Broadcast Date: 06 May 2017
Writer: Mike Bartlett
Note: This review contains spoilers from the episode
The latest episode of Doctor Who delivered with a spooky haunted house and a diverse young cast to support the two leads.
Even though Series 10 has only just begun, signs are there that this has the potential to be the best series in years. Bill (Pearl Mackie) has delivered time after time and has produced a companion that has her own voice, with reactions that the audience can identify with. Her chemistry with The Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) has been one of the main positives of the series thus far. The writing for individual episodes have been better as well, harking back to the Classic Who era before 2005. There have still been problems and whilst Knock Knock isn’t perfect, what it does do is overwhelm these negatives with great scenes and memorable characters.
The haunted house trope has taken a hit in recent years due to its own success. After the widespread critical acclaim of the 2007 episode Blink, Doctor Who has repeatedly tried to imitate that response but has failed to do so. This episode throws in a lot of the tropes of a haunted house film (stormy weather, slamming doors, screaming young people) and this part is done well, not make too scary for younger viewers but still providing some memorably creepy moments. The scene where Bart’s face is submerged in the wall is right up there as an iconic Who moment.
As someone who has lived in poor housing as a student, I found the first few scenes, where Bill and her new housemates try and find a house, hilarious and believable. The only thing I couldn’t believe was that there were so many good looking people in the same house(!) The writer of this episode did a good job to give all of the housemates unique identities in such a short space of time. It is a sign of good characterisation when you want to get to know all of them further, despite the fact that new-Who is restricted to 45 minute episodes. Sadly, all of them (apart from Bill) were eventually killed, only to be brought back to life. I’m unsure whether the whole resurrection thing really works and if so, why did the house only release those who were just consumed by it and not the party from 20 years ago, for example? I also wonder whether this was mistaken as a crossover with Class, as was rumoured for this series, due to the similarity of the students’ parties.
If you have a massive fear of bugs, or like me you struggle to watch a close-up of them on a nature programme, then this episode is not for you. The ‘monsters’ of the week, named Dryads, resemble giant cockroaches and come out of the wall in great numbers to devour the characters. I think that they are successful in that they seem more real than some of the things encountered in previous episodes (I’m looking at you, Emoji Bots) and they also make a tongue-in-cheek dig at the struggles students go through with housing, one of which might be infestations.
The climax of the episode sees The Doctor and Bill trapped in a room with The Landlord (David Suchet) and his mother, who has been preserved as a living wooden form through the Dryads devouring people. This scene is particularly good and the moment The Landlord is told by his mother to let go and allow the bugs to take them, is quite emotional. Suchet and Mariah Gale really show off their acting chops with this poignant scene. However, one recurring problem I have had with this series is the lack of closure for certain questions, like why are the Dryads on Earth or will they continue to devour people even when the house had been destroyed? Sadly it seems that in this series it is impossible to have both exposition that fleshes out the story or characters, or a fully realised ending that closes all plot strands. This is just a minor issue though.
This episode is probably tied with the series opener as my favourite episode thus far. Playing on the trope of the haunted house without ever becoming too convoluted, the narrative is good, bar a couple of minor faults. I do wonder if viewers will see the likes of Harry and Shireen again in a future episode, because all of the student characters have so much potential. Overall though this series continues to be pleasantly surprising and I hope they keep this run going, with the next episode looking like something straight out of a sci-fi horror blockbuster.
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