Aired 06 May 2017
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW
The latest series of Doctor Who has certainly taken a more deliberate approach with its stories, hearkening back to the classic series as plenty of time has been afforded for the expositions to naturally and fluidly unfold. This has, almost by necessity, meant that the denouements have been somewhat rushed so far, but ‘Knock Knock’ manages to strike a good balance as it boldly delves into the horror genre before delivering a surprisingly emotional ending.
Wisely, ‘Knock Knock’ does not knock the stereotypes and tropes that form the basis of traditional horror tales but instead willingly embraces them. A old-fashioned house with a mysterious landlord, a group of students bursting with naivety, and plenty of odd creeks and goings-on are all present, and even the Doctor finds himself a victim of the menacing setting as exits and students begin to vanish. However, the chance escape of the Doctor to the cellar slowly sheds light on the truth behind the house and its long-term occupants, the landlord and the strange wooden being locked in the tower. The shift in tone may be rather jarring as emotion and empathy suddenly overtake horror, but both elements taken by themselves work quite well with the information that is slowly provided.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of ‘Knock Knock’ is the performance of David Suchet as the landlord. His performance from the start is all the more unsettling because he’s not overtly malevolent or malicious even as his actions become increasingly more sinister. This pays immense dividends as the being in the tower is revealed to be his own mother, Eliza, whom he is able to keep alive with the help of wood nymphs he discovered as a child. Suddenly, his cruelty throughout the decades is given a strongly touching undertone that casts his character in a completely different light, a child who has never fully grown into adulthood. Of course, this all changes in an instant when the Doctor informs Eliza that the man before her who has for so long claimed to know what is necessary is her son rather than her father, and Suchet instantly ratchets up the vindictiveness and spite as a child having his mother and life’s work taken away from him. This revelation does still leave the question open about how Suchet’s character was able to deceive his mother initially sixty years ago, but, that quibble aside, the character’s arc works exceedingly well.
While it’s a shame that the other five students are not better developed given the time constraints of the episode, the setup of a group of students looking for a residence- briefly remarking on the housing crisis concurrently- does at least give reason for the focus to be put once more on Bill. The entire modern revival of Doctor Who has very much established that life with the Doctor is not the only life the companions have during their time aboard the TARDIS; Bill’s search for student housing feels like a natural progression of that aspect for a woman in her position, and her frank desire to maintain a distinct life given how much the things she has seen have already affected her becomes a significant reason for her being able to overlook so many strange things around her. Though the survival of her friends is almost necessary given her extreme revulsion to death previously, there is clearly a strong and cohesive narrative for the character that makes her a very dynamic presence here even before she points out the one essential observation that links everything together.
The two interlinked stories being told work well independently and together, but the end result is powerful blending of two genres that doesn’t quite manage to flesh out Bill’s friends in the first segment nor Eliza in the second due to time constraints. Still, with Capaldi, Mackie, and Suchet all giving incredible performances, ‘Knock Knock’ is certainly able to overcome those concessions to offer a unique episode more than worthy of a repeat viewing.