RECAP & REVIEW: Doctor Who – ‘Sleep No More’

So what happened?

As the episode opens we’re introduced to Gagan Rassmussen, who identifies himself as the Lead researcher on a Space Station that’s orbiting Neptune in the 38th Century and is making a video message that addresses us directly. In it he he identifies himself as the only remaining survivor and promises to piece together the footage of the last few hours to recount what’s happened, also informing viewers that they probably shouldn’t watch.

Rewind a few hours and we’re witnessing the rescue crew from Triton, made up of 3 humans and a clone called a ‘grunt’, boarding the station after receiving no communications from them for a few days. Soon they meet up with The Doctor and Clara and he convinces them that they’re inspectors with his psychic paper and within minutes they’re being chased down by some unidentified creatures, who manage to separate one of them, Deep-Ando, from the group. The others escape to a room housing a row of Morpheus pods, sleep chambers that allow the user to condense all the sleep they have in a month into just a few minutes so they can work longer, and Clara is sucked into one until Twelve manages to get her out. Realising she’s not the only one taking a nap inside one of them, they nervously knock on the machine and Rasmussen, the man from the video pops out, explaining to them that the pods use an electrical signal to alter the brain and facilitate needing less sleep, but it was this refined process when they were testing new prototypes that seemed to cause the arrival of those dangerous creatures that are out to get them. Extrapolating from that, The Doctor infers that they’re made up of the sleep that collects in peoples’ eyes and have come about as a side effect of users of the pods turning their backs on their natural need to sleep. Elsewhere Deep-Ando is killed by the monsters whilst singing a rather unconvincing rendition of Mr Sandman after being forced to by the computer’s system, unaware that the song attracts the very things he’s trying to get away from.

Clara Morpheus pod
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) liberating Clara (Jenna Coleman) from one of the Morpheus pods.

In quick succession those remaining are also thrown into chaos when they are moving through the ship and suddenly the gravity shields stop working, making them hurtle towards Neptune. In the extreme pressure the pursuing Sandmen begin to disintegrate, but not before they manage to get hold of Rassmussen and appear to kill him. The Doctor manages to restore the shields and he, Clara and the only human, female crew member, Nagata, escape to the cold store where they not only discover that their adversaries are blind and use that to their advantage to get away from them, but that the sleep pods have implanted something in their brains that allows everything from their perspective to be recorded, something which Twelve promises he can correct when they get to the safety of the TARDIS. Elsewhere the grunt, 347, and Chopra make a run for their ship, but are stalled by a fire caused when the gravity shields went down. The clone carries him through, but mortally wounds herself in the process, deciding to distract the monster who are chasing after him while he makes it to the ship and leaves to inform everybody else what happened there.

The Doctor Clara cold store
Twelve and his companion hide out in the cold store.

It’s only when Clara, Nagata and The Doctor get to the ship themselves that they realise he wasn’t successful. Only the no longer deceased Rassmussen is there to explain to them that his intention all along has been to allow the Sandmen to escape to Triton and infect the rest of the solar system with their disease, and that he faked his death to allow them to escape. Opening the pod of his first ever patient, he allows the Sandman inside to attack the trio, but they utilise the creature’s blindness to get away and Nagata is shoots the researcher in the head. They run to get to TARDIS, but are soon surrounded by the remaining Sandmen so Twelve deactivates the gravity shields once again and the three of them struggle their way into the police box whilst the monsters turn into piles of sand.

As the episode finishes we cut back to the recording and Rassmussen reveals that everything that happened before was actually a ruse to get the audience to watch in order for him to transmit the Morpheus signal. Well, he did warn us…

Creep Factor

Marieke: Errr… I think I can safely say there was no such thing as creepy this week. I had high expectations, with Mark Gatiss writing and Reece Shearsmith starring, that the horror side of the Whoniverse would get a thorough exploration. And the themes were nice with the idea of sleep being a hindrance to people in current society and with the clone army built specifically to be an army. But it fell flat to me with the whole Morpheus story. And the monsters… The monsters will have their own section, so let’s stick to the other cinematographic and stylistic choices, the voyeuristic camera position and breaking the fourth wall. This could really build up an atmosphere. Who is watching our protagonists? Who is Rasmussen talking to? Especially the moment the Doctor asked about the helmet cams to which the reply was that they don’t have any, could have been used better. The execution was poor and surely combined with the monsters… Oh those monsters…

Danielle: For me, the creepiest thing was undoubtedly the song, Mr Sandman. Anything that saccharine automatically turns into something pretty sinister, especially in a claustrophobic setting. Like Marieke mentioned, there was also an eeriness to the way the humans treated the ‘grunts’, i.e. as sophisticated attack dogs. There was little to look forward to in this version of the future. You can’t even have a nice, long lie down.

Monster of the Week

Marieke: Have these been the most ridiculous monsters we have ever seen on this show? To me they looked like they were made out of polyurethane foam. Then it turns out they’re sandmen (how original) and they cannot see. I am not sure if this was consistent, but they completely lacked any terror to begin with. And they are made out of the stuff in the corner of your eyes after you wake up? That is not scary. That is gross. These were ineffective, laughable monster who had some luck with being strong and killing people. No skill required.

Sandman
One of the Sandmen playing it cool.
Shitdemon
The Shitdemon from Dogma.

Danielle: I can only guess that they had some old costumes that they left too close to the radiators , and they melted. Committed to recycling they decided to use them in this episode. No, they were pretty silly and are probably only pipped to the post in the silliest Who alien/monster stakes by the Adipose. At least they were kind of cute though. The Sandmen remind me more of the ‘Shitdemon’ in Dogma.

Mystery

Marieke: It is a mystery to me this episode made it through all the checks prior to and after making an episode… The real mystery will start again this week with Me/Ashildr returning and ravens being around.

Danielle: Did The Doctor really cure Clara and Nagata of the ‘infection’ that Morpheus gave them? The scene where he said he’d take them back to the TARDIS and cure them felt like it may be important going forward. Was Twelve fibbing? It seemed like he was holding something back.

Familiar Face
Rassmussen
Reece Shearsmith as Rassmussen.

Most famous for his macabre roles in The League of Gentlemen,  The Widower and Inside No. 9, Reece Shearsmith chalked up another role as a demented individual in ‘Sleep No More’ playing the abandoned scientist and inventor, Professor Gagan Rassmussen.

The Verdict?

On hearing that Mark Gatiss and Reece Shearsmith were working together again on a Who episode, we were pretty stoked. We’re both huge fans of Inside No. 9. ‘Sleep No More’, however, was a resounding disappointment for the only stand-alone outing this series. The whole claustrophobic environment and the being chased down corridors trope felt like it had already been done, and really recently as well in ‘Under The Lake’, which by comparison now goes up a notch in our estimation. Even someone/something jumping out of a coffin-esque pod was repeated. The idea of using found footage may be ingenious, but it didn’t entirely work either; and the scene in the deep freeze where The Doctor, Clara and Nagata are hiding and they find out the monsters are blind, is completely ridiculous. In an instant it became even harder to take the monsters seriously and in turn the crew dying at their hands became resoundingly pathetic and incapable. When all these elements fail, the episode turns out to be a big bore and even the reveal of Rasmussen at the end doesn’t deliver a real shock factor or twist. All in all, it really could have been half and long and packed in the same amount of intrigue and necessary plot. There’s rumours that they’re going to write a sequel. We’d rather see it buried in the sand…   

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