What I’ve discovered a lot during the latter stages of this project is that when you’ve only watched an episode once, your initial gut reaction gets exaggerated to the point where you recall it as either being completely brilliant or completely rubbish, whereas in reality most of them are somewhere in the middle. Today, I’ve learned that this is the case even when it’s been less than a year since broadcast. I remembered today’s episode as being an absolute stinker, but on reflection I wouldn’t go that far – it’s just not as a good as the preceding few episodes.
With the relationship between Bill and the Doctor being the best thing about the series so far, it was probably the disappointment of this episode doing things slightly differently that made me turn against it. For a start, it’s a return to the status quo of the companion having an independent life away from the TARDIS, plus the two of them are separated for vast swathes of proceedings, and when they’re together they’re often at loggerheads. Nardole is still very much a peripheral character at this stage, so instead they each have to team up with one of Bill’s slightly annoying but suitably diverse group of new housemates.
The Doctor gets saddled with the most annoying of the set, the wide-eyed Brummie thicko Harry, but it’s a character with an interesting real-world backstory. In early drafts, he was supposed to be Harry Sullivan’s grandson, which would have meant little to the vast majority of the BBC One Saturday night audience, but that’s never stopped Moffat before. Quite how this information tallies with the story about this Harry’s granddad and his boyfriend stealing a piece of the Great Wall of China remains unclear.
The main guest star was of course Poirot, a suitably well-known and accomplished choice for a good old-fashioned slightly camp villain of the week. His otherworldliness is suggested by his failing to know who the Prime Minister is; a scene that they wouldn’t have known during filming would take on an extra dimension when it was broadcast in the middle of an unexpected general election campaign. The performance is good, but the story not so much, as it’s far too thin on details and explanations. It doesn’t help that the wooden woman looks so silly.
A shame, as it was a good little haunted house story for a while. It culminates in the house falling to pieces, facilitating the escape of Bill’s housemates, who had been eaten by it one by one. Two things though – what about the previous generations of students that had been eaten over the years? And what happened to the actual alien woodlice who were living in the house though? They weren’t destroyed, neutralised or sent home, so what’s to stop this happening all over again?