Mike Bartlett’s Doctor Who writing debut saw Hercule Poirot meet Malcolm Tucker in the season’s creepiest episode so far. With a haunted house, thunder and lightening and a gang of scared youngsters, Doctor Who went full Scooby-Doo this week. Sadly though, it was just a bit too generic to get properly excited about.
The CGI thunder and lightening didn’t look great, was it really necessary anyway? I like it when the show tries to be creepy. Hide was a relative success and Blink and Midnight were excellent. Knock Knock though tried too hard to create a similar atmosphere and it didn’t quite come off. As I mentioned, the lightening wasn’t needed, neither were the creaking floors or big draughty rooms. The Doctor noticed the trees blowing without it being windy after Bill complained about the breeze. That wasn’t explained. The lice wouldn’t have caused this, so what did? I admire Bartlett for trying to make the episode as scary as possible, but there should have been a purpose and explanation to the spooks. Early on, when Bill and her housemates noticed a noise from the kitchen, I never felt scared or feared for the characters. I don’t know if it was just me, but I knew it was the Doctor in the kitchen clunking about, it was just predictable. Predictability means an episode can’t scare you. Nothing shocked me throughout, nothing made me jump. There should have been an eeriness to the episode, but despite the setting and circumstances, there was nothing in the plot of the story that had me jumping out of my seat.
The Landlord was an interesting character. I can’t fault how David Suchet portrayed him, it was one of the best guest performances in the show’s recent history. There was an understated menace to him. You could never trust him and Suchet’s occasional outbursts of rage suggested he was up to something. But he wasn’t written to get the best out of Suchet and there were inconsistencies in his character. Why did he not know who the Prime Minister was? We saw him outside in the opening minutes, offering the house to Bill and her group of friends, so he must have some sort of life. And if the house only requires to consume people every twenty years, surely he does something to fill the time in between. He said he had to take care of his daughter, well his mum, but if the lice were keeping her alive, there can’t have been much he had to do. His ability to just vanish after apparently leaving via the front door, and stalk about the house unheard, when the floorboards were remarkably audible, was unexplained. These were all hints he was perhaps an alien, but this didn’t turn out to be the case. So, like everything I previously mentioned about the house, the mysterious aspects to the Landlord were unnecessary and left frustratingly unexplained.
It wasn’t just the Landlord who contained unexplained inconsistencies either, it was the plot too. At the end of the episode, when the Landlord’s mother restored Bill’s friends, why weren’t the previous victims from twenty, forty and sixty years ago returned too? If they weren’t able to be restored, then again it should have been explained why not. Bill and Shireen also seemed to not quite react the way you might expect. One minute they were merely following a noise, trying to find out what it was, and the next they were gazing at Pavel, who had been partly consumed by the house, and the pair barely batted an eyelid. Surely some astonishment, some fear perhaps, should have been clear to see? How can we as viewers be scared watching, when the characters actually experiencing the horrors don’t react? They didn’t even protest when the Landlord entered the room just afterwards, instead they just passed him. Why wouldn’t they demand to know what was going on? Everything from the forced lightening and draughts, to the bland and inexplicably calm characters just made the episode a pretty drab one to watch, when it should have been spine-tingling.
It wasn’t all bad. The Doctor and Bill once again shared some good dialogue. The Doctor and the Landlord had that scene in the living room where the Time Lord interrogated his host. The battle of wits was a fascinating watch, and I would’ve enjoyed seeing the pair mentally joust more than we did. The group of students were also a good mix, and were entertaining to watch interact, despite some of their unnatural reactions.
As I reach the conclusion of this week’s review (it’s shorter because I prefer to praise more extensively than criticise – honestly), there are still some things that just don’t add up that I’ve yet to mention. How did the Landlord cover eighteen disappearances over the years? The students will have had families, the university will have noticed they went missing too? Surely someone will have done some investigating? Why did the students just agree to sign a contract within minutes of entering the house, without consulting a lawyer, and without knowing the first thing about the Landlord? Bill has been such a switched on character so far, but even she came across as a bit naive this week. It took her so long to switch on to the fact that something wasn’t right, and her persistent protestations about the Doctor trying to find out what, grew irksome. I hate dissecting all the bad points of an episode, but all the inconsistencies and unexplained aspects of it just spoiled it for me. Let’s hope this is just a blip, in what has been a stellar season up until now.
Episode Rating: 3/10