Fans of Scooby Doo, rejoice! Doctor Who is in Hanna-Barbera country for this episode.
This is Knock Knock, fourth episode, and our heroes are on Earth for a traditional adventure.
Is it fair to say that Knock Knock was highly anticipated?
Indeed. So anticipated, in fact, that it was broadcast as Ghost Light in the late 1980s. Kidding! But there are a few similarities which I won’t bang on about. Maybe.
The real reasons for it being highly anticipated were David Suchet and Mike Bartlett. Yes, Hercule Poirot and that bloke wot wrote that Doctor Foster.
If Billy the Exterminator couldn’t deal with Cthulhu in the previous story, he might have more luck with the bugs that infest Bill’s student digs in this one. Yeah, right!
Spoiler: there are bugs in this episode. No, not the Gravis.
Spoiler: there is no elephant.
Spoiler: David Suchet rocks.
Bugs, elephants and David Suchet’s rockability aside, this story starts off with Bill and her friends buddying up together to find themselves a student house. Très Hollyoaks.
Her student friends are, in order of most likely to be killed violently by Nimon sausagehounds, Felicity, Pavel, Shireen, Harry and Paul.
For American muggles, this is a short cut-out-and-keep guide to how English students are like…
Being students, they have no money due to their lager and Pot Noodle debts. So they trawl around all the student slums that are in their price bracket (six shillings and a shirt button) with ever-decreasing prospects of finding digs. It is a truth universally known that students in search of a place to live are also in search of somewhere that is cheap, roomy, not underwater or not owned by a landlord that likes to collect the hair stuck in the plughole. This is a common problem for students all the world over.
Luck is in their future though because a random elderly man offers them, total strangers to him, room in his large mansion. Because none of the students have ever watched a 1980s horror film, they gladly accept. Creepy coffin dodger who offers them a room in his rickety-rackety old house, what is remotely suspicious about that?
Oh, and the house, which isn’t haunted by the way, may seem familiar to y’all. I will tell you why after these next few paragraphs.
Bill is home inside her bedroom, boxes of stuff in the middle of it. The TARDIS appears like an asthmatic fax machine around the boxes. The Doctor opens the doors, the boxes are inside and somewhere nearby a man with a van weeps into his energy drink. The TARDIS takes a quick spatial hop to Bill’s new gaff.
The Doctor gets out, takes one look at the house and screams at Bill to “Dinnae blink! Blink and ye will be deid! This hoose is fulla Weepin’ Angel beasties!” before he realises that this isn’t Wester Drumlins.
This house, whose real name is Field’s House, has been seen before on the show. No Weeping Angels squatters but there is, what appears at first to be, a wooden Weeping Angel. Spoilers: it isn’t a wooden Weepy Angel.
The Doctor senses something strange. Not just the massively expensive house for six pennyless students but something alien… So he invites himself in, with a box of Bill’s belongings. Not impressed with the wood-lined everything of the place. So much wood. A small forest must have been gutted to make this place.
The Landlord, after the students coo and grin because of their opulent surroundings, gets them all to sign the contract. In blood! Or ink, whatever is easiest for them. They all choose ink.
The Doctor gets a little confrontational with the Landlord but he merely smiles gently, his eyes twinkling like black bowling bowls, and tells them that they cannot enter the tower (yes, the property has a tower) on pain of pain to quote The Princess Bride.
It is human nature that if you tell somebody not to do something or go somewhere, the first thing they will do is do that certain something or go to that certain somewhere. This is why the Doctor’s companions never do as he says.
The Doctor is more interested in the aural qualities of the house. Old houses creak but this house is creaking more than the plot to Dimensions in Time. Yeah, I said it.
You’ll know, if you’ve seen the episode, that I have not mentioned something important. Pavel’s tragedy near the beginning of the story. Don’t fret, I’ll mention it in a second. Distract yourself with images of teacup kitties raining down upon Venom Grubs.
Pavel is in his room, with his music equipment, and he is getting set to listen to something which, to my mind, has all the tuneful ability of the Deathtrees of Souta Four. Actually it is, deep breath, Back: Sonata #1 by Itzhak Perlman playing in G Minor for Solo Violin, I think. But each to their own tastes, yes? All you really need to know is that he screams as something unseen gobbles him up.
One minor flaw here. The house has no modern plugs, yes? So how does Pavel with his modern record player, complete with USB port, manage to turn it on, hmmmm?
Nighttime and the students get freaked out by the house creaking, Bill’s secret love of Little Mix, and the Doctor boring them all with stories of how Adric was caught using a calculator. Good times.
As the night goes on, the doors and windows are barred by shutters and obstinate doorframes. The students start getting nobbled by things unseen. Felicity manages to escape past the hungry shutters and out into the garden. She tries her phone but before she can call the police, something gets her. She screams. Exit stage left for Ms Felicity.
The Doctor discovers weird woodlouse thingies. He calls them Dryads but these are not the sexy tree nymphs we might be used to. Could they be the Big Bad? Maybe Billy the Exterminator could deal with this threat.
Odd coincidence but a newborn cockroach is known as a nymph. Could the Dryads be immature Venom Grubs? Is this the return of the Zarbi? By the Tin Vagabond, I hope so!
Downstairs the Doctor and Harry are by themselves and playing Twister. Harry losing five games to seven.
Upstairs Bill and Shireen. What, where is Paul? Well, after a clumsy attempt at chatting up a lesbian, he retreated into his room. He had been mocking their fright by making moany yelping noises. Of course, the ersatz calls become real but just like the little boy who cried “woodlouse”, he is ignored until it is too late. Exit stage right for Mr Paul.
Two down, three more to go. Pavel? Oh, no, Pavel is still alive. Sort of. Bill and Shireen break into Pavel’s room and they find our poor Russian (?) friend half-consumed by the wall. Not only that but he seems to have Edward Scissorhand’s hairstyle. Oh the humanity!
The Landlord does his Batman impression, turning up out of nowhere and taps the wall with a tuning fork. Nothing happens. He tries a tuning spoon and the wooden walls eat Pavel up in a single gulp. This does not go down well with Shareen and Bill who run screaming out of the room, up and down corridors, chased by the Landlord and his cockroaches of death. Just think of all those Scooby Doo chase scenes.
Is the Doctor the equilvalent of Scrappy Doo? Should I make a tedious joke involving Woody Woodpecker? Nah!
In the, thankfully, woodless basement, the Doctor and Harry finds boxes and boxes of belongings. Have other student rented out this place before them? If only there was some handy means of proof, oh, look! Some careless murderous person has left contracts on top of the boxes. How handy. Lets take a look, shall we? Yes, do lets!
The contracts are dated 1997, 1987, 1977 and I think you may be picking up a pattern here, yeah? The Landlord has been killing students every twenty years but for how long? Since he retired from being a detective in Belgium?
The Landlord appears…
LANDLORD: Yes, it was me all this time!
DOCTOR & HARRY: Yes, we know.
LANDLORD: Oh, erm, right. Sorry.
The Landlord reveals to him that…. Actually I will hold off telling you for a little while longer.
Bill and Shireen make it into the tower. After the Landlord told them not to. To all those people who joked that the students wouldn’t get their deposit back, in all seriousness, they wouldn’t get their money back anyway since they broke the contract. Entering the tower breaks their contract, tut-tut.
Our female students find a bedroom, quite sparse. Just a bed, a wooden room divider, copies of What WoodNymph cluttering the floor. They hear a voice and from behind the room divider comes a wooden woman. She can’t be the Big Bad surely? She seems so nice and polite.
The Doctor enters, followed by the Landlord, and the sorry tale of the Landlord and his woody woman is explained. Cue spooky harp sounds, wobbly picture, and a return to older-than-Super-8 footage…
The Landlord finds weird dark rocks near a tree. He takes them up to his daughter who seems to be quite ill. She, as all teenagers (?) do with things their parents find, feigns interest.
That night, as the woman sleeps, the rocks hatch. Dryads! (Are we really calling them that?) They enter her body like they are incorporeal. Could they be inter-dimensional? Anyway, the next morning, Daddy Landlord enters his girl’s bedroom to find her arms all woodified.
“Ah-ha!” our heroes go. Not Shireen though. She stood on a Dryad earlier and was gobbled up. Exit through the stage trapdoor, Ms Shireen.
But no. Something is not quite right. Duh, you might say, but something more subtle than that. The Doctor doesn’t buy this story of a father and his illness-stricken daughter.
The Doctor realises that if the wood woman was the Landlord’s daughter, then her bedroom would have posters of the Beatles given that she would have been just the right age (nearly). There are no posters. She can’t be his daughter. She must, therefore, be his mother (must she?)!
What? She is his mother?!? Proof is given via the contract that the Doctor and Harry (yeah, he was gobbled up by beetles earlier) found. Under the name of the property owner is the Landlord’s real name: Oedipus Rex! No, not quite. If it had have been, this story would have been dark in a different type of way.
In case you were wondering, the Doctor scanned the Landlord with his sonic screwdriver. He knows that the Landlord is seventy. And human. But most importantly that, given the decades involved, he couldn’t possibly be her father.
Wood Mummy doesn’t remember who she was but the memories flood back. They are essentially the same as the story that the Landlord told them but the roles are reversed.
The Dryads have been using the student to somehow keep Wood Mama alive. But how? Why does she require student sacrifices every twenty years? Dry rot?
Wood Mama is innocent of these sacrifices though. She had no idea of the price involved in keeping her alive. Her blurry memory suggests that less of the Landlord’s mother exists than he would care to admit.
The Landlord, blinded by ill-placed devotion to his mother, commands the Dryads to attack. He is deluded enough to think that his mother would go along with this but no. His mother may look like a monster but she isn’t.
Wood Mama takes her son into her arms for the first time in decades. He cries as the Dryads, under her control and not his, consume them both.
She is a good person though. She brings Shireen back, the Dryads comically vomiting her up with her last act as she removes herself and her bad little boy from existence.
Bill’s mates are also restored presumably because they were still, how shall I put this, undigested. The other victims must be completely eatenm because they do not come back.
The Doctor and Bill and the uneaten students leg it out of the building before it collapses on itself. And everyone lived happily ever after.
Last scene now. Nardole is in the Vault, talking to himself but also to something inside it. The Doctor arrives with takeaway and offers to take over guarding the Vault. Nardole is only too happy to go. He has The Real Housewives of Middle-Earth on Netflix waiting for him.
Piano music can be heard inside the Vault. Whatever it is, it has hands. It also communicates via music. Weird. The Doctor enters for a meal with the whatever-it-is. The end!
Peter Capaldi isn’t the focus of this story. His character is more in the background than normal. A sensible move since this episode has so many main cast members until they are bumped off.
Pearl Mackie’s role is stronger than Capaldi’s. She is doing the usual Doctorish things that he can’t do (because he isn’t with her). Lovely early scenes when she calls him her grandfather in front of the other students. “I dinnae look old enough, lass,” he says. Um. Passing on…
Can I just say how good it is to see David Suchet walking normally? Not that he does much walking. He just appears and vanishes like a Batman wannabe. As Poirot he always walked like he had a coin wedged between the cheeks of his buttocks.
Buttocks aside, David Suchet plays the Landlord really well, of course he would. Makes him more human than the script initially suggests. Spooky, creepy but still human. Loved it everytime he was on screen.
The actors playing the students? Meh. No, they are good but their characters are barely sketched in. None does a bad job but despite their main roles they are not really the focus of this story per se.
A lot of fans, greybeards and rookies, got excited about one detail that they discovered days before the episode aired: young Harry, grandson of Harry Sullivan or he would have been if that scene hadn’t been cut from the ep. Not the gay grandfather that is mentioned by the way. So is it still canon? Yes and no. No and yes. Canon is whatever you, the fan, chooses to be true until the show explicitly says otherwise…except in the case of the Doctor being half-human, for some fans this is a major I’m-not-listening-fingers-in-ears-la-la-la-la-la bugbear. Us fans be crazy. I am choosing to believe Harry is related to Harry since I really do adore Ian Marter.
The other reason for Harry Sullivan’s possible grandson not being included was the thought that rookie fans might not remember a companion from forty years ago. This is the same reason why Sarah-Jane Smith and K9 didn’t appeared in School Reunion… *Make up your own sarcastic retort here*
The Knock Knock joke was invented, according to Wikipedia, in 1929. Around the time the Landlord’s mother was a child. Not that this nugget of information matters but I thought it was interesting.
Oh, you may be wondering about the title of this story. There is a lot of knocking in this episode. Spoilers!
Should you watch this story? Of course. I loved this story. It is perhaps not going to be a classic story but it is certainly strong enough to ruffles the feathers of stories like The Silurians or Logopolis. What are you waiting for? Go watch it right now!
NOT YOU BECAUSE THIS UNREVIEW HAS NOW ENDED. BYE!