TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – “Knock Knock”: Visual Storytelling and Politics of the Haunted House

I don’t like “Knock Knock” much.

I think it’s obvious if you’ve followed the coverage of last series on this blog – it was my least favourite episode of 2018, and I might go as far as calling it the nadir of the Capaldi era (it’s that or the Whithouse Lake two-parter, really). The general reasons for that dislike are pretty simple: it’s a boring piece of work that conceptually does nothing that hasn’t been done much better before, and sells itself on scares while utterly forgetting to be scary. But, the more I think back on it, the more I’m convinced there is actually more to it – or rather, something lacking at a deeper level. So, let’s investigate.

A good place to start this search, as often with Who, is with El Sandifer, and her review of the episode.

“ …because the culprit in Knock Knock’s abject blandness is pretty obvious: this is 100% down to the malign influence of Blink. And not just in the sense that it’s literally the same house, but in the fact that it’s a house in the first place. Once upon a time, when Doctor Who wanted to be scary it would, you know, do some scary stuff. Monsters stalking the Blitz. Weird Satanic horror on an alien world. Evil tourist busses. Or, frankly, any number of scary ideas from the classic series, only a handful of which were ever “haunted house.” (1)

She is right in identifying Knock Knock as a part of this recent trend in Who history – which then asks the question of why exactly it fails. Why does “Blink”, with what is essentially the same base ingredients, or “Hide”, succeed, while this fails? It all comes down, in the end, to how exactly you define a haunted house, as a storytelling construct and a sub-genre of fiction.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – The Fall of the House of Ness: notes on “Class” (3/3)

[This is the third and last part of a collection of short pieces looking at Class through the very subjective point of view of someone both fascinated and left unsatisfied by the show – it goes without saying that reading the first and the second before touching that one is advised. That final entry looks at “Detained“, “The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did” and “The Lost“]

[If you prefer reading all the retrospective in one go, you can do it here]

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – The Fall of the House of Ness: notes on “Class” (2/3)

[This is the second part of a collection of short pieces looking at Class through the very subjective point of view of someone both fascinated and left unsatisfied by the show – it goes without saying that reading the first, focusing on the initial three episodes, is advised! This week, I tackle (mostly) the central two-parter.]

[Also, it contains a slightly NSFW GIF of a lesbian sex scene – be warned]

[You can now read the entire restrospective here]

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – The Moffat Era and three-dimensional screenwriting

Opening cliché statement: the Moffat era of Doctor Who is one hell of a marmite.

It goes beyond the simple outraged and simultaneous cries of “He’s a misogynist!” and “He’s a Social Justice Warrior!” of “He’s repeating himself!” and of “He’s changing the very fabric of the show, the gall!” – the very way he approaches storytelling is divisive. Intentionally so – he’s a media-savvy master ès trolling, that will never hesitate to purposefully provoke and antagonize. Which is why he’s also the best writer Who ever had (sorry, not sorry!) – because that’s what the show is about. Being chaotic and confusing and throwing the whole scope of the time vortex at the flabbergasted viewer. Sure, not everyone has to like it, and sometimes one can rightfully wish for a more subdued vision of the show. Still, he does “get” it; he taps into something that’s deeply, primarily tied to the essence and ethos of Who.

But let’s try a change of perspective, for once. Let’s try not to talk about themes – really, dressing a complete and accurate portrait of the man and his writing style is a bit of an impossible task anyway. There’s way too much to say – you could write books about it, and indeed, books were and will be written about it. Keeping things at a purely structural level: what does Steven Moffat adds to the show? What are the core ideas he brings to its basic skeleton – not the themes, not the writing mannerisms, but the pure, structural ideas – ?

Well, proposition: Steven Moffat has changed, and continues to change, the status of the Doctor Who writer.

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TIBERIAN THOUGHTS – Mirror Image: “The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion” and visual storytelling

[A short warning: due to some real-life commitments, also known as finals, I had to put some more elaborate articles on hold – so instead you’re getting this slice of very nitpicky analysis. It’s a bit more low-hanging and cheap that what usually fills my side of the website, I’ll be the first to admit it. Don’t worry, though that’s not what the future of this column looks like, it’s more a little aside. That hopefully will prove enjoyable!]

 “I had this insane conversation with [director Daniel Nettheim] where he was saying ‘This bit doesn’t work. What am I going to do? I’m shooting on Monday!’ ” – Steven Moffat

Tomorrow, “Extremis” is going to air – an episode written by Steven Moffat and directed by Daniel Nettheim. If you’re paying attention to the names of various Who directors, you’d have noticed Nettheim, who has worked a lot on British TV since the 1990s – doing some work on Glue, most recently – has previously helmed the series 9 two-parter, “The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion“.

I’m on record as being notoriously cold on that two-parter. It’s not awful by any means, but it’s inconsistent and riddled with weird quirks – an especially unfortunate state of affairs for an episode that tries to tackle extremly dark, difficult and contemporary subjects. But this is not about a complete analysis of that story (although I do have some folders full of notes about it and am intending to put those to good use) – let’s focus instead on one specific aspect.

But first, a proposition: the Moffat era is arguably the first time in Doctor Who’s history where visually-driven storytelling has been a consistent and important feature all throughout the series. Or, at the very least: a lot of Moffat’s talent rests on his ability to craft a cohesive nexus of meaning encompassing both the technical aspects of an episode and its script. The show looks good, very good these days, and has more than its share of absolutely stellar directors, from Rachel Talalay to Paul Whilmshurst.

Which makes it all the more obvious, of course, when someone is not exactly up to the task. If you assume as a starting point that the directing of an episode is a text that parallels and complements the actual script, with every shot and cut being a letter or a punctuation mark – then, well, if that text is not impeccably written, or if it contradicts the script in some key ways, well, we’ve got trouble, to quote Peter Capaldi back in his hotel manager days.

And, obviously, I think this episode has quite a lot of issues at the visual level. Let’s talk about those, shall we?

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ASSESSING STRESS #4: “Knock Knock”

Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things. And this week, we’re late! Because someone decided it was a good idea to take a week-end off work, internet and all that good stuff to go galavanting about who-knows-which European country. Well, screw you Tibère. Screw. You. But still! We managed to pull through this difficult time of our lives, and after a few sessions of couple therapy administered by a German psychiatrist over Skype, we’re back as one, unitied, loving family to talk about Who stuff. And, following the advice of said professional, it’s just the three of us this week. Not just because guests that fit our (complicated, due to timezones and stuff) schedule are rare, but also because it’s a great occasion for us to learn how to know each other better and eventually know how to reach a new, improved understanding, to quote my lifecoach who learned his job through Wes Anderson movies.

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