Doctor Who has always been an inconsistent show, and “Knock, Knock” is the first stumble of this season. It’s not that it’s terrible; it’s just that there’s nothing particularly good about it, either. The story is pedestrian, the special effects are lackluster, the scares aren’t scary enough, and Bill isn’t given nearly enough to do. Your mileage may vary, but I found it to be an overall very “meh” episode that failed to satisfactorily explore its themes.
The increased focus on showing us some of the companion’s life apart from the Doctor continued this week, with the whole episode’s story built around Bill moving out on her own—into a house with five housemates. They struggle, as many young students do, to find something affordable, but eventually settle on a huge, old house that’s serendipitously offered to them, suspiciously cheap (natch) by a very strange old man. It’s a classic horror movie set-up, and the first half or so of the episode follows the expected horror show formula: Bill and her friends sign an obviously shady contract, move in to their ill-advised lease, and the house eats one of them right away. The Doctor shows up, and hijinks ensue as the solve the mystery of the house and its appetites.
It’s the back third or so of the episode where all the actual Doctor Who happens, but there’s not much depth here. When the Doctor is helping Bill move in, he invites himself into the house and introduces himself to her new housemates, but steamrolls right over Bill’s objections and her attempts to set a totally reasonable boundary. This could, very generously, be interpreted as being in parallel to the toxic relationship between the episode’s antagonist and the wooden woman we come to find out is his mother. Even more tenuously, this theme of relationships needing to have proper boundaries set and respected could be connected to the final scene of the episode where it’s all but revealed that the Doctor’s prisoner is the Master (I mean, obviously it’s the Master, right?), but that’s a real stretch. I suppose the story of the boy who wanted to save his mother is a little sad, but it’s tough to have strong sympathetic feelings for a guy who murdered a couple dozen young people in the last sixty or so years.
All in all, it’s simply not clear what message we’re supposed to take away from any of this. The Doctor oversteps a reasonable boundary with Bill, but the ends here—Bill’s five housemates are all rescued by the end of the episode—seem to justify the means. Bill and her friends really were wrong to rent the house to begin with, the Doctor was right to be suspicious, and through the Doctor’s quick-thinking the day is saved. It’s a facile thesis, and the ending, with the five eaten young people (though, interestingly, only the five, not the eighteen or so others before them) rescued and whole, completely sidesteps having to deal with any permanent consequences for any of the decisions anyone made in this episode. Even the ending of the Landlord and his mother is depicted as more bittersweetly tragic than anything else, and he’s a literal murderer responsible for the deaths of numerous people and who has been keeping his own mother imprisoned and taking advantage of her memory loss for decades. It’s genuinely wild that anyone thought this story was a great idea.
Listen, though. It’s fine. The bar for this show’s success has been set absurdly low for the better part of a decade now, and this episode isn’t without its positives. There’s a genuinely funny moment when Bill breaks the news to one of her boy housemates that she prefers girls, and the boy in question just smiles good-naturedly and responds kindly and with good humor, just like any decent person ought to in that situation. The casting of David Suchet (of Poirot fame) as the Landlord is inspired. We finally do get very close to confirmation of who the Doctor and Nardole have got imprisoned (though Matt Lucas is still shamefully underused in this role). While “Knock, Knock” won’t go down as a standout episode in any aspect, it’s a perfectly serviceable bit of almost-mid-season filler/fluff. I suggest not thinking too hard about it. The folks running the show certainly didn’t.
- Even that episode title was something of a missed opportunity. Was “Knock” not good enough? Or was “Knock on Wood” already taken?
- Also, maybe it’s just because I recently had to deal with a bug infestation in my own home, but yuck. Also, also, where did all those bugs go at the end?