Saturday, May 6, 2017

A Basic Haunted House Horror, A Basic Doctor Who: "Knock Knock"


The Good: Decent performances, The Doctor
The Bad: Absolutely standard plot, No character development, Prioritizes tone over sensibility
The Basics: "Knock Knock" is exactly what one would expect of a Doctor Who haunted house story.


Before Steven Mofat took over the executive producing duties on Doctor Who, it seemed like all he truly wanted to do was scare viewers. Doctor Who fans attribute many of the scariest episodes of Doctor Who to Mofat. As his tenure as executive producer winds down, Mofat seems like he is trying to foster works by writers of scary works like he used to do. That is certainly the flavor of "Knock Knock." Unfortunately, "Knock Knock" is the exact formula fans of Doctor Who would expect.

"Knock Knock" follows on the heels of "Thin Ice" (reviewed here!) and keeps The Doctor and Bill on Earth, following Nardole's criticism of The Doctor traveling through time and space again. "Knock Knock" is a one-shot horror episode of Doctor Who and it is initially scary . . . until it is forced to explain its own premise. After all, Doctor Who does not do supernatural; the show is science fiction-based and there is always a "scientific" (read: usually alien) explanation of what is going on beneath the surface of the initial plot.

Bill's friend Shireen convinces her to join a group of students who are looking for housing. After viewing multiple flats, Bill and the other five end up at an ancient mansion that is on the market with an obscenely low rent. There, they meet the creepy landlord, who offers the group housing. The six sign the contract and Pavel moves right in given that his prior living situation was no longer available. Pavel, however, goes into his room, puts on music and promptly starts screaming and disappears.

The next day, Bill enlists The Doctor's aid to move in and with the help of the TARDIS, her possessions arrive at the mansion. Bill is irked when The Doctor will not immediately leave and seems to be treating her new home like an adventure. That night, the house creaks excessively and when another one of the tenants disappears, all the doors and shutters close up, sealing everyone in. Separated, The Doctor tries to reason out what is causing the mysterious events in the house, while Bill and Shireen flee desperately for their lives throughout the house's rooms.

So, "Knock Knock" is initially unsettling in the most generic haunted house kind of way. Things creak, the Landlord is creepy and mysterious, people scream right before they disappear . . . every haunted house horror has those exact same conceits. The plot is fairly banal up until the moment when The Doctor delivers his usual on-the-fly exposition to explain just what is actually going on.

What makes "Knock Knock" more than simply bearable - outside the episode's final scene - is Peter Capaldi as The Doctor. Capaldi performs The Doctor with an intelligent subtlety that is delightful to watch. Bill is like the clueless boy who hits on her; she misses completely the nonverbal clues that The Doctor puts out that there is something going on with her new home. Those clues are all clearly presented in Capaldi's acting. Capaldi is delightful to watch in "Knock Knock," so much so that when he references Regeneration, it is hard not to get sad thinking that Capaldi will leave at the end of the season.

Bill does not grow or develop as a character in "Knock Knock," though she is quite a bit smarter than her peers in the episode.

Ultimately, "Knock Knock" is worth watching once for Peter Capaldi's acting and for the episode's final scene, which builds on the season's serialized plot by teasing what is in the vault The Doctor and Nardole are guarding. But beyond that, it is an unfortunate waste of an episode in a such a short season.

For other "haunted house" stories, please check out my reviews of:
Cabin In The Woods
"Catspaw" - Star Trek
"Home" - The X-Files

3.5/10

For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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