Doctor Who 'Sleep No More' [TV-EPISODE REVIEW]

Sticking out like a sore thumb. 'Sleep No More' ended up becoming the first clunker of Series 9. Finally breaking that incredible hotstreak the previous eight episodes provided to us. Mark Gatiss, you shall write no more.

Well, that is probably what you expected to hear after the reaction around the internet concerning this rather divisive episode. Actually though, what if I told you that this is probably the best found-footage related piece of media that I have ever seen? Well... that is not really saying much. But what if I told you that this is one of Mark Gatiss' best scripts for the show? But then again that also does not say much. Okay, what if I told you that 'Sleep No More' is one of the most unique episodes that 'Doctor Who' has ever had in its entire 52 year history and the ending might be the most terrifying ever? Yes, it is definitely the weakest of Series 9 thus far and will definitely be the one the fans dislike the most. But let us not forget all the things the episode gets right because there are things to admire here. Specifically the balls of Mr. Gatiss for bringing the heavily flawed found-footage genre to the show - and actually make it work. I am not a fan of the genre in the slightest (you can see this in my review of the awful 'Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension').

This is not an episode that will be remembered for its characters as there are barely any characterization in the script - meaning that the guest stars has little to work with and just become obvious redshirts (although to be fair, that is exactly what they were always going to be). No, this episode will be remembered for being completely unique. There is no opening credits, the entire thing is found footage and then the twist happens which leaves the doors wide open for a sequel. The Doctor does not defeat the bad guys here and he leaves the episode not even knowing what the hell just happened.

What worked surprisingly well is the found footage as I said and the reason for that is because it was done in a smart way by proper film makers. Mark Gatiss understood the limitations and he more than realized that if you know what you are doing, you can use the limitations to your advantage and actually set up clues that things are not what they seem. The main tidbit we got earlier on is when we suddenly see a shot from Clara's perspective even though she clearly does not have a camera on her. If you were not paying enough attention you might not even think about it at first - but your brain does. Then later on in the episode when we get the reveal that there have actually never been cameras around in the first place and what has been recording everything - which of course explains all the "plot-holes" throughout the episode. In true Series 9 fashion this episode is NOT afraid to take risks and try something new which is really commendable for a series that is about to celebrate its 52 year anniversary. It takes massive amounts of balls to even tackle an episode like this.

The monster of the week is the sandmen and all I could think of when I saw what they looked like was the Servant Grunt monster from 'Amnesia: The Dark Descent' (which is a game I reviewed). They are not exactly the most inventive monsters the show has had and also not even close to being up there with some of the greats but they serve the story well and also of course end with one of the few times the Doctor has actually lost. And speaking of borrowing ideas/designs, it seems like Mark Gatiss had an 'Alien' marathon - including playing the recent game 'Alien: Isolation' before writing this as there are quite a lot of similarities throughout. In fact, a lot of episodes since 'Last Christmas' have been reminding me of 'Alien'... and that is not a bad thing.

Problems do arise though when you consider just how freaking good the rest of the season has been up to this point and suddenly you get this rather run of the mill filler episode before the really meaty final three (oh yeah, I read the synopses). Yes we do need these kinds of episodes to break up the pace a little but I cannot see a lot of people getting a whole lot out of it. Unless you are used to the found footage sub-genre you might not have a clue what is going on. I did not have any problems with it as my issues mainly lie with the lack of supporting characters to latch on to. I did like how the morpheus machine debate was not completely one sided as we get to hear characters both praising it and despising it which is important in an episode like this. What did slightly irritate me though is the overuse of the "Mr.Sandman" song by The Chordettes. The way it was used really made it feel like a song that was just there to be creepy à la "Tiptoe thru the tulips" in 'Insidious'.

Overall, 'Sleep No More' is easily the weakest episode of Series 9 but it is certainly not a bad episode. In fact I found it to be pretty damn good which is a pleasant surprise as I was honestly dreading it ever since it was first announced. The script is smart and understands the found-footage genre more than the people actually making found-footage movies. The performances are solid and while it is obvious that this is an episode they decided to save some money on - the sets still look very convincing and the actual found-footage side of it helps to sell the location as being real. Yes you might dislike - or even hate - this episode. But I throughly enjoyed it and I can definitely imagine it gaining a more positive reputation when we really look back on it in a couple of years time. Series 9 might have stalled for a bit on its obscenely high pedestal but it definitely did not crash and burn as it is still very much on track to become the best season of the new series. Series 5... you have every right to be worried.


- Lucas

1 comment: Leave Your Comments

  1. I agree with you. his episode is of course not the best but it's still underrated. The twist was very clever and it had some good bits. I'm just not a fan of found footage, and while great things happened, it seemed to be drained of the empathy and excitement tat so characterize the show. that. for me, is all down the filming style. I don't mean to knock Doctor Who for trying new things- to the contrary, that's the reason I live Season 35/Series 9 so much. And I don't mean to say the experiment wasn't successful, 'cause it most definitely was. It's just not a style I appreciate.
    Great review. FYI, though, "synopsises" is not a word. It's "synopses". Sorry if that sounded pedantic, but I'm a pedant. ;)
    Rankings (within the season, of the episodes I haven't yet ranked):
    1. The Zygon Inversion. 10. Simply astonishing in every way. It was one of the best Wo episodes ever. I absolutely loved it. The subtext, the speech, the writing, the acting, the directing.... An astonishing, intense masterpiece.
    6. The Zygon Invasion. Very good. Confident and well-made, with a real long streak of delicious, meaty commentary.
    10. Sleep No More. At the bottom! I know, right?