Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Doctor Who Season 10, Episode 4: Knock Knock

This week on Doctor Who we get a haunted house tale, with all the usual ingredients: thunder and lightning, students who are picked off one by one, a creepy landlord and even the typical mystery woman hidden in a secret tower.

This isn't the first time Doctor Who's done straight up horror. The show dabbled in the genre quite often in the past, particularly during Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor run. This makes this week's episode seem like yet another throwback to the Classic Series.

So far this season the overall theme seems to be consumption

Episode 1 featured intelligent space oil that ate people.
Episode 2 gave us nanobots that ate people.
Episode 3 had a giant fish that ate people.
And now in Episode 4, we have a house that eats people.

I have no idea if this means anything or not, but I thought I'd toss it out there.

We also get a couple more clues about who's being held prisoner inside the Doctor's secret Vault. The writers sure do want us to believe it's some version of the Master in there, but I dunno... that seems way too obvious to me. 

I can think of a couple of other possible suspects, such as Susan Foreman or even an earlier version of the Doctor himself, but the I can't figure out WHY they'd be in there. For now I guess my money's on the Master.


The Plot:
Bill and five other college students— Shireen, Pavel, Harry, Felicity and Paul— search for off-campus housing they can afford. After looking at dozens of awful apartments, they're approached by a kindly, elderly Landlord (no names, please) who offers them a place to live.

The "place" turns out to be an enormous mansion, complete with suspiciously low rent. Bill and the others take a brief tour and are so impressed they immediately sign a contract. The Landlord tells them they can move in right away, and has only one rule— the mansion's tower is off limits. He taps a tuning fork on one of the wooden walls and leaves, which isn't the least bit odd or strange.

That night Pavel moves in, and sets up his record player (I guess they have hipsters in England, too). He hears a noise, and we get the usual horror movie POV shot of him screaming at something only he can see. His turntable plays steadily on.

The Doctor helps Bill move by materializing the TARDIS around her stuff, then reappearing in front of the mansion. He's suspicious of the situation, wondering how six students can afford the rent on such a vast home. He says he'll help her carry her things in. Bill, who obviously doesn't want her friends to see the Doctor, tries to discourage him, but he insists.

Inside, Bill introduces the Doctor to the others, saying he's her "grandfather," which is a not-so-subtle nod to Susan Foreman. The Doctor protests, saying there's no way he looks that old, and says he's her dad. Bill's mortified, but the others recognize the Doctor from his lectures, and think it's cool that she's somehow related to him.

Bill picks an upstairs bedroom and unpacks her mother's photo, hanging it on the wall. She wonders where Pavel is, but the others say he stays in his room a lot, listening to music. Downstairs, the Doctor pops out of the furnace room, saying he's just checking out the house. Bill tries to get rid of him, saying this is her place, and she wants to keep it separate from TARDISy adventures. They hear a knocking in the walls, and the Doctor begins investigating. He snoops around the house, knocking on the walls, which sometimes knock back.

The other students complain about the state of the house, and  the Landlord appears as if on cue. They tell him they need a washing machine, new wiring, etc., and he says he'll do what he can. The Doctor asks the Landlord if he has any children, and he says he has one daughter, who's "happily still under his care." The Doctor then asks him who the Prime Minister is, which seems like an odd thing to do. The Landlord evades the question, taps his tuning fork on the wall again and bids them goodnight, which is even odder.

Bill, Shireen and Paul head upstairs to turn in. Paul goes into his room and after a few seconds begins screaming. The girls think he's playing a joke, until they hear knocking coming from all the walls. Downstairs, the Doctor notices the doors have now somehow become walls. The shutters then begin closing by themselves. Felicity screams that she can't be locked up in the house, and dives out a window. The last of the shutters close, completely sealing everyone inside the house. Felicity runs from the house, but is grabbed by a tree and consumed by it.

Upstairs, Bill and Shireen hear music still coming from Pavel's room and open the door. They see him sticking halfway out of the wooden wall, as if the house is trying to eat him. The Landlord appears and says there's a time and place for music, but "it can be a distraction from the inevitable." He shuts off the record player, and Pavel is instantly consumed by the wall.

Bill asks the Landlord why the house is eating people, and he says "We must all pay our dues." He tells them they signed the contract, and now they must pay. He taps his tuning fork against the wall again, and Bill and Shireen run out of the room. They head up to the forbidden tower.

Downstairs, the Doctor and Harry look for a way out. The Doctor begins tapping on the walls, wondering if the wood is possessed by "wood nymphs, tree spirits or dryads." Suddenly a roach-like creature emerges from the wood. The Doctor thinks it's some kind of alien, and tries to catch it. It scurries off, and suddenly thousands of the creatures pour from the wood. The Doctor and Harry run down into the basement.

They see a storage space in the basement, and begin looking through boxes. They find several lease agreements, always for six students and always at twenty year intervals. The Landlord appears, and the Doctor asks where the former students are. He replies, "In the house." The Doctor is horrified, as he realizes the Landlord means they're IN the house, and have been absorbed by it.

The Landlord confesses that his daughter was dying, but the Dryads (which is what the Doctor decides to call the creatures) saved her. And all they asked in return was the occasional human sacrifice every twenty years. The Landlord taps his tuning fork again, and the Dryads swarm over Harry, completely consuming him. The Dryads turn toward the Doctor, and he stalls for time, telling the Landlord that he may be able to cure his daughter.

Meanwhile, Bill and Shireen make it to the top of the tower and find a bedroom there. They hear a rustling, and a woman appears from behind a screen— a woman made of wood. Bill and Shireen nervously introduce themselves, and the woman says her name is Eliza. A mass of Dryads pours out of the wall and surround the girls. They swarm over Shireen and eat her. Eliza tells Bill that her father says it's for the best, and the two of them have to survive at all costs.

Suddenly the Doctor and the Landlord enter the tower. The Landlord tells Eliza that the Doctor is, well, a doctor, and may be able to help her. The Doctor theorizes that years ago, Eliza became ill and was told nothing could be done. The Landlord then found the Dryads in the garden, and brought them inside to show her. Eliza's music box activated them, and they began turning her into wood, keeping her alive. Sort of.

Bill interrupts the Doctor's speech, saying something doesn't make sense. Like why would a grown man be playing with insects in the garden? And if Eliza was preserved seventy years ago, how can her father possibly still be alive? The Doctor realizes she's right, and that the Landlord is actually Eliza's SON.

Eliza's horrified that she's been kept "alive" like this for so long, a prisoner in her own house. The Landlord is furious with the Doctor, and orders the Dryads to consume him. The Doctor tells Eliza she can end this, but she's confused and doesn't know how. He tells her she's the parent, and her son will listen to her.

Eliza hugs her son, and says it's their time, as the Dryads swarm and consume them both. Eliza uses what's left of her energy to restore all of Bill's friends, which is mighty convenient. They all run from the house seconds before it collapses in on itself.

Back at the University, Nardole is fiddling with the Vault. The Doctor arrives with Mexican food and tells him he can take off. Nardole's surprised to hear music coming from within the Vault, and asks the Doctor why he put a piano in there. The Doctor dismisses him. He shouts to whoever's in the Vault that he has food, and the music stops. He says he's as much a prisoner as the occupant of the Vault, and says he's got a new story for them. He opens the door and goes in.

• When Bill first appeared in The Pilot, I noted there were a lot of similarities between her and Rose Tyler, the first companion of the revived series. This week we get yet another parallel— Bill has a gal pal named Shireen. Guess who also had a friend by that name? Yup, Rose Tyler!

• In The Pilot, Bill was working in the University cafeteria, and admitted to occasionally sneaking into the Doctor's lectures. When the Doctor offered to tutor her privately, she pointed out that she wasn't a student. The Doctor told her not to worry about that, as he'd sort it all out later.

Apparently he was true to his word, as it looks like Bill's now a student! At least that's the impression I got from the episode, that they're six students looking for off-campus housing.

I have no problem with diversity in the media, as long as it's organic and not done just for the sake of ratings.

That definitely seems the case in this episode. Bill's little circle of housemates was almost comically diverse. Half are men, half women, they're white, black, Asian, Hindu and even Scottish! It's like the BBC had a list and was checking off genders, orientations and ethnicities. I'm honestly surprised they didn't have a Muslim or a student in a wheelchair!

• Good thing for Bill the Doctor's steering has improved over the years. In this episode he materializes the TARDIS around her stuff, then lands it in front of her new place with pinpoint accuracy.

Compare that to the Classic Series, where the Doctor had little or no control over the TARDIS, and it materialized in a particular time or place at random. Many's the time he'd pick up a companion on Earth and then spend several seasons trying to get them back home!

• Bill's flustered by the Doctor's intrusion, and tells her flatmates that he's her grandfather. That is most definitely a nod to Susan Foreman, the First Doctor's original companion, who always called him "Grandfather." Whether she truly was his blood relation or not has been debated by fans for decades.

This is at least the second Susan reference so far this season. In The Pilot we saw a photo of Susan (along with one of River Song) on the Doctor's desk in his University office.

There's no way these references are random or meaningless. As the Doctor even says in this episode, "Nobody 'just does' anything." They have to be building up to something here.

I foresee several possibilities. One is that Bill is somehow a regeneration of Susan, which I hope isn't true. Showrunner Steven Moffat has an annoying tendency to turn the Doctor's companions into "The Most Important Person In The Universe," ala Amy Pond ("The Girl Who Waited") and Clara Oswald ("The Impossible Girl"). 

It's nice to have just a plain old ordinary human like Bill on the show for a change, so I really hope this isn't the direction they're going.

Another big possibility is that Susan Foreman is actually the one inside the Doctor's Vault. I have no idea why he'd want to keep her prisoner for seventy years, but he's obviously friendly with whoever's in it, so...

Lastly, actor David Bradley is scheduled to appear on the show this season. In 2013, Bradley starred in An Adventure In Time And Space, a TV movie about the early days of Doctor Who and the BBC. In the movie, Bradley played actor William Hartnell, who played the First Doctor.

Could Bradley be guest starring as the First Doctor? That might explain all the Susan Foreman foreshadowing that's been going on. Could he be the one inside the Vault? Again, I can't think of a good reason why the Doctor would keep an earlier version of himself a prisoner for almost a century, but stranger things have happened on this show.

• When the Doctor meets the Landlord, he's immediately suspicious of him, possibly even thinking he's an alien. He tries to trip him by asking, "
Who, um... who's the prime minister? Margaret Thatcher, Harriet Jones? Oh, come on. Wilson? Eden?"

Margaret Thatcher was of course the real world UK Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990.

Harriet Jones was the Prime Minister in the Whoniverse for several years. She first appeared in Aliens Of London, and was elected Prime Minister after the entire cabinet was wiped out by the Slitheen. She served three successive terms and brought about a Golden Age in London, before the Doctor took her down with just six words ("Don't you think she looks... tired?").

As for Wilson and Eden... Harold Wilson was Prime Minister from 1974 to 1976, and Anthony Eden from 1955 to 1957. I guess maybe the Doctor realized the Landlord hadn't been out of the house in a while?

• Don't worry, that's not an x-rated photo, it's just a Dryad coming out of a gash in the wood.

The Dryads seemed to be controlled by sound, so it's odd that the Doctor didn't try to use his sonic screwdriver on them. It was established on the Classic Series that the sonic couldn't affect wood, but I have no idea if that's still the case today or not. Even if it is, the Dryads themselves weren't made of wood. If a tuning fork and record player could affect them, surely the sonic could!

The Doctor does use the sonic as a flashlight in this episode, so there's that I guess.

Oh, in case you were curious, dryads come from Greek mythology: they are supernatural spirits associated with trees, especially oak trees, and tend to be very shy around humans.

• Eliza orders the Dryads to consume herself and her son, saying it's time they passed on. Immediately afterward, she uses the last of her energy to restore Bill's flatmates who were consumed earlier in the episode.

I guess all the other students who were consumed over the years are just sh*t out of luck then, right? To be fair, they were consumed decades ago, so it's no doubt far too late to reconstitute them. Bill's pals were just now absorbed, and probably hadn't been "digested" yet.

• Whoever's in the Vault is someone the Doctor's somewhat friendly with, who knows how to play the piano. When the Doctor says he has a story filled with death and destruction, the mystery person happily plays a few notes of Pop Goes The Weasel on the piano.

As I said earlier, the creators sure do want us to think he's got the Master locked up in there. It makes sense, as he/she would definitely delight in hearing a tale of "death and destruction." I just feel like the Master is way too obvious though.

• This Week's Best Lines:
Bill: "Thanks for helping, yeah? You should hire this out. Like a removal service."
The Doctor: "Removals? Bill, I'm a Time Lord."
Bill: Time Lord? What's that? Your job?"
The Doctor: "No, it's my, er people. My species."
Bill: "Doesn't sound like a species. Sounds posh, like 'Yes, my lord.' Doff my cap."
The Doctor: "Oh, well, that's why I gave it up. Ran away."
Bill: "Time Lords. That's hilarious. Do you wear robes and big hats?"
The Doctor: "No, big collars, mostly."

Bill: "Do you want the postcode?"
The Doctor:"Sorry?
Bill: "To find the house."
The Doctor: "Bill, the TARDIS uses multi-dimensional space-time coordinates."
Bill: "So you know where it is?"
(long pause)
The Doctor: "Okay, right, put the postcode in here."

Bill: "Do you sleep here?"
The Doctor: "If I need to."
Bill: “If I need to.' What does that mean?"
The Doctor: "Sleep’s for tortoises."
Bill: "Not Time Lords?"
The Doctor: "No. Unless we’ve regenerated, or had a big lunch."
Bill: "Regenerated?"
The Doctor: "Oh, the questions. The questions, the questions. Just remember: Time Lords. That’s enough for now."

Bill: (hearing strange noises in her new room) "Stop it. There’s no living puddles or Weird robots, big fish. It’s just a new house. And people you don’t know. Not scary at all."

Felicity: "I always get nervous when there’s no reception, like something bad’s going to happen."
Shireen: "We’ll have to get a landline."
Felicity: "Landline? What is this, Scotland?"

Bill: "Er, Grandfather? Hello?"
The Doctor: "Yeah."
Bill: "Perhaps you’d leave now?"
The Doctor: "No, I’m fine."
Bill: "Well, at least, um, go and sleep. Outside. (meaning the TARDIS) In the car."

Bill: "Can I have a word, please? Honestly, Doctor, there’s nothing going on. Nothing weird, nothing alien. Just an old house and a dodgy landlord, which is pretty standard for students. I’ll see you later for more exciting TARDIS action, but basically, this is the bit of my life that you’re not in. Do you know what I mean?"
The Doctor: "I know what you mean."
Bill: "Thanks."

The Doctor: (when Bill says she's going to bed) "Maybe, before you do, you should check on your friend who hasn’t been seen for a day and who has strange music coming out of his room."
Bill: "They say he just does that."
The Doctor: "Nobody '
just does' anything."
Bill: "You’re not leaving, are you?"
The Doctor: "No. Your friend will probably be fine.Knock on wood."

"Ah, we should get The Doctor."
Shireen: "Why? What’s he gonna do? Lecture?"

The Landlord: (referring to Pavel) "He’s preserved in the walls, in the very fabric of the building, forever."
Shireen: "So, the house is eating people?"
The Landlord: "We must all pay our dues."
Bill: "But not you?"
The Landlord: "Correct! I am the exception. For I am your landlord. You came here, you signed the contract. And now (tapping his tuning fork on the wall) It’s time to pay."

The Doctor: (to Nardole) "Okay, you can take the rest of the night off. Go on, go and do whatever it is you do. Actually, what do you do? No. Never tell me that."

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