending her child’s madness, and in many ways releasing him from his own mental prison.
I will admit that the resolution feels a little bit of a cope-out by restoring the students back to life, but at the same time I liked this aspect because none of them deserved to die. I guess sometimes it just feels like the modern era of the show (particularly since Moffat took over) doesn’t take death seriously as it continuously becomes something that isn’t feared because it can be re-written. But considering the resolution doesn’t save everyone that were killed by The Landlord, I guess I can slightly forgive this ending (I’m not morbid!)
Once again we had an interesting conclusion that indicated further as to what, or who, lies within the Vault. Nardole (played by Matt Lucas) enters for another brief cameo, this time showing delight in seeing The Twelfth Doctor finding things to do on Earth instead of needing to leave the planet. However, this happy chemistry doesn’t last long as Nardole once again becomes annoyed by The Twelfth Doctor’s rule-breaking behaviour. After Nardole leaves the room The Twelfth Doctor starts talking to the thing within the Vault (showing signs that he is aquatinted with the thing in the room, and has some sort of chemistry with it) and eventually opens the door on the promise of sharing dinner and telling it a story.