Series 34, Episode 4
It would be fair to say that so far, this series has been pretty mediocre: We've had one episode which was good but not amazing, and two episodes which were neither good nor bad, so much as just forgettable. But I had high hopes for this episode, which seemed from previews to be taking a gothic horror approach, and was bringing in David Suchet, of Poirot fame, to be a creepy villain.
This week's episode sees Bill and five other students searching for a place to live, without much success -- until a mysterious man offers to let them live at an old mansion. The offer quickly turns out to be too good to be true, as during the students' first night, they begin to vanish, getting sucked into the wood one by one. As more and more of Bill's friends vanish, she and the Doctor must figure out the mystery behind the house and its landlord, before the two of them are eaten as well.
As I think I mentioned last week, the writer for this week's episode is Mike Bartlett, who has never written a Doctor Who episode before, and whose background -- while impressive -- is predominantly in theatre, which is a very different beast. You can see something of his theatrical background in how this episode operates, utilising sounds from unseen sources, and terrible things happening off-screen to ramp up tension.
|The tall guy is v. good looking, I approve.|
So, first of all, the opening section, involving an ungodly large group of students attempting to find a home, only to be offered places without doors, the adequate number of bedrooms, or remotely livable conditions hit almost painfully close to home for me, an actual student who has had to deal with the grotesquery that is the student housing market before. It's over and done with quickly, really only there to provide set-up for the students to sign a contract that is obviously an alien trap -- except it doesn't really justify that. Like, yes, students are often naive when it comes to housing, and yes, these students are desperate, but I don't buy for a second that among six people, not a single one went 'well, obviously there's something horribly wrong with this place, I'm out.'
Bill has some reservations, but even then, it's implied that 'be eaten by evil house-lice' is written into the tenancy agreement, so I'm expected to believe nobody read it? It's not even that long, we see later on that it's literally four pages!
(Although, it's said that the Doctor, who never signed a contract, would also be eaten, so I don't really get what role the contracts are meant to even play here? Answers on a postcard, please.)
|I almost didn't recognise Suchet without the accent. You know the one.|
The rest of the story proceeds in typical horror fashion: One by one, everyone gets picked off, until just Bill and the Doctor remain for the big reveal -- which in this case, with the house having been revealed to have been possessed by evil wood-lice many minutes earlier, is the revelation that it isn't David Suchet's daughter who's been being kept alive, but his mother, prompting her to die and take him with her.
It's not a terrible story -- it's even, actually, pretty good, with a good sense of pacing and an ending which, while not the most original, certainly has at least some impact. It's easily the best episode of the series so far, and while none of its concepts are especially unique or innovative (in the context of Doctor Who or the wider context of fiction in general), they are, at least, executed about as well as they can be within a forty-five minute timeslot.
That's encouraging, at least so long as we don't think about how we're a third of the way through the series and only one episode has given me a reaction other than a resounding 'meh.'
|Ah, the rigours of moving.|
The end of the episode tries to build up some suspense by having more shenanigans with the Doctor and the Vault, clarifying that whoever is in it is friendly with the Doctor, and has fingers with which to play a piano -- so, like, it's very obviously the Master. We all know that, it's not a surprise, the only real question at this point is whether it's Missy or the John Simm Master, since we know both are showing up this series anyway.
Incidentally, the house shown in this episode is an actual AirBnB which you too could stay at. If you wanted to. I guess.
Next week, it looks like we have a standard-issue 'control a natural human impulse or the zombies will kill you' episode, which, given that we've had one of those already this series, is a little disappointing. It's written by Jamie Mathieson, who's previously written 'Mummy on the Orient Express,' which was okay; 'Flatline,' which was pretty good; and 'The Girl Who Died,' which was terrible -- so there's still everything to play for, and approximately one week to play it in.