Doctor Who Series 10 Episode 4: “Knock Knock”
We did the companion welcome, the future, and the past with Bill…now it’s time for creepy. Doctor Who is known for taking ordinary things and making you scared of them, so let’s see how “Knock Knock” managed with turning creaky old houses into the stuff of nightmares.
We start with Bill meeting with her new housemates: Shireen (the only one she’s already known), Paul, Pavel, Felicity, and Harry. They are all students, presumably at St. Luke’s looking for a house to rent together. It made me wonder whether Bill is a proper student at this point as well, as in “The Pilot” she wasn’t and only attended the Doctor’s lectures. It would have been nice to clear that up, but I’m hoping future episodes will.
Anyway, the six go through some horrible choices with their estate agent, including a ridiculously small house and one that’s next to a factory. It’s obviously exaggerated but hilarious nonetheless. They meet with the creepy Landlord after a series of unsuccessful viewings, who has an old but enormous house to offer, and it’s cheap as well. Bill senses that there must be a catch, but she and the others sign the contract anyway. Pavel is the first one to move in, and he dies just in time before the title sequence.
The next day, Bill is moving her stuff with the help of the Doctor and the TARDIS, because only she would think of doing that. They have a brief but adorabéle conversation about the Time Lords, and when they arrive in Newport at Bill’s new house, the Doctor insists on helping her. Bill doesn’t want her new housemates to see him, but when they do she pretends the Doctor is her grandpa and is just as embarrassed about him as she would be about a real grandpa. Better yet, the others know him because he’s a lecturer legend and think he’s cool. Harry even mentions how his grandpa went on a trip to China with his boyfriend and tried to steal a bit of the Great Wall. Fun fact, Harry’s grandfather was intended to be Dr. Harry Sullivan, companion to the Fourth Doctor and all around gentleman.
Paul helps Bill get her stuff into her new room and it’s obvious he has a crush on her but Bill ignores him. At night, all of them are creeped out by the house and keep complaining about the lack of a washing machine, reception and internet connection. Okay, let’s be honest, the rent must have been basically nothing for them to move in despite this. The Best thing about the scene is probably how Pearl Mackie nails Bill need to fit in with the group. She only knows Shireen and wants to get along with the others as well, who do like her but it’s clear that she’s struggling. It’s a subtle but wonderful aspect of the whole episode.
Subtle’s thrown out of the window though when the Doctor shows up, again, along with the Landlord. After hearing the group’s complaints and acting shady af the Doctor asks him who the Prime Minister is, because that’s the Doctor’s way of finding out if someone’s an alien. Really, it was just an excuse to name drop Harriet Jones, but I’m not complaining.
Shireen, Bill and Paul call it a night, while the Doctor wants to stay up and “chill” with Harry and Felicity. Before going to bed Paul continues flirting with Bill, who turns him down and tells him she normally goes for girls. Paul handles this surprisingly well, he’s not upset about being “friendzoned” and just shrugs it off with an “I’ve never had a chance then anyway”. Bless Paul, it’s not his fault that he had a crush on Bill, who wouldn’t. Unfortunately, he dies right after this and the scary part begins. Bill and Shireen find what is left of Pavel, but the Landlord shows up again and Pavel disappears into the wall.
The girls run up to the tower of the house, while the Doctor, Harry and Felicity realize that they are locked in. Felicity starts panicking and gets out of the house, only to be attacked by a tree in the garden. The Doctor and Harry realize that inside the house there are lice (or creatures that look like lice) and they are the ones behind the creepy noises and the disappearances. The go the basement and discover previous tenancy agreements, dating back to 1997, 1977 and 1957. This not only confirms that Bill is from 2017, but also that every twenty years the Landlord gets six students as tenants and they all disappear.
Meanwhile, Bill and Shireen meet Eliza in the tower, the daughter of the Landlord who’s made out of wood. Shireen freaks out and dies too, and down in the basement, the Landlord confronts the Doctor and Harry, where, you guessed it, Harry also dies. This leaves the Doctor and Bill. The Doctor offers the Landlord his help and goes to see Eliza, and we finally get the whole story. Eliza is actually the Landlord’s mother, who was dying but as a young boy the Landlord found the woodlice and gave them to her. He realized that they react to high-pitched noises and that somehow they can keep her alive, if only he keeps them well fed, and so the ritual of six students every twenty years began.
Eliza, realizing that she’s the mother and not the daughter takes charge and commands the woodlice to let her die. The Landlord doesn’t want to let her go and so they take him too. Before the whole house disintegrates Eliza makes the others come back, and so Bill, Shireen, Paul, Harry, Pavel and Felicity all watch as their house collapses. But hey, at least they are alive.
The episode ends with the Vault, where the Doctor sends Nardole away and begins talking to the Master whoever’s in there. The person plays Für Elise on a piano because they have good taste, but as the Doctor starts telling his newest story about young people getting eaten Pop Goes the Weasel starts playing and the Doctor enters the Vault to eat Mexican with the Vault’s resident.
So this was a wild ride. “Knock Knock” was far from being the scariest episode of Doctor Who, but that’s not a problem since the point is getting spooky and not traumatizing generations. I found that the most horrifying element was how each kid was taken by the woodlice, especially with the sounds Paul and Harry made.
I’m not sure how to take the twist of everyone (or at least the 2017 gang) coming back at the end, as it makes those otherwise powerful scenes cheap. At the same time losing her first housemates would have been insanely traumatizing for Bill and just in general everyone dying would have been such a downer ending. Not that it hasn’t been known to happen, but Series 10 is not trying to be Dark and Edgy like Peter Capaldi’s previous seasons so that’s a delight, and having a sort of happy ending fits into that. We still had the tragedy of Eliza and her son and I am glad that the gang survived because I hope to see more of them, but it’s shame for the “death” scenes.
Speaking of Eliza and her son, the reveal did have its plot holes but was otherwise a fundamentally human story, which is what Doctor Who does best. The story of the Landlord doesn’t excuse the murder of more than a dozen students, but in a twisted way, it makes sense how he wanted to protect his mother and grew up to be this morally messed up person. The performance of David Suchet helped make him sympathetic and yet a deeply disturbing figure. I liked how the story didn’t try to justify everything he’s done, just made us see that he did have his reasons.
All in all, the Landlord was a much better antagonist than last week’s Lord Sutcliffe, he was more what I would expect in the show.
Then there’s the Vault, which returns at the end of this episode as well. After last week’s knocking there were some theories that the Master might be behind the doors, whichever version, and having seen this last scene I now believe that theory too. It’s honestly a little too obvious so I’m wondering if there’s a twist to it, but then again it might be the same situation as with Missy in Series 8. The only thing might be is that it’s not Michelle Gomez behind those doors but rather John Simm, which is what most people believe anyway. Makes me wish we didn’t know about the Tennant era Master returning, it would at least make this mystery a little more… mysterious.
I am looking forward to Simm’s Master returning and I love that the Master in general is a recurring character in the Capaldi era, but sometimes casting secrets should remain secrets. Maybe the BBC is learning and that’s why we still don’t know who Doctor Number 13 is, it would be fun to only find out as the Doctor regenerates.
The first three episodes were all very solid, but “Knock Knock” seemed to raise the stakes a bit. It was still a fairly traditional format but had its more risky moves, which ultimately ended up working well. I heard people say that this is the end of “act I” of Series 10 and that the next couple of episodes won’t be complete stand-alones, which would be a welcome change, although I am a bit wary of how that’ll go down. Series 10 has been such a delight so far, different from what we’ve been used to under Moffat, but based on his 5 seasons as showrunner I do have my reasons to dread even slightly bigger storylines. I’m absolutely willing to give this last season a chance as I have been enjoying it so far, more so than I enjoyed any other season ever since Series 4. I’m just hoping it’s staying this good, mostly for Bill’s sake. And wouldn’t it be nice for Moffat’s and Capaldi’s last season to be their best?
Next week it’s more in the sci-fi zone again, with space zombies and Nardole joining the Doctor and Bill for an adventure.