It’s hard to find accommodation when you’re a student – or at least a home of the affordable kind, even if you’re happy to share. So when Bill (Pearl Mackie) and fellow class-mates are beginning to despair of ever finding a roof over their heads, it seems like pure good luck when they are approached with the perfect solution.
There’s an old house on the edge of town and its landlord (David Suchet) seems more than enthusiastic that they take up residence immediately. However the house – and its off-limits central tower – hold a secret, one that immediately gets the Doctor wanting a closer look, despite Bill wishing he wasn’t quite as all-present as he wants to be.
But by the time the night is through and the truth of what lies in the home’s wooden walls is revealed, Bill may be glad of having a Doctor in the house, especially if he’s a tree surgeon.
Much a Scooby Doo about nothing or a good ghost story?
There’s an irony to the fact that Knock Knock‘s characters refer to the Scooby-Doo vibe they get from the spooky house and early events as they unfold. Most of that is clearly deliberate and though one could certainly argue that there’s more of an emotional punchline and denouement as we reach story’s end, much of the episode seems to be barely resisting the chance for a character to shout ‘Zoinks!’ or ‘This could be a clue!‘. There’s a fine line between homage of such source material and just basic story simplicity and from the very start, a pre-titles set-up whisks us along like a fast-forward, bullet-point summary.
Essentially Knock Knock is an old-fashioned ghost story, rattling off creaky floorboards, shadowy corners, dwindling guests and sinister overseers like falling through a tropey trapdoor – and it’s whether you embrace that formula or not that will largely dictate whether you think this latest Who outing is light-weight or darkly-dimensioned. Undeniably it benefits from the “binaural” sound-mix format if you can listen to the broadcast through headphones.
Bill’s new friends are a smorgasbord of supporting characters that each get a few lines but are largely two-dimensional and fodder for the story’s danger. Suchet, for years the definitive televisual Poirot, but a consistently good stage actor, fully embraces the role of the ‘Landlord’, a initially broadstroked character that is largely called on to skulk and look untrustworthy for much of the running time. The veteran quietly chews the scenery with the twitching tenacity of a termite through oak but gets his moment in the spotlight towards the end when motives come to light. What feels like harmless fun – solid scares pitched just right for a younger audience to reassure their parents that everything will be okay – gets an edge at story’s end with a deeper and more emotional pay-off which earns the episode some more goodwill.
A diverting forty-five minutes of ‘things that go Vworp! in the night‘ Knock Knock is atmospheric and watchable enough to recommend though it doesn’t reach the classic heights of necessary chills it may have hoped for and has something of an annoying and illogical ‘reset’ button to avoid too much angst. Yet again, it’s Capaldi and Mackie’s moments of banter (though they are separated for much of the mid-section) that carries most of the episode with Nardole (Matt Lucas) confined to a brief scene. The loosely-attached ‘epilogue’ takes us back to the vault the Doctor is guarding and certainly steers us away from certain guesses as to who or what is behind it. It confirms there must be greater security beyond as the Doctor can open the door without fear of the occupant escaping. And it’s an occupant that enjoys classical music and the suffering of young children, so one might reasonably point to a major villain rather than a displaced incarnation?
Next week’s episode promises more breath-taking atmosphere…
- Special Effects7