Doctor Who S10E4: Knock Knock
Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, David Suchet
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Knock Knock is a straight-forward and broadly effective haunted house story.
Bill (Pearl Mackie) and five fellow students are struggling to find share accommodation in Bristol. When an elderly landlord (David Suchet) offers them a massive wooden house with bedrooms for all six of them, they snap at the chance. Their lucky find soon turns to a nightmare, as the dilapidated house’s creak and groans turn out to have a sinister cause.
One of the strengths of Doctor Who is the versatility of its storytelling format. It is the series where, in essence, a writer can present any kind of narrative and work in multiple genres. The series has done plenty of straight-up science fiction over the years, but also historical drama, comedy, westerns, and plenty of horror. It is in this last genre that award-winning writer Mike Bartlett (King Charles III, Doctor Foster) situates his first script for the series. For the bulk of its running time, “Knock Knock” is a straight-forward and broadly effective haunted house story. There is the creepy old house, full of nooks and crannies, creaky floorboards, sudden bangs and scratches around each corner, and a seemingly endless array of old and dusty rooms. There is the cast of relatively generic young protagonists getting taken out of play one by one.
There is also the superbly creepy landlord, played by David Suchet (Poirot). His casting is a coup for the series, bringing his immeasurable talent to bear on a mysterious and unsettling old man. His behaviour and demeanour foreshadows terrible horrors from the moment he steps on screen. He does wonderfully ominous work simply with a turn of phrase and a tuning fork.
Peter Capaldi continues to be superb work as the Doctor, and once again seems to be channelling some middle ground between his predecessors Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker (at one stage he even quotes Baker’s dialogue). While Pearl Mackie is also great as Bill, to an extent the episode lacks the close banter between the two characters that helped make the first three episodes so enjoyable.
Sadly in its last 10 minutes the episode suffers an unfortunate collapse. An all-new terror is revealed in the house’s previously inaccessible tower, and while visually it is an effective element for the story it goes by poorly rationalised and under-explained. In giving the creepy, supernatural horrors a science fictional origin Bartlett accidentally robs the episode of its core strength. The ultimate ending feels under-motivated, inconsistent and very frustrating. Suchet does his best, but his character is forced to transform on a dime. It all seems terribly unconvincing, and sours the generally entertaining work done in the lead-up. It is by no means a bad episode, but of the four episodes broadcast to date from Season 10 it is certainly the least accomplished or satisfying.
There is a very nice coda to the episode, with the Doctor returning to the mysterious alien vault hidden beneath the University. More clues as to the vault’s contents are revealed; clues that are managing to make the vault even more enticing a plot thread. The wait to see inside and discover the identity of the person inside – as it is clearly something intelligent and capable of playing a piano – is becoming close to unbearable.