In recent seasons of Doctor Who, episodes have taken a little longer to get started, because companions have started staying home between adventures with the Doctor. The terrific Knock Knock, written by Doctor Foster’s Mike Bartlett, subverts that to some extent, by making Bill’s home life the story, as she moves out of her foster mum’s flat into an extremely spooky house-share.
Bill’s fellow students, Shireen, (Mandeep Dhillon) Harry, (Colin Ryan) Paul, (Ben Presley) Felicity (Alice Hewkin) and Pavel (Bart Suavek), all seem nice enough, but after a disastrous bout of house-hunting, they find that “six bedrooms” is a tall order in the south of England. But a chance meeting with a wandering landlord (David Suchet) gets them an unexpectedly great deal on a grand old manor.
The Doctor is only supposed to be helping Bill move in, but he’s immediately disturbed by his companion’s new living arrangements, especially with The Landlord creeping around the place. Why does the old house make so much noise?
The sounds of the house are definitely paramount here. For starters, there’s more music clearance in this than in any episode of Doctor Who ever made, from the early house-hunting montage to a funny scene involving Bill’s taste in music. But the real business here comes with Murray Gold’s score, his best work of the season so far, and the way in which the noises of the house “settling” heighten the tension throughout the episode.
If you’re able, you should definitely watch the episode with the binaural 3D sound option that the BBC is making available through the red button (and on BBC iPlayer), because the sound editing and design of this is well worth listening to on the best speakers possible. (We saw the episode using headphones and still got the chilling effect of the episode’s superb sound design in stereo.)
Heightening the horror movie effect is the cast of sadly disposable student characters, who, like Amy, Rory and Clara’s relatives (and maybe even Bill’s foster mum) before them, will likely be forgotten about. Despite companions staying home more often in Steven Moffat’s era, their relationships with supporting characters feel impermanent and so it goes with the likeable but thinly sketched ensemble here.
The exception, of course, is David Suchet, who has appeared to be genuinely delighted to be involved with the show in recent interviews. Given a truly insidious character to play, he really goes for it. Blimey Charlie, does he go for it. He’s never hammy, but he’s clearly having the time of his life.
In an impressively consistent run, Knock Knock is the best of Season 10 so far, as Bartlett mixes the personality of New Who with the good old-fashioned chills of Classic Who. With peerless sound design and an all-time great guest performance from Suchet, this is a haunted house story with a twist, and a solid continuation of Season 10’s new approach to all the familiar places.
– Take a bow, David Suchet. The Landlord (as his character is credited) is one of the most memorable human antagonists we’ve had in a long time. He’s as selfish as last week’s Lord Sutcliffe, certainly, but with a bizarrely sympathetic dimension to his protection of his daughter-mum Eliza (Mariah Gale), by killing his tenants. Suchet’s performance nicely understates his character’s arrested development, turning from being so lost and sad to childish vindictiveness on a dime.
– No one could accuse him of chewing the scenery here – that falls to the giant woodlice-like Dryads that live in the house. Even the Doctor is surprised when they drag their way out of the wooden wall and, as in last week’s story, they’re an infestation that go relatively unexplained, by New Who standards.
– Bill’s sci-fi cred means that she immediately figures out the Time Lords from their high faluting name alone – the only detail she gets wrong is that she guesses big hats instead of big collars. For the first time in the new series, the Doctor doesn’t have to add that he’s the last of his kind, but neither does he elaborate upon regeneration here. The steady pace at which this season is delivering its exposition should pay off nicely by the time Peter Capaldi departs.
– Although Matt Lucas takes a larger role in the series, starting next week, his role feels more tacked on here than it did in the neat bookends of the last two weeks, including a hard cut from the almost Rick Sanchez-esque farewell the Doctor gives to the baffled and now homeless students to the longest look at the Vault mystery yet, involving a piano and a Mexican takeaway. Who’s tinkling those ivories?