Doctor Who – Season 10 Episode 04
Written by Mike Bartlett
Directed by Bill Anderson
Another week, another Who. This season is off to a stellar start and hopefully the trend continues with tonight’s episode which seems to be a haunted house story starring Hercule Poiret himself, David Suchet. At this point, the chemistry between Bill and the Doctor would get me through even the worst Doctor Who but let’s hope they keep up this winning streak.
We open with Bill and a group of other youngsters going house hunting and looking at a bunch of terrible houses. As they leave the real estate agent they are met by a kindly old man (David Suchet) who takes them to a manor house that is both huge and full of the promise of haunted Gothic intrigue. They sign a rental contract on the spot. That night, one of the lads makes his way through the house, creaking the floorboards and walking around in the dark. He puts on some chilling violin music and unpacks. At this point, I feel like he’s just asking for whatever comes next. And what comes next is he peeks outside of the room and when he goes back in we hear him screaming and there’s a squelching, crunching noise and the credits roll.
Bill packs her bags and I’m reminded that in The Pilot we saw that she had a foster mother who, to put it lightly, sucked. However, it seems as though I’ll be spared her as instead the TARDIS arrives to pick up Bill’s stuff.
Bill tells the Doctor he should hire out the TARDIS for removals and he explains that he’s a Time Lord, though he seems pretty embarrassed of the fact. Bill gives him the postcode for the share house. The Doctor makes a passing remark about regeneration and changes the subject when Bill asks him what that is. They arrive at the house and instantly the Doctor is suspicion of a) the tower atop the house and b) how a bunch of students could afford such a huge house.
The Doctor, against Bill’s protests, helps to bring her stuff in and though the students all know the Doctor from the university Bill insists that he’s her granddad. She dismisses him and he leaves, though he’s clearly still suspicious as hell of this freak ass house.
Bill chooses a room and chats with one of the other students who tells her he hasn’t found a way into the tower, which is where he wanted his room to be. He proposes that they should throw a party.
Bill hangs a picture of her mother on the wall and the house seems to growl at her.
That night the students eat dinner and talk about some of the noises they’ve heard in the house, freaking out one of the sharers. They hear a skittering noise in one of the other rooms. They go into the kitchen to investigate and hear banging coming from a door at the back of the room. They open the door and find, inevitably, the Doctor. He tells them he’s been exploring the house and that there’s lots of wood, no central heating, old stove tops, and out of date plugs. Bill tells him that there’s nothing weird about a house being old but he reminds her that when they arrived the trees outside were all blowing in the wind when there wasn’t any.
The Doctor tells the others they need to find a new house but they explain that the price and size of the rooms are too good. One student, the tall one, says he’ll call the landlord but when they move into the living room they find he’s already there.
He makes some cryptic comments about a daughter and is a bit creepy about the house in general. The students explain to him some of their concerns and he tells them he will get it sorted ASAP, knock on wood. And when he does knock on wood the house creaks in response, something he attributes to an old house. One of the students asks how you get into the tower and the landlord snaps that “You don’t.”
He goes to leave and the Doctor asks him who the Prime Minister is. He doesn’t answer and tells the Doctor that he is okay to leave his ‘granddaughter’ there alone, the landlord will keep an eye on her. He taps a tuning fork on the wall and then leaves.
The skittering noise starts again and the Doctor decides that he’s going to hang out, chill, listen to music. Bill takes him aside. She explains that nothing’s going on and that this – the student-y bit – is the part of her life that the Doctor is not a part of. The Doctor agrees and tells her to head off to bed and maybe, just maybe, it might be a good idea to check on the friend that no one has seen for a day.
They head off to bed and the tall student makes a clumsy pass at Bill who shuts him down by explaining she’s into girls. The tall student laughs and says, ‘Oh, right, I was never in with a chance. Awesome,’ which is nice. There’s no anger, no accusations, just an acknowledgment that some people want different things and that’s totally cool. Good on ya, Doctor Who.
Bill and, another student, Shireen chat about them not having rooms next door to each while the tall student, Paul makes fake horror movie noises from his room. Or at least they start fake and then he just starts screaming. And then silence. Bill and Shireen try to get into the room but the door won’t budge. Bill knocks on the door and there is a knocking sound back, which they take as confirmation that Paul is alright. Shireen calls out, ‘See you in the morning,’ and knocks again only this time the knock knock response comes from different doors, the walls, the floor, the ceiling. Doors close, windows fly open. They run away.
Downstairs the Doctor, along with Felicity and Harry (I went on IMDB and learnt everyone’s names). He shows them a door that previously opened is now completely sealed shut as have the shutters on the windows. Felicity runs to the kitchen and tries to pry the shutters open only to be sucked out of the window.
Felicity tries to call the police but is attacked by something we don’t see. Inside the Doctor and Harry try to get out but they don’t before Felicity’s screaming stops. The Doctor knocks on the shutters and asks, ‘Who’s there?’
Upstairs, Bill and Shireen go into Pavel’s room (the music playing dude from the start). Pavel has been absorbed into the wall and the record he was playing continues to play, replaying the same couple of moments over and over. They go to turn off his record player and Pavel starts blinking.
The landlord walks in. He explains that music is pleasant but repetition is not good and hope is its own form of cruelty. He takes the needle off the record and Pavel is fully absorbed. The landlord reveals himself to be the villain of the piece and tells them that they signed the contract, it’s time for them to pay. Bill and Shireen make a run for it.
They head for the tower and find the entrance behind a bookcase.
The Doctor tries to understand what has happened and posits that something has gotten into the wood of the building. He pushes on the cupboards to make them creak, provoking something to get louder and louder before it appears. An insect emerges from the wood and crawls around the kitchen. As the Doctor chases after it, we see hundreds of them emerge from the wood and begin to spread across the walls. They run into the kitchen cupboard which the Doctor reveals to be a lift. He pulls a lever and the lift goes down into a pitch black cellar.
Bill and Shireen arrive in the tower, which seems to be a bedroom. There is a wooden screen and they hear something up behind it. “Is that you”‘ calls a female voice.
In the cellar, the Doctor and Harry find boxes of stuff and a tenancy agreement the same as the one they signed but from 1997. They move into another room and find more boxes and an agreement from 1977. Then one from 1957. They leave the room and find the landlord waiting for them. The Doctor asks him where the 97/77/57 tenants are and the landlord explains that they’re in the house. Harry says they haven’t seen them and the Doctor explains that they’re in the wood of the house.
The Landlord explains that his daughter was dying and that the creatures saved her. He tells the Doctor that his daughter is in the house and that she must survive. Harry makes a run for it but is trapped when the stairs grab his legs. The Landlord taps his tuning fork and the insect (the Doctor calls them Triads) engulf him into nothing. The Triads head towards the Doctor and he tells the Landlord that he can help him.
In the tower, the voice continues from behind the screen and eventually two wooden hands emerge followed by a young girl made entirely out of wood. She introduces herself as Eliza. She walks out from behind the screen and its one of the freakiest images Doctor Who has ever produced.
Shireen tries to leave and steps on a Triad which climbs up her leg. Followed by a swarm of them which engulf her like Harry until there’s nothing left.
The Landlord walks in with the Doctor. He explains to Eliza that Doctor might be able to help her. The Doctor begins to diagnosis and we get a flashback to the Landlord finding the bugs and showing them to his sick daughter. The Doctor asks him how he controls them and Bill says that maybe its high-pitched noises (like Pavel’s freaky violin record). The Doctor opens the music box on Eliza’s dressing table and the Triads appear. We flashback again to the Triads waking up and revitalising the dying Eliza.
Bill says that that doesn’t make sense. Why would he bring insects into the house? And if he brought them in 70 years ago, why hasn’t he aged? The Doctor asks Eliza what she remembers and she tells him that her father knows best.
The Doctor explains that even though the wood has preserved her voice and appearance, her memories aren’t there because the Landlord isn’t her father. He brought her the insects when he was a child to try and cheer up his mother. The Landlord begins to cry, asking his mother to forgive him. Eliza begins to question why they needed to absorb the students and begins to see that ‘father’ didn’t know best.
The Landlord tells the Doctor and Bill they’ve brought nothing but confusion and, with his tuning fork, summons the Triads. The Doctor tells Eliza that she needs to stop this, she’s the parent after all. She raises her hands and begins to control the Triads. The Landlord tells her she needs to stop and stay a secret and the Doctor tells her she needs to open the shutters, see the world. She turns and opens the shutters. Fireworks are being set off from a party in the park.
Eliza tells the Landlord to leave her side and go and see the world. He tells her he doesn’t want to and lunges at Bill and the Doctor. Eliza grabs his arm. She hugs him as the Triads begin to cover them both, she says thank you to Bill and the Doctor and they both are consumed. The house begins to shake and the Doctor and Bill make a break for it. As they leave they see the Triads are restoring Bill’s friends. Shireen appears on the floor. They pick her up and leg it.
As they run through the house they collect the others and get outside. Once they’re clear they see the house fall apart. “Back to the estate agents,” says the Doctor. “Better luck next time.”
At the Vault, Nardole is pressing buttons. He makes some comments about being able to find monsters on Earth instead of the past or outer space. The Doctor gives him the night off. Nardole says that their friend inside has been restive but the Doctor dismisses him, telling him he can sort it out.
A piano begins to play from within the vault. Nardole asks the Doctor why he’s put a piano in there and the Doctor says goodnight. Once Nardole is gone the Doctor knocks on the door and asks if the occupant wants dinner. He tells the person inside that he’s trapped too. He tells the prisoner that he has a new story. One that involves space woodlice and a haunted house. He gets no response. The Doctor calls out that it involves lots of young people getting eaten and the occupant plays a jaunty tune on the piano. The Doctor taps the keypad, opens the door, and says, “I’m coming in.”
David Suchet is a national treasure. It’s been a while since a single episode villain has left this much of an impression but Suchet was chilling, menacing, charming, and deadly all at once. Doctor Who villains tend to lean more towards the camp side of things with big world domination plans and shout-y monologues. The landlord was all soft-voiced threats and old man kindliness and it worked wonders. Especially at the end when it was revealed who he really was. The range of acting talent on this show is pretty big and sometimes you get people who can’t act their way out of a paper bag and sometimes you get absolute legends like Suchet.
On the whole, this episode was a great haunted house romp with some utterly chilling moments. For example, I’m actually writing this sentence now before the episode has ended because the daughter’s hand has just emerged from the wooden screen and I need a minute to compose myself. Luckily the episode didn’t take a big nosedive in quality so I didn’t have to delete it. Also, that hand thing was unsettling. Actually, the whole sequence of Eliza emerging from behind the screen freaked me out. I think it was the wooden teeth.
A great idea tonight was splitting up Bill and the Doctor. The Doctor had his adventures with Harry in the bottom of the house and Bill and Shireen took the top. It was some classic Scooby Doo stuff that worked a treat as you got Bill trying to figure things out without the Doctor dropping the answers on her or being there to explain everything away.
I was also very happy, as stated in the recap, with the scene of Bill turning down Paul’s advances. It was a mature, interesting scene that reminds me that this show is ostensibly for kids. Kids are going to take lessons from interactions like that and see that if they fancy someone and that person is gay, the best reaction is to be cool about it. Much like last week’s episode taught an important lesson about racist punching (i.e. do it) this week hopefully taught some people some more very helpful stuff.
Finally, the Doctor. I have struggled with Capaldi’s run on this show. His first season was not great as they couldn’t quite lock in the character and the episodes weren’t good enough to get through the teething process. The second season was a vast improvement which culminated in some of the finest work the show has ever done, but I never connected with the character. Finally, they have nailed what this Doctor is all about. He’s fun but grumpy, caring but apathetic. And just as they get the character sorted he’s going to leave. Before the season started I didn’t think I would have much reaction to Capaldi leaving, and now I worry they’re setting me up for a broken heart.
Body Count: 2
“It doesn’t help” – Harry and the Doctor
What’s in the Vault: The Master. I think it has to be now. And the annoying thing is that if it is and it’s the John Simm Master, the teaser after episode one has pretty much ruined it. Or it’s a fake out.
Prediction for Next Week: It looks like it’s a race against time story set on a space station with zombies. Sold. A thousand times sold.
Featured Image: BBC