This Old House

Review of Knock Knock
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

One of the hallmarks of the Moffat era is Companions who (try to) live their own lives outside the TARDIS, traveling with the Doctor at their pleasure. Having fully engaged in travel through time and space, Bill is now attempting to slip back into a sense of normalcy at home. Needless to say, she gets no relief from her new life, and nor do her five new roommates.

To be fair, they're not exactly careful about what they're getting into, so desperate are they for an affordable place to live. Even Bill only briefly questions the low price of the expansive building that almost literally finds them rather than the other way around. Still, it's something of a harsh lesson for Bill that there really is no "part of [her] life [the Doctor's] not in."

And while it's clear that the Doctor has mellowed since this regeneration began, and he "gets" humans much more readily than he did during his time with Clara, he still has serious trouble respecting others' boundaries. Sometimes it's merely idiosyncratic (like inviting himself to share the housemates' Chinese food), but at other times he still really oversteps (as with his co-option of Bill's phone to share her Spotify playlist with everyone without asking).

It is, however, early days yet for them, and Bill is still learning about the Doctor. He tells her his species is called the Time Lords, and drops the word "regenerated" with an expression (hidden from her) that makes me wonder what's going through his mind. Does he sense he is nearing the end of this incarnation, or is there something else troubling him?

I'm really starting to lean toward the latter, especially now that she's tried to pass him off as her granddad ("Come on, 'Father' at least, please," complains the Doctor. "All right, GrandFATHER!" she replies). Back in their very first scene together, she asks him why he singled her out. Before he answers, he stares a moment at the photograph of Susan—his granddaughter. Now Bill is almost channeling Susan (who always called the Doctor "Grandfather"). It feels like an Overwrought Fan Theory to say that there's some deeper familial connection between the Doctor and Bill, but I can't help but entertain it anyway.

Intensifying the sense of something more at play is the Doctor's reaction to the question, "If you could save the one who brought you into this world, wouldn't you?" The phrasing itself sounded stilted to me, which could be either attributable to the writer's stylistic preferences or to the nominal age of the character. However, given how Moffat likes to seed his series with little clues along the way, also stuck out as a possible piece of a larger puzzle.

The Doctor may or may not have been "brought into this world" in the same way as a human. Either way, we don't know anything about his progenitor(s), his relationship with them (though he does mention his father with fondness in the TV Movie, however one wants to take that), or what became of them. Nor do we know what his granddaughter Susan's biological relationship with the Doctor is. Together, all of these niggling little details feel like they have the potential to add up to something bigger.

As for the situation in which Bill and her new friends find themselves, it's classic horror-film fodder (or so it appears to me, who refuses to watch horror films). The young protagonists embark on a new adventure, alone together on a stormy (sounding) night in a creaky, creepy old house with an oddly sinister and slightly anachronistic seeming landlord.

The setting and music are all wonderfully atmospheric, and the manner in which people disappear is suitably frightening. For the right audience, this is probably a top-notch episode of Doctor Who. For me, though, once the nature of the threat became clear—especially the driving force behind the threat—I began to lose interest. (Among other things, I have strong feelings about what constitutes a "dryad," and had trouble taking anything seriously when the Doctor called the wood lice from space by that name.)

It also bothered me that back in The Pilot, the Doctor had insisted that no one could know about him, and believed it to such a degree that he was willing to wipe Bill's memory to preserve his secret. Yet here he, is a matter of days or weeks later, poncing about with a bunch of students and casually talking about the alien infestation they're facing. Isn't he concerned about them revealing him? Or was he going to cross that mind-wipe bridge when he came to it, working under the assumption many of them wouldn't make it out?

That brings me to the question of what the housemates remember. Shireen is concerned about Bill's well-being as she reappears from the buggy depths of the house; does that mean she doesn't remember what happened? All of those suddenly released seemed a little slow on the draw when retreating from the house; maybe the process did reset their brains (oh so conveniently for the Doctor). Even so, why would they all stand around outside, watching the house collapse, and only be mildly upset about the loss of their deposit? All of their belongings were inside—including Bill's freshly acquired and framed photo of her mother! They were all rather too blasé about this situation for my taste.

Whatever I thought of the story, though, Bill is still bloody brilliant. There she was, climbing atop a chest to try to avoid being consumed by alien lice, and she's still sharp enough to grasp a truth that has so far eluded the Doctor. "Can you not interrupt? I'm doing my thing here," he chides. But she pays him no mind and points out what he's missed, leading to the resolution of the entire situation. (Though how horrific was it that Eliza effectively murdered her own child while he cried, "No!"? Why couldn't she have just taken control of the lice from him and ended only her own existence?)

In short, this episode was full of horror film ambience and typical Doctor Who story tropes, but though I continue to adore Bill and the growing Doctor/Bill relationship, it was not really for me. So far it's my low point of the series (though I wouldn't rate Smile as highly a few weeks out as I did at the time, and we'll have to see how this one ages). However, it's still a high quality episode that continues the trend toward making this series one of my favorites of all time.

Now if only I could hang onto that feeling for the entire series.

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Comments

I'm finding it very hard to remain cynical about Moffatt's tenure after the recent string of quality episodes.

By Matt Bova (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

:D

By mrfranklin

  1. Why did Bill have to move house anyway? (Presumably she's going to the same university she already works at)
  2. Why does she have to live with those 5 people?
  3. Why is it 6 people the wood lice need to eat?
  4. Why is it every 20 years?
  5. How is it every 20 years when it started 70 years ago?
  6. What do the wood lice get out of Eliza's deal? (Surely they're not happy with losing their food source)
  7. Where do the wood lice come from?
  8. Why are the wood lice in a box?
  9. Why did the flatmates have to come back from the dead?
  10. How did the flatmates come back? (Are they not digested)
  11. Why didn't the previous flatmates come back? (Surely they're still in the wall somehow too)
  12. When did he stop being her son and start pretending to be her father? (Is her memory that bad?)
By Adrian (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

1. Because she wants to get out of her foster mother's place
2. One of them was a good friend (Shireen), and the rest were already lined up by Shireen
3. Plotty McWavy-hands
4. See #3
5. That bugged me, too! And how did Bill decide it had been 70 years (did I miss it)?
6. I thought she somehow... controlled them?
7. Not relevant to the story (though Inquiring Minds [always] Want to Know!)
8. Because... that's... where the boy put them? ~shrug~
9. I thought Verity! Podcast had a good take on this, when they suggested that it wouldn't be believable for Bill to keep blithely traveling with the Doctor ("Tra la la!") after suffering such a big personal trauma/loss.
10. How did they get absorbed in the first place? It's all magic, as far as I can see.
11. Well, perhaps it takes a certain amount of time for the lice/house to "digest" them. A matter of hours wouldn't be enough, but 20 years would've been plenty. (Maybe that goes back to #4?)
12. Presumably at some point he'd have had to be the same generation, too—maybe her brother?—as he matured through her original physical age. O.o Clearly, the implication from what the Doctor said about the lice "not so much [preserving] the memory" is that the landlord could easily have manipulated her interpretation over the years. So I think the answer to your parenthetical question is "Yes."

All that said, you have raised excellent questions, many of which I also had (though didn't point out, so thank you)!

By mrfranklin

Bill already lost an acquaintance (puddle girl) to aliens. Not that this was The Doctor's fault. But losing Shireen and her new housemates too might be too much for her. I gather in her life before she met The Doctor her friends and weren't being constantly being devoured by aliens.

My question is, if the house had been eating people for decades why hasn't anybody noticed? One would think the prior tenants would have left a forwarding address with their families who would have looked for them when they disappeared. Why don't the cops have a file on this place.

And what was with the landlord having the kids sign leases that specified that they wouldn't object to being eaten by alien bugs and then not letting them read what they signed? Did that really salve his conscience? Give me a break.

By Kara S (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

This is one of those (not uncommon) Doctor Who stories that kind of falls apart on closer examination. As you say, the disappearances would have raised some red flags ~somewhere~ along the way, surely?

As for the lease (or "contract," as the landlord repeatedly called it), I suspect there was something in an earlier draft of the script that explained it, but that got cut. That seems like a plot detail a writer would've included, but also seems like something a production team looking to shave time would've found just extraneous enough. :P

By mrfranklin

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