(MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD)
“You must not watch this!”
Mark Gatiss, as a writer in Doctor Who, has always come up with decent science fiction ideas. However, his execution has rarely (if ever) lived up to the potential of said ideas. This definitely applies to his offering for Series 9, ‘Sleep No More.’ A found footage episode of Doctor Who, it is replete with nifty science fiction ideas (regardless of their originality!), but stutters and falls over itself repeatedly. It’s not as awful as ‘The Girl Who Died,’ but it’s on that same level of quality. After the great ‘The Zygon Inversion’ of last week, ‘Sleep No More’ was a massive step down in entertainment.
The Doctor and Clara end up on a space station of some sort where something is amiss…all crew are dead, and there are soldiers that have been sent to find out what’s happened. A simple, yet effective, plot setting. There are monsters after the soldiers and The Doctor and Clara…More than once was I reminded of ‘Dead Space,’ especially with all the Japanese (I could be wrong…) writing dotted about (I’m recently replaying Dead Space 2 and have survived the nursery/children’s area…now that’s horror!). Everything was from the POV of a person, and presented by a mad scientist (Rassmussen) who narrated events. Decent science fiction ideas like human drones, in the form of Grunt 474, and a machine that refines human sleep to five mintues, promised a great deal.
“I do the naming!”
Gatiss broke most of his promises, however. Nothing gelled together. Running around is par for the course for Doctor Who, but in the guise of found footage, the running around confused things. We weren’t able to sympathise (or even get to know) the soldiers on the space station: they were merely cannon fodder for the monsters to kill. Sometimes, I found it hard to know who was who, and who died. That means that something is surely lacking on the screen. Events happened, but I was none-the-wiser on several occasions as to what actually happened!
One of the main problems was the use of found footage. The found footage horror film started and ended with The Blair Witch Project (I know ‘The Last Broadcast’ came before that, but who’s seen that film?), and while other films have done an admirable job of capturing a similar level of horror (Rec, for example), the tricks to scare us during found footage have been done to death. ‘Sleep No More’ used PG versions of these tricks, but I could guess where the scares were going to come from. Doctor Who is scary when it tries not to be scary, or more accurately, when it doesn’t try to scare you using over-familiar techniques (think of Listen, or Blink). The found footage has run out of steam, and to use it so belatedly in Doctor Who only served to prove that fact.
“None of this makes any sense!”
Not my words, but the words of The Doctor during this episode! Of course, thinking about most TV shows/films too deeply makes you realise some plot strands don’t hold together, but I couldn’t suspend my disbelief for a few minutes throughout ‘Sleep No More.’ It all seemed so unnecessary. The episode followed ‘found footage’ rules and had a twist at the end, which put made some plot elements almost sensible, but made them pointless as well.
More than anything, it was tiresome to watch. ‘Sleep No More’ left me shrugging my shoulders after the credits, and over-analysing the plot. It started off so well, yet ended with almost nothing to commend it. There was some much-needed humour dotted throughout, but even Capaldi couldn’t save this awful dose of Doctor Who. I felt apathetic to the entire thing, which is actually worse than hating an episode, if you think about it. At least if you hate something, it has given you some emotional reaction. ‘Sleep No More’ just made me think that I could have been watching something else. Very, very poor, especially by the standard of Series 9!
VERDICT: 3/10. A dull and unnecessary experimentation with the found footage style. Nonsensical, tiring, and boring…
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(Click here for my review of Doctor Who, Series 9, Episode 8: The Zygon Inversion)