Synopsis of 10×4: This week it’s the Doctor versus the Big Scary House, and the things that go bump in the night. David Suchet (aka Detective Poirot) makes a guest appearance as Bill’s LandLord.
The plot for this week goes like this: six people who don’t know each other that well agree to rent a flat together to keep rent down. Cheap rent means dodgy lodgings. And after looking at house after house, a man finally offers them the deal of their dreams: an old wooden building with six rooms, and a restricted tower. All they have to do is sign a contract.
Bill, being a little older and wiser than the rest, has the wherewithal to at least hesitate before signing the papers. Alas, the six roomies move in. Even the Doctor gets to help out. Bill introduces him as granddad, which leads to all sorts of funny little quips from… well, everyone! It also gives him the chance to be overprotective, and her the chance to assert her independence. One of the strongholds of the Moffat-era of Doctor Who is that the companions have active lives outside of the Tardis. I’m not a huge fan of this conceit, but it does always lead to adventure.
One of the roommates, Pavel, has been locked up in his room for a few days, repeating the same loop over and over. A scratched record can do that. And no one thinks to go check on him. (Students, am I right?)
Eventually, all the creaky sounds, the pattering feet, and the drafty wind is too much and the crew must investigate. With the help of the Doctor, they begin to uncover something. The house has a mind of its own! This isn’t a new trope, and some might find it a bit well-worn. But this episode makes it more than just the house. It’s what’s crawling in the house, eating its inhabitants one by one, that’s the Big Bad.
It’s bugs. Called them dryads, call them lice, call the aliens. Thousands of insects are attacking the housemates and turning them into food. And the Landlord (masterfully played by David Suchet), is the one setting the bait. And for what?
We find after nearly all the roommates have died. That’s how these scary house stories go, right? The truth is, like Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre, there’s been a woman locked in the tower for a number of years. Her name is Eliza, and she’s made of wood. Wood you say? Yes, wood!
The creatures are somehow using their human food to help her stay alive as anthropomorphic wood. Bill and the Doctor confront the Landlord about this strange woman. The Landlord, having told everyone she’s his daughter, has his secret revealed. Not only is he feeding young people to a house and keeping a wooden woman hostage, there’s another twist! She’s not his daughter, but his mother.
He did all he did, murdering students, and keeping a woman isolated for 70 years, all for the love of his mother. Sweet, right? Not really. It’s rather Oedipal and obsessive. But Suchet plays the Landlord with childlike-rage (“We must destroy them, mother!”) and infantile dependency. In the end, Eliza holds her son as she frees them from house, eaten alive by alien cockroaches. She sacrifices herself, and punishes her son, allowing the five lost roommates to become human once more.
Since Eliza and the Landlord are gone, the house falls into ruin. There goes the security deposit. Hope you had renters insurance. Better luck next time, kiddos.
In other news, the vault can open. And whoever is behind the vault likes playing piano, and sharing Mexican take-away with the Doctor. Tensions rise between Nardole and the Doctor as the Doctor gets more and more careless with his duties and his oath.
- Paul who shows interest in Bill handles her revelation that she’s a lesbian quite well. “Oh, I never even stood a chance then,” is a perfectly respectful answer, if you’re kind and not about to be eaten by a house.
- Bill asserting herself to the Doctor is smart and she’s less, dare I say, catty about it than Clara.
- More vault! There’s more vault!