Who Review: Knock Knock

Bill and her student friends are looking for accommodation, but finding a place big enough for all six of them at a price they can afford is proving harder than they anticipated. So when they are approached by an elderly gentleman offering them a place to live that will more than suit their needs–and their budget–it’s an offer they simply can’t refuse. At first glance the old manor house is impressive, atmospheric, and sufficiently spacious for the students. But when the Doctor helps Bill move in, he senses something odd. More than the antiquated electrical system. More than the fact they can’t get a mobile signal. More than the landlord’s ban on visiting the adjoining tower. The strange noises sound like there’s someone, or something, else sharing the house with them. A suspicion Bill begins to take seriously when her friends start to mysteriously disappear…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

After stories in the future and the past, it’s back to present-day reality for Bill. If you recall, Bill used to work in the canteen at St. Luke’s University in Bristol, but the Doctor, who is posing (quite convincingly) as a lecturer at the university, has taken Bill on as his personal student. This means she is now one of the student body, and has joined with five other students to find somewhere affordable to live. It’s a classic creepy house story, but with a Doctor Who twist: the creeks and bumps are the result of alien bugs that have been re-purposing previous tenants to keep the landlord’s ailing relative alive. These bugs swarm on their victims, and suck them into the woodwork. Potentially gruesome stuff, but with some CGI magic it all looks horrible, but nothing to turn the stomach. Unless you don’t like the sight of giant swarming roach-like insects.

The fact that the Doctor is part of the faculty makes for some awkward scenes with Bill and her friends. The Doctor tries to be “cool” with the students, but, of course it doesn’t work very well, especially since he’s not really trying too hard. He just wants to hang around so he can figure out what’s going on with the house. Bill tells her friends the Doctor is her grandfather–is this just an in-joke for the Whovians, or are we to attach significance to it? (Also, we got the season’s first reference to “regeneration,” when the Doctor explained to Bill times when a Time Lord may need to sleep. She asked what “regeneration” is, but he didn’t answer. She’ll find out soon enough, methinks…)

The sinister Landlord is played with charming edginess by David Suchet, who made his name on British TV playing Agatha Christie’s “Poirot” in the long-running series. Suitable casting for what is, essentially, a locked-room mystery. The whole ensemble do well, actually, even the young actors playing the students. One of the hallmarks of New Who is the fact they tend to get high-caliber talent, so the performances are usually top-notch.

As for the effects, they are fairly run-of-the-mill for New Who–i.e., far better than Classic Who, but nothing particularly stand-out for early 21st century television. I will give a special shout-out to whoever designed the wooden person costume for the Landlord’s relative. That particular effect was extremely well done.

The story itself is not the best so far, but it’s not bad. As I said, it starts off as a standard creepy house tale with creaking floorboards, and strange bangs and knocks. But then we see the house sprouting bugs and devouring people, which brings us into the realm of Doctor Who. For all the good acting and great effects, it lacked something truly sinister. Sure, the Landlord was fairly sinister, but in the end all he wanted was to keep his relative alive (yes, I’m deliberately veiling the relative’s exact relationship, for the sake of not giving everything away!), so I suppose we’re supposed to feel somewhat sympathetic toward him. What ended up not happening was a really big climactic finale. It just sort of fizzled. Yes, the Landlord fessed up, and cried in his relatives arms, giving us a high emotional moment. But that was about it. And, to be honest, I really didn’t feel anything for either the Landlord, or his relative. Bill might have been in tears, but I wasn’t with her.

Finally, we learn a bit more about the Vault and what’s inside. No doubt there’s someone in there, since they play the piano, and respond (albeit with music) to the Doctor’s comments. What’s unclear is the relationship this person may have to the Doctor. He seems to have a kindly disposition toward whoever is behind those doors, and yet that person is quite securely locked away. However, the Doctor has no qualms about taking food in to them. Is it Missy? The Master? Or is Steven Moffat going to pull something out of left field and bring back Susan (after all, her picture’s on his desk, and Bill referred to him as “grandfather” more than once during this adventure)?

I enjoyed the episode, and it was a good story. But I’m starting to look forward to the return of some classic monsters, as promised: the Ice Warriors, the Cybermen, the Master/Missy. I just hope they stay bad, and don’t degenerate into the kind of post-modern “not really bad, just misunderstood” mush that, frankly, does not make for gripping sci-fi adventures. I’m not saying this season has gone there totally, but I fear it’s wandering in that direction.

Did you watch “Knock Knock”? If you did, what did you think?

6 thoughts on “Who Review: Knock Knock

  1. samhawkewrites

    This one was a big disappointment to me. Was enjoying it mightily when it looked like the house/tree/wood in general was sentient and eating students, but then it just went a bit pear shaped didn’t it? Like the writers had a lot of ideas and couldn’t settle so threw them all in, then didn’t know what to do with any of it. No attempt to explain why/how the bugs cured Eliza, what the knocking even meant, why she turned to wood, why they only ate every 20 years, how Landlord could communicate with them to ‘tame’ them and, most infuriatingly at all, how they were able to just reassemble the students they ate. SO LAAAAAME. And then they ate the whole house and…. then what? Where did they go? How was this problem actually solved???? Gah!

    Sorry. Was annoyed because this season has been so good and the first half of this ep was very entertaining and scary.

    1. cds Post author

      Those are some significant plot holes you pointed out, Sam. And I have to say, I did wonder where the bugs came from, and what happened to them after they finished eating the house. It was like the writer had an hour-long script but had to chop twenty minutes out, so they decided to cut it all out of the end, where things would be explained and ends tied up.

      I think we are agreed here–a good start, but a really blahhh ending. Could have been so much more.

  2. E.Maree

    I really enjoyed this episode — the emotional connection between the landlord (who I didn’t realise was Poirot!) and the relative really tugged at my heartstrings, and I loved the Scooby Doo feel of the student cast.

    But it did bother me than the 50s/70s students didn’t get revived — I was hoping Bill would end up housesharing with a massive group of charmingly time-displaced folks across the eras, that would have been a lot of fun. And the plot holes Sam mentions bother me too, but only now that she’s mentioned them… they didn’t really cross my mind at the time apart from wondering about the previous students.

    1. cds Post author

      I think the emotional connection was played well, but it did nothing for me. By that time, I was too frustrated about the fact the Landlord wasn’t an evil alien seducing humans into his house so he could use them to fuel his project to care about all the weeping. I agree with you about the “Scooby Doo” feel of the cast. That first half had so much potential.

      I really like your proposed ending, with ALL the previous residents coming back. That would have been so cool! Perhaps they thought it would be too hard to explain, but frankly I would buy that sooner than alien bugs suddenly appearing in one place, and then disappearing again.

  3. Patricia Lynne (@plynne_writes)

    I enjoyed this episode. It had a great creep factor and reminded me of my childhood home. It was old and creaky and I could easily scare myself walking up the stairs in the dark (especially after reading about serial killers.)

    1. cds Post author

      Well, you should know better than to read about serial killers when you live in a creaky house! 😉 The creep factor of this story had a lot of potential. I’m glad you liked it, but, as I said, I thought they didn’t capitalize on the creep enough.


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