09 “Sleep No More” (Doctor Who series 9) [SPOILERS]


doctor who peter capaldi

So it looks like not every episode this series is going to be in the two part mould. “Sleep No More” — and necessarily its…counterpart, I guess? — seems to be a standalone.

Actually, I was having a conversation a few weeks back, about how what this series really needed to make it was a “Midnight” or a “Blink” (It should be noted that despite popular opinion, “Midnight” is the superior episode to “Blink” -Ed), a stripped down and story-focused offering without the bells and whistles of most offerings. These invariably turn out to be some of the best episodes (Though we won’t dwell on “Love and Monsters”, eh? -Ed).

So coming on the coattails of last episode’s, frankly, excellence, could “Sleep No More” be the elusive jigsaw piece so far missing from series 9?

The Doctor and Clara join up with a squad of soldiers on a rescue mission to an apparently deserted research space station. But it’s not as deserted as it seems, and the experiments of the one remaining scientist have unleashed some strange goings on, sand-based monstrosities being about the least confusing.

A found-footage Doctor Who episode. Huh. I wasn’t expecting that, to be honest.

So yes, this episode is pieced together from surveillance footage from the station cameras, and the helmet cameras of the soldiers. Well, sort of. But we’ll get to that. We see through the events through the eyes of the characters, framed by a warning by Reece Shearsmith’s excellent scientist Gagan Rassmassun not to watch.

The Doctor and Clara are there because…well, it’s never quite covered, but that’s not altogether unusual. But the soldiers are there to mount a rescue mission for the scientists who have fallen silent. And it’s all a bit Aliens from thereon in, really. They run away from monstrosities, through dimly lit corridors which don’t look like they could ever have been terribly hospitable, and try to figure out what went on.

Actually, it’s a little reminiscent of the video game series Dead Space.

There are a few elements to unpick here, so bear with me. Firstly, the Morpheus pods. Basically glorified sleep pods, invented by the sole survivor of the station Dr Rassmussun, which mean you only need five minutes sleep a month. Of course, that’s the root cause of what is going on, though it’s less than clear throughout.

Basically, if I understand it correctly, the monsters strolling around the station are made of sleep dust, which the Morpheus process has evolved and the crew have been digested by them. Or maybe turned into them. And they’re blind. I think.

Where it gets complicated is the point at which it is revealed that, actually, there are no cameras. No surveillance cameras, and those light things on the soldier’s helmets aren’t cameras. So where is all of the footage coming from? Apparently from the sentient dust in the air.

Ultimately it turns out that Rassmassun is all behind it, and wants to get patient zero, his original customer, off the station so he can infect the rest of humanity with his spores. Very Dead Space. The Doctor’s solution is to crash the station into Neptune, whilst he, Clara and the one surviving soldier escape on the TARDIS.

Only for it to be revealed that Rassmussun was still alive, that his stuff about spores was nonsense, and that all of the events were constructed for the purpose of spreading the infection. Through an electronic signal buried throughout the video as a visual glitch. He dissolves into sand as the station crashes to Neptune and the video passes the Morpheus signal on to the “audience”.

There’s a number of things I need to say about this. Firstly that the Doctor’s final line of the episode sums it up pretty well:None of this makes any sense!

It feels like someone has tried to make a proper, creepy horror plot into a Doctor Who story. And given that Mark Gatiss wrote the thing, I suspect that’s exactly what happened. It has a lot of strong points, and the very bewilderment which left me a little out of sorts would have made it an excellent found footage horror film.

Having watched it through three times now, it makes more sense. The trouble is that it comes at such a fast pace, the layers of ambiguity and misleading story get blurred into one and it becomes hard to disentangle them. Once you manage it, there’s a decent story underneath, though it makes you work for it.

This was not a “Midnight” or a “Blink”. What it was was an interesting experiment, which on balance didn’t quite work. The idea of the episode itself being the threat was a nice one, and worked well with the incredibly annoying earworm of “Mr Sandman”. As a piece of experimental TV I applaud it. As a Doctor Who episode, I feel I’m leaning more to the Doctor’s own refrain,None of this makes any sense!

The fact that it was not supposed to, sadly, got lost along the way.

Closing thoughts:

  • I do like it when the Doctor can taste the time.
  • Usually the references to general human history/future events that the Doctor references don’t stick out, but for some reason “the great catastrophe” does. Curious.
  • Given that the Morpheus pods are supposed to concentrate sleep so you don’t need much of it, most of the people who use it seem to spend a lot of time in it.
  • TV needs more Asian Geordie female military leaders, who append orders with “pet”.
  • With the social commentary attached to 471, the “grunt”, it’s just possible that there was too much going on in this episode.
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