I got up early today to get this review done and tonight will be the double bunger on Oxygen followed by Extremis (which I need to re-watch because the episode was so dense, if brilliant). I have to admit I was a wee bit excited for this one. I’ve never heard of Mike Bartlett before, and as far as I know he’s never previously written for New Who, but I was damn keen to see David Suchet in something again. His turn as Poirot was pitch perfect.
So what was Knock Knock all about? Bill is at home on earth while The Doctor finally takes Nardole’s advice and minds the box. She and a bunch of uni friends are moving out and where do they pick? A dilapidated nightmare out of a haunted house film, but hey, the rent is cheap, though the land lord is a creep. Side note: this whole series seems to have a running thread through it about neo-liberalism and its harmful, soul sucking effects. Last week the episode of the week was about a villain who put money over children. This week we have a land lord who seems to genuinely want to give some young people a cheap, convenient deal, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Rent is expensive and a decent house ever more unattainable in UK, as in Australia, so desperate people take shitty options because what else can they do? Anyway, the house starts coming alive, people get offed one by one, The Doctor shows up (which means trouble), and the damn land lord is still hanging around like a bad smell. Why?
Nardole is scarcely in this story. Nothing to see here. Move along. Knock Knock is, however, Bill’s story even more so than it is The Doctor’s. We learn a bit about the hodge podge of friends she has decided to keep (and yay BBC for ethnic diversity) and deals well with idiot boys with crushes on her. She is curious and intelligent, but most of all just enormously fun to be around.
Having Peter Capaldi play Twelve makes for a more interesting companion/Doctor dynamic too, with Bill’s way of interacting with The Doctor reflecting Susan in some ways. The Doctor even refers to Bill as his granddaughter when he comes to the house and won’t leave. Bill is rightfully terrified throughout this adventure, and horrified by the death she sees, but she still sticks with The Doctor to sate her curiosity. I loved The Ponds as a family unit group of companions, but Bill may well become one of my favourite companions if she keeps this up.
The guest star
There isn’t all that much to say about The Doctor in this episode, at least until the episode’s denouement. There is plenty to say about the guest stars this week, both of whom were superb.
David Suchet chooses to play his mannered, old fashioned part in a very understated way and this works perfectly. In Suchet’s hands, the land lord is both creepy, cruel and tragic. The ending of this story is perfect. I didn’t see it coming, even when we first met Eliza. Once we know everything the land lord does with his flesh eating alien lice is in the name of preserving his mother, the story shifts into another gear. Suchet had flashes of sadness under the menace, even from the episode’s opening, and flashes of anger masking his ultimate selfishness too. I didn’t want to, but I did sympathize with his desire to keep his Mum alive, whatever the terrible cost.
Eliza, played by actress Mariah Gale, is also a tragic figure. Made of wood and living a half life, Mariah sold to us in a relatively short time period, her emptiness and pain and then, finally, the suffering at the terrible decision she had to make to protect others. Eliza kills her son and commits suicide, yet rather than feel vindicated that the villain of the week and his aliens are conquered, I just felt terribly sad for the waste of the land lord’s life in a false dream.
I thought series 9 was the best series since 5, but 10 could also be another blinder.
The Doctor: What’s the point of surviving if you never see anyone, if you hide yourself away from the world?! When did you last open the shutters?
The land lord: Hope is its own form of cruelty.
Knock Knock: 8/10 inky stars for another quiet breathing episode which nonetheless packed emotional punch.