Doctor Who #986: Knock Knock

"Basically, this is the bit of my life that you're not in."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired May 6 2017.

IN THIS ONE... Bill moves into a carnivorous house.

REVIEW: If there's a common thread between the last four episodes, it's that the monsters invariably turn out to NOT be evil. The Puddle was only trying to fulfill a promise to Bill; the Emojibots simply misunderstood humanity; Tiny was a prisoner of a wicked aristocrat; and now the Dryads are keeping a woman alive after her son showed them kindness (presumably). In each case, where there was an outright villain, that villain was human. I only mention this because it makes me wonder what that means for the Vault's mystery guest. Are we heading for the redemption of the Master/Mistress? And did anyone else look at the episode title and figure we would finally deal with the Vault? (I also thought Thin Ice would be the Ice Warrior episode, so.)

Instead, we get what might easily have been a Doctor-Lite episode about Bill moving in with five other students in the one house they can afford that isn't a comedy arrangement... but of course, this being Doctor Who, the house soon appears haunted, or otherwise sinister. That's NOT what's happening and the Doctor DOESN'T stay away, and I must say that the mystery is enough to engage on the first viewing, but really falls apart on repeats. It's trying to work it out that gives it its motive power, at least in the first half, but once you know the solution, and know the dead flatmates will be restored to health (to return? I think I'd want that), all that's left are the plot holes that accumulate through the story. Some I can wave away, others not so much. I guess the biggest one is that the Dryads inhabiting the house are motivated by sound, but the sonic screwdriver is never used in that capacity, just as glorified flashlight. I guess it keeps the Doctor's "secret identity" hidden in front of all these students. The other is that no reason is given for why the Dryads need to be fed every 20 years on the dot. Stuff like that.

While not without atmosphere, the plot turns out to be a pretty ordinary one, with a cardboard villain (he gets more interesting when he's outed as the woman's son and essentially becomes a child) and a "monster" who decides to do the right thing (Tennant's Ophelia Mariah Gale in some pretty cool make-up). The flatmates aren't particularly interesting, though I like Paul's total relief when Bill turns out to be gay and it's not a "proper" rejection - well-observed - and for more on Harry, see Versions below. But largely wood lice fodder, saved only so as not to darken Bill's world unduly. So the leads have to save this one from monotony.

 Bill is great once again, mixing insecurity (though I wish her fear of not being cool were made manifest in the episode's themes) and confidence (her coming out to Paul, for example) and as usual, taking the mickey re: the Doctor Who stuff. She uses the TARDIS to move house. She chuckles at the notion of "Time Lords". She tries to convince herself that not every creaky house must necessarily hide monsters (but a very Moffat idea, this). I like how she decides to make the Doctor her nosy grandfather - which again ties her to Susan, hm - which certainly explains why one of the professors shows up at her place and is likely to again. And of course, that makes him incredibly embarrassing. At the start, she has an intuition that things are not what they seem, and in the end, she's the one who questions the Doctor's conclusions and injects the right ideas about human psychology to expose the truth.

The Doctor doesn't fare quite as well, in that even he has to admit his whole plan was "infodump and busk", which gets painfully meta, there. Another meta moment is when he inadvertently gives the episode a classic Who title, "The Infestation of the Dryads". He's again asked to explain things long (and even short) time fans will know, and counts out THAT information with an eye dropper so as not to overwhelm whatever new audience they are courting. A deus ex machina saves everyone; he doesn't. And he repeats the Fourth Doctor's line from "The Talons of Weng-Chiang", "Sleep is for tortoises" which irritated me. I mean, *I* use it all the time - probably my most oft-quoted Doctor Who line - but I'd like each Doctor to create his own canon of quotables, not repeat the best lines from the past. Everything doesn't have to be a reference, you know? He's not unfunny in the scenes with the flatmates, coming across as the grandpa with home repair experience going through the lease with a critical eye, and he does appear to have been changed by this adventure, having overheard himself say there's no use in surviving if you can't see people and enjoy life, which becomes his approach towards the Vault's prisoner. Not terrible, but this season has me waiting for the Doctor to do something truly incredible and memorable.

VERSIONS: In an interview with writer Mike Bartlett in Doctor Who Magazine #512, he reveals that the flatmate known as Harry would have been, had certain lines not been cut, Harry Sullivan III, and that his grandfather (though not the one from the Wall of China story) was a Fourth Doctor companion. That would have given a different spin on Harry calling the Doctor a "legend", someone aware of the odd Bohemian from the 70s, instead of it seeming like he's just a legendary professor (as per The Pilot). I think I prefer to think he nevertheless is Harry Sullivan's grandson. Doctor didn't shout angrily at him enough for that though.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The best episode since The Pilot, the plot nevertheless fails to work as well on repeat viewings.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, other than the reveal that the landlord was actually the son, this was pretty dull proceedings.

I was glad that, for once, the gratuitous deaths didn't "keep". Deaths happen all the time on "Doctor Who", but that doesn't mean that more death is always better. I also wouldn't have minded if the victims from n*20 years ago were all restored, and the Doctor had to send Bill's friends away so he could "hail a fleet of cabs, or something" to pick up all the others. (They'd have to leave their possessions in the house for the Doctor to later find, of course.)

Martin T said...

Still think the episode should have been titled Touch Wood. Knock Knock sounds too Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple.

Tim Knight said...

If the housemates'deaths were "powering" the Wooden Woman, HOW were they restored to life? How did the Landlord discover that he needed to feed her six people every 20 years?

Personally, it wouldn't surprise me if we never see Bill's housemates every again. The set-up for this episode felt very contrived to me.

Siskoid said...

Anon: Having people from the 90s, 70s, 50s restored in 2017 could have been the springboard for other adventures, I dunno, but I guess they were digested. Energy apparently goes both ways, with the 2017 cast restored by sapping Eliza and possibly the whole house's energy back into them, but for the others, it was too late.

Martin: I like it!

Tim: None of them have upcoming credits, so you're likely right. Had I been on the production, I would have made them sit in the Doctor's class, or cross paths with him on campus during the filming of a particular block to give the campus "world" more depth.

Brendoon said...

We had guests over and invited them watch... It wasn't the very best episode to show to a first time viewer, though it wasn't rampantly embarrassing either. If they'd come a week earlier they'd have seen Edwardian London which would have been perfect.

It was fun to make Poirot jokes whenever the landlord appeared, too.


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