Doctor Who loves spooky. Throughout almost 65 years on British television, tension and suspense has been a staple of the show. The fourth episode of Series 10 is very much cut from that cloth, and is a superb triumph of tension and horror. It has all of the right ingredients – a spooky and atmospheric old house, a sinister figure in the background in the form of the house’s landlord, and an unknown and unnerving menace creating an atmosphere of terror. Add into the mix Pearl Mackie’s superbly brash Bill, and the unstoppable force that is Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, and you have a thoroughly enjoyable forty-five minutes of TV.
The story centres around Bill and her fellow university students facing the perennial issue of all students – finding affordable accommodation! Their search leads them to an old house, where the promise of large rooms at affordable rates seems worth the exchange of the house being rather old and creaky. The Doctor, helping Bill to move her things into the house, is already suspicious that all is not well, a suspicion confirmed when the students begin to disappear one by one. It soon becomes clear that the landlord is hiding a secret, and that the only way Bill can escape is if she and the Doctor can discover that secret – and fast!
There is a lot to appreciate about this adventure. The dialogue throughout this series has been absolutely superb, and Capaldi is at the very height of his powers as the Doctor. A number of wonderful moments are woven in, including a very poignant pause in which the Doctor mentions ‘regeneration’ in passing … a strong hint that perhaps he already knows that he is soon to regenerate, and prompting the shrewd observer to wonder why …
Bill continues to delight and amaze, and it will be a huge pity if Pearl Mackie leaves the show at the end of Series 10 – the chemistry between her and Capaldi’s Doctor is on a par with favourite companions such as Jo Grant, Sarah-Jane Smith, and Rose. Bright, bubbly, and enthusiastic, she is also not afraid to ask blunt questions or make blunt observations (“Time Lord? Sounds more like a title than a species!”) – a welcome breath of fresh air! It will be fascinating to see how she adapts in next week’s episode, which is due to take place away from Earth and will firmly remove her from her comfort zone.
Special praise is due to David Suchet, who superbly realises the role of the landlord. I will not spoil the cunning twist at the end of the episode, but I will say that it required an actor of sensitivity and genius to capture the nuance required for the role. Suchet manages to play the part wonderfully, and it is to the BBC’s eternal credit that they persuaded him to get involved. My only regret, as with the appearance of Ben Miller in Series 9, is that they play the part so well one wishes that they could play a bigger and recurring role. In each case, they demonstrated that they would play the Master exceptionally well …
Two final things need to be acknowledged. The first is to recognise that a lot of fans have expressed disappointment in Knock Knock because nobody who appears to ‘die’ actually remains dead. I share some of these concerns – while also noting that the show was willing to show a child being killed in Thin Ice. The BBC are evidently getting over their unwillingness to kill characters, but Steven Moffat does still seem unable to ditch the “Everybody Lives!” mantra he brought to Series 1 episode The Doctor Dances. It’s disappointing, but I don’t think it ruins the episode.
And finally, we discover at the end of the story that whoever or whatever is hidden in the vault revealed in The Pilot, the Doctor is evidently not so terrified of them escaping that he cannot visit them. Right at the end of the episode, he pops in for a visit, only securing access when he promises to tell his unseen interlocutor about his last adventure, and “some children get eaten.” Speculation is rife as to whom this piano playing person may be, ranging from John Simm’s Master, to Michelle Gomez’s Missy, to the Doctor’s future incarnation. All of these seem a little too obvious for the devious and creative mind of Steven Moffat, so we can only continue to wait … and speculate!