Monday, May 8, 2017

Doctor Who Series 10 - Knock Knock - Episode Review

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My review of last week's episode: Thin Ice.

Knock knock...

...Who's there.

Bill’s TARDIS adventures don’t appear to have gone to her head: she’s back to her usual life, looking for a place to stay with a group of friends (or more accurately: a friend and a group of her friends). When the Doctor gets involved, Bill’s not happy about it, though why, or how strongly, she wants to isolate this part of her life isn’t quite clear.

With Clara, it was pretty obvious. Clara wanted control. She wanted to have a double life, adventuring in the TARDIS by night, and working as an English teacher by day. The Doctor’s intrusion into this was annoying at best, and disastrous at worst.

Bill seemed more nonchalant about her relationship with the Doctor, and her sudden desire to keep him at arm’s length feels jarring and isn’t given a satisfactory explanation. However, it’s the same dilemma every companion faces: you can’t just travel in the TARDIS part time. The Doctor will turn up at your job looking for monsters, or you’ll arrive to visit your mother one year too late, or your family will get sucked into a parallel universe. It’s always all or nothing, and you’d better not commit unless you’re willing to abandon everything at the drop of a bow tie.

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Knock Knock has a similar vibe to The Caretaker, the series 8 episode where the Doctor goes undercover at Clara’s school. He’s grumpy and antisocial and his companion doesn’t really know what to do with him. Like that episode, it gives us an external view of the Doctor. He reveals he’s a Time Lord, and there’s a brief moment where it looks like the Doctor’s about to explain regeneration, but he avoids it. We largely see him through the eyes of Bill’s housemates, and he’s...weird.

Unlike The Caretaker, there’s a really compelling villain to deal with here. David Suchet does a pretty good job as the sneaky, understated yet menacing Landlord. It’s clear something is off with the deal when he offers his huge house cheaply to a group of college students. It certainly sets off alarms bells for the Doctor, so he volunteers to stay overnight, much to Bill’s annoyance. It turns out to be a good thing: soon enough, people are being sucked into the walls by evil…wood roaches. The Doctor borrows a term from Greek mythology: dryads.

All that’s pretty scary, going for a Haunting of Hill House vibe, but it seems like series 10 just can’t stick to its guns when it comes to villainous villains. That’s a shame. It’s especially a shame to waste a villain this menacing on a wimpy, mommy-issues resolution. Guys, you can’t resolve every problem with the power of a hug.

However, before the lackluster ending, Knock Knock is good fun. It’s scary and atmospheric. Suchet is a bit wasted, but is this series’ most intimidating villain so far. The dialogue comes off poorly opposite the dense, elegant Thin Ice. Bill and the Doctor spend much of the episode separated, which is a bad idea. It really goes to show how much more chemistry Bill has with the Doctor than he ever had with Clara. Clara was such a forceful, Doctor-like person that it was only when she was gone or sidelined that Capaldi was allowed to shine (see most of series 9). Bill’s personality contrasts and complements the Doctor’s—they don’t compete or overshadow one another. Hopefully, separating them won’t be a trend for the rest of the series.

My review of the next episode: Oxygen.

Speculation

The really notable thing here, of course, is that Bill keeps calling the Doctor her grandfather, even though, he protests, “I don’t look old enough.” Who else is the Doctor’s granddaughter, but now looks older than him? Susan Foreman! And this entire episode revolves around a family relationship where one person looks older than the other, but is, in fact younger. If that’s not foreshadowing, I’m a Mondasian Cyberman.

As for the vault, clearly, there’s a person—one person—inside, who likes Beethoven, Mexican food, and killing people. I’m pretty sure it’s Missy at this point. I have a hard time seeing this Doctor bringing John Simm’s Master dinner. Wasn’t there a shot of her in the trailer lying on some sort of elevated surface? Could be a piano.

Also, I guess I have to admit this is the Doctor regenerating or fake-regenerating. That's definitely Peter Capaldi if you slow it down.


Image result for missy series 10 trailerLongish

2 comments:

  1. Although I did like Clara and her slightly warped dynamic with the Doctor, you make a good point about Bill being a better fit in terms of contrast. Now that you remind me that Clara was either separated from him or sidelined for much of series 9, and now the introduction of Bill in series 10, it's easier to see how Capaldi has evolved and softened his characterization over the course of his three seasons. I guess Clara's competitiveness did force him to push back a bit, resulting in a more aggressive characterization. With Bill he can be playful.

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    1. I think another issue with the Clara partnership is it meant Capaldi never really felt in charge when she was around. I'm not sure it's an essential part of being the Doctor, but being center stage, and the authority that comes with that, feels certainly like a pretty crucial element of the show. Clara upset that balance not only by competing, but the entire series 8 storyline was about her, with a few episodes where she was the primary hero (Flatline, Deep Breath), and some where Capaldi was flat out the villain (Kill the Moon). Combined with all Capaldi's navel gazing and identity questioning in series 8, Clara had a far more forceful and compelling arc than the Doctor. So by the time series 9 rolled around, about the only way they could give Capaldi space to breath and actually be the hero is by isolating him, culminating in Heaven Sent. By giving him a less powerful companion, I think he finally gets to use that traditional relationship to really be the hero (even Tom Baker was solidly heroic for several seasons before Romana, the Classic counterpart to Clara, came along to steal his thunder).

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