Season 10, Episode 4 “Knock Knock”
Directed by Bill Anderson
Written by Mike Bartlett
Starring Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas, David Suchet
Air date: May 6, 2017
What do “normal” days in the world of Doctor Who look like? It’s an interesting question. Exposure to the Doctor and his magic box seems to create a hyper-real existence where you meet aliens, humans, leviathans, and gods. Embarking on the hero quest, one cannot help but be changed by it. Does that mean that the TARDIS is a Pandora’s Box? Once that box is opened, the forces unleashed do not seem to be something that can simply be turned on and off like a switch… or can they? In Episode 10.4 “Knock Knock,” we see Bill try to have an ordinary day, with the Doctor along for the ride as little as possible. Luckily for us, she fails.
“Knock Knock” inserts the Doctor and Bill into a pretty straightforward genre setting — the haunted house. We have a diverse group of young people (including Bill) invited to spend the night in an imposing old house by a mysterious but seemingly benevolent landlord. There, they begin to vanish one by one, until they penetrate an inner sanctum that hides the big secret of the house. It’s the sort of setting that Scooby-Doo and The Mystery Machine gang would play for laughs… and any number of B-grade horror films would play for the screams.
The difference here, of course, is that it’s a Doctor and Bill story. How do we work an immortal man and his magic box into that kind of story? We make it about Bill trying to wall the Doctor into only part of her life. This is something we’ve seen the show do a number of times in the last few years. Amy and Rory wanted to have some normalcy in their marriage, which the Doctor made very difficult (a Zygon ship under the Savoy Hotel can just ruin a wedding anniversary, for example). Clara wanted to find romance with a fellow teacher at Coal Hill School, only to find the Doctor inserting himself into her life there as well. Here, Bill the foster child wants to find her first place on her own… but rather than find a friend with a car to move her stuff, she uses the Doctor and the TARDIS. If that’s the new normal, it’s only natural that something extraordinary is going to happen when you move in.
Getting beyond that, there isn’t a lot here outside the genre. There is an old and suitably spooky old house. We are introduced (only barely) to Bill’s housemates. The script by Mike Barlett nicely mixes humor with fear, and Bill Anderson keeps the plot moving along briskly. The lows aren’t very low, and the highs not very high.
The one part of the story that leaps out immediately is the Landlord, played by David Suchet. He immediately creates a figure who is mysterious, malevolent, and tragic enough to be tremendously entertaining. Since he is a genre character, the audience can immediately guess the outlines of what his role will be. In the hands of another actor, the role could be flat and two dimensional. Suchet provides a magnetic performance that keeps the viewers engaged by wondering not what he’s going to do, but how he’s going to do it.
The end result is probably the weakest episode of the season so far, but only because it lacks ambition. It tells a fairly simple story, and does that reasonably well. Does that make it a bit of break between two bigger bits of the season’s story arc? Is it the “everyday normal” in the world of the Doctor? I think only time will tell.