Has there ever been a series of Doctor Who as consistent as this one? I certainly can’t recall any run of the show since Steven Moffat took the reins ever beginning as strongly as the tenth series has and it continued apace this week with the spooky haunted house tale ‘Knock Knock’. From first-time Who writer and Doctor Foster creator Mike Bartlett, this was a simple story that paid off in the best way. There was some great detective work from the Doctor, a story that veered from terrifying to touching in deeply impressive fashion and an immediately memorable guest appearance from Poirot himself, David Suchet.
The setup for this one was immediately a little more low-key than last week’s history-hopping episode. We met with Bill (Pearl Mackie) as she was house-hunting with five friends for a student house, meeting the usual problems with tiny cupboards for bedrooms and exorbitant rental fees. After another disastrous viewing, she met a reclusive landlord (Suchet) who offered them a great deal. The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) tagged along to help her move and immediately noticed something off about the house, which seemed very noisy and creaky for some reason.
In common with many of the other episodes in this run of Doctor Who, ‘Knock Knock’ was a really nicely paced hour of television. We spent plenty of time being introduced to the mystery of the house before we got to the substance of what was happening and Capaldi’s wild eyebrows certainly gpt a workout as he tried to understand exactly what was lurking within the walls. It’s these scenes that really helped to temper the tension with comedy, particularly in Capaldi’s interactions with Bill’s friends and the revelation that he is something of a Little Mix fan. I always saw him as more of a Directioner myself.
We continue to see Bill totally outdo the Doctor on an intellectual level and, this week, it was again her who noticed the crucial detail. The special effects that rendered the final ‘villain’ were a little ropey, particularly given the excellent wall-swallowing effects sequence a little earlier on. Thankfully, Suchet’s performance was strong enough to sell the heavy-lifting in the finale. He spent the early part of the episode balancing kindly, if slightly old-fashioned, charm with barely concealed rage before performing an about-turn into tragedy in the final few minutes that was utterly unexpected and emotionally rich.
Bill continues to grow into a character who remains completely comfortable in her own skin, rather than being in awe of the Doctor and what he represents. The way she skewered the inherent pomp and ceremony of being a ‘Time Lord’ is very welcome indeed and it’s great to see that she’s already making the clear division between normal life and Doctor life after just four episodes. She’s quickly growing to become an engaging companion, without the need for lazy ‘Chosen One’ storytelling devices. I think ‘Knock Knock’ was a little weaker in its character building than many of the other episodes we’ve seen thus far, but the horror-inflected elements of the story were entertaining enough to paper over the cracks in the character development.
The episode ended with a very prickly bit of back and forth between the Doctor and Nardole, before the Doctor paid a visit to the piano enthusiast who is being kept in the vault. This particular mystery is being built very nicely and there are a few obvious candidates for the identity of who is behind the fancy doors, but I’m content to leave that to one side for now in favour of these excellent isolated stories. I’ve always believed that Doctor Who is at its best when it explores stand-alone adventures and, thus far, that’s exactly what this tenth series has delivered. For his swansong, Moffat looks to be heading back to basics, and that’s proving to be a great approach.
Next week: Nardole is finally leaving the basement to join the team, but they soon find themselves on a space station where even their suits are trying to kill them.
Doctor Who is airing on Saturday nights on BBC One and is available on BBC iPlayer.
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