In the fourth episode of the tenth series of Doctor Who, N O P E. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
Trigger Warning: For body horror, grief
So, I recognize that there are some things in “Knock Knock” that don’t work, and I’m anticipating that there were probably complaints about this script. Admittedly, there’s not much here to make the five flatmates much of anything beyond stand-in characters. Pavel has virtually no distinguishing features aside from being a DJ and thinking creepy, creaky houses are cool. (So… white dudes???) Felicity was super anxious and frightened easily; Paul had a crush on Bill; Shireen seemed much more friendly with Bill, and at least Harry had some rapport with the Doctor. But who are they outside of this episode? What do they like? What are they like? “Knock Knock” only allows them to fall into the trappings of a horror film, where attractive twentysomethings are picked off, one by one, and thus, it’s hard to care about them when we don’t know them. And the anonymous nature of the victims here, while immensely creepy, flattens some of the ramifications. Like… did Eliza not think to bring the others back, too? Or were they too far gone to resurrect? (I suspect that’s the logic.)
But here’s the thing: I realize this, and I know that only Bill and the Doctor get to shine in terms of those who are being hunted by the Dryads and the Landlord. I wouldn’t dream of arguing this. However: HOLY SHIT, I LOVED THIS EPISODE. And I’m biased! I am obsessed with horror, and this episode manages to do some fantastic things within those genre conventions, and then, once the villain is explained, the script SHREDS MY HEART INTO PIECES. Mariah Gale and David Suchet are show-stopping in this episode, and it’s because of them that I was sold on this story.
And what a fucked up, distressing story this was. Before the reveal of Eliza, “Knock Knock” played with a number of horror tropes to keep me STRESSED OUT. I knew something was truly wrong when the Landlord referred to the lease as a “contract,” but you know what really did it for me? The sound. This episode does WONDERS with sound design, especially since sound is so instrumental to the actual plot. The creaking was bad enough, but that noise that the Dryads make as they move through wood? HI, NO THANKS, NEVER WANT TO HEAR THAT AGAIN. It just got under my skin so quickly.
The story followed a familiar cat-and-mouse dynamic as each of the new tenants were picked off, but there’s a clear turning point where “Knock Knock” becomes more than just its parts. It’s a decent horror flick until the Landlord is explored in greater depth. The Dryads are a fascinating species, but I was initially surprised that they weren’t the focus of the episode, just an antagonistic force. But they’re an antagonistic force only because of the Landlord. As a species, they’re pretty harmless; it’s only that they’re directed by the Landlord to consume people in order to keep Eliza alive. Thus, it makes a lot of sense that the story shifts to that relationship. Why? Why did the Landlord do such a horrible, vicious thing? Why did he trap so many people within that house, and how did he justify it?
It’s important to note that while he has his own justifications, I never felt like “Knock Knock” ever justified him outside of that. It felt really clear that what he’d done was HORRIBLE, even if we understood it. And there’s a real brief moment here when understanding matters: The Landlord asks the Doctor what he would do to save the person who brought him into this world, and the camera flashed to Bill, and MY WHOLE HEART WAS RIPPED OUT OF MY CHEST. It’s so fast that maybe folks didn’t catch it, but right then, there was empathy: the Landlord’s mother was dying, and by accident, he found a way to keep her alive. His grief deluded him into thinking that what he gave Eliza was a life. But this isn’t a life! It’s existence, sure, but Eliza didn’t do anything but stay in that tower. And every twenty years, her son would invite new lodgers to stay in a home infested by the Dryads, and the Dryads, responding to sound, would be directed to consume them so that Eliza could continue to live. AS A WOODEN BEING. And the design for Eliza is just… my god, y’all, it’s gorgeous and horrifying and too much?
But this system cannot continue, and Eliza comes to realize the cruelty of what has happened. In part, I should note, because of Bill. She was the one who figured out that the Landlord had seemingly not aged in 70 years. I will say that I think that Bill losing her mother should have been given a bit more screentime. This episode has a remarkably abrupt ending, and I would have loved to see Bill and the Doctor reflect on this experience. Okay, so maybe I am willing to criticize “Knock Knock” more than I thought I was. But look, y’all, I had a blast watching this, and I know all the pieces don’t fit together that well. However, I was touched by this immensely disturbing story and the wonderful acting that went into it. It could certainly have had a tighter script, but I’m also enjoying how many standalones there are this series and how we’re getting to see Bill grow a little bit each episode. After “Thin Ice,” she witnesses at least two deaths, and she doesn’t react as she did previously. Granted, they’re brought back, but STILL. She didn’t know that!
Whew, I’m real excited to watch more.
The video for “Knock Knock” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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