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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Przemek
    August 27, 2018 @ 11:15 am

    I was waiting for this essay. A very interesting read. “Failing in unusual ways” seems to me like a perfect description of “Sleep No More”. Your analysis of the underlying anti-capitalistic message almost makes this episode seem like an antecedent to “Oxygen”.

    I don’t think I’ll ever rewatch this one (which is why I personally call it “Watch No More”). The pacing, the lack of sense and the wasted ideas like the drones just makes it not a very interesting episode. I wish we got to see more of this reality created by the elimination of sleep for profit – there’s a lot of potential for a scathing social commentary here. But perhaps it’s unfair to expect that of Gatiss. It’s just not his style.

    I keep wondering what about the found footage genre made it capable of defeating the Doctor. DW logic usually trumps the logic of the genre DW invades… but not here. The best answer I’ve come up with is that found footage, as you say, implies that something bad has already happened and therefore cannot be prevented. Which in a way makes “The Angels Take Manhattan” a found footage story: the Doctor reads about a past tragedy in a book and is therefore unable to prevent it. But that story itself is a bit of a rule-bender when it comes to rewriting history in DW (knowledge of future events usually doesn’t stop the Doctor from defeating the villains) so who knows how it’s supposed to works.

    One other answer I’ve considered is that found footage often (as seen here) relies on presenting the events from multiple perspectives. This decentralizes the Doctor and makes it harder for him to put himself at the center of the narrative. Especially, as it turns out, when the story was being told by the villain, thus stripping the Doctor of his narrative powers (but why was the villain narratively stronger than him?). But I’m sure there are better explanations.


    • mx_mond
      August 27, 2018 @ 11:30 am

      “but why was the villain narratively stronger than him?”

      Because while the Doctor controls the narrative and he’s usually very good at it, here the villain controls the medium – he’s on a level higher than the Doctor (thanks to found footage making it so that the medium through which the story is carried is embedded within the story itself).

      If there was to be a sequel, I could see it as a struggle between the Doctor and the villain for control over the medium.


      • Aylwin
        August 27, 2018 @ 1:27 pm

        Indeed. Though I think the found footage genre as such does not necessarily lead to this, since, like other “documentary” forms like the epistolary novel, its existence implies the presence of a fictional framing narrative, whether or not one is explicitly presented, and such narratives can be nested, with a theoretically unlimited number of “editors” adding a coda to recontextualise the framing presented by the previous one.

        And of course this story itself contains something resembling such a nesting, when the creation of Rasmussen’s edited and intermittently narrated version of events is interrupted by the Doctor and the others, ostensibly bringing us back up to the “base reality” of a Doctor Who episode – only that then turns out to be just part of Rasmussen’s ongoing edit. In theory, there is no reason why that revelation could not itself have been superseded by a further coda in which the Doctor, having figured out what is happening, has taken steps to undo the Morpheus effect.

        I think the prosaic reason for why that doesn’t happen is less to do with found footage horror in itself than with the episode being in the “Monster at the End of this Book” sub-set of that genre (and its literary analogues, and variations such the “live TV” conceit of Ghostwatch) which breaks the fourth wall to encompass the audience, claiming that by watching/reading/listening to the work they have unleashed its terrible contents upon themselves. That’s a device that can only work at the highest level of nesting, so Gatiss could not use it and show the Doctor as winning at the end. It seems to be a case of Gatiss the horror nerd getting the better of Gatiss the Doctor Who nerd.

        A more symbolic explanation would be that this is a story in which the medium is the monster and is an outgrowth of rampant capitalism – and, as Jack would tell you, Doctor Who can never truly escape its material nature as the product of a capitalist culture industry, placing control of the medium beyond the reach of the Doctor’s capabilities.

        In any event, it’s remarkable that the most inveterately trad of the major new series writers produced what amounts to its most rad story in formal terms.

        Mind you, though, I’m not so sure the Doctor does lose at all.

        For one thing, the last thing he says while escaping is “It doesn’t make sense! None of this makes any sense!”. Evidently he is not satisfied with the ostensible course of events and is still gnawing away at it in his mind, giving us every reason to suppose that he will figure out what is really going on and will then intervene to fix it, perhaps by sending out a signal overlaying and neutralising the effect of the Morpheus signal.

        For another, what about the letters and numbers that fill the screen after Rasmussen’s opening narration? Obviously that’s not part of the camera footage, but something inserted on top of it. Nor is it the Morpheus signal inserted into the transmission, because Rasmussen identifies that as being contained in one or more of the flashes of static. So what is it? Among the various pieces of information to be seen arranged within it are the words “Doctor Who”. This is surely not the work of Rasmussen/Morpheus, to whom that expression would mean nothing. So Who put it there?

        “It’s his real name. Look at the screens!”


        • Aylwin
          August 27, 2018 @ 1:34 pm

          Oh, and another thing – the fact that the cameras are part of the monster is a bar to showing its defeat through camera footage. Metadata added to that transmission is another matter though.


        • Przemek
          August 27, 2018 @ 1:39 pm

          I love both your and mx_mond’s readings. Thank you!


  2. Chris C
    August 27, 2018 @ 12:50 pm

    The reveal with Clara’s viewpoint must, surely, be a trick that the found-footage genre has never attempted before. Despite the freaky contrivances used to get there, the ambition of it is stunning and a perfect example of what Doctor Who is for.

    There are the bones of a classic here; give it decent characters and even the most basic of effective monster-attack setpieces, and we’d have a game. But even Capaldi is visibly frustrated with the outcome. The scene in which the Doctor starts quoting Macbeth – an honestly unneeded attempt to make the Gatissness of the premise sound clever and Moffatian – transforms into bathos from the way Capaldi stares, so plaintively and devoid of hope, into the camera lens, as if wishing for us to rescue him from this hell. (Especially if the rumours of the ep’s troubled production have any substance to them).


    • mx_mond
      August 27, 2018 @ 2:08 pm

      I’ll understand if not, but would you be comfortable sharing the rumours here? I haven’t heard anything about what the production of this episode looked like.


      • Chris C
        August 27, 2018 @ 2:30 pm

        Don’t expect anything resembling a credible source here – all I can find left is this tweet ( which is only given any credibility by knowing about the POV gimmick in advance – but one or two reports were floating around during filming that production crashed at some point and Gatiss had to do rewrites. It’s not out of the question for an episode done in such a radical style to have severe hiccups. Take it with a massive helping of salt anyway.


        • mx_mond
          August 27, 2018 @ 2:55 pm

          Understood; thanks anyway!


  3. Aylwin
    August 27, 2018 @ 1:42 pm

    Incidentally, I have noted for some time that, when loaded on a browser configured in certain constricting ways, many Tardis Eruditorum articles begin with just the word “It’s”, followed by the image, with the rest of the text appearing below, putting one in mind of the opening of a Monty Python episode.

    This just seemed a more than usually appropriate image for that, so I thought I’d mention it.


    • Daru
      August 28, 2018 @ 4:22 pm

      I’ve been noticing that too! (and quietly chuckling to myself with each post)


  4. David Ainsworth
    August 27, 2018 @ 1:53 pm

    Among the weirdnesses of this episode: Gatiss, as writer, can potentially be located in the story either as the villain (the one assembling the footage/making the story, the one using the story as a medium to communicate) or as the Doctor, not triumphing over but defeated by narrative without even realizing it. Even little touches like the Macbeth reference hint at that possibility (as invoking “the Scottish play” in a theatrical setting invites a curse upon the production nearly as powerful as the writerly decision to stage the episode as found-footage where the cameras both are characters and don’t exist).

    I thought it odd that more wasn’t made of the Doctor’s own relationship to sleep. Gatiss surely remembers the Doctor’s assertion that “Sleep is for tortoises,” but the dynamics of suggesting it’s come back for revenge just never materialize. Worse, Gatiss doesn’t address the ways in which the show (especially in its new incarnation) has engaged with or elided sleep. Is Gatiss even sharp enough to realize that his episode sets itself up for sharp criticism via sleep jabs? Or is he hoping that critics will find it a sleeper?

    El, I’m especially curious what you make of a show like Doctor Who in 2015 England presenting an episode with Sandmen which, so far as I could see with my limited knowledge, seems not to register the Sandman series at all. Is it just that Gatiss is trad in a late 60s way because so many of his cultural reference points seem locked to that period?


    • David Anderson
      August 27, 2018 @ 2:12 pm

      I suspect most people who know of Gaiman know of him as a children’s writer. Early nineties comics with no merchandise targeted at children are fairly niche.

      One could possibly find thematic links to Hoffman (the thing you look at destroys you).


      • Tarantulette
        August 27, 2018 @ 11:16 pm

        More than just possibly! The monster within, the fragmented structure (epistolary novel as a possible precursor to the found footage episode, as mentioned above, the focus on eyes/perception/ways of seeing (a telescope/spyglass in the original, cameras here), the ashen, sooty imagery (throwing sand into your eyes = the malicious sleep dust), the narrative confusion about what is or isn’t real, the link with obsessive industrialisation of society (“Den Fortschritt verdanken wir den Kurzschläfern. Langschläfer können nur bewahren” : “we can thank those who sleep little for our progress. Those who sleep long can only ever conserve things),” the significance of heat and fire, the extremely downbeat ending… it’s almost an adaptation of Der Sandmann! There’s room for a Black Archive length book comparing the two.

        Most importantly, the original has a heroine called Clara (clarus = clear = the Enlightenment), who represents rationalism in the Romantic hero’s eyes but nonetheless has an ability to appreciate the more poetic sides to existence. It’s Nathanael’s failure to recognise her as a human being of his own stature and individuality that constitutes the real horror of the story.


  5. mx_mond
    August 27, 2018 @ 2:41 pm

    I never got around to watching Sleep No More until this weekend, because I’m not a fan of either found footage or space bases as a setting, and while I don’t hate Mark Gatiss, his name didn’t draw me to that combination either.

    I quite enjoyed the use of found footage here, which was more than just a gimmick (even Rasmussen’s narration, which I found grating and blatant, turned out to have a purpose), I liked the anti-capitalist message and its connection with sleep (for anyone interested in that relationship I’d recommend Jonathan Crary’s book 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep). Unfortunately, overall the episode was quite boring and I think that it would help if the characters were more fleshed out.

    I enjoyed observing the influence that RTD’s Cucumber/Banana/Tofu had on Doctor Who (I’ll have something to say about that in series 10 as well). While I’m not sure if Moffat was aware of who Davies had cast in his show, it was great to become a fan of people like Laetitia Wright, T’Nia Miller, or Bethany Black in the Spring of 2015, then in the Autumn see them in Doctor Who. But of the three, I think Bethany Black was the most wasted in Sleep No More. While the inhumanity of the character wasn’t in any way related to Black’s transness, I was sad to see her in the role of a creepy, aggressive clone. I would love it if she was cast in Doctor Who again; given how underlit this episode was, I don’t think there would be a problem of people recognising her.


    • Sean Case
      August 28, 2018 @ 1:39 am

      While I definitely would like to see more from Bethany Black,it was nice to see a gender reversal of the old trope of the neglected man pining after a disdainful woman.


      • mx_mond
        August 28, 2018 @ 7:20 am

        I think I would appreciate that reversal more without the predatory undertones of “Chopra pretty” and Chopra’s clear discomfort.

        I guess I would rather we just retire this trope altogether.


    • Przemek
      August 28, 2018 @ 7:17 am

      The clone plot was one of the worst examples of wasting a good idea in DW, I think. I hope Bethany Black gets a second chance somewhere down the line.


  6. MattM
    August 27, 2018 @ 10:55 pm

    Sleep No More is one of those stories that on an intellectual level I feel I should really like – it’s different, it’s experimental, it’s being brave… but it just doesn’t work at all. Much like a lot of the later Moffat era actually, for me. I think it’s fascinating how you can rationalise something where each part seems to work but as a whole it doesn’t.


  7. crossaffliction
    August 27, 2018 @ 11:31 pm

    I feel like Gatiss’s final two episodes are both disappointing in that I was really looking forward to them based on the concepts, but they both ended up being kind of bleh.

    On the other hand, you pointed out probably why I actually dislike this episode rather than “Empress of Mars”; the booger monsters just gross me out a bit too much.


  8. Jonixw
    August 28, 2018 @ 9:17 am

    I am so excited to read Eruditorum Press in the coming weeks. Face the Raven, Heaven Sent and Hell Bent is what this site is made for. This felt like a great preview, kind of like the episode itself, something calm but interesting before the storm.


  9. Daru
    August 28, 2018 @ 4:51 pm

    Overall I found the story really interesting but some of the elements a bit wanting – but I still find myself hooked by it somehow and find the ending stays with me still. And I love what you say Phil about the sleep monsters and them coming out of the realm of the disregarded and thrown away aspects of life – that’s great stuff there.


    • Elizabeth Sandifer
      August 28, 2018 @ 4:55 pm

      coughs politely



      • Daru
        August 30, 2018 @ 10:59 pm

        Really sorry Elizabeth – apologies to you, really.

        Won’t happen again.


  10. Kate Orman
    August 28, 2018 @ 11:41 pm

    “the sort of thing Doctor Who routinely makes instead of sense”

    Gods I miss that. When I’m writing SF things actually have to make proper sense, which is a drag.


  11. Elton Townend-Jones
    February 9, 2022 @ 4:32 pm

    I was actually blown away by this on transmission. Bold, tense, clever, beautifully designed, utterly on the nail, and incredibly creepy. Oh, and yes, also confusing.

    For a viewer who’s been watching since 1972 it came close to feeling like seeing Kinda or Ghost Light or Warrior’s Gate for the first time. Excellent.


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