Knock knock. Who’s there? Another thoroughly adequate, infuriatingly inoffensive episode. Except actually, I’m offended by how adequate it is. Come on Doctor Who, you can do better than this. You have done, recently! was a splendid return to form, but alas, Knock knock is the startling fall that comes afterward. The flat story is elevated slightly by David Suchet’s masterful acting, and Bill coming out as bluntly as possible does provide an air-punch moment. But even those stand-outs can’t redeem the overall limp writing.
The episode certainly gets the difficult hunt for student housing spot-on, however. Overpriced, tiny houses push Bill and her housemates towards Suchet’s unnamed Landlord. His offering them a mansion-sized home for very little money should have been enough of a warning sign, but university students are the last people to turn down a bargain. I don’t blame them either - the house has wood-panelled walls, high ceilings, and a tower. Which they’re not allowed into. Hmm. The Landlord is a meekly smiling, affable gentleman who really does seem harmless. My god, David Suchet is a magnificent actor. His manner puts me at ease in an instant even though I know that he’s up to no good. I even briefly wonder if he’s just misunderstood. Bill and her buddies don’t stand a chance.
Speaking of Bill, I’m growing increasingly fond of her with each episode. Being incredibly sharp is clearly her default mode, yet her questions about the grandiose nature of the Timelord species, paired with her nonchalant disposition, mean Capaldi’s irritable and egocentric Doctor has finally found his perfect companion. Pearl Mackie treats the Doctor like he’s family. She’s slightly embarrassed that he sticks around a bit too long after helping her move house - though undeniably grateful - but when things start getting weird he’s the first person she turns to. Conversely, the Doctor turns on the deadpan humour and acts the concerned grandfather trying not to get in Bill’s way. Mind you, he’s also arrogant enough to stick with his gut and sneak around to investigate, even after Bill nudges him towards the exit. Their caring relationship is the main thing that’s keeping me glued to the screen.
The problem is that the story just lacks depth. If the colour beige were an episode of TV, it would be this one. When the wood which makes up 98% of the house starts to attack people, the reason why it’s doing so is a bit disappointing. Bill chances upon a clue that could help save people, but it slips from her mind oddly quickly and is ignored until the episode’s denouement. It’s a disservice to her obvious intelligence, to be frank.
And there are problems of bloat here as well. The resolution of a mystery story should feel like someone’s switched on a light inside your head. In short, the twist at the end of the episode should be an epiphany, not a ‘can you repeat that?’ moment. Revealing the source of the bloodthirsty house here is enough of a ‘aha!’ moment. Yet piled on top of that is an unnecessary second twist which could have been cut out without making a difference to the episode. Thrown in so quickly, straight after main reveal, the revelation comes a bit too suddenly for us to care about it.
But despite this week’s disappointment, the Vault continues to lurk in the back of my mind, waiting patiently on the periphery of each episode. Just as the Doctor returns to its gigantic carved doors like clockwork, so my interest does the same. This time, the sound of a piano comes from behind its sealed entrance. With the Doctor treating whatever’s inside like a friend, all I’m yearning for is a single episode about its inscrutable inhabitant. It’s what I’m holding on for. You’ve planted the seed of intrigue, Doctor Who - please let the Vault live up to these lofty expectations. Please.