Knock Knock.



TV Good evening folks. Well, I finally did it. After three weeks of threatening to watch Doctor Who on the iPlayer rather than broadcast, that's exactly how I experienced Knock Knock for the first time, with the annoying DOG in the top left hand corner and the ability to the pause the show if I needed to go to the toilet in the middle (I didn't). This was not, as I'd originally thought it might, because of apathy but due to the online version being released in a binaural version with 3D sound.  After producing Spearhead from Space in colour, pioneering online activity and being one of the first dramas to be broadcast in HD, Doctor Who's innovating again.

When I began writing this paragraph, I was all ready to provide some commentary on what that was like, except as I've just discovered, I haven't actually seen that version.  That version appears separately on the iPlayer under "Doctor Who Enhanced" rather than with the rest of the series,  So I waited an hour and watched it on the iPlayer for no good reason.  Let this be a warning to you.  I wonder how many people will have made the same mistake and not noticed any discernible difference, especially since it's just the standard version, the one I watched, being promoted on the main page.  Expect paragraphs added at the bottom of this when I've had a chance to see it again.

Luckily, even without these enhancements, Knock Knock holds up, an decent example of the period house subgenre of the base under siege (see also Chimes at Midnight, Tooth & Claw and arguably Ghost Light), in which Doctor Who absorbs elements of the haunted house genre but provides an alien rather than spectral antagonist, the Time Lord and his friends running along brick corridors rather than metal.  Mike Bartlett's script also glances towards cabins in woods, with young people as protagonists.  They don't really conform to the expected social stereotypes - purposefully they're pretty blank ciphers (although I liked them more than more of the characters in Class).

Not having seen Doctor Foster (much television drama, not much time)  Even if I can't see the extent to which his particular style is carried over, it is an example of the policy for hiring showrunners to write episodes has paid off.  Judging by his DWM interview he's clearly a fan and even manages to remember Harriet Jones was prime minister in the Whoniverse once.  Apparently the character of Harry is supposed to be the grandson of Doctor Sullivan, a nugget which was cut before it reached the screen.  This doesn't contradict anything in his biography, even taking into account the decade were he went missing ... somewhere ...

The teaser trawl through the dramas of finding a house are pretty accurate, although when I was trawling through the student accommodation office in Leeds, I didn't have an realtor to aid me, instead relying on taking down telephone numbers from cards were the rent seemed reasonable (at that time £35 a week) (I'm that old) and turning up at the given rat hole.  The second year house was a palace even if the people I shared it with were awful and in the third year I ended up in an appalling shed with some lovely people.  Swings and hyperspace bypasses.  You can read more about my university accommodation adventures here.

None of my landlords might have been up to much, none of them were as creepy as David Suchet's brown suited bantay, a brilliant one off creation who's sure to have increased the sales of tuning forks over the coming weeks.  The key to his performance is to pull back, understate everything, his mysterious existence causing us to hang on his every word.  But notice how later, once the identity of his charge is revealed, he remodulates his voice to underscore the change in the dynamic, as poignant and pathetic Michael Sheard in Pyramids of Mars when his childhood friend his killed.  Actually Sheard would also have killed as the landlord, albeit in Bronson mode with a more deathly stare.

Just about my only reservation about the episode has nothing to do with its content.  As has been too often the occasion now, the key reveal, the big revelation, has been ruined during the publicity, with the caretaker's mother appearing in all the publicity, notably the two page spread in the round robin email of our knitting circle (which also, ironically has "spoiler warning" in a giant red circle over it) (no kidding!).  I appreciate the argument for the much maligned Radio Times cover with the Dalek hybrid, but I did feel the integrity of the surprise was somewhat muted, especially since it seemed like it would be the return of the creatures from the The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe.

Nevertheless, it was nice to see one of my favourite actresses, Mariah Gale, who The Guardian's theatre critic, Michael Billington once said gave the best Juliet he'd ever seen (five stars) and was a brilliant Ophelia opposite David Tennant in the RSC production from 2009.  That she manages to give such a compelling performance despite the restrictions only makes me wish that she was able to combine more screen work with the her stage work, which seems to be her primary focus.  I've just noticed she plays Isabella in the Measure for Measure from Dominic Dromgoole's late era at the Globe.  I'll have to check my finances.  Those dvds are expensive.

After my initial caution, Bill's turning into a perfect fit for this new, friendlier Capaldi and their chemistry, whilst lacking the sexual intrigue of Rose vs. Tenth, certainly has some of their sparks.  She's very much a return to the companions of old, old in this case being the RTD era, without some underlying story arc significance, at least for now.  Well, ok, Donna had something on her back and ended up being essentially the Chiswick equivalent of the Watcher, but like Bill, it was never about her being a mystery to be solved.  It's a shame that a character this rich should appear so late in Moffat's run with only eight episodes remaining (though she's tailor made for Big Finish).

Anyway, Capaldi's in his element, clearly enjoying the chance to play the character how he must have hoped he always would do.  It's still a shock to see just how benevolent, friendly and warm he's become and I can't accept that this man would have insulted Danny Pink as much as he did in those terms.  How long has the Doctor been on Earth looking over the vault.  Has it been the decades he suggested in The Pilot?  Though notice how his attitude changes with Nardole; he's far more authoritarian in his company, pushy.  One might even suspect he doesn't quite trust this assistant, despite everything.  Huh.  Oh and it's either the Master or Missy in the Vault.  Or himself.  I think.

Updated! 09/05/2017.  Does the binaural 3D audio add much to the experience?  Having spent the best part of a decade watching pretty much everything through headphones at home I've become accustomed to how a 5.1 sound mix appears through headphones in various ways, depending on how the sound design is interpreted by the various dvd or streaming services.  In the most impressive of cases, often those films in which sound has been given extra special attention, the likes of Star Wars or the MCU, the results can be extraordinary; the sound design team, already anticipating that headphones will be one of the ultimate venues for their work, seem to know how best to service the ear in close quarters.

Hearing films through the rather basic speakers integrated into flat screen televisions is always shockingly inferior, so if you are watching films by yourself, I'd say headphones are always the way to go.  One of my first stereo audio experiences while watching a film through headphones was during X-Men on the first dvd release, the scene in which Logan';s being coaxed through the corridors of the mansion for his fateful first meeting with Xavier.  The Professor's voice seems to be speaking from inside the walls, apparently inside the Wolverine's head and it's almost as though Patrick Stewart's voice is in the room with you, shifting around the sides of your head.

On those terms, Knock Knock Enhanced is fine, but its not that much more impressive than the average Hollywood sound mix when done properly.  It's certainly a good episode to choose, the creaking wood of the walls, slamming doors and knocking appearing all around the viewer's head.  The repetition from the vinyl remains in place as the shot shifts along the corridor and the Landlord becomes rather more creepy when he intones or shifts the air before appearing on screen.  The philosophy has clearly been to enhance what's on screen rather than work against it, not to be a distraction.

Where this comes unstuck is the implementation for dialogue and music.  The latter for the most part is a distraction.  There doesn't seem to have been an attempt to record the music binaurally so its mostly just the usual stereo sound mix.  But the words are unnatural in places as the sound designer has to compensate for the rapid edits and so voices begin sentences in one place then shift abruptly elsewhere in the ear because the characters have moved in shot which is less noticeable in the standard stereo because the sound is spread across both ears rather than consolidated in the left or right as is often the case here.  It's the audio equivalent of the uncanny valley.

Does binaural audio even work with pictures?  Perhaps it is different to typical film sound mixes but my ears are trained to accept to whatever's poured into them.  The best experiments I've heard so far have been in radio, where the shot restrictions are not in place and it's up to the listener to provide the pictures.  Characters are free to "walk" around our heads or we're able to "sit" in the middle of an auditorium and hear an orchestra, if not sit amongst them depending on the placement of microphones.  In the end, as the episode raced to its conclusion, I completely forgot that I was supposed to be watching an enhanced version anyway.  Which probably misses the point.

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