“Knock Knock” finds Doctor Who in horror-movie mode, with naïve twentysomethings trapped in a building which is somehow alive and knocking them off one by one. Then [spoiler alert] it turns out alien wood bugs are to blame, and it’s all been in service to the landlord (Poirot’s David Suchet) of the house prolonging his ill daughter’s life (or at least we think she’s his daughter). That part of the episode is, um, less successful, but the build-up is expertly crafted slasher/haunted house material, turning the mundane (the creaky noises of an older house) into the horrific (those noises are actually being made by alien bugs which absorb their victims into the wood).
The episode, written by Doctor Who newbie and Doctor Foster creator Mike Bartlett, begins with an inventive montage exploring Bill’s Bohemian living situation, attempting to split the rent on a house seven ways with a group of college students she barely knows. It’s another reminder of Bill’s working class background and is just generalized enough to either be viewed merely as a fun commentary on college student living or as a not-so-subtle nod toward the harsh economic realities people Bill’s age currently face in Britain.
Luckily, the real British people Bill’s age don’t end up being consumed by alien bugs. At least I don’t think they do. I dunno. In 2017, anything’s possible.
Either way, the montage nicely sets up Bill and her friends receiving an offer to live in a large old house for a remarkably reasonable rent, so reasonable that none of them take the time to read the fine print of the contracts they sign with the clearly sinister landlord. Bill’s “something’s not right about this” sensors go off, but she ignores it, convincing herself traveling with the Doctor has simply made her more paranoid. Plus, she wants to fit in with her new roommates. The Doctor, who adorably uses the Tardis to help Bill move her belongings to the new place, instantly senses a mystery, and the game, as they say, is afoot, even if it means the Doctor coming off as Bill’s mortifyingly embarrassing grandfather (although being pawned off as her “grandfather” seems to briefly hurt the Doctor’s feelings because does he really look that old?).
Soon enough, the characters start dropping like flies, with one letting out a chilling death scream from behind a door. The house’s exit points are suddenly covered by wood which soon unleash hordes of murderous insects. It’s enough to remind you of not just prior budget-conscious bottle episode like season 4’s classic “Midnight” but also of horror movies like Squirm.
A horror movie reference seems appropriate since “Knock Knock”‘s supporting characters mostly resemble slasher victims in how one-note they are. That gives the episode a slightly odd feel. It’s perfectly normal for Doctor Who episodes to kill off characters we barely know or care about, but it’s a bit more uncommon for all of these red shirts to be newly introduced friends of the companion, most of them suffering from their own millennial angst. It’s almost like we’re watching the pilot for a spin-off, yet by the end, everyone other than Bill and the Doctor has died (although not permanently, as it turns out) and we don’t really care.
However, that doesn’t take away from Suchet’s exceptional work as the seemingly nefarious landlord nor from the production team’s clever use of sound design to emphasize all the creaks. “Knock Knock” is an episode in which a fork-tuner is wonderfully and sonically converted into a tool of death, which I’m sure sounded all the more impressive in the BBC’s experimental binaural 3D version of the episode. And while the ending didn’t exactly work for me (one too many twists, I didn’t like the design of the wooden woman, the characters should have stayed dead) I enjoyed the build-up enough to regard this as an imperfect, but ultimately solid installment in season 10. It was a clever continuation of Bill and The Doctor’s relationship, establishing her desire (but inability) to keep some parts of her life separate from him, and closed on yet another tantalizing hint of what or who exactly is in that dang vault.
THE VAULT MYSTERY – ANY THEORIES?
Whoever or whatever is in the vault can play the piano, from a perfect Beethoven’s Fur Elise to a playful Pop Goes The Weasel, and loves to hear a good story. Plus, there’s the whole knocking thing, and the idea that their entrapment is directly connected to the Doctor’s oath to stay nearby. The three candidates seem to be a future or past version of The Doctor, The Master or River Song. At the moment, my guess would be The Master, yet I instantly second guess myself because that just seems too obvious.
What did you think of “Knock Knock”? Do you think I’m totally wrong about the ending being a let down? Or am I giving it too much of a free pass? Did the CGI bugs look a little too, well, like CGI bugs? Let me know in the comments.