Saturday night saw Series 9 branch out into experimental territory with the show’s first ever found-footage episode, which packed in elements like monsters made from sleep dust, copious use of ‘Mr Sandman’ and an ending that has, erm… sparked discussion. What did our team make of this controversial episode? Read on to find out!
Ben (Assistant Editor)
I really do not know what to make of Sleep No More. A weird mix of traditional ‘base under siege’ Doctor Who and something completely new, it has, unsurprisingly, divided fans and it’s not hard to see why. The found footage idea was a risky choice, but in the context of the episode, I think it worked well and brought something new to the show. I wouldn’t like to see it in more episodes, but it did make it feel like one of those unseen adventures that we’re always hearing about that someone happened to have captured on film. There were several things that niggled me: 474, who, for me, was terribly underdeveloped and the worst character since the Tivolians; the glitch effects, which never seem to look realistic in film or TV; Nagata’s overuse of the word Pet; and of course the confusing ending, where the Doctor just abandons the plot altogether. However, on the flip side, there was Reece Shearsmith’s excellent performance as Rasmussen, the wonderfully realised Sandmen and of course Capaldi and Coleman’s continuously brilliant performances. I even quite liked the use of The Chordette’s Mr.Sandman as a joke in the episode. Overall, I’m quite undecided on how I feel about this episode, I think I may need to sleep on it. 6/10
An episode told entirely via found footage has never been attempted in the show’s history, so mark experimentation as a strength of Sleep No More. Director Justin Molotnikov wields the form well, jumping between viewpoints to give us multiple different observations of the mise en scene. There was a particular charm in seeing characters move in the scene outside of the typical framing we are all accustomed to, having Peter Capaldi glare at us down the camera with those magnificent, piercing eyes. Based on the format alone, Sleep No More stands out, but the uniqueness very quickly unravels to reveal a plot paper thin outside of the format. The story is told in media res by Reece Shearsmith as Rassmussen, the lead scientist on the Le Verrier Space Station which recently went quiet. The backwards, found nature of the plot does a good job of presenting a story that is lost; we do not go on the journey with The Doctor and Clara, rather we must observe an event that has already happened, a sinister thought when you contemplate the present and the current state of the characters. That dread follows the progression of the plot throughout Sleep No More, generating a dark, mysterious atmosphere that matches the creepy halls of the station. Unfortunately, this sinister cocoon is ruptured by a monster that can only be described as baffling.
Perhaps Gatiss had a really bad sleep one night and penned this script in frustration, but whatever the reasoning, the episode’s main theme of sleep loses impact when the sleep dust monsters are introduced. Whilst somewhat threatening in visage, it is very hard to take a villain seriously when the crux of their creation is that gunk we get in our eyes when waking up. This is no Moffat inspired monster, one that takes everyday simplicity and morphs it into something we should all fear. Dust is probably a step too far down the simplicity rabbit hole. Credit to Shearsmith for his portrayal of Rassmussen, the true villain of the story, who wonderfully utilises his experience in the dark comedy group The League of Gentlemen to portray him with a sickly innocence. Gatiss manages to maintain this innocence through to the end, yet it is in the climax that Sleep No More ultimately falls apart with the worst and least satisfying end to an episode I have ever seen in Doctor Who. It is perfectly clear a second part was required here, as such without it, all semblance of impact is lost in the rush. Who knows when we will see this story continue, even with the admittedly strong supporting cast, but I fear the damage is already done. Sleep No More is an unnecessary blight on a very strong series, with a unique concept that should have set a new benchmark for creativity and experimentation in the show. With this loosest of endings however, it will likely be remembered as the hallmark of poor execution. 7/10
The sandmen themselves were classic Doctor Who monsters but don’t be mistaken this is not a complement. They are humanoid creatures, easier to realise in production but are strikingly similar to other efforts such as Ballal the Exxilon (Death to the Daleks, 1974) in the classic series and the zombie creatures from Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (2013) in the modern era. Their creation is simple to comprehend and interesting to consider. However, things get very sketchy when the dust in your eye has the ability to observe through a hosts eye, an attempt to explain away the POV camerawork.
- The Magician’s Apprentice – 9.25/10
- The Girl Who Died – 9/10
- The Witch’s Familiar – 8.92/10
- The Zygon Invasion – 8.7/10
- The Zygon Inversion – 8.21/10
- Under the Lake – 8.2/10
- Before the Flood – 8/10
- The Woman Who Lived – 7.5/10
- Sleep No More – 6.3/10