Just as we’re pondering what could be behind the Doctor and Nardole’s mysteriously large vault doors, the show presents us with a couple more — all of which are located in Bill and her friends’ spooky new house.
That’s right, Bill is finally moving out of her foster mother’s apartment — and while no real reason is given, having met the woman once I can see why. The only catch is she’ll be moving in with five new housemates. This proves to be a bit of a problem when house hunting, because Shireen, Felicity, Harry, Pavel, and Paul (not sure about Bill herself) all want a lot of space for a low price. LOL. But just as they’re about to give up at the estate agent’s office, they run into an older gentleman who looks like he’s stepped out of a Scooby Doo cartoon (guest star David Suchet) and is looking to rent his ginormous and mostly wood-furnished house. And despite my shouted suggestions to ask about the washer-dryer situation or whether he’ll be living on the premises, it doesn’t take the group long after a cursory visit to sign the contract to call this place home, sweet home.
And within no time, the house (or something in it) claims its first victim: Pavel. Not that anyone else notices. They’re all trying to charge their phones or see why they don’t have reception. Thankfully, the Doctor, who helped move Bill in, is still around for when the house’s creepy creakiness ramps up. As he tucks into the Chinese food they ordered and cranks up Little Mix on Bill’s Spotify playlist, Suchet’s Landlord makes an appearance. He first uses a tuning fork on the walls, and then when he fails to tell the Doctor who the current English Prime Minister is, he suggests they both leave.
And despite Bill also asking that he go, the Doctor stays put, which is absolutely the right choice in this case as the house first takes Paul (who Shireen had a crush on despite his interest in Bill), and then Felicity, whose claustrophobia saw her escape through a window, only to be swallowed by the grounds.
Later, Bill and Shireen find Pavel half absorbed into the wall — not unlike Ursula in the pavement back in Season 2’s “Love & Monsters” — to which the Landlord quickly puts a stop. Having witnessed a wall swallow their new friend, both girls run towards the tower, with Bill figuring out how to get in (a book on the shelf!). Once up there, they run into Eliza, the Landlord’s daughter… only she’s turned into wood completely.
Elsewhere in the house, the Doctor and Paul discover that the house is infested with intergalactic wood lice (a.k.a. “dryads”) that can pass through objects on a cellular level. After they swallow Paul, the Doctor convinces the Landlord that maybe as a “doctor” he can actually help save Eliza, who these bugs have been keeping alive. They arrive in Eliza’s room just a few seconds after the bugs have taken Shireen. In a bid to save Bill, the Doctor attempts to reason with the Landlord, asking how this happened to his daughter. But in getting him to talk (about how Eliza’s music box activated the bugs he’d found in the garden), it allows Bill to exercise her deductive skills and figure out that the Landlord’s a little too young to be Eliza’s dad…
And with that suggestion, the Doctor uses his little gray cells to figure out that the Landlord is not her father, but her SON! Just like that, my reverse Norman Bates situation becomes an actual Norman Bates situation. Talk about a reverse: “Are you my mummy?”
Eager to protect his secret and keep his mother alive, the Landlord turns on Bill and the Doctor. But they quickly point out, rightly, what is the point of living if you’re not experiencing anything? With that, Eliza steps up as a parent, turning the alien wood lice on her and her son instead. She also returns Shireen and the other housemates, because just this once (this season) everybody lives! Alive, everyone rushes out of the house, only to see it crumble before their very eyes, along with the belongings and their security deposit.
Alive, everyone rushes out of the house, only to see it crumble before their very eyes, along with the belongings and their security deposit. But the Doctor isn’t too concerned. He’s picked up a lot of Mexican take-out that he brings down to the Vault door where Nardole is doing his routine check on it, chipper that the Doctor didn’t leave the planet this time. They are then interrupted by the sound of piano playing because it turns out our favorite Gallifreyan has left whoever it is a piano. As Nardole huffs off, the Doctor commiserates, saying that he’s trapped too, before enticing this mysterious being with dinner. But while the doors do open, revealing a white light, we don’t get a chance to see what’s on the other side. (Though we do know that Nardole doesn’t like them and that they like violence-laden stories.)
Last week I posited that this other prisoner, who the Doctor is quite sympathetic to, was the Master/Missy. But this week I’m beginning to wonder if it might be someone a little closer to home: his daughter Jenny. While this is a completely random stab in the dark, this season has been hinting at a few aspects of the Doctor’s life that we haven’t really seen mentioned in this newer series, like his granddaughter Susan, not to mention the fact that this whole episode was about preserving a family member. Then again, this might be some wishful thinking on my part.
But speaking of family, the Doctor was completely fatherly in this episode as he helped Bill move into her new digs. From him questioning if that was all she was bringing, to him worrying about her not having enough heating, and later refusing to leave when things got creep-tastic, we got to see the Time Lord in complete dad mode, and honestly it was both sweet and a breath of fresh air. It gave an interesting spin to Bill’s request that this is the “bit” of her life he isn’t involved in. While in the past with Amy and Rory and Clara, it had felt like they were setting boundaries with an enthusiastic friend, here it comes off as a kid asking their parent to give them some space. This is really the first time we’ve really seen the Doctor have a completely paternal relationship with a companion, and as you can see in the image below, Capaldi is the perfect person to play it. He’s even doing the patented, “Here’s a photo of my kid on my phone” move.
Elsewhere David Suchet, who’s been bringing Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective Hercule Poirot to life for years, finally got to play the other side of the mustache, as he gave a wonderfully spooky performance as the Landlord, while channeling his own version of Psycho. Though of course, a lot of the real scares from the swarming bugs that made repeated appearances throughout the second half of the episode.
But Suchet’s Landlord wasn’t the only “parent” of the hour. We also saw a brief appearance from Bill’s mom, which makes an interesting parallel between our newest companion and the Landlord. Sure, Bill’s not using aliens to prolong her mother’s life — not that she could have — but she is keeping her memory alive through the photos the Doctor (secretly) gifted her with at the start of the season. This combined with the show having her refer to the Doctor as her grandfather (much like Susan used to), while he insists he does not look old enough to be anything beyond her father, makes me wonder if we’ll be visiting Bill’s past sometime later this season. And while we know Bill is more familiar with science fiction than previous companions — we barely have to do the “I’m a Time Lord” reveal with her — it is interesting that she hasn’t yet requested a chance to run into her mother, even after knowing the Doctor might have known her.
This then brings up my next theory: could it be Bill’s mom who’s in the vault? All we know about her is that she “died” after giving birth to Bill. (Though this doesn’t quite fit the timeline which seems to hint that the Doctor’s been at this university for 70 years, and made his vow somewhere during that time.) And while I am generally against making Bill’s background “special” in any way as Steven Moffat is wont to do with his female companions, I would let it slide just for the chance of Mackie getting to play Bill’s joy at getting reunited. Especially after seeing her introduce her mother’s photo to her new room.
Of course, for that to happen she’ll have to survive next week’s episode, which eschews any bug-related horrors, for the terror of dying in space. Thankfully, we’ll be safely on (or behind) our couches.