Four weeks in, and Series 10 has shown itself to be a beast of a rather fetching colour. The Pilot and Smile were solid enough adventures, while Thin Ice proved to be one of the better historical adventures from the show in a while. Now, Doctor Foster scribe and playwright Mike Bartlett brings us Knock Knock, a creepy tale of a mysterious house with an equally odd landlord (David Suchet) that invites Bill and her uni friends in with cheap rent. However, it quickly becomes apparent that this is anything but a dream house…
While it feels a few notches off from being perfect, or up to Thin Ice’s standard, Knock Knock delivers the goods for a spooky good time. Props, right out of the gate, belong to the production team: the house looks terrific, inside and out, with all the Gothic claustrophobia you could want. Secret passages, dark bedrooms, tight corridors, it ticks every box. However, bigger credit belongs to the sound team: their work adds so much character and tension to the house, in all its creaks, whinges and clatters. They masterfully enhance the unsettling atmosphere of somewhere you don’t want to be.
Capaldi and Mackie are enjoyable, as usual, but saying Suchet was the acting highlight is a bit like saying sugar is sweet. He hits the perfect balance of doddering old man and creepy, almost ghostly figure, that compliments the house’s style so well. Sometimes, just through a little grin or vocal inflection, Suchet manages to be even creepier than the set itself! The young actors making up the students are decent, and thankfully free of lazy milennial stereotypes (no incessant blogger or vegan hipster, for a start) but get easily overshadowed by their three more developed co-stars.
Bartlett’s writing is where the episode does come up short sadly: it’s not certainly bad, and probably the best structured of the stories thus far, allowing eahc act a proper amount of space and not suffering from the overly tight endings of the last three. That said, it feels a bit hollow thematically: Given what we ultimately learn about the house and the Landlord, it has me scratching my head why Bartlett didn’t make the use of students, and by extension youth and relationships, as a bigger component. It would’ve given the story greater dimension, and added a stronger emotional core. As is, it just feels like Bartlett was going through a list of beats to hit in a haunted house tale, and took a lot of the easy options.
Knock Knock is the Doctor Who equivalent of an extravagant Haunted House attraction: starts off small and slow, but then ratchets up and delivers a great sensory experience. After it’s done, you feel exhilirated and satisfied, yet will have no urgent yearning for a second go. That’s not intended as a slight against Bartlett’s writing, but rather an acknowledgement: Knock Knock is a shallow but fun time with the TARDIS team, bolstered by great production values and a terrific guest star.
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