The unnerving Landlord (David Suchet) battles the enigmatic Time Lord, but it's the problematic plot that is this episode's biggest foe.
‘Knock Knock’, the fourth episode in Doctor Who‘s so-far acclaimed tenth series, is a bit like the house it’s set in. Whilst appealing on the surface, if you look too hard it’s not hard to find it’s full of holes and a bit creaky. Sounds a bit like most students’ house, really.
Continuing to follow a trend set by RTD-era Who, Episode 4 returns Bill (Pearl Mackie) to modern-day Earth after her first adventures in time and space. This tried and tested formula lends itself to the best aspect of the episode, as we see how Bill readjusts to normal life after travelling with the Doctor (Peter Capaldi). When we join Bill at the beginning of the episode, it’s clear some time has passed since her last adventure. While Moffat’s concept of the part-time companion has certainly been hit-and-miss, the idea that the charismatic Bill would draw a line between her everyday life and her time aboard the Tardis feels genuine. It might just be because Bill is a better written character than either Amy or Clara, but feels far more believable that she would have a life away from the Doctor.
It’s also good to see ‘Knock Knock’ introducing a group of friends for Bill. Unlike Rose and Donna, the families of Moffat’s companions have never been in the spotlight. While Bill’s family seems to be limited to her stepmum, these flatmates would serve much the same purpose in any Earth-based adventures.
However, that wasn’t all the episode had going for it. The BBC One continuity announcer introduced ‘Knock Knock’ as chilling, and it’s easy to see why. Both the visuals and Murray Gold’s creepy score help to create an unsettlingly claustrophobic feel throughout the entire episode. This is combined with an insane amount of creaky floorboard and lightning sound effects that surely had the BBC’s foley artists working overtime. While some of these attempts to unnerve the audience begin to border on cliché, ‘Knock Knock’ feels like a homage to the classic haunted house trope – and every haunted house needs a spooky owner. David Suchet is brilliantly creepy as the mysterious Landlord. There is something deliciously unnerving about Suchet’s performance; the Landlord somewhere between kind and menacing.
Like so many Moffat-era episodes though, it’s the plot that lets ‘Knock Knock’ down. The episode certainly has an interesting build-up, with each of Bill’s new friends vanishing one by one as they move into their new house. However, the plot loses all tension when (spoiler) the Doctor discovers that strange alien woodlice are to blame. It’s a reveal that comes around the episode’s halfway point, and beyond that writer Mike Bartlett feels the need to cram in an unnecessary twist about the Landlord’s family during the climax.
It’s a shame that an episode with such potential fails to impress in the plot department. ‘Knock Knock’ certainly isn’t a bad episode of Doctor Who, but ultimately fails to stack up to any of Series 10’s current offerings. Though, if this remains the worst episode of the series, we’re still in for a good few months.
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