BBC One – 7:20pm – Saturday 6th May 2017
Written by: Mike Bartlett
Directed by: Bill Anderson
“No living puddles, weird robots or big fish. Just a new house. Nothing scary.”
New student Bill (Pearl Mackie) finds trying to get back to normal life after three weeks of travelling with the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is more difficult than it sounds. A rattle-bang opening montage shows her and five uni pals struggling to find suitable off campus accommodation to move into, until a suspiciously generous Landlord (David Peter Pan Goes Wrong Suchet) offers them his antiquated manor – replete with out-of-bounds tower – for a hard-to-resist price.
“What’s the catch?”
The plugs are outdated, there’s no central heating and a bit of a draught, but Bill dismisses some creaky floorboards and what sounds like footsteps on other floors as simply old house sounds. However, the Doctor, who uses the TARDIS to help her move in, is less easily persuaded and against Bill’s obvious frustration (“This is the part of my life you aren’t in”), stays to investigate.
As night draws in and thunder strikes, the Landlord’s charm gives way to a sinisterly creepy edge and the Doctor surmises the house doesn’t want its new tenants to leave, which is verified when the shutters trap them inside and the very walls seem to be sucking them in – with the help of some alien woodlice, which the Doctor immediately labels ‘Dryads’. Because, why not.
Playwright Mike Doctor Foster Bartlett’s script, married with more first-rate new Who set design, morphs what starts out as a purposefully hackneyed haunted house lark into an emotional family drama which pulls harder at the heartstrings the more is revealed. The Landlord obviously has an agenda (“We must all pay our dues,”), and we know something is amiss when one of the students screams off-screen before the title sequence even rolls, but the ways in which “Knock, Knock” sets up clichés only to cleverly subvert them is inspired.
Much like the living puddle in “The Pilot” (reviewed HERE), when we see what is locked up in the tower my spine shivered, but context quickly replaces terror with tragedy, and Eliza (Mariah Gale) is no big bad monster of the week. Barlett successfully brings colour and complexity to what could have been a very straight forward story, with flashbacks helping to not faze or confuse younger viewers. An epilogue return to the series arc of the Vault – now installed with a piano for the mystery inhabitant – caps off a really top drawer episode with a wry tease.
CR@B’s Claw Score: