Knock Knock Review

(66 comments)

I’ve said before that my basic standard for Doctor Who at this point is “show me something I haven’t seen before.” It doesn’t have to be huge. Punch a racist, fail to explore some interesting ideas about indigenous species, it’s fine. I just want some sense of freshness and innovation. By that standard, then, Knock Knock is a complete and utter bust. Which feels at least slightly unfair, since it’s a perfectly well-made and (mostly) well-written episode, but if I wanted drab competency without even a trace of original thought I’d watch a Chris Chibnall show.

Actually, the snark about Chibnall is slightly unfair, because the culprit in Knock Knock’s abject blandness is pretty obvious: this is 100% down to the malign influence of Blink. And not just in the sense that it’s literally the same house, but in the fact that it’s a house in the first place. Once upon a time, when Doctor Who wanted to be scary it would, you know, do some scary stuff. Monsters stalking the Blitz. Weird Satanic horror on an alien world. Evil tourist busses. Or, frankly, any number of scary ideas from the classic series, only a handful of which were ever “haunted house.”

And then came Blink, and suddenly the standard shifted. This is the fourth straight-up unreconstructed haunted house in a decade. And that’s not even counting stuff like The Eleventh Hour, Silence in the Library, or The Day of the Moon, which are all rooted in the logic of the haunted house. And yes, those are all conspicuously Moffat episodes, as was Blink. This is unmistakably his rut that we’re stuck in. But his episodes, at least, tend to accomplish my basic desire by mashing up the haunted house style of horror with something else. This, on the other hand, is just a spooky house with the same twist as The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. There’s a bit in Doctor Who Magazine that talks about making this the “ultimate haunted house,” but it’s hard to see where that was done.

What’s weird is that it’s not even like the haunted house has been paying that impressive dividends since Blink. Sure, Hide was decent, but it was burnished by the fact that the back half of Series 7 was curiously devoid of classics. Night Terrors was crap. And yet somehow, in the wake of Blink, the haunted house has become a Doctor Who standard to be reiterated regularly. And there’s no real reason that should be. I mean, the other obvious Moffat-era defaults, out of control technology and monsters that aren’t actually malevolent, are at least interesting points that feel relevant to the present historical moment. The haunted house, on the other hand, just feels like a tired attempt to recapture lightning in a bottle while apparently completely misunderstanding what was actually interesting about Blink. It doesn’t have anything particularly interesting to say in and of itself. I have little doubt there is an interesting haunted house to do in 2017, but if there were four really interesting haunted houses across all of television in the last decade that’d be a surprisingly big decade for haunted houses.

But to actually take it to the episode, even aside from the fact that haunted houses are just a thing Doctor Who needs to not do for seven years or so, like I said, there may well be an interesting haunted house to do in 2017, but this isn’t it. This is… adamantly failing to aspire to anything more than “fine” at any given moment. Daniel asked in the podcast for Smile “who’s this for,” and the question applies painfully to this. What’s the audience for this? Who does this have anything to say to?

The usual answer when I complain about this - certainly the one that was trotted out for Smile - was that it’s for children, often with the specific phrase “fairy tale” getting used. I can only assume “fairy tale” is to this generation of Doctor Who fandom what “romp” was to a previous one, though, as all it means is sloppy storytelling and undercooked themes. Why can the Landlord teleport or just appear out of nowhere? What are his motivations in the final scene exactly? (Is it just “overgrown child?” Why exactly is he obsessed with destroying people?) How did the line “your silence is confirmation” make it through to the shooting script? Why fireworks? And would it have killed you to give the cannon fodder some actual characterization? None of this infuriates, but it’s lazy, and the suggestion that “for children” is an excuse for laziness does infuriate. Children still deserve stories that are actually about something. They deserve stories that are trying. They don’t deserve a celebrity writer and a respected actor having a lark because that’s what they see Doctor Who as.

Nah, the better defense is just that the Capaldi era has generally gone for a setup of “slightly lazy early episodes, batshit ambitious later ones,” and the arrival of Jamie Mathieson to kick off what Doctor Who Magazine tells me is a very intense mini-arc next week sounds like we’re getting into the stuff that Series 10 is actually going to live or die by. For episodes one through four, this is… fine.

  • I see this is the most popular episode of the season so far on GallifreyBase, which I can't say surprises me.
  • I’m not the person to comment on the interesting-sounding decisions they did with sound mixes for this, but it’s neat that the series plays with things like that.
  • Also on the subject of sound, nice to see the episode open with a song that came out in between “The Zygon Invasion” and “The Zygon Inversion,” as opposed to the slightly embarrassing “five year old pop song” approach to overt popular culture references. (I’m looking at you, Class.) I’ll leave it to someone else to parse the actual semiotics of Little Mix, though I assume it’s popular but utterly uncool given the subsequent gag about Bill’s musical taste.
  • Bill’s lovely this week - the amount of good stuff she gets is by some margin the best defense this episode has for itself. Bill needed one more episode like this to cement her - and it’s notable that Rose, Martha, and even Amy had these sorts of “reground the companion in their ordinary life” episodes early on. Seeing the companion as an experienced Doctor Who companion in the context of their ordinary lives is a big part of establishing them as The Companion instead of The New Companion. Anyway, loads of good Bill stuff, but her standout moment for me is her muted but slightly hurt reaction to the Doctor’s “thought you’d have loads.”
  • Much of what doesn’t work is centered on the end, which feels unearned. For the most part it’s one of those things where the details don’t matter because the overall aesthetic is on point, but the last few bits really lose track of what they’re doing. Eliza giving up her life and bringing the Landlord down with her ought to be a bit sad, but before there’s any room to let that happen we’ve switched to “everybody lives,” and then to a slightly jokey ending about “back to the estate agent,” and then finally to a vault scene without any real sense of structure or thought.
  • Evidence for both the “Missy’s in the vault” crowd and the “future Doctor’s in the vault” crowd this week in the form of the prisoner’s “Pop Goes The Weasel” response to people getting eaten and in the Doctor’s apparent skittishness about regeneration. Given that the reveal is in “Extremis,” I’m going with Missy.
  • The sweater with the holes in it is back! Yay!
  • American viewers got the first part of Class’s two-part midseason whatever it is, which is basically a double dose of middling ambition. I reviewed it here.
  • Back on Thursday for a podcast of this with Kevin Burns, and next week for Oxygen, which I’m pretty excited for.

Ranking

  1. Thin Ice
  2. The Pilot
  3. Smile
  4. Knock Knock

Comments

Peeeeeeet 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Ouch! Yeah, it was a bit lazy. I drifted away about halfway through, mainly because Bill's housemates were so undercharacterised. Also my house is so full of woodlice that I feel oddly defensive when they're turned into this generation's Giant Maggots. (I was sort of hoping there would be a line about how they were distant relatives of the Tractators.) Since I drifted away, I'm confused as to what the knocking has to do with anything. Was it the wood woman who was knocking? Was it earlier victims trying to get out?

I was also hoping that "Land Lord" would turn out to be like Time Lord and Dream Lord (and Word Lord, and possibly others) and that Poirot would be to spatial dimensions what the Doctor is to the temporal one(s), or something like that. It would have been satisfying for me because it would add to the idea that's been around for a long time but never really stated outright, that for any concept, the Whoniverse has a species that are the Lords of that concept.

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Wood 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Reminder that once upon a time the Time Lords were pitted against the War Lord.

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Peeeeeeet 4 months, 2 weeks ago

D'oy! Evidently I am the Misses-The-Obvious-One Lord

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Max Curtis 4 months, 2 weeks ago

I've mentioned this elsewhere, but I sort of expected this from Bartlett. I enjoyed King Charles III for its ostentatious structure, but it pretty much just "does" Shakespeare. I also enjoyed Doctor Foster, mostly because it's Idris and Jonathan Strange in the same show, but Bartlett pretty much does a "scorned, cheated-on wife wants revenge" story. He's the master of writing perfect 7/10s. Personally, I can't begrudge the episode for that: it worked for me, and it probably worked for most of the general audience, but it probably won't work for me when I rewatch it for the rest of my life.

So my expectations were firmly placed in "this will do a good job of just being good", which I think the episode mostly succeeds at, despite surprisingly sparse characterization at the start (I get the sense this ep has lots of cut scenes) and an absurdly rushed ending. It's worth noting Knock Knock only does the full-on, straightforward "house of horrors stuff for about five minutes", between the Scottish guy getting eaten and the Dryads turning up. Problem is, the revelation that it's bug aliens doesn't really add much - how different would this story be if it were just magic wood, or a sentient house, or ghosts?

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Tom Marshall 4 months, 2 weeks ago

"it worked for me, and it probably worked for most of the general audience, but it probably won't work for me when I rewatch it for the rest of my life"

Ha! Perfect. We bring these things upon ourselves sometimes, we really do ;)

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Riggio 4 months, 2 weeks ago

I actually rather liked the episode, though I do agree with everything Phil said. It was pretty ordinary as a Doctor Who story, but I saw so much weird Freudian ickiness all over the Landlord's relationship with his mother. Who was also a house, who was also an animation of the raw energy of alien dryad.

It's a pretty messed up story, when you think about it. As I periodically rewatch it for the rest of my life, I'll probably find different angles on the totally uncomfortable mother-son fixation at the centre of this haunted house story.

I listened to some of the sound design version on headphones, though. That was pretty awesome.

Piggybacking my own reviews here as usual.
https://adamwriteseverything.blogspot.ca/2017/05/that-is-one-messed-up-freudian.html

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William Shaw 4 months, 2 weeks ago

A fair assessment, though I'd personally rate it higher than Smile.
Re: the audio mixing, I personally didn't think it added much beyond making my laptop crash when I watched it. Although it does also cement the episode's status as 'Ghost Light but less ambitious', because that has weird and difficult audio mixing too. It's main function was to have creaks and knocks come from multiple angles, which is a cute gimmick but mostly manifests in every knock seeming to come from over my right hand shoulder. It's barely noticeable in the dialogue scenes, which is mostly the episode, and thus feels a bit pointless.

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Tom Marshall 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Hello Will!

*waves*

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Wood 4 months, 2 weeks ago

A fair review, and agreed on the rankings so far.

One thing I did like was the way the university backdrop meant that you could skip the whole "sorry, who is this guy?" part, with the students all immediately going, "Oh hey, it's the Doctor" and letting the episode get on with its (unambitious) business.

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homunculette 4 months, 2 weeks ago

I think saying that it didn't do anything new is kind of unfair – to my mind, this episode did something completely novel: showing a companion character hanging out with a group of friends (or, if you want to be ungenerous about the admittedly cardboard characterization, peers). Throughout the RTD era, companions had families, but friends were always offscreen. This is a new dynamic, and while the episode doesn't take advantage of it a huge amount (being a student at a university in the UK, the music scene in particular struck me as a 40something confidently saying 'yes, this is what young people are like') there are really good moments – I loved Bill's line 'this is the bit of my life that you're not in.'

I do have to agree the ending was extremely undercooked, as was the general concept of life-extending murderous wood lice.

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CJM 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Little Mix were an X-Factor manufacture, so very much not a cool band. But it's slightly more complicated than that. Having Little Mix on your phone implies a refusal to move past adolescent music choices and safe comforts. Which is the theme of the episode. A bit simple, but there's that.

Also, can someone explain to me how "Haunted houses" are so specific to this era? I think that "The Impossible Planet" is clearly a haunted house, complete with possession and locking doors, as is 'The Horror of Fang-Rock', and that a large part of the Hinchcliffe era used haunted house 'cliches' as short-hand in a lot of episodes (Ark in Space, Pyramids of Mars, Planet of Evil, Talons of Weng-Chiang, even bits of Brain of Morbius).

Finally, I'm not sure David Suchet was having a lark. He was playing a young child's idea of a stern authority figure because that's what his persona was. It's a bit like the way Patrick Stewart or Nicholas Briggs would a scene.

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Prole Hole 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Speaking of Suchet, am I the only person that thought he absolutely knocked it out of the park here? Because praise here for him seems conspicuous by its absence. It's the old Who tradition of giving a supremely talented British character actor material and letting them just have at it. I think he's given the best guest performance in a LONG time, and deserves all the praise, especially for the last few minutes when he transitions into playing the character as a suddenly-confused little boy. Terrific work.

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CJM 4 months, 2 weeks ago

He is excellent. The best singular performance by a guest star in years, maybe since Toby Jones.

And a large part is that child exists in the earlier portrayal, beneath all his poise.

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Tom Marshall 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Totally agree- he's brilliant and describing him as a celebrated actor just having a lark is pretty unfair. On rewatch, all the subtle character notes are there from the start: the little boy who hasn't grown up, the aggressive patriarch, the kindly uncle, regressing back to child at the very end. It's very nicely done.

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Phil Sandifer 4 months, 2 weeks ago

I was fairly unimpressed, though it's tough to tell given how unevenly written the part was.

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Prole Hole 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Fair enough, though I hope a re-watch will up your appreciation of what he does with the role, even if it doesn't improve your opinion of the episode. He really does have every grace note there right from the first moment he's on screen.

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Tom Marshall 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Seconded. I doubt Phil wants to rewatch this very much right now but I do think one of the criticisms that genuinely can't be levelled at this story is that Suchet is poor in it.

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Phil Sandifer 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Silence in the Library, Eleventh Hour, and Day of the Moon all took place in structures that were houses or exceedingly house-like. The Impossible Planet takes place on a space station. It's the difference between hauntology and weirdness in a lot of ways.

The only haunted house Hinchcliffe stories, for me, are arguably Pyramids of Mars and Brain of Morbius, but the former fits more into the 70s country estate tradition of Seeds of Doom or Day of the Daleks, and the latter only inherits haunted house inasmuch as it's one or two doors down from the Frankenstein tropes it's actually riffing on. Horror of Fang Rock, Image of the Fendahl, and Ghost Light are the only straight haunted house classic series stories for me.

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Peeeeeeet 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Oddly enough I thought of The God Complex before I thought any of those...

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Phil Sandifer 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Yeah, I had a nice long think about whether The God Complex counted. Ultimately I decided its use of the hotel was not a case of the old building with buried ghosts but rather a case of alienating modernity. But it was close.

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Citizen Alan 4 months, 2 weeks ago

I think if the argument is that Doctor Who is in a rut because stories are set in houses or places that remind you of houses, you've pretty much set up an impossible standard for "freshness."

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Phil Sandifer 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Well, good thing that's not what I said then.

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taiey 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Little Mix is sort of exactly what a nineteen-year-old black lesbian to listen to.

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James Murphy 4 months, 1 week ago

Unless she was into dubstep or Neil Young or 40s jump blues bands or Cyndi Lauper, or, really, literally any music in the world.

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mr_mond 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Like you said, it was fine.

One thing I keep wondering about is: are we meant to read the Landlord as upper-class? An old house (would it be appropriate to call it a mansion?) with portraits of family members (or at least Eliza) would certainly point to that, as would his sense of entitlement (him being an exception to having to pay the price). If so, there is some interesting subtext about young people pursuing an education (and therefore some degree of social mobility?) being harvested because the upper classes must survive. It would be great if the episode delved more into that, or the source of the Landlord’s sense of entitlement (e.g., drawing on the similarities between this episode and The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe*, the wooden parts of the house being remnants of an Ancient Celtic Forest), and possibly offered some sort of rebuke to it (disposing of the hungry, threatening past in favour of the seeds of brighter future that young people carry in them or something like that). It would certainly be better than the dreadful line about silence.

* – Re-reading the TARDIS Eruditorum entry on that story, I saw that Little Mix was in the charts when it aired. Interesting bit of synchronicity.

And once again in this season we have some recycled iconography, this time from TDtWatW and The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. This is really getting conspicuous. I’mm curious what other commenters think – is this on purpose? I might be wrong, but I don’t think any of the previous seasons did so much indirect callbacks to other stories.

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Derik 4 months, 2 weeks ago

I'm really hoping it's the First Doctor in that vault.
(I want it to be someone new, but that's not happening.) First Doctor at least feels like a swerve.

If it's the Master... ye gods. It's the same setup as Sherlock's The Final Problem, down to the recriminations about bringing the prisoner a musical instrument. Please no.

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eve 4 months, 2 weeks ago

This is the second episode in a row of lower-class people being devoured to serve the needs of a rich person. Only this time, we don't even get efficient fuel out of the deal. Just the continued of existence of someone kept away from the public who should have died a while ago.

My god, the house is the Royal Family!

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David Ainsworth 4 months, 2 weeks ago

The villain is the Landlord and is a seventy-year-old man who doesn't actually seem to have grown up and feeds tenants to real estate while being completely ignorant about contemporary politics.

This episode clearly missed a trick and I now want to see what the Cartmel team would have done with the same concept. There should really be a stronger sense of political commentary.

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Aylwin 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Well, it does get fairly explicit with the commentary at times:

"We all have to pay our dues."
"Except you?"
"Correct! I am the exception, for I am your landlord."

But yeah, as in so many other aspects of the story, it does feel undeveloped, which is a shame because there was real potential there. That "feeding people to real estate" angle in particular is a very solidly here-and-now metaphor. Turning everything and everyone into capital may be a concept of general applicability, but the particularly perverse version of it that tends towards sucking all value into or through the inert fabric of buildings is perculiarly characteristic of Britain in recent decades.

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Aylwin 4 months, 2 weeks ago

That should read "underdeveloped".

And really, I increasingly have kind of a Beast Below feeling about this one. There are materials for a classic in there, but it needed a lot more work.

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Anton B 4 months, 2 weeks ago

In ‘Knock Knock’ the meta theme is brailed so far from the flatness of the written text that it stands out like a layered shield on a trophy wall. It’s too polite to shout but at various points will leap out at us saying ‘look at me being a genre-savvy episode of Doctor Who’, ‘Look at me being generic students in a generic flat-share’, ‘look at me doing the whole Haunted House teen slasher horror trope schtick!’

In Doctor Who over the years, various companions have lampshaded the inordinate amount of running through corridors that goes on whilst adventuring with the Doctor. In mashing up the haunted house genre with a Doctor Who ‘runaround’ writer Mike Bartlett replaced all the running through corridors with a lot of tentatively strolling around corridors because the Haunted House genre here is more powerful and overrules the Doctor Who genre.

This needn’t have been a problem as the whole tone of the show became about exclusion. In fact Bartlett only really loses his grip on the tension he’d expertly built at the very end.

In fact we hit the ground running with some instantly recognisable ‘Horror’ tropes. A thunderstorm. With crashing, booming thunder and lightning both brightly flashing in characters’ faces and fork-hitting the mysterious locked tower of the spookily over signified gothic house. (By the way I appreciated the random picture sleeved vinyl single of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ amongst the previous occupants belongings. Capaldi really is getting indulged in his final season.)

The creaky, creepy atmosphere was somewhat deflated though by the denouement, with its reveal of yet another well-meaning alien medical system unwittingly creating body horror. We’ve been here before with ‘The Empty Child’, ‘Curse of the Black Spot’ and others. The unnecessary twist, transposing mother/daughter and son/father roles, also recalled the Empty Child/Doctor Dances two parter from Series One while the wooden lady effect at the end also dredged up unfortunate memories of ‘The Doctor The Widow and the Wardrobe.’

So, ambling from disturbing to slightly uncomfortable this story stumbled to its conclusion. It was saved, however by a remarkable performance by David Suchet as the Landlord with his sinister tuning fork (I was disappointed not to get a tuning fork/Sonic Screwdriver stand-off) and yet anotherjaw-droppingly accomplished characterisation from Pearl Mackie. Her little conversation with her mum's picture was perfect.

On a metaphorical level the narrative here became about what is excluded, locked out. Just like the Doctor himself seemed excluded by the Haunted House narrative. Having to fight at times to remain part of the plot. Eventually though the horror is undone as the Doctor asserts his presence as The Grandfather. The oldest Doctor Who trope, another call-out to the Hartnell years and his Granddaughter Susan. And of course this was lampshaded with a speech from Suchet -

“A heartbreaking experience. To leave one’s charge alone in the big wide world”

Which is exactly what the first Doctor did to his granddaughter over 50 years ago.

It’s probably Missy/The Master in that vault but I really want it to be Susan

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BeatnikLady 4 months, 2 weeks ago

I hope it's not Susan the Doctor has in there, or that would be a little too like the landlord for comfort!
I have to admit that Blink is the only one of the aforementioned 'haunted house' stories that I have watched multiple times (one of my favourites in that series, in fact), so I came to Knock Knock fairly fresh. As with the other stories of the past few weeks the lovely character interplay kept me watching. Unlike last week though, a number of elements were weak (Steven Sommers would be proud of those devouring-insect effects...) and the resolution wasn't spectacular. I suppose you're meant to think the landlord had lost all sense of reality, but why would anyone condemn a family member to an existence like that? I also wonder what was so special about the once-every-twenty-years thing. That's not so important - I was simply left curious.

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Aylwin 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Diegetically, the twenty-year cycle can perhaps be thought of as a period of "digestion" of each set of victims (the fact that Bill's friends can be reconstituted at the end, but the earlier groups are not, may suggest that over the years they have ceased to be retrievable - though victims are also said to have been "preserved forever", and digging into that sort of question for more than a moment is probably doomed by the very flimsy coherence of the story on any literal level).

Symbolically, I would take that cycle as signifying a "generation" (in a way that highlights what a nonsensical concept the "generation" is, but let's not get into that). Each generation grows up and gets swallowed up and assimilated in turn into the same dreary self-perpetuating establishment structure. Given that those being fed into it are specifically students, eighteen or twenty-one years would be a more explicitly on-the-nose period, but I think that's what the story's going for.

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AlfredJ 4 months, 2 weeks ago

I agree completely that the haunted house concept is overused, but in my opinion the binaural version does actually make a good case for this being the definite haunted house story of the show. It's regrettable it couldn't have been the version that was transmitted on tv, since it's definitely made for it - it's the only version I watched, and there are multiple scenes that I would assume work a lot less in the regular version. It's not just an added gimmick, you get a lot of scenes that actually feel like they're written/directed with the concept of binaural audio in mind. Which, again, is an odd choice for a product that most people will not see/hear in that form. But it's actually used to tell a story in itself, as opposed to how these things are often used (see: most 3D movies).

With the addition of the binaural audio, this entire story becomes a lot more interesting and new. Now, it's a story about Bill moving in with a bunch of strangers, in a strange place. The start of her young adult/university life - something that's never been explored on Who before, and Bill's comment about how 'this is the part of my life you're not in' towards the Doctor works very well in that regard. This moment in your life where you're learning to stand on your own feet, to meet and trust strangers that have no connection to anyone else you now in your life for the first time (which Bill realizes also means that she has to be able to do it without the Doctor - in the same way most people feel towards their parents when they first move out - it's scary, but it's something you also desperately want.

The audio adds to this tremendously. Most of the episode is concerned with exploring the house (taking a lot of time to actually explore new places seems a theme this season - maybe in line with the First Doctor references here and there - see also, for example, Bill calling the Doctor 'Grandfather'), and the audio places you in the middle of that. The wind and thunder feels like it's actually taking place outside, all around you. It feels like drafty house. You hear all the creaking of the wood. When someone calls from a certain part of the house, you can tell, more or less, where they are. You can tell they actually put a lot of effort into it, because there's a good sense of place - the audio actually helps you get a sense of the shape and size of the entire house. The feeling of creepiness in that exploration ties in very well with Bill moving out on her own for the first time. There's actually a cleverness to it, and you can the audio tricks work for this episode's narrative more than for any other episode.

This sounds like a giant amount of praise (I will add that I wasn't entirely sober when watching it, so I was more easily impressed perhaps), but I think this episode was doing more clever things than it's getting credit for. Even better, it's doing clever things outside of the usual box of tricks, where innovation relies more on purely textual alternative narrative approaches. That's the part I'm very excited about here.

But yes, the ending felt unearned and rushed, a problem I've had with all the episodes this year so far. Good, moody setups, but they all fail to stick the landing. But, while Phil's tastes usually align pretty well with my own, this is the episode that, to me, showed me a lot more new concepts compared to the other stories of the year.

This also means I apparently agree with Gallifreybase, which I'm definitely grumpy about.

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AlfredJ 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Just to add to this quickly: sorry for writing such a long post, and it's sloppier than I would have liked. Reading it again there are a lot of weird sentences in there, but I can't find an edit button. My apologies, I hope it still makes sense.

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Peeeeeeet 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Watched the binaural version (there was a terrible old Victor Lewis-Smith joke once - "The recording was binaural." "Well, the award must go to Mr Naural himself.") and I can't say it made much of a difference. Perhaps my headphones weren't up to it, but it was all just muddy and busy, and basically the sound equivalent of a 3D movie's "here's a gratuitous shot of something poking out of the screen".

Oh and whoever plays Fur Elise at the end made a right hash of it. Lock me in the vault, Doctor, if you want a decent pianist!

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Aylwin 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Yeah, the writing was pretty creaky.

(Look, the review's been up more than eight hours and still no one has yet made that joke. I'm not made of stone.)

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Lewis 4 months, 1 week ago

Some of the acting was a bit wooden too.



Sorry.

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Richard Pugree 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Give that the antagonist was sentient wood creatures attracted/controlled by high-pitched sound, the whole episode felt like it was building up to a pay-off to the long-running 'it doesn't work on wood' sonic-screwdriver gag, which never came. Particularly given Bill's questioning of the sonic the other week.

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Tom Marshall 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Is it possible they just assume by now most people know the sonic doesn't work on wood?

(Faulty assumption, probably, but there is a genuine case this is one story where he wouldn't have been able to use the sonic, *even though* it would've been really helpful!)

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Richard Pugree 4 months, 2 weeks ago

It's definitely possible. But given how overtly they're pitching this series to a new audience and explaining the basic premises of the show it seemed odd to leave it out - particularly given the previous episodes about it (not)being a magic wand, and being sonic because it makes a noise.
I mean, it feels like the whole idea for the episode grew out of the running joke which it then forgot to mention...

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Lewis 4 months, 1 week ago

"Even the sonic screwdriver can't get me out of this one."

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Nimue 4 months, 2 weeks ago

My overwhelming feeling on first viewing was that the ending had the wrong reveal. Revealing that Liza was the Landlord's mother rather than his daughter seemed to place the emphasis in entirely the wrong place - it meant his comeuppance, rather than being for luring twenty-four people to their deaths and exerting creepy amounts of control over Liza, came because he dared to subvert the inviolate boundaries of acceptable family roles. If he had simply established his control based on saying she was sick and needed to rest rather than based on saying she was his daughter, he would've got away with it. In the moment before that reveal came, when Bill pointed out the incongruity of his age, I actually assumed the real reveal would be that she didn't need their life energy at all - he did, so he could continue to be with her. That would've put the reason for the wrongness of his actions much closer to the front, in my view, whereas the actual ending comes out rather muddled.

And yes, I was waiting for a "It doesn't work on wood" joke from nearly the beginning and it actually took about fifteen minutes after the episode ended before I realized that, inexplicably, it never arrived.

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UrsulaL 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Except that the role of older adult caring for aging parents is a common one.

In a way, it mirrors the parent/child dynamic that Moffat has done so much of. Many people, as they grow older, pass from being younger adults caring for their children, to being older adults caring for aged parents.

And while caring for children is an act of life - giving birth, raising them to adulthood, them becoming parents, caring for aging parents endsm, eventually, in death. A cruel mirror of the act of caregiving.

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5tephe 4 months, 2 weeks ago

The script felt rushed, sloppy, and haphazard. I'm with Nimue: why set up all the parallels of carer not letting go of their charge that point to the Doctor, then make the Landlord the charge himself? It feels like it could have been made to work thematically (perhaps abandoning your charge before they are fully grown/formed as people twists and corrupts them? I dunno ...) but they didn't take the time to make anything like that case. Or anything else.

Then there's:
What's with the knocking?
Why do the woodlice Dryadify one person, but devour everyone else?
Why every 20 years?
Why are they confined to this house, and the trees around it, and haven't taken over the world?
What's with the record on the loop, and how is that different from the chime box?

I know that Doctor Who explanations are only meant to be faux science, to handwave the plot along, but please at least wave your hand consistently. With some sort of coherent picture of the world you're building.

Suchet was good, as you'd expect, even with the poor material.

Still LOVE Bill - and also love the fact that the Doctor seems to have gotten over treating people like crap: he's actually being nice to her. It's a good development for Capaldi, which actually seems earned by the events of the previous two seasons.

I can't imagine ranking the four episodes thus far in a different order than Phil suggests.

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ViolentBeetle 4 months, 2 weeks ago

I'm not sure how to feel about this episode. On one hand, yes, it's unoriginal and it's also slow as hell. On another hand, I'll take this over embarassing historical revisionism and Doctor acting out of character to score some virtue points.

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mr_mond 4 months, 2 weeks ago

“embarassing historical revisionism”

What was so embarassing about it?

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ViolentBeetle 4 months, 2 weeks ago

It's hard to find exact numbers, but I'm pretty confident that London did not experienced mass immigration back in a day and anyway, diversity doesn't just mean more Black people, damn it, there are other non-White ethnicities in the world, especially in places where Britain had major colonial presence so where are all the Inidians and Chineese at?

However, I wouldn't normally care what race actors are (But I didn't notice any non-White Nazis in Let's Kill Hitler, so they can cast monochrome if they feel like it) but Moffat's comment about how he's going to fight racism by historical revisionism really draws attention to it. Speaking of which, I think for his next project Moffat should start fighting anti-Semitism by exposing Holocaust as a fabrication.

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Tom Marshall 4 months, 2 weeks ago

"Speaking of which, I think for his next project Moffat should start fighting anti-Semitism by exposing Holocaust as a fabrication."

Wow. Talk about poor taste, dude.

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ViolentBeetle 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Sometimes I feel need to take a point to offensive degree to show its absurdity.

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Chicanery 4 months, 2 weeks ago

I think that speaks a lot about you, that you're more concerned with imagined historical revisionism, than you are about the thoughts and feelings of the oppressed.

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Chicanery 4 months, 2 weeks ago

And for what it's worth, you're completely fucking wrong about race in London, especially in dockland communities where black people were concentrated:
https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/static/Black.jsp

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Phil Sandifer 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Well, next time you feel that need pick a different venue.

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Daniel Washington 4 months, 1 week ago

No one gets to be offence for shock value here but me! :P

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mr_mond 4 months, 2 weeks ago

We’re talking about a few extras and a secondary character, so I don’t think the episode tries to say anything about “mass immigration” – only that some people of colour were living in London and would probably be present at the Frost Fair. Which, on the basis of photographs I’ve seen of 19th c. Cardiff (a far less cosmopolitan city than London), seems sensible to me and much more probable than the claim that only white people would be there.

But I’m honestly not sure what’s the point of this discussion if we’re equating 19th century London with Nazi Germany in terms of racial composition of society.

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Kyle Edwards 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Also, if you're going to petulantly nitpick the historical accuracy of Thin Ice, at least have the f***ing decency to spell "Indian" and "Chinese" right. Unless, of course, you're just being a troll.

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crossie 4 months, 2 weeks ago

It was a decent haunted house story if you like those,
(combined with another man-eating swarm monster, which I also react well to, and this was better than "Smile", though that's getting to be a thing this season, isn't it?), so I was enjoying it ... until the end, which was unearned. Just didn't care.

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Tom Marshall 4 months, 2 weeks ago

My usual lengthy musing : -

Don't forget the mirror between Bill and the Landlord as well as between the Doctor and the Landlord. The latter is more obvious because they're both grandfatherly and they're both white haired older guys played by very respected actors, and both their characters are keeping someone else hidden away - but both Bill and the Landlord respond to losing their mothers in different ways. Bill never knew hers and keeps the memory alive through invented aphorisms and now the photos the Doctor took, plus occasionally "talking" to her - but for the most part she has moved on. She has embraced, as it were, light and life (symbolised by the freshers' party in the park, but also boarding the TARDIS - which means both "life" and "what the hell", or in other words "Carpe Diem"). The Landlord, on the other hand, whether out of a more possessive attitude to his mother or not, refuses to let her go, even lying to and manipulating her to keep the status quo as it always his so things never have to change. He fritters their lives away on existing together, petrified and ossified (almost literally in her case) in that old rambling house, sacrificing the lives of young people full of potential in order to further theirs which never move forward.

But in amidst all that, yes, the Doctor and the Landlord are a pretty consciously done pairing. Not least because both are in charge of their respective secrets which they keep hidden away (and note that in both instances they are keeping it hidden away where young people are nearby), in old stone rooms. But the Doctor and the Landlord are both upper class males of a respectable position - the word "lord" even applies to both (it's no accident that this is the episode in which Bill finds out the Doctor is a Time Lord, "yes my Lord, doff your cap"). The Landlord doesn't wear a robe with a big collar, but he is wearing an overcoat, suit and tie: much more formal clothes than the students around him. So far, so parallel.

Where they are also fascinating is the way they both tap into the family and gender motifs. The Landlord is a son who has grown possessive of his mother and wants to keep her under his thumb, patriarchal authoritarian figure that he is. He refers to her as his "charge", a deliberately old-fashioned turn of phrase, and keeps her locked away like the disfigured relative in the attic we find in so many Gothic horror stories (think Bertha Rochester in "Jane Eyre"...). It's not quite Oedipal (that would be mother/lover, whereas this is mother/daughter) but there is a sense of a male desire to keep his mother safe, cocooned and protected from the world, as though protecting his own child; some rather nasty Freudian undertones (see Adam Riggio above. Adam is right to point out that this is one of the most twisted Doctor Who stories there is, in some ways: the Landlord has abandoned his own name and sleeps deep inside a huge architectural representation of his own mother every night, regressed back to childhood as though in her wooden womb). The word "charge", with its distinctively ethico-moral undertones (i.e. "the one whom I have been charged to protect"), calls to mind the Doctor's "duty of care" he felt for Clara, and which he also feels to some extent for Bill ("charge" is the kind of word that a tutor [or governess] would have used of a student in the 19th century) - note him here trying to ingratiate himself into the rest of her life even when that's rather unwished for, helping her move, staying in the house, playing music on her phone, etcetera.

He is, of course, framed as Bill's grandfather (calling to mind Susan, naturally, who has also been referenced directly this series in "The Pilot" in the form of her photograph): a stand-in family member for someone who does not have many real ones. In fact, both Bill and the Doctor lack family but cope without them, unlike the Landlord. The Doctor being Bill's grandfather also parallels Harry's referencing his own grandfather and his Western exploration of China with his boyfriend (homosexuality being illegal in China at the time..., a parallel with how comparatively open things are in Bill's time).

The Doctor is more respectful of Bill's space than the Landlord is of either the young students or his own mother, and while he still keeps things from her - hiding in the house, the true identity of the Vault's occupant - he doesn't try and exert authority over her in the same way the Landlord does to his mother and the Dryads. But the parallel is still there. ["The old man prefers the company of the young, does he not?" - another Lord. The Dream Lord.]

That brings us back to yet another Lord, last week's Lord Sutcliffe. Series 10 is actually shaping up to be one of the most fascinating new-series seasons in terms of Marxist critiques of capitalist structures, ideologies, and figureheads. For one thing, we have hit the same note every week of human beings being exploited for the raw material they provide, a key aspect of worker exploitation in a capitalist system (Heather becomes enmeshed with sentient oil because it needed a pilot; the shepherds on Gliese 581 D become fertiliser for the garden; those fed to the Thames Ice Snake by Sutcliffe become the faecal matter at the other end; and here those fed to the house become part of the fabric of the building, keeping Eliza alive). In all these cases, those perpetuating the system or bringing about the deaths - the puddle, the Vardies, Lord Sutcliffe, and the Landlord - believe that they are doing the right thing, but the show's ethical position is very clearly against them, because they are blind to the damage they cause, or they just don't care.

Of the four of them, Sutcliffe and the Landlord are the easiest fit, not least because they're the two human figureheads and both bear the "lord" epithet; they are masters of their own respective worlds, lord of the manor, as it were. Both live in imposing buildings, both profit from the suffering of others (and the idea of people having to "pay their dues" to the Landlord is another conscious evocation of both the class system, wherein the upper class profit from the woes of the working class, and of Sutcliffe himself, who of course also profited from the exploitation of the dredgers and other disenfranchised individuals). And, of course, both Sutcliffe and the Landlord keep another individual enchained/locked-up as part of this exploitation... just as the Doctor seems to.

But there's an interesting parallel to be made between the threats in Smile and Knock Knock, too: they're the two stories in which the creatures in question, the Vardies and the Dryads, literally dwell in the walls - dwell in the buildings themselves. The alien city is comprised entirely of microbots and the house is comprised entirely of Dryad woodlice. Thus the threat in both cases arises out of the building itself, the capitalist structure of individual private property, and the way that buildings, and the hierarchical structures they represent, relate to individuals. Ballard, Ballard, where art thou now?

A final note on music. Little Mix is the music with which Bill is associated, both in the opening montage and in the diegetic level of the story itself, where it becomes a discussion point. The other student, Pavel, is textually associated with Bach, the violin sonata which plays on repeat. The Doctor is Beethoven, however: stormy and tempestuous and passionate. He pretends to be at home with Little Mix but Beethoven is his real love (see also the statue of Beethoven in his office), and it's clearly a love he shares with whomever he is keeping in the Vault.

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mr_mond 4 months, 1 week ago

My favourite bit that underlines the similarities between the Doctor and the Landlord is where same recognizes same and the Landlord tries to get the Doctor to leave the house before it starts eating people. He doesn’t care about young students, but an elderly gentleman with a charge of his own? Better spare him.

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Tom Marshall 4 months, 1 week ago

Yeah, that's a nice beat.

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Roderick T. Long 4 months, 1 week ago

"Marxist critiques of capitalist structures, ideologies, and figureheads" --

I don't see what's specifically Marxist about these critiques of capitalism.

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Paul Cray 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Some issues:

* the Doctor asks the Landlord who is Prime Minister (one of the options is Harriet Jones, although whether we are still in a timeline in which she existed/was Prime Minister, is another matter). The Landlord doesn't respond suggesting he doesn't know. This hints that the Landlord is, properly, from an earlier time, i.e he is a time traveller of some kind like the Doctor
* the students phones don't working again suggesting that the house is temporally not located in the late 2010s
* were there no investigations into the earlier missing groups of students? I suspect that Barlett was heavily channelling David Mitchell's novella "Slade House", but there the eponymous house is only spatially accessible from the mundane world at certain times, which hampers the resolution to any investigation into the people who going missing there. One has to wonder whether the original draft contained more in the way of explanation of the exact nature of the Landlord, the dryads and the house, and many of these elements were lost in rewriting, possibly to fit in the vault coda.

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Przemek 4 months, 1 week ago

The Doctor asking about who's the Prime Minister was probably a red herring, meant to suggest that there are some time shenanigans at play here when in fact there were none. And in any case it told us that the Landlord doesn't know much about the outside world. The phones not working is probably just a weird side effect of space wood lice - no need to suspect temporal anomalies there. Anyway, there are lots of places where you don't get any reception even in the middle of the city.

As for the investigations into previous disappearances - yeah, that one's probably a plot hole.

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Lewis 4 months, 1 week ago

>>This hints that the Landlord is, properly, from an earlier time, i.e he is a time traveller of some kind like the Doctor<<

An explanation of that nature might also go some way to explaining how and why he just kept appearing out of thin air.

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Paul Cray 4 months, 1 week ago

The script does feel to me as though either a couple of scenes were cut that should have been kept in or it underwent a rewrite that didn't go far enough. It's also possible that Barlett's original script was a bit of a mess and Moffat just didn't have time to mend it properly. It's not as though that hasn't numerous times in DW history.

Perhaps the Dryads provide the Landlord's food, so he only needs to go every twenty years for a new batch of student to sustain the operation for another two decades. Perhaps his clothes are his father's or the Dryads make them for him on a 1930s pattern. But if the house is just sitting there on a street in suburban Bristol, how is he going to avoid paying rates/council tax, for instance? Who mows the lawn? The defence that is a fairy tale and we aren't supposed to think about these things seems unsatisfactory.

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