Sunday, 7 May 2017

Doctor Who: Knock Knock

Bill: 'Basically, this is the bit of my life you're not in.'

If I'm honest, this season is turning into what I imagined next season would be, with its vanilla stories, its super-friendly Doctor, and its simpler season arc. Not a bad thing if done correctly, but I can't help but feel the show's lost some of its pzazz. I know the convoluted storytelling of seasons five and six was confusing to many (myself included), but I'd sooner be utterly baffled by an episode than have little to say about it.

Which is kind of how I feel about 'Knock Knock'. There wasn't anything ghastly about it (ghostly, yes, but ghastly, no)—it had numerous nice touches, great atmosphere, the odd notable performance, and some decent character beats—but there was nothing particularly memorable about it. It was basically a bog-standard haunted house yarn with the usual unexplained creaks and bangs, the obligatory doors and windows flying open of their own accord, teenage kids behaving like a-holes, and a stereotypically weird landlord. The twist: instead of ghosts, we got wood lice from space with the inexplicable gift of life and death.

Where these magnificent creatures came from, how they worked, what happened to them, or why they responded to Norma Bates at the end, is anybody's guess, but the CGI really did them no favours. I'm not sure how hard insects are to render, nor how difficult it is to replicate and manipulate wood, but the CGI tonight was frequently horrible. I couldn't believe what I was seeing when Harry's foot disappeared through the stair; it didn't look even vaguely realistic. Traditionally the CGI on Doctor Who has been something of a mixed bag, but there's usually some good stuff going on to mitigate the dreck. Tonight I can't think of one impressive effect. Even the composite externals looked awful.

I was also a little disappointed that one of this season's strengths—the burgeoning relationship between Bill and the Doctor—was mostly relegated to the back burner. It made absolute sense that Bill would want private space away from the Doctor, so her reluctance to have him around was understandable, but did she have to be so rude about it? Not only had the Doctor just helped her move house, he was also trying to protect her and her friends. Admittedly, Bill didn't know this at the time, but she spent the first fifteen minutes of the episode either embarrassed by him, or trying to kick his arse out the door. Again, understandable behaviour for a teenager, but still a bit disappointing coming from Bill.

With Bill and the Doctor effectively separated for the middle third of the episode, it was up to the rest of the characters to pick up the slack, and they generally did a decent job. True, they often felt like Class extras—and this story definitely wouldn't have felt out of place on that show—but the actors did themselves proud. It's just a shame that Bartlett offed their characters in such strange ways and gave them such unconvincing dialogue. ('Pop-up', 'freestyle', 'boom'? For fuck's sakes, Mike!) Pavel's love of locking himself in his room, combined with his housemates inability to detect a stuck record, meant that him getting sucked into the wall went by largely unnoticed; Felicity's cleithrophobia seemed to come out of nowhere, but was apparently necessary for her to escape before being eaten by a homicidal tree; and Harry's sudden flip out, which resulted in him being unconvincingly CGI-ed to death by a flight of wooden steps, also felt oddly plot convenient rather than character-driven.

Thankfully, by the end of the episode normality was mostly restored and Bill and the Doctor began to interact again. Bill's dissatisfaction at the Landlord's explanation led to a bit of top notch detective work, but where on earth was the Doctor pulling his explanations from? He's was virtually answering his own questions before he'd finished asking them. I'm not sure I bought any of his deductions, nor how easily they came (despite him having no knowledge of the space lice whatsoever), but at least the situation gave David Suchet an opportunity to stretch his acting wings, and I admit, the Landlord's predicament did tug at my heartstrings. His situation was undeniably sad, and was probably the perfect metaphor for the challenges of infirmity and old age, but it was difficult to sympathise with a man who'd been using the vicennial slaughter of teenagers to keep Lady-Pinocchio alive.

Which leads directly to the coda: Nardole. Again, he appeared for his now customary two minutes, exchanged semi-chastising pleasantries with the Doctor, before skulking off to wherever he goes when he's not mothering him—but we're still no closer to knowing who's in the vault. Clearly the Doctor's on reasonably friendly terms with him/her/it—he did after all bring takeaway and provide a tuned piano—the question is: will the Doctor entering the vault be the opening scene of next week's episode, or will it be forgotten as we begin an entirely new adventure? Here's hoping for the former. I don't think I can take the suspense of them stretching it out all season.

Other Thoughts:

—Initially, I thought that killing six kids every twenty years in exchange for the preservation of a wooden person seemed like too high a price to pay, but people do have a habit of keeping loved ones alive well past reasonable limits. I guess we're always hoping for a miracle. Most of us wouldn't kill to achieve it, however.

—I'm not sure I approved of everyone coming back to life again, although it'll be interesting to see whether they re-use Shireen.

—Could those fireworks have been any more timely? Or the Doctor's speech any more silly?

—Apparently in an earlier draft of the script, one of the students was revealed to be the grandson of Harry Sullivan. Shame they didn't keep that in.

—I hope Bill didn't lose all her belongings in the house collapse. She's only had those photos of her mum a few weeks. 

Quotes:

Shireen: 'Oh no, it's in my foot!'

Bill: 'Now's the time for the plan.'
Doctor: 'There was no plan. Info dump and busk.'
Bill: 'Then start busking!'

Bill: 'Doctor, that doesn't make sense.'
Doctor: 'Can you not interrupt, I'm doing my thing here.'

Doctor: 'Right you lot. Back to the estate agents. Better luck next time.'

Doctor: 'You're being cheerful. I'm against cheerful.'



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