“An old house and a dodgy landlord, which is pretty standard for students.” London and Sydney have at least one thing in common, outside of a fondness for beer: if you were born in the last few decades, owning property is pretty much out of your reach and the rental market is a killer. This creepy locked-door thriller takes that quite literally, in a series that continues to remind us of times gone by. [NB: Minor spoilers ahead].
Bill (Pearl Mackie) is trying to find a six-bedroom house with her uni mates, but anything in their price range is terrible. A mysterious landlord (David Suchet) helps them out with the perfect offer: a stately old house with just enough room, and all they have to do is sign a contract. Of course, the moment they move in, things start to creak and groan and soon the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) isn’t the only one that suspects something is amiss.
“Knock Knock” might be set in the present day, but it certainly has the feel of a much older haunted house story. Like those classic tales, it’s all about the atmosphere, and Mike Bartlett’s slow-build script has got that in spades. Indeed, it’s one of the instances where a much longer episode (or even a two-parter) could have happily stretched out the suspense of the piece.
Vastly aiding matters this is the superb sound design of the episode. There’s more than a little “Blink” in the DNA of “Knock Knock,” and it does for sound what the earlier piece did for vision. If you’ve got a good surround system, or are listening to the enhanced experience via headphones (via iPlayer in the UK or iView in Australia), every knock, creak and scuttle feels like it is running around inside your brain. It’s a shame that some of the creature effects are less impressive, as it undercuts the power of imagination in the lead-up.
Suchet is absolutely wonderful as the misguided villain, appearing and disappearing like a latter-day Mephistopheles with a tuning fork. Naturally the wickedness this week is even bigger than one man, and ultimately semi-tragic in nature, but the subtlety in the Poirot star’s performance gets an amazingly child-like turn during the climactic twist as well.
“Knock Knock” was a solid iteration of ‘DOCTOR WHO does horror,’ yet this is the third week in a row where we’ll say this: the episode’s ending felt rushed, with the space between the big reveal and the convenient ending only moments apart. It seems to be an all-too-common trait for this season, mostly because each episode also has a running subplot about the contents of the vault Nardol (Matt Lucas) is helping guard in the basement. This week establishes that it is a person, one the Doctor is familiar with, and we’re putting good money on it being one of those faces we saw in the Series 10 sizzle reel.