“You must not watch this. I’m warning you. You can never un-see it, but remember if you do watch…” With that, one of the more intriguing and unusual “Doctor Who” episodes begins. Whovian adventure meets the found footage genre, and a new monster is introduced. Meet me after the time and space jump for my thoughts on “Sleep No More!”
When I first heard about “Sleep No More,” and heard it was going to be a ‘found footage’ episode of “Doctor Who,” I was not endeared. Unless it’s Chronicle (where a plot device has the camera telekinetic ally follow the main characters around), logic dictates at a certain point you put the freaking camera down, so movies like Cloverfield and even The Blair Witch Project just become silly after a while.
But as with many things in the Peter Capaldi era, nothing is as it seems. Viewers who pay attention catch on quickly that this is not your average found footage. I think showrunner Steven Moffat and veteran “Who” writer Mark Gatiss (“Cold War,” “Robot of Sherwood,” and “The Crimson Horror” among others) were having fun with the genre, and taking it apart as it happens. Did you guess the secret of the found footage before it was revealed?
I think this may the first time that the traditional “Doctor Who” titles haven’t been used. This alone marks this episode as an unusual one right there. Rather than credits, titles, spinning gears, The Doctor’s face, and a spinning TARDIS – we just get a digital display that reads “Doctor Who.” That’s it. Credits come at the end. This will annoy fanboys and fangirls who always know which Doctor they’re watching from the first few minutes. We’ll all have to resolve to remember the one without is Peter Capaldi.
Our found footage tour guide is Professor Rassmussen, talking directly to the camera, introducing the cast – the crew of the La Verrier space station in orbit around Neptune – and warning us ahead of time that while his tale is now in chronological order, some bits will be missing. It is a multicultural cast, as it is so often in new series “Doctor Who,” always nice to see diversity in our future, in this case, specifically Indo-Japanese. The crew is a rescue team coming for Rassmussen, with footage taken from the ship’s computers, he says.
In the midst of the rescue, The Doctor and Clara wander into the picture, as they are wont to do. What does this season have against showing and using the TARDIS? By the way, I love The Doctor licking a finger and holding it up to find out what year it is. Thirty-eighth century by the way, and it’s a great trick. The space station is apparently empty, long dead, and filled with moaning beasts – soon to be shown as creatures made of sand.
Rassmussen is found inside a special sleep pod called Morpheus. It’s his invention, a machine that takes all the needs, chemicals, regeneration, and energy that sleeps restores in the human body and slammed it into one five minute nap whilst bobbysoxers sing the 1950s ditty “Mr. Sandman” at you ad nauseum. But there seems to be more to these pods than meets the eye as one grabs Clara and pulls her into it. Sentient sleep pods? Nope, it’s a little weirder than that.
You know when someone says there’s sleep in your eye? That stuff? Sleep dust, sandman sand, eye boogers even, yeah, that’s what the creatures are made of. The Morpheus pods accelerate every function of sleep, including the production of that dried mucous discharge. Yeah, you heard me. Monsters, made of sentient dried eye mucous discharge. Give me a Dalek or a Weeping Angel any day of the week over these dudes.
Remember I said this was a unique found footage film? Shaky cam, check. Occasional black and white, check. Even some impossible shots from Clara’s point of view, check. But the crew doesn’t have helmet cams, and there are no cameras on board. So where did this footage come from? The Doctor figured it out, but did you?
The footage wasn’t just Rassmussen’s alibi, or his eulogy, or a distress call – it was a weapon, meant to entertain while it was infecting the solar system with his Sandmen. And yeah, we fell for it. Did The Doctor stop him? Was The Doctor really even there? Have we been inadvertently infected by watching this episode? Just think of that the next time you have some sleep in your eye…
With its indeterminate ending, I’m not sure how I feel about this one. Was it satisfying? Yes. Did it pull off the effect it meant to? Maybe, not quite. I enjoyed the possibility of a new monster, but of course we won’t know if they’re real unless they show up again. I was a bit bothered by the introduction of yet another Davros-in-the-making character this season, and The Doctor, after last week’s speech, did border on preachy once or twice here. And every time, I winced.
It’s going to take a lot to make me forget that escapade in “The Zygon Inversion.” That said, I may not be able to forget this week’s offering any time soon. Truly, the Sandmen (and wonderful that The Doctor pulls a Cisco from “The Flash” and wants to name them) are another in the tradition of Who monsters you have to hide behind the sofa from.
Next: …this is going to be sooo good in… “Face the Raven!”