Following a trip to the future and last week’s journey into the past, Bill and The Doctor return to present-day Earth. Here, a terrifying horror awaits; student accommodation. Bill, her friend Shireen, and four other students are looking for somewhere to live. Unfortunately letting agents are not always helpful when it comes to students. More often than not the houses that are actually available are also less than ideal. However, there is a house that will accommodate all of them. It’s a bit old and creaky but what can possibly go wrong?
The search for student accommodation is a unique entry point for a Doctor Who story but proves effective. Typically, the student sextet sign the contract immediately, elated to have found somewhere. Because there are so many characters, there is no time to get to know them well and with the exception of Shireen, Bill doesn’t know any of them either. But everyone starts to bond over a Chinese takeaway just as the house begins to unnerve them. The wind outside. Thunder and lightning. The creaking floorboards. Tapping that sounds like footsteps. Plus a creepy Landlord. Things are not as they seem. One by one the students begin to disappear, consumed by the house.
An imposing house, with a tower that is out of bounds, provides the spooky environment for some really horrific moments. Last week saw the creation through CGI of a big river monster. For this story, hundreds of alien bugs were required. It’s enough to make your skin crawl and reminiscent of scarab beetles from a mummy horror movie. The sight of them engulfing Harry and Shireen is deeply disturbing. Similarly, the scene of Pavel half absorbed into the wall is distressing to watch. The setup is actually quite close to a gory American slasher flick. An isolated group of teenagers. A creepy location. Stalked by an unknown assailant. It’s solidly entertaining stuff for a Saturday night.
Bill and the legendary co-star
Once again Bill stands out. We also get the added bonus of seeing more of Bill investigating on her own. She still shares some nice scenes and moments with The Doctor but this is a more independent story for her as she explains to The Doctor that there are parts of her life that he simply isn’t involved in. There is a lovely moment of Bill talking to her mother as she introduces her photo to her new home.
David Suchet is wonderful. An acting legend. Of course, his career is highlighted by his performances as Hercule Poirot but he shines in this role. He is charming, creepy, intimidating and in the concluding scene devastatingly emotional. Similar to ‘The Pilot’, the science-fiction elements are stripped away and it becomes a story about two people. It’s truly heartbreaking stuff.
The reveal of the Eliza as the wooden creation perhaps should have been held back from the promotion of this episode. It was obvious that she was in the tower. But the revelation of her being the Landlord’s mother was however surprising. David Suchet is astonishing in those moments. His transformation from an elderly gentleman into a lost little boy was utterly convincing and must be applauded.
The basis of the tale is, of course, that of a haunted house. What elevates this story is the use of sound. That eerie creaking of trees and wooden floors. Knock on wood for luck. Knock, knock! Who’s there? All the elements work well together to increase the tension. Such is the importance of sound in this episode, that a special binaural audio edition is now available on BBC iPlayer. This 3D surround sound effect immerses the audiences when the playback is viewed while wearing headphones. Once again Doctor Who has experimented with technology and manages to deliver spectacular story telling.
Last week ‘Thin Ice’ provided period drama. This week ‘Knock, Knock’ brought us horror in a haunted house. Doctor Who is on a roll, telling a variety of stories but always with a human element at the heart. The story itself creaks as much as the woodwork but ‘Knock, Knock’ is more than the story. It is an experience. It preys upon the fear of those little noises that you hear every day. Things that we attribute to pipes or the central heating. Those thoughts are exposed by this wonderfully crafted piece of television.