Don’t you just hate it when you’re walking around in the middle of the night, and the floorboards creak and you think you’ve woken the whole household and that they’ll all be annoyed with you, but instead woodlice consume your body?
I know I do.
Anyway, let’s talk about Knock Knock, shall we? In Matt Badham’s review of the story, he said:
“Some critics like to talk about the way in which Doctor Who crashes into different genres due to its not-quite-an-anthology-show format. Knock Knock, despite some superficial science fiction trappings (the insects, whose origin we never got to the bottom of), sat firmly in the horror genre (in fact, as I watched, I found myself thinking of the work of the late, great writer Nigel Kneale, who similarly liked his science fiction with a side-order of scares). The question in my mind, though, is whether this story took things a bit too far?”
So what did the rest of the DWC crew think? Let’s find out…
Six students searching for accommodation that can cater to their needs on a student budget. That amount of arranging and negotiating would be nightmare enough for me. But apparently that’s just the preamble to Mike Bartlett’s episode.
From creepy crawlies swarming the place to the frankly terrifying speed at which the Landlord can arrive at the property, this episode was certainly filled with some truly unnerving moments. Now, I have felt that Doctor Who has been playing it “safe” in recent seasons when it comes to getting its audience hiding behind the sofa, but this episode was daring enough to test that. I can safely say that I can add wooden things to the list of completely ordinary and commonplace things that Doctor Who has made terrifying. By far the scariest part for me was discovering the fate of Pavel. Whilst I’m glad that he and all the other housemates were set free, the reveal of Pavel was shocking. The props and makeup department did a truly wonderful job of making his ‘death’ creepy and unnerving. The fact that he was still conscious and started to blink before being completely absorbed was utterly terrifying.
As someone in their early 20s, I really enjoyed the fact that this episode pushed boundaries of what’s acceptable and was actually able to unnerve me, but I’m sure there will be a few sleepless nights in some houses tonight. Not mine, of course. Nah, I always sleep with the lights on and my eyes wide open… It’s fine.
I am running out of hats to eat, because I predicted this series would be mediocre and all four episodes thus far have proved me wrong. We’re back on form for the first time since Matt Smith left.
This season is a massive improvement on the previous two. I wanted to clarify my thinking on the Twelfth Doctor’s reign so far, before writing this little piece. This I did, dear reader, by rating the previous Capaldi stories using a single word description. The adjectives produced by this exercise were as follows: boring, rubbish, OK, bad, stupid, mediocre, silly, dull, and terrible. I rated two stories as good, one as decent, and one as pretty good.
Contrast this with adjectives similarly employed for this season: Very good, good, decent, superb.
It would be a dull world if we all agreed and I don’t intend to provoke ire by saying I haven’t thought much of Capaldi’s Doctor Who up to now. (I’d come up with much the same descriptors for the McCoys, incidentally.) The great Who scholar Martin J Wiggins, sadly now largely silent, once wrote that there’s no such thing as a Doctor Who fan; there are only fans of a particular era of the programme. And they decry episodes that don’t complement their favourite era. Pertwee, hugely popular in the ’70s, was loathed in the ’90s; Tom Baker (incredible as it may seem) was disliked by many at the time. So, forgive any heresies. Anyway:
Knock Knock was superb. Excellent script (not without its holes); titanic performances, especially from David Suchet, Mariah Gale, and Pearl Mackie; brilliantly executed; and the realisation of Eliza was outstanding. Shades of Malcolm Hulke’s Doctor Whos in that the villain was painted in shades of grey and not black.
Subtle, clever, original, thoughtful, moving. An absolute delight.
The central problem with Knock Knock is that it simply isn’t very frightening. There’s nothing wrong with the set-up: six people in an overly large house with dodgy electrics and a seemingly inaccessible tower, presided over by a sinister, seemingly omnipresent figure with the ability to suddenly pop into existence as if from nowhere, like a podgy Q from Star Trek. The contract is signed with nary a second glance at the small print – if anything, Bartlett has written a morality fable for the EULA generation that emphasises the importance of reading the terms and conditions. Only Bill remains wary – but even she is keen to avoid discussing the obvious problems lurking in the house, clearly seeing it as a means of escape. The students’ nonchalance is the sort of behaviour that usually has the audience screaming at the TV, but it’s very easy to do that when you’ve already heard the screams of the house’s first victim, and a seemingly blasé attitude is at least consistent with the jumping in feet first attitude that Doctor Who typically seems to espouse. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is – but how might we apply that logic to ‘the gateway to everything that ever was, or ever can be’?
What the episode needs is a little more of the scare factor that drips through in the much-improved second half, and a little less of the mundanity that punctuates the earlier scenes: conversations about Bill’s sexuality spring to mind, as does the rather tedious question of whether the Doctor is her father or grandfather. This was clearly an experiment, and while the list of gripes (the occasional fall-back on conventional horror tropes; the Doctor’s effective relegation to sidekick status; the Freudian thing) is plentiful: they don’t make for an experience that is unilaterally bad, just one that feels like a disappointment after the last three weeks. But perhaps it’s not a bad thing that the bubble has burst. If this is the first time in the series we’ve had call to say ‘Meh’, then that’s a sure-fire indication that on the whole, they’re getting it right.
It’s always nice to have a fresh writer on Who, and that’s what we got with Mike Bartlett – not just that, but a very popular scriptwriter who’s also a long-term fan of the show. We were promised something great, and while it didn’t quite live up to the hype, Knock Knock was enjoyable and frightening.
I actually really liked most of it, but its uneven final third, and its unanswered questions (and not in a good Impossible Planet sort of way), leaves it just missing the mark.
Despite some naff acting – obviously not from Capaldi and Mackie, who were as great as ever – Knock Knock worked for much of the time. I felt the scene with Bill and her forgettable friend seemingly-trapped in that hallway while knocking reverberated around them was especially effective, and possibly the highlight of the episode. Although special mention must also go to:
- David Suchet’s incredible performance throughout. His scene addressing the students’ complaints was understated and superb – “I think it’s better to leave your granddaughter here with her friends,” he threatened, pleasantly. “They seem respectable, and I’ll keep an eye, of course” – as was him turning back to childhood in his last scene.
- Pavel’s consumption. Brr. That was horrible.
- Talking about consumption: The Doctor questioning what that smell is. “Is that Chinese food? I love Chinese.” Oh, I approve.
For a show that has often been blamed for sending a kid behind the couch in terror over the decades, I can honestly say that Knock Knock is the first episode of the revived series to make me feel the way I do when I watch some horror movies. And for those who think that Doctor Who should still primarily be a show for children, this episode has kept the Series 10 “maybe too much for a kid to watch” moments streak alive for the 4th consecutive episode. Space “lice” eating you alive maybe isn’t as gruesome as making fertilizer from the bones of planetary settlers, but a bit unsettling nonetheless.
The Doctor-Companion dynamic in this one seems to consistent with what they’ve been doing with Bill so far, but the sudden embarrassment at having the Doctor in her everyday life did seem a bit odd to me. I was a college student once upon a time as well and can recall some of those feelings when my parents visited, but Bill so far has been super stoked to always be around the Doctor and his “cool factor.” While unintended perhaps, one might draw the conclusion that the attitude is a result of needing some normalcy in her life. She seemed rather shaken by the death and the Doctor’s willingness to kill in Thin Ice and perhaps that triggered some of her reactions in Knock Knock.
I also thought this episode featured some of the best guest acting the series has ever had. David Suchet was incredible in every scene, truly selling both the creepy landlord and also the frightened child. I grew up watching Poirot on PBS and honestly wasn’t aware of his casting in the episode. A pleasant surprise to be sure! While it isn’t the strongest of stories and definitely not the best of this season to date, his strong performance and the Capaldi/Mackie duo make this one I will definitely revisit gladly.
I liked Knock Knock. Not as much as the previous three episodes, but I did like it. In a way, it reminded me of 2013’s The Crimson Horror, with a famously famous guest star (David Suchet vs. Dame Diana Rigg), a spookily scary story, a group of people mysteriously disappearing, and a grotesque “villain” (the alien Dryads vs. “Mr. Sweet”). For some reason, the wood lice and the wooden Eliza really creeped me out. Seeing those bugs scurrying around and also seeing Eliza’s weirdly wooden expression-free eyes made me wish that I was hiding behind more than one sofa. And this week’s episode, Oxygen, doesn’t look like it’ll give me any relief. In space, no one can hear you scream… except maybe the Doctor. To sum up, Knock Knock gets a thumbs-up!
Altogether, another well-received episode, if one that divided people more than the previous three. That’s what we thought – but what about you? Touch wood, this series continues its winning streak.