I am somewhat used by now to recognizable English actors getting guest roles on Doctor Who, but the villain of this episode sure did look familiar to me. It turned out to be David Suchet, and I know him as the guy who played British television’s version of Hercule Poirot when I was growing up. I wasn’t really a fan, but my parents sure were.
I now return to whatever the Doctor is doing this time around.
Apparently, Bill and five friends of hers are looking to rent a house together. It’s not all that easy to rent a house for six people that looks like would be in their collective price range, but then a mysterious Landlord shows up, offering to let them rent his very large, very old house at a reasonable price. He just says they have to stay out of the tower, despite the fact that the tower is clearly the coolest thing about his giant manor house.
Naturally, the Doctor shows up to help Bill move since the TARDIS makes that very easy. She introduces the Doctor to her friends as her granddad (he objects since he doesn’t think he looks that old), and he’s the Doctor, so he’s a little weird, but he’s a bit intrigued by the house. Because, you know, some random old man offering to rent a large manor house to six twentysomethings at a reasonable price should look suspicious.
Bill, for one, is not surprised to see the Doctor is still hanging around later. Of course, the Landlord is too for some reason. He says something about how his young daughter Eliza died in that house, but the Doctor finds it a bit suspicious this guy can’t even name the Prime Minister. Sure, maybe this guy finds the PM too embarrassing to talk about. I would get that about a lot of politicians. But he should be able to at least name him.
Besides, the Doctor is pointing out that a lot of the house is made out of wood, and there’s not enough electrical power to even charge a lot of modern gadgets, so they might need the oil heater he showed up with. That sounds fine…until Bill’s friends start to disappear, and there’s no way to get out. Probably a good thing the Doctor did show up, even if he parked the TARDIS outside and the sonic screwdriver famously doesn’t work on wood. Still, he’s fascinated by the place, even as Bill’s friends seem to be finding themselves being absorbed by the wood.
It turns out there’s some kind of large cockroach sort of aliens living in the wood, things that swim through the stuff like it’s water, and they’re taking out Bill’s friends one at a time. The Doctor watches it happen when one tries to flee up some stairs while Bill in the tower with another friend sees that stepping on the aliens doesn’t really work as they just flow through her friend’s foot and that’s the end of her. By this point, Bill found Eliza as basically a living wood statue in the tower that doesn’t really know what’s going on, and she and the Doctor are the only ones left.
By the by, the Doctor is loving this whole thing because bugs are fascinating, and he doesn’t get right away that Bill finds them creepy. But she is the one who points out the real problem is this Doctor has a hard time reading human age. Eliza seems more confused than anything else, and she hasn’t even seen the outside world in she-isn’t-even-sure how long. So, why not open a window? Oh, look, fireworks.
Besides, it seems the Landlord has been luring in young tenets for a very long time to keep his daughter alive. Only, as Bill reminded the Doctor about human aging, the Doctor realizes Eliza isn’t the Landlord’s daughter but is instead his mother.
Yeah, a little boy found some weird alien insects that kept his mother alive from some fatal illness by turning her into mobile wood. He then lured young people in to feed the aliens and keep Eliza alive. She never knew. She does now. She holds her now elderly boy tight, saying she loves him, as the insects things swarm and remove both of them from existence while returning Bill’s friends to life in time for everyone to run outside before the house collapses.
Well, back to the estate agent, as the Doctor says before he goes off to find Nardole. Nardole is guarding the vault, and there’s piano music coming from inside. The Doctor opts to give Nardole the night off before going inside the vault to spend a little time with whoever is in there…