This season of Doctor Who has been surprisingly strong. Not to say that it’s bad, so much as it’s never really come out of the gate and stayed consistently entertaining. Previous Doctor Who seasons have had problems with either stumbling from the get go, or slipping later. So far though: four episodes in and these have been great episodes. Part of that is due to a dynamic between the Doctor and Bill that’s more clearly defined from the beginning, compared to previous Moffat companions like Clara or Amy which kept blurring the line between companion and love interest. Cutting out the latter point makes for a breath of fresh air with the Doctor getting to play a teacher role, as well as his trying and failing to create emotional distance with himself and Bill.
That all comes into play with Knock Knock, which as far as plot goes is pretty classic: Bill moves into a new place that’s more or less haunted, which leads into what’s more or less a “Base Under Siege” story with the Doctor and everyone else trying to survive termites eating them. While the threat itself isn’t super horrifying, it provides a great chance to see the Doctor and Bill’s relationship. While the Doctor trying to be a teacher or father figure isn’t new, Bill is great in terms of being able to assert that she doesn’t need or want the Doctor’s helicopter parenting (at least initially) which gives Pearl Mackie and Peter Capaldi a great deal of material to play off of.
Overall though, this season has been very exciting. While not every episode can be Midnight or Heaven Sent, Mike Bartlett’s script is a great outlet for the energy Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie bring to the table, as well as one of the more interesting villains that isn’t an army. Bill Anderson’s directing does milk a lot of the inherent horror of a spooky house, as well as the body horror in a way that doesn’t bleed the budget of a typical Doctor Who dry. While David Suchet is maybe a bit TOO obviously evil as the landlord, his motivations, as well as the presence of a certain twist later in the episode help shine a light on his actions. Doctor Who does require engine fuel for stories to progress, and villain motivations can sometimes be easy to gloss over, and while the Landlord’s isn’t unique, it does provide a great parallel to the Doctor’s own problem with being able to let go of loved ones which came into play with the last two Christmas Specials. It’s also the reason his interactions with Bill are made to feel like a loaded gun as opposed to more sprightly, after all when you’re with the Doctor, who knows when you’ll go, and what he’ll do to get you back?
While the mystery of the vault doesn’t really come into play here, the endnote with it does provide a great deal of fuel for the speculation that it might be the Master. (I mean who else would get excitable over hearing about people getting eaten?) It has so far been a reliable source of speculation, as well as reliable way of grounding the Doctor to one location in a way that hasn’t happened since the Third Doctor’s employment with UNIT. Though one hopes that they give us a peek at who’s in there sooner rather than later.
4 Landlords out of 5
– Bill shutting down the creepy roommate was appreciated and effective. Just don’t do that, yeah?
– The Doctor pretending to be Bill’s grandpa: nice tip of the hat to all the First Doctor references, or are we supposed to take that literally here?