Haunted houses really are a perfect fit for Doctor Who, aren’t they? Being a show that relishes in teatime terror, it’s always a guarantee that writers will return to the tried and tested tropes that a haunted house setting provides – claustrophobia, mysterious sounds, creepy housekeeper, hidden rooms, the everyday turned terrifying. Knock Knock affords these tropes a fresh outing, in a story that delights in chills…for the first 30 minutes at least.
Writer Mike Bartlett’s inaugural script for the show plays its hand well for the most part – wholly embracing the haunted house genre, best exemplified in a chilling pre-titles sting, the creeping, creaking soundscape and the terrifying imagery. Knock Knock is simple enough – a wooden house teeming with hordes of alien termites that eat the occupants – and uses this simplicity to good effect, relying on sound with minimal visual reference to create an air of fear and mystery. We don’t actually see anyone meet a sticky end till midway through, we only hear it. The sound design team clearly earned their overtime pay on this one, so good is the creaking and knocking that it chills the blood.
Though despite the chills that come as standard with an adventure such as this one, there’s perhaps too little simplicity on display, especially in the final 10 minutes, wherein the true motive of the creepy landlord (played by the wonderful David Suchet) is revealed. Suchet gives a suitably beautiful performance, as does Mariah Gale as the tragic transformed figure that is Eliza, but the episode’s sudden jump from scares to schmaltz does feel a a tad awkward, especially so soon after a number of quite grim onscreen deaths.
Speaking of deaths, the episode also does the unforgivable cop-out of resurrecting the dead and going for a happy ending where everybody lives after all, despite meeting rather definitive ends during the episode, thereby sucking any potential drama out of the climax. How is not really explained beyond a vague line of dialogue, nor is there much of an explanation regarding the nature of the alien Dryads and their powers. As such, Knock Knock does end on a slightly unsatisfying note.
As ever with Series 10, character moments far outshine the main plot, no matter how small. Knock Knock delves a bit further into the ever-lovable relationship between the Doctor and Bill. That Bill is slightly embarrassed by his presence around her friends is a lovely touch, eluding to a father-daughter that is wholly relatable to anyone who’s ever had to go through the awkward social niceties that involve your parents meeting your friends. Peter Capaldi also gets the best laugh of the episode, fast becoming a trend this series!
As haunted house episodes go, Knock Knock has all the makings of a great one, but loses momentum in the last 10 minutes, relying on easy get-outs in a rush to tie everything up by end titles. Great prosthetic make-up on Eliza, some excellent sound design and some creepy set pieces, as well as the usual solid performances from the regulars and the guest cast all help to paper over the cracks, but there’s some serious renovation due for this haunted house!