If there’s one favourite trick of the Moffat era of Doctor Who, it’s making you afraid of the seemingly ordinary. We’ve seen homicidal statues that move when no one’s looking, carnivorous shadows and being alone in the dark. This week, regular writer and Moffat partner in crime Mark Gatiss has a go at making you scared of the seemingly ordinary. This week’s episode tries to make you scared to sleep.
Sleep No More is done in the style of found-footage horror movies. I actually don’t think I’ve watched one (unless Cloverfield counts but that wasn’t really a horror movie) so I can’t really comment on how it looks compared to the standard Paranormal Activity-esque fare. I will say that it found a happy medium between standard found footage and the shaky cam that worked as the episode unfolded and the plot was revealed.
This week sees The Doctor and Clara land on an abandoned space station where they encounter a rescue team sent in to figure out why the station went dark. While on-board, they encounter strange creatures made out of the sleep at the corner of your eyes and figure out that the station’s quick sleep machines (called Morpheus) turned the crew into these creatures.
Well, the plot was something like that. The plot of the episode was incredibly confusing. Usually I’m busy working on various writing or social media while watching Doctor Who but I was properly paying attention this week. I could have left the episode on in the background and probably been just as confused as to what was happening.
I honestly thought that this episode was going in an Inception/Total Recall/2014 Doctor Who Christmas Special direction where the episode was really just a dream that the characters were sharing but the events of the dream would affect them in the real world. As soon as Nagata said that they didn’t have cameras, I thought that’s where they were going.
Unfortunately, that revelation also caused the entire episode to fall apart. Someone was watching them through the sleep. It was never really specified who or why. We didn’t get any resolution as to how people turned into sleep monsters or how to cure people who could turn into them from using the Morpheus machines or if the sleep monster infection would spread just through viewing the video. The episode just ended with The Doctor, Clara and Nagata escaping after putting the station on a collision course with the surface of Neptune. It felt lacking in a climax or conclusion. By the end, I was just confused.
The concept of the Morpheus device was a pretty interesting one. There are a lot of people who try to get by on as little sleep as possible so the idea of a concentrated sleep device eventually being invented isn’t outlandish. In fact, I think the idea of an entirely plausible future invention going rogue and causing chaos is a fantastic touch. It’s a trope that’s so often used in sci-fi but is oh so effective when done right.
The other thing I really liked about this episode was a loving homage to the Alien franchise. The setting is a dark and abandoned space station. The villainous aliens seem hellbent on eating everyone that comes on to the station. The actual big bad of the story is the scientist. There is a sub-human creature. In Alien/s, there are the androids while here we have the bred for combat grunts. I’m probably the only one to read that much into this episode but I loved those little touches.
Overall, this was a neat episode. It was a good concept and the set design crew did an absolutely fantastic job this week. That was the highlight of Sleep No More. It felt like this was an episode built around the atmosphere rather than a script. That’s a shame because given how good of a job Moffat’s done with making the everyday frightening, you would think there was potential to make people scared of sleeping. If there’s one thing that annoys me, it’s wasted potential.
Other random points of note:
- Would it surprise anyone that a corporate entity would practically mandate the use of an accelerated sleep device? I can see myself using it to get more done in a day but I’d definitely be asking for some really good overtime pay if an employer asked me to use it to put in more hours.
- I’m not sure if I liked the title card for this episode. I get why they did it since it works thematically. Traditions are traditions, though. It would have been nice if they could have at least snuck the theme tune in with the static.
- Anybody else find themselves rubbing their eyes during that last scene?
Next week is a bit of a reunion. Rigsy, who was in the weird 2D shadow episode last season, turns up marked for death. As The Doctor and Clara investigate, they run into their old friend
Arya Stark No One Ashilder. What is she doing in the 21st Century and what’s with the raven? We’ll find out in Face the Raven.