The Fourth Doctor Adventures - The Haunting of Malkin PlaceBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 30 May 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Haunting of Malkin Place (Credit: Big Finish)

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), 
Simon Jones (Talbot), Denise Black (Mrs Mountford), 
Gunnar Cauthery(Maurice), Fiona Sheehan (Beatrice),
Rikki Lawton (Tom), Phil Mulryne (Jack). 
Written By: Phil Mulryne, directed By: Nicholas Briggs

We first come across the Doctor and Romana in the Doctor’s Baker Street address in 1922. Romana is reading an M R James novel and is questioning the Doctor about what makes a good ghost story, all the while being interrupted by unexplained bangs and bumps from the attic Spooky goings on that for once the Doctor refuses to investigate. To further enlighten themselves, they decide to hop on a train and visit the village where M R James lived. While on the train the pair befriend a spiritualist, Talbot (Simon Jones) , and his assistant Tom (Rikki Lawton), who are on the way to Malkin Place, where their presence has been requested by Beatrice (Fiona Sheehan) and her brother Maurice (Gunnar Cauthery), who claims that Malkin Place is VERY haunted. Of course, the Doctor can never resist a good ghost story, so he and Romana decide to tag along and help.

 

Doctor Who will of course normally do a ghost story very well, and this one has all of the hallmarks of a classic:

A daunting house in the middle of nowhere? Check. 

A vulnerable woman who (at the beginning) refuses to acknowledge the danger that she is in? Check.

Creepy séances? Check.

A mysterious neighbour with an ulterior motive? Check.

A great reveal of a scientific explanation by the Doctor? Check.

 

So why didn't I enjoy it as much as I felt that I should? I'm as surprised as anyone else, as I’ve been loving these Fourth Doctor audio dramas. I suppose there would have to be the odd one that I wouldn’t find up to scratch. I think with this, it was just the predictability of it all. You know that there is something amiss with Maurice, thanks to the opening scene. If this had been held back, and we just get the details of his nightmares, things could have been a little more intriguing. Plus no matter how spooky things get, you know that the Doctor will have a non-supernatural explanation for events – even if it is starting to sound like he might have doubts himself. I did chuckle though at the big reveal as to who was making the noises in the attic of Baker Street.

 

The sound design is great and reminded me of the recent Knock Knock television episode from its audio abilities. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward are as always very reliable, and the supporting cast is good. I just found the writing by Phil Mulryne a tad pedestrian. I hound the Haunting of Malkin Place to be average stuff I'm afraid.

 

The Haunting of Malkin Place is available now as a CD or a digital download from Big Finish.






The Pyramid at the End of the WorldBookmark and Share

Saturday, 27 May 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley

"Oh my God!"

"No. I'm the Doctor, its an easy mistake to make - its the eyebrows."The Pyramid At The end Of The World: Bill (Pearl Mackie), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Nardole (Matt Lucas) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway/Des Willie/Ray Burmiston))

 

Here we are. Part two of three, part one being last weeks Extremis - which I have to be honest with you dear reader - was an episode that I wasn't entirely blown away by. I rather thought it was too 'full on' Steven Moffat. The proof of this is that I always watch Who with my partner, we watch it time shifted, normally to around 9pm, on the evening of broadcast. He is a casual Who fan, in that he has seen (and enjoyed, for the most part) all of new Who at least once, but gleefully scoffs at the classics (there you are, now you know what I have to put up with). Halfway through last weeks episode I turned around and he was asleep. I nudged him, and he jumped up, muttered how rubbish he thought the episode was, and went to bed. I didn't mind too much, as I opened a bottle of wine, and popped Mawdryn Undead on as soon as Extremis ended....

 

Beware......there are plenty of spoilers below.

 

The Pyramid At The end Of The World: Monk (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))I'll refer to this weeks episode Pyramid, it saves on the amount of characters that you have to read, and I have to type. Pyramid immediately shows Extremis for what it essentially was, and that is a fifty minute trailer for the start of the main event.

We begin with a recap on the previous episode, interlaced with scenes of Bill's REAL date with Penny. Bill is filling her in on the details of last week's simulation. They settle down in the kitchen and Bill jokes about the Pope making a sudden appearance, then boom - the door is broken down by soldiers, who march into Bill's kitchen, and are followed by the head of the UN, who is requesting an audience with the Doctor. Here we go again....

Pyramid is essentially a story about first contact, and it's handled quite realistically. A 5000 year old pyramid suddenly appears overnight in a territory that is flanked by the Chinese, Russian and the US army - now if that isn't a way to get an international audience, I don't know what is.

The Doctor (or the President, as he is known in times go global crisis), is called upon to investigate - but of course he is still blind - but he has augmented his glasses so that he can see basic images, outlines - just enough to get him by.

The Doctor edges towards the pyramid, while Nardole narrates the seen for him through the top toggle in his jacket....to an earpiece the Doctor is wearing. The The Pyramid At The end Of The World: Secretary General (Togo Igawa), The Commander (Nigel Hastings), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Bill (Pearl Mackie) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))Monks are in the pyramid, and they want to make a pact with the people of Earth that will save the planet. There is a truly global disaster looming, and the Monks can stop it, but we, the human race have to ask the Monks for help. The Doctor is of course suspicious of the Monks motives, and does something rather out of character. He instructs the UN that they should show a force of strength. Attack the pyramid with all that they can throw at it. Sadly the attack is a complete failure.

As these events unfold, there is another story being quietly told in the background. We find ourselves with two people who are working at an agricultural research centre. One has broken her glasses, and the other is incredibly hung over. The sub-story is cleverly introduced, it feels out of place at first, but all the while it is drip feeding the viewer information vital to the story until the two plots converge. It really is a joy to witness the cleverness of this writing. 

The end of the episode is very tense, with the Doctor trapped in the agriculture research lab with a hastily put together bomb. He is trapped on the inside of the lab. There is a simple combination coded lock that would release the door, but his glasses can't pick up the detail of the numbers. The episode ends with Bill making a pact, and the Doctor gaining his sight back. But theres not a Missy to be found anywhere....

Peter Harness (Kill the Moon, Zygon Invaision/ Zygon Inversion)wrote this episode with Steven Moffat, and that is probably a very good thing, as it seemed instantly more accessible for the not so avid fan. There is a lighter touch to a lot of scenes. I particularly liked the Doctor being surprised, when exiting  the TARDIS to see that he was onboard the UN's version of Airforce One. He asks a soldier "How did you move her, the windows at the university aren't big enough?" The soldier responds with a sheepish "Ummmmm - well.....they are now....".


The Pyramid At The end Of The World: The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))Let's talk about the Monks. I'm not sure about you, but I think they could be the best new original villain since the Silence. I realise that the way they speak is actually nothing new, with their mouths hanging open and words tumbling out - but they are quite unsettling. But what is their motive? At the end of the episode they save the Doctor, the Monks restore his sight and save the world, well actually the Doctor saves the world with his bomb, but he would have surely have needed an early regeneration at the very least if he had stayed in the lab. Are the Monks truly malevolent though? When they stop the UN attack, it's done quickly and efficiently, and almost gently. I'm guessing that we will find out what their game plan is next week.

Another very good plot point in this  episode is that it makes a great tool out of the Doomsday clock. About a third of the way through, every phone and clock on the planet is set to 11:57, this of course, on the Doomsday clock is three minutes to midnight, which is actually what the Doomsday clock is set at now to indicate the global threat level, 12:00 being Doomsday. Having all the clocks inch forward to 11:58, and then 11:59 is a brilliant plot device, and a great way of describing how big the threat is, and to ramp the tension up. Never before has Doctor Who communicated a threat so well, and so basically.

I read today that this episode would be edited as a result of the horrendous events in Manchester, and yes I can see why. I suspect the preview copy that I saw was unedited, as the events on screen were sometimes quite close to the bone, and traumatic enough with out the terrible events of Monday night looming in our memories.

The Pyramid at the End of the World is a cracking watch. The cast are all great, the story writing dialed back to just the right level, and the direction by Daniel Nettheim (last seen in charge of events in 2015's aforementioned Zygon two parter) is fast paced and to the point. Pyramid isn't the best of the season, but it definitely isn't the worst. If we have an upturn in quality from the previous episode like this again next week, Toby Whithouse's The Lie of the Land could well be a cracker.





Torchwood: The Dollhouse (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 22 May 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Dollhouse (Credit: Big Finish)

Cast: Laila Pyne (Marlow Sweet), Kelly-Anne Lyons (Charley Du Bujeau), Ajjaz Awad (Gabi Martinez), Stuart Milligan (Don Donohue), Eve Webster (Valerie Fox), David Menkin (Brad), 
Guy Adams (Mr Beamish)

Big Finish Productions - Released April 2017

“Once upon a time there were three very different little girls who came to the attention of the British Empire…

A secluded mansion in LA is the last outpost of the British Empire and the first line of defence against extra-terrestrial threat on the West Coast of the United States, Torchwood!”

 

Big Finish continue to expand the horizons of the Torchwood universe with their second release in this new run of adventures which for the first time features a cast of entirely new characters with no direct connection to the television series. Set in Los Angeles of the late 1970s, this story is an obvious homage to Charlie’s Angels, with the scene set by the deliberately cheesy opening narrated by Mr Beamish, played with a delightful British charm by Guy Adams.

 Laila Pyne, Kelly-Anne Lyons, and Ajjaz Awad are Marlow, Charley and Gabi, the three plucky agents recruited by the mysterious Mr Beamish, a Torchwood representative who takes the “Charlie” role as a disembodied voice issuing instructions presumably from the UK. This small cast story finds our heroines on the trail of some missing girls whose disappearances seem to be linked to alien activity. There is some fun to be had at the TV series’ expense with a knowing reference to “sex aliens” and fans of other genre shows will also be amused by a reference to El Chupacabra. Before long the investigation brings the girls into contact with slimy agent Don Donohue, played with the just the right amount of creepiness by Stuart Milligan. The small cast are also ably supported by Eve Webster as Valerie, who gets to be more than just the standard victim character andDavid Menkin as Brad.

Whilst there are plenty of standard tropes reminiscent of 1970s adventure series, Juno Dawson’s script also manages to pack in a few nice suprises and proves to be a worthy addition to the list of strong writers who have contributed to the Torchwood audios and it is pleasing to learn that she will be contributing an episode to the upcoming Aliens Among Us series set in the aftermath of Miracle Day.

Overall, this is well directed by Lisa Bowerman with some great 1970s style music from Blair Mowat which is blended well with familiar themes from previous releases. Given that this story ends with something of a watershed moment for its protagonists, it will be interesting to see if there are any plans for them to return or whether this will tie into the long-term storylines of the audio series. On the strength of this release, Torchwood Los Angeles has a lot of untapped potential.

 

The Dollhouse is available now from Big Finish and on general release from 30th June 2017






ExtremisBookmark and Share

Saturday, 20 May 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock
Extremis: The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Daniel Nettheim
Starring Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas, and 
Michelle Gomez
First transmitted BBCOne 20th May 2017"In darkness we are revealed."

"In darkness, we are revealed."

I’ve not heard that one before, but it sounds sort of familiar? Ah, Steven. Welcome back. Lovely season of Doctor Who we’re having. Love the new girl. Loving Nardole’s work too. And the Doctor, playing a blinder too. Sorry about the unintentional terrible pun, there. Now, I know time flies when you’re having fun, but is it really that time already? There seem to be some fiendishly clever and complex mysteries unfolding, and some apocalyptic revelations, and that thing with the Vault too, and it’s only episode six. And those monsters too, they’re terrifying. Can we not persuade you to stay on a bit longer, and Peter too? Oh go on, go on.

Joking (and terrible puns) aside, Extremis indeed plays like the set-up of a season finale, all long shadows, high concepts, ominous portent and flashbacks. For his lap of honour, Steven Moffat is at his wrong-footing, twisty best, subverting everything he can lay his hands on. The only unsurprising thing is the revelation of who’s in that vault. The Doctor being summoned by the Pope to solve a mystery involving a sacred text, the White House, the Pentagon, and CERN would normally have the feel of a Bond movie. That it actually turns out to be the exact opposite is just one of the many surprises seeded throughout Extremis’s 48 minutes. 

In fact, reading between the lines, it may possibly contain a dark joke about people reading The Da Vinci Code and then committing suicide, but let’s not go too far down that path. We can however be sure that this is the only episode of Doctor Who ever to feature both mass suicides and references to Super Mario.

The leisurely pace that Extremis unfurls at is unusual for Moffat’s Doctor Who. It’s unhurried, but far from sluggish. Rather than ramping up the tension as such, the events of Extremis come out like a slow-motion car crash from the minute the Pope summons the Doctor to read the Veritas, and Director Daniel Nettheim’s use of light, shadows, and focus frame it beautifully. Watch it again, the scenes of the Doctor’s eyesight fading in and out, and his half-glimpses of the Monks before the camera settles on their frankly horrible faces are masterful. The scrolling motion of Nettheim’s shots make a lot more sense the second time round, once you know it’s a simulation.

And what a simulation. Extremis’s heavy video game influence is worn on its sleeve. The wireframe graphics of the Doctor’s sonic shades (which mercifully fulfil a plot function here), the on the nose references to holodecks, VR, and Grand Theft Auto are artfully seeded by Moffat. Even Bill’s fantastically awkward date is framed like a cut-scene from a game. With its cadaverous Monks, shadows, and dark portents, Extremis would be the most nightmarish episode of Doctor Who in a long, long time in its own right - but the revelation that it’s all a game is arguably more horrifying. The genuine terror of Nardole and Bill’s avatars as they become self-aware and disintegrate is chilling. This is Doctor Who vs. Existence. What happens when the people inside the simulation become self aware. For the Veritas isn’t a Truman Show trapdoor to reality. It’s a one-way trip to oblivion. The game of numbers at CERN also chills the blood, as the wine-supping Swiss scientists set up the most civilised mass suicide ever shown in a family TV timeslot. The try-out simulation of invasion set up by the mysterious Monks is due to pay off in presumably quite a big way over the coming weeks. Their exact motivations are unknown thus far, but they’re revolting, dessicated creatures, destined to scare the absolute Veritas out of children everywhere. Why exactly they leave the trapdoor of the Veritas is slightly unclear, but as the avatar-Doctor shows, maybe they’re not as good at computer games as they’re cracked up to be. That’s one suspiciously benevolent Catholic Church they’ve knocked up there.

It’s a diminished Doctor we see in Extremis, still blind after the events of Oxygen, and doing a rubbish job of covering it up, although Bill weirdly doesn’t seem to notice. He’s on the run and the back foot, and the guard is back up. His inability to admit his blindness to Bill is perhaps the old pride rearing its head. His face-off with the Monks, although desperate, is classic Doctor, and Capaldi continues to show us just how much he’ll be missed with another stunning performance. This more fallible, rattled Doctor suddenly feels very old.

In the midst of all this seriousness, there’s still room for warmth and jokes. Bill finding the Pope in her room. Moira’s tacit recognition of Bill’s sexuality, in an awkward, but rather lovely scene, in which both not much and everything is said. Nardole the badass, licensed to kick the Doctor's arse by River. The Doctor’s catty put-down of Harry Potter, and the Moby Dick gag. Perhaps best of all is Missy’s disgruntled retort of "I've just been executed, show a little respect!”

Ah yes, Missy’s in the vault. Absolutely no surprises there, but we do cut back and forth to her ceremonial execution. Whatever Missy’s done, it’s a biggie this time. Brilliantly, Moffat slowly seeds the flashback of Missy’s ceremonial execution by pompous men in capes, but keeps you guessing at exactly what atrocity she’s committed. You know from the start that the Doctor’s not going to agree to execute her, but honour their friendship through becoming her keeper, and Capaldi and Michelle Gomez’s dialogue poignantly signposts this, in one of Gomez’s quietest performances, as Missy actually pleads for her life. As we discover, the Doctor’s been guarding her for a long time. At the end, he’s whispering through the vault door that he’ll need his old frenemy’s help. Something’s coming. And with that, another very good episode of Doctor Who leaves us with a lingering quote.

 

"Honestly, shut up and get to the whale.” No, not really. I’ll get my coat. "In darkness we are revealed."





OxygenBookmark and Share

Saturday, 13 May 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Oxygen: The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Des Willie))

Space, the final frontier - these are the opening words of Oxygen, spoken by the Doctor, over a stark visual of two individuals floating lifelessly in space. The monologue might be an homage to that other long-lived sci-fi show, it sums up this episode perfectly. In space, we need oxygen to survive. Welcome to a universe where oxygen is a commodity. It makes perfect sense. In space, oxygen is just about the single most precious thing there is. Welcome to Oxygen.

 

BEWARE - THERE WILL BE SOME SPOILERS.

 

The pre-credits sequence has to be one of the creepiest yet. We find two people working their way around the exterior of a spaceship, their oxygen running dangerously low. One sees a shadow of something that is behind them flickering across a bulkhead. She turns and sees zombies, lurching zombies in helmet-less space suits, looming towards her through the dark vacuum arms outstretched. Her companion turns to see what is happening and sees that she is also now a zombie and is clawing mercilessly towards him . And then Murray Gold's theme kicks in.

Back on Earth the Doctor is meant to be giving a lecture on crop rotation, but is actually,  quite aptly, giving a lecture on the effects of space on the human body. This is quite a handy and very timely lecture that will become a practical experience later in the story.

Oxygen: Bill (Pearl Mackie), Tasker (Justin Salinger) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))The Doctor though has very itchy feet (no surprise there) and wants to escape the university and his duties to The Vault. It doesn't take long before the Doctor, Bill and Nardole find themselves in the TARDIS, answering a distress call. The trio materialise on a spaceship (which of course is the ship that featured in the pre-credits sequence) and find that it is a mining ship, that at first seems deserted (don't they always). After further exploration they find a dead crew member in a space suit, anchored to the floor by his magnetic boots, which are forcing the corpse to stand upright, leaning slightly to one side (this is such a simple, and creepy effect). It's quite a grisly sight that upsets Bill massively, in fact, she looks truly terrified by the scene - which makes her very human and incredibly relatable. Here is where the horror starts.

In true, classic Doctor Who style there follows, of course, a lot of running down dark corridors, doors that won’t open, screaming, panic and facing up against all the odds. Oxygen is a base under siege story where the threat is already in the base. The tension really is palpable, if this story doesn't send the kids scuttling behind the sofa, asking their parents if it is safe to come back out yet, I don't know what will.

Pearl Mackie as Bill continues to excel. I absolutely adored her when she was testing the gravity on the ship, bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet. When the Doctor tells her that the gravity is artificial, she disappointedly points out that it doesn't feel like space. She then looks out a window in pure wonder and takes in the rest of the ship and the stars, "NOW it seems like space!" she says in pure wonderment. On the flip side of her initial of course is her terror at the threat, which is truly palpable. And yes, when her space suit starts to malfunction, she is so very good that it will leave you breathless.

Peter Capaldi puts in another performance that cements home to us all that he will be missed when his time eventually comes. At points during this story, it feels as if the Doctor is out of his depth, which is something that immediately puts the viewer on edge. Plus there are actual ramifications to his actions and heroics that seem as if they will carry on into the next episode, and possibly the rest of the series. Now THAT gives you a story with depth. Wait for his reaction to an unfortunate incident with the sonic, its classic.

The guest actors are all very good, with Mimi Ndiweni being the stand out as the straight talking Abby.Oxygen: Abby (Mimi Ndiweni), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))

The show is brilliantly directed by Charles Palmer, who makes the tension and events very real. Palmer has worked on Who before with credits that include The Shakespeare Code, Family of Blood and Human Nature. Oxygen contained some of the best direction I have seen in Who, and Palmer's style was, for me,  very reminiscent of Graeme Harper. Palmer knows how to handle Who, and it shows in buckets.

Oxygen is written by Jamie Mathieson, who is, of course, an old hand now, and boy is this evident. Once the TARDIS crew materialise on the ship the action DOES NOT STOP until the epilogue. Everything is believable and well thought out. From the tech to the characterisations of the guest stars. This is sterling stuff.

However, there is a little bit of guff. I truly hate to single him out, as I think this may be Moffat's brief for the character and not his fault, but Matt Lucas's Nardole has started to grate on me. At the beginning of this story, he is brilliant. I adored how persistent he was at trying to get the Doctor back into the TARDIS and back to Earth to watch over The Vault. But as the episode went on, he just became the obligatory comic stooge. I've never been a fan of an obvious comic stooge, so this might be just me. There is also another reset button that puts right MOST of the carnage, but without re-setting, there really would have been no way back.

Negativity aside, there is a lot of continuity in this episode, for starters the nod back to the second story of classic Who (I don't need to tell you which one!), where the Doctor lies about the fluid link. There are also a number of ongoing themes, Artificial Intelligence being one of them, and racism another. As a viewer, you are not quite sure where to look when a blue alien accuses Bill of being racist. Bill is obviously mortified, but at the same time realises that her actions did cause offence finding that the boot on a very different foot. As well as continuity, there is a familiar feel to events. The space suits reminded me of those in Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead, especially with the flashing coloured bars that show the level of oxygen left. The gritty interior of the space ship harked back to The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit. I was also reminded at points of The Robots of Death  and The Sun Makers. While on the subject of capitalism, there is an instantly classic line in Oxygen that sums up the whole of this story - "We're fighting the suits!"

I thought last weeks Knock Knock was a bit of a misstep, yes it was a good story, but it all unraveled rather quickly in the end. I always judge Who by it's re-watch value, and I can't see me revisiting Knock Knock again anytime soon. Oxygen, however, has the feel of an instant classic, the best in the season so far, and probably up there in my top three Capaldi episodes. I promise - Oxygen will leave you breathless and is sure to absolutely max you out on that adrenaline.

 





Knock KnockBookmark and Share

Saturday, 6 May 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
Knock Knock: The Landlord (David Suchet) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))

Starring Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie and Matt Lucas
Guest starring: David Suchet
Co-starring: Mariah Gale, Mandeep Dhillon, Colin Ryan 
Ben Presley, Alice Hewkin, Bart Suavek and Sam Benjamin 

Written by Mike Bartlett
Directed by Bill Anderson
Produced by Nikki Wilson
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin

First broadcast on BBC1 on Saturday May 6th at 7:20pm 

This review contains spoilers and is based on a standard, non-binaural preview version of the episode. 

Speaking at the BFI/Radio Times TV Festival last month, Steven Moffat remarked that one thing he'd like to do after showrunning Doctor Who is write a play. Moffat has done his bit for trafficking between the worlds of theatre and TV talent this season, however, by securing the services of both Rona Munro and feted playwright and Doctor Foster creator Mike BartlettKing Charles III, one of Bartlett's recent and highly successful plays, is about to hit our television screens in an adapted version, whilst 2016's Wild -- a piece based loosely on the Edward Snowden case which took a radical turn into almost Who-esque territories -- has shown Bartlett's affinity with relevant material. Now, it would seem, is very much Mike Bartlett's time to clamber aboard the occasionally creaking but always smartly veneered Whoniverse.

Knock Knock is, let's face it, a rather cheesy title, gesturing at those repetitive old "Who's there?" jokes that probably still generate endless amusement among the programme's youngest fans. But by giving this reference an adult spin -- for this is a riff on the venerable haunted house subgenre -- Bartlett cleverly blurs together child and adult sensibilities right from the outset. Playing with the Doctor's relationship to Bill, and having her address him as "grandfather", is also a lovely throwback to the 1960s show; I initially responded to it in exactly this manner, as a gift to long-term fans. But cunningly, it also slots perfectly well into the theme of this episode's eventual and familial denouement, a smart tongue-and-groove piece of thematic construction (and generational confusion) that's hidden in plain sight.  

Writers new to Who have a tendency to emulate the leading tropes of their commissioning showrunner -- Matthew Graham's Fear Her often felt like RTD-lite, and Stephen Thompson's The Curse of the Black Spot replayed Moffat's favoured device of 'technology gone awry'. Here, we get an aspect of the ordinary, everyday world transformed into a fantastical threat, something which, though it has an extensive history in the programme, has also become part of the Moffat repertoire. And there's a kind of variant take on "are you my mummy?" which harks all the way back to The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. Having said that, Bartlett doesn't only seek to fit seamlessly into the Moffat-esque way of things, and also stamps his own mark on proceedings, notably in a comedic sequence criticising the state of students' rental accommodation in the UK, albeit imparting its critical stance with a deftly light touch.

On the minus side, I felt that Bartlett was sometimes a little cramped by the demands of a 43-minute single episode when he's evidently used to working with longer dramatic forms that have more space to unfold characterisation (something that the serialised Doctor Foster achieved quite brilliantly). Since the haunted house story calls for a number of characters who can be bumped off, Bartlett is also pretty much obligated to give Bill a decent number of housemates. This immediately causes a difficulty because each one threatens to become a student stereotype or a single-note creation. Perhaps slightly fewer students to be menaced by Wester Drumlins -- sorry, Bill's new residence -- would have helped on this front.

The tightly-coiled demands of an episode that has to set up atmospheric menace before delivering a pay-off 'reveal' also make life slightly difficult for guest star David Suchet, who is required to oscillate between ordinary-but-odd, outright creepy, and something far more essentially and basically human. It's a tough ask, and in places Suchet's performance seemed a little too mannered to me. But regardless of that, Doctor Who is fortunate to attract actors of such calibre, and I was admittedly disappointed that fan speculation regarding 'the Landlord' (that he would become a recurring character of some mysterious and Time Lordly status) fell wide of the mark. Suchet's character is very much a one-shot, belonging to this story alone. 

 

Knock Knock: The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Bill (Pearl Mackie) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))
Series 10's Vault storyline continues to gather pace, and the concluding moment -- withholding a reverse shot that would have revealed who was in there -- was deliberately cheeky, and all the more effective for it. But an episode entitled Knock Knock is bound to rely, more than most Doctor Who, on its sound design and soundtrack. On the whole, this worked very well, though the level of aural threat could perhaps have been more intense (I'll be interested to see whether advance hype surrounding this as a very scary episode is reflected in the general fan and audience response, as well as how much difference the binaural version makes). I'm a horror fan, but for my money this was far stronger on atmosphere and build-up than any genuine sense of shocks, jumps or 'scares'. The monsters' mass presence was, in the end, effective without being remarkable -- we dodged a Tractator-level incident, to be sure, but all the CGI hordes still felt generically competent rather than truly memorable.

 

And packing an episode with wood-related content is, I suspect, always going to be a risk in terms of inciting reviewers' puns or provocations (you can just imagine how any journalist looking for a punchline would reach for their finest grain of 'wooden' material). Actually, focusing on this dimension -- something that has rarely featured in Doctor Who other than as a challenge for the sonic screwdriver -- gives this episode a very specific and quasi-historical flavour. Yes, it's a present-day story, but instead of brutalist concrete-morphing creatures, steel-and-chrome monstrosities, or electronic/nano-techno-villains, there is something almost pleasingly quaint, if not retro, about a good, old wood-based threat. There's a sense of sedimented history, and the dust of ages, that setlles over 'Knock Knock', making the eventual reveal of Eliza's presence (and identity) an integral part of this 'return of the repressed past'.

Knock Knock does what the best of contemporary Doctor Who has always strived for: it combines fantastical threats with social commentary and moments of touching emotion and humanity, at the same time as fusing 'child' and 'adult' levels of meaning. As the proverbial 'family television' it also uncovers a gothic, dysfunctional family -- one that needs to be fixed by the Doctor's intervention. Holding on to the past at any cost is shown to be a powerful mistake, and 'Knock Knock' is ultimately about a very different kind of fear to its earlier evocations of creaking floorboards and unseen forces, zeroing in on the fear of loss, and all the misguided actions it can provoke, rather than notching up a villainous case of megalomania or 'evil'. In this, it marks its distance from certain previous incarnations of the show, and develops an approach highlighted in The Pilot. But the question that remains, given the Doctor's chatty engagement with the Vault's occupant, is whether he too, like the Landlord, is mistakenly holding on to an aspect of the past... In a week or two, we'll start to get some answers.