A classic haunted house story is given an emotional twist in the most recent episode of Doctor Who season ten…
Steven Moffat’s era of Doctor Who has endeavoured to make us scared of many domestic things over the years. Cracks in the wall. Stone statues. Even puddles. In ‘Knock Knock’, the target is to make us fear our own houses. What is really causing that creaky floorboard…?
Mike Bartlett, a prolific stage and screenwriter who is a newcomer to the show, turns in a cracking script that instantly understands Doctor Who – especially in its current incarnation. It’s frontloaded with lightness and humour – as the Doctor embarrasses Bill by helping her move into her new student accommodation – before things get chilly as the plot thickens.
Essentially, ‘Knock Knock’ follows your typical horror movie formula, with a bunch of young people being picked off one by one. A couple of the scares also call back to classic moments of the genre (I spotted a Nightmare on Elm Street reference, for instance). Thankfully, Bartlett and the cast do a good job with the supporting characters. While some of Bill’s flatmates stand out more than others, we get enough of them to make them feel like real people rather than simply redshirts who are waiting to be killed off. Plus, the eventual happy ending is a surprising and pleasant one. Occasionally, everybody lives.
The choice of monsters is also a canny one. The idea of a house infested with alien wood lice that can eat you truly is the stuff of nightmares; who doesn’t find wood lice disgusting? Still, the final reveal that they are another misunderstood creature is a double-edged one. I admire this season’s commitment to a core theme – nothing is evil, you just have to look at it from a different perspective – but this is Doctor Who and we love our villainous monsters on this show. Here’s hoping for a proper malevolent threat in the coming weeks.
Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie are amazing here, as usual, but the star of the night has to be David Suchet as the Landlord. Due to the character’s name, I was kind of hoping he would turn out to be another renegade Time Lord, just in order for us to have more of the tremendous actor on the show. As it is, Suchet delivers a terrific performance that is at turns sinister and sympathetic. I can’t remember the last time a one-and-done villain made such an impression. Likewise, the wood woman was a brilliantly eerie creation and Mariah Gale’s talented voice work did a lot to humanise the ‘monster.’
As all the best ghost stories do, ‘Knock Knock’ had more going on under the surface than just jump scares – as it was really an examination of grief and letting go. It might not hold up to Who‘s spookiest episodes, but this was still a solid spine-tingler with a nice amount of depth. The very sturdy, if not truly excellent, quality of season ten continues.