Hooraaaaaay! I get to use a classic joke!
Doctor Who Episode 4: Knock knock.
Stop it now.
OK, I’m done. Sorry about that.
On to the episode itself: a story about growing up, leaving home, and trying not to get eaten by alien woodlice in a big spooky house. It’s relatable on so many levels, then. What did we make of this one?
I’ve added the spoiler warning, but let’s be brutally honest, not a great deal happened this week… The house didn’t really eat anyone, thanks to some magical restoration at the end, and we still don’t know who is in the vault. (It’s got to be Missy though, right? More on that later.) That’s not to say it wasn’t a good episode, but if you missed it, you didn’t really miss much.
“This is the bit of my life that you’re not in.”
First up, Bill wants some boundaries and a life of her own. She’s not committing to adventures in space and time full-time just yet - another admirable quality. But no-one’s told the Doctor, who lurks like an anxious parent, because, you know, foreshadowing. When she pretends he’s her grandfather, there are jokes about how he doesn’t look old enough to be her grandfather, because, you know, foreshadowing. But snark aside, maybe he is more of an indulgent and eccentric grandparent than a parent to Bill. Either way, it’s still a nice departure from companion as love interest.
A Tardis would have been so handy last time I moved house, by the way. There’s a nice montage early on about the state of the housing market and the misplaced enthusiasm of estate agents. But then, in comes the creepy landlord, David Suchet - Poirot himself - adding some dramatic weight.
Bill’s new housemates are fairly interchangeable. We assume early on that they are also expendable; they even make this joke themselves when deciding who should investigate a creepy noise. This house really is pretty scary. Making use of the everyday but turning it up to 11 and making it alien is a classic Doctor Who move, and the creaking of the house played well here. It’s a Scooby Doo house for sure. But it has a bookcase door! That’s pretty cool. The scuttling noises were pretty unpleasant as well, almost guaranteed to make you shudder- or at the very least, pick your feet up off the floor.
When the alien beasties finally appeared, they were not quite as grand as the Doctor had imagined them - pondering the notion of wood nymphs or dryads, only to be faced with a giant woodlouse with lights. And the knot in the wood that’s opening up below, is absolutely and definitely not rude in the slightest, and you should be ashamed of yourself for chuckling.
En masse, swarming over the screaming housemates, they were pretty scary. What was more sinister though, was the landlord’s behaviour when Pavel was eaten by the wall. The euphemistic way he talked about death as a release or preservation was deeply unpleasant given the context. “Hope is its own form of cruelty.” I suppose it can be, but you know what’s more cruel? Killing people.
“We must all pay our dues. You came here, you signed the contract. And now it’s time to pay.”
Once again, the human being is the real villain of the piece, but he’s not quite the pantomime villain of last week’s episode. There were meant to be depths to the landlord, but it didn’t work for me. Suchet was great - it wasn’t the performance itself. It was more that the character was trying to do too many things at once and there wasn’t the time or space to draw those different strands together. He is kindly enough to persuade 6 students to live in the spookiest house ever. He’s also so creepy, his presence alone is meant to be scary. He believes that those dying in the house get to stay there forever, preserved, and yet he’s vengeful when they try to run. So is it a release or a punishment? Oh wait, it’s also a sacrifice. And it’s medicine. He’s a protective dad, and a guilt-ridden son, who just wants a hug from his mum. He’s only doing this to save the life of a loved one: “My daughter was dying, these creatures saved her.” He’s also a symbol of the heartless and ruthless landlords of the real world, who profit from exploiting others. It’s far too much for anyone to pull off with such limited screen time.
Eliza (lice-a, right?) wasn’t in fact a wooden Weeping Angel as I had thought when I saw the trailers for this series. Boo. Mariah Gale is a fine actress who felt a bit wasted in this role. If there’s one thing Mariah Gale can do with gusto, it’s emote. Her portrayal of Ophelia (opposite David Tennant) was unbearably intense. And yet, all that make-up prevented her from doing what she excels at. (You know where I’m going with this, and I can sense your dread from here.) Her performance ended up feeling a bit wooden. (Sorry.)
This week on Vault-Watch! Our other knocking “friend” has “been a bit restive lately,” according to Nardole. The Doctor seems to be indulging the “friend”, giving him/her a piano, and bringing dinner to share. Whoever is in the vault is mournfully playing ‘Fur Elise’ one minute, then playing ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ in apparent amusement at a house that tried to eat a load of young people — so s/he has a wicked sense of humour, is close enough to be called a friend, is someone the Doctor would share a meal with, and yet feel the need to lock away and guard. And they share common ground: “I’m stuck here too, you know. We’re both prisoners.” Seriously, it’s totally got to be Missy. Let’s hope we find out soon…
Nardole reminds the Doctor that “You don’t have to go to outer space to find monsters. There’s plenty of things that want to kill you right here on earth.” But nobody listens to Nardole, because next week, they are in outer space — surrounded by 36 walking corpses, and running out of air. What could possibly go wrong?