Mike Bartlett delivers an almost-impeccable debut.
Mike Bartlett’s first Doctor Who script is a near-impeccable debut. It’s taut and creepy, making great use of the supporting cast, and delivers some truly nightmarish monsters. Its only flaw? A rushed and convoluted ending – but… that’s a problem that plagues Doctor Who, right? I’d much rather a well thought-out conclusion and a half-arsed lead-in, rather than a thoughtless and yawn-inducing ending.
Pearl Mackie is comfortably in the role of Bill now that we know exactly what to expect from her: pure brilliance. Whether it’s her awkwardness at the Doctor interacting with her new flatmates or her abrupt (and brilliant) coming out scene, Mackie shines as Bill. Four episodes in and she still feels like a truly real person.
This tight narrative – Bill moves in a haunted house with several other students – allows Peter Capaldi’s Doctor to feel nicely at home, too. Whenever we see him running up and down corridors it’s very clear that the strenuous task of being the Doctor takes its toll upon Capaldi. Take ‘Shine’ a few weeks back – Bill was miles ahead of the Doctor as they ran through the wheat field. But here, without the need to rush around, the Doctor is afforded great opportunity to do what he does best – investigating. And he uncovers a doozy of a problem.
Bill’s new house is plagued by creepy crawlies from out of space! The dryads, named so because the Doctor simply wanted to call them this (a GREAT exchange!), are instantly creepy, and their scuttling sound is enough to get beneath your skin.
‘Knock Knock’ makes great use of sound. Whether it’s the clap of thunder or the crash of closing shutters, ‘Knock Knock’ will have you jumping several times. I wouldn’t bother with the binaural audio mix (3D sound) released on iPlayer, however – it brings little in terms of horror.
Whilst most of the supporting cast are essentially fodder, some of them are played brilliantly. Colin Ryan’s Harry is related to classic companion Harry Sullivan – or, rather, he was intended to be, had the scene in question not been cut. Why? Who knows. But in my head it’s canon! Harry would have made for a great companion. Matching Bill in terms of asking questions, Harry was instantly likeable. As was Paul, who was involved in the aforementioned scene in which Bill abruptly comes out to him. This was easily the best scene of the episode. There’s no grand reveal or awkwardness. It came naturally and it felt natural, and best of all the issue wasn’t skirted over. They could have easily left it at “You’re not my type,” but Bill clarified by stating that she was into girls. Once again, bravo to Doctor Who for addressing sexuality head-on.
Much has been made about David Suchet appearing as the Landlord and, as expected, he’s brilliant! Suchet has an impeccable talent of making one be creeped out by the merest of facial expressions. The slightest of twists in his mouth is enough to allow the viewer to cotton on that all is not as it seems. His scene in which he spars with Capaldi’s Doctor is a delight. Casting an actor closer to Capaldi’s age allows for a great battle of wits. It’s a shame that the Landlord couldn’t recur…
For come the close of ‘Knock Knock’ he’s very clearly dead. The grand reveal of why the house is eating people (to preserve the wooden form of the Landlord’s mother, for some reason or other) may be rushed, but Eliza is truly beautiful to behold. Her heavy prosthetics create a very alien appearance in actress Mariah Gale and that, coupled with the creak of wood whenever she moves, produces a very memorable monster. It’s a shame that her screen time was limited.
And finally – onto the obligatory Vault scene. These scenes involving Nardole very much feel tacked on. Whereas previous arcs have (largely) fed naturally into the ongoing story or dialogue, the Vault doesn’t. That’s not to say it isn’t intriguing, but there’s a real sense that Moffat is urging the viewers to become desperate to know what is inside. He recently announced that we’ll find out soon – episode 6, in fact… the very same episode that sees Missy return. Now that would be a copout. As would John Simm’s Master, I feel. I want it to be someone who would come as an utter shock… how about the heavily rumoured appearance of David Bradley’s First Doctor? Or maybe a future version of the Twelfth Doctor himself, on the cusp of regeneration? Or – Ashildr and/or Clara, with the Doctor desperate to stop her from arriving at the end of her life? I dunno, I just want something that isn’t the obvious answer. But we only have one more episode to watch until we know.
Speaking of which, it looks as though Nardole FINALLY has something to do!