Sleep No More Review
This is solidly Gatiss’s best-ever Doctor Who story. It is in several regards outright brilliant, in a giddy and brave way that makes a perfect little quiet breath of an episode in the tradition of Love and Monsters or Blink, which it most obviously resembles. I’ve not, obviously, run the timing of it, but it certainly feels like a Doctor-lite episode, sharing their structural trick of treating a Doctor Who story as a defined thing happening inside another story. But where those stories put the Doctor into a very different sort of story, here he’s put into a found footage horror film. The result, very cleverly, is a story that gradually unravels into two separate stories, with the Doctor falling out of the narrative instead of slowly overtaking it.
This unraveling is by some margin the highlight of the episode, and is done with deft panache. Information is conveyed through the subtle shifts of the narrative rules, so that the found footage approach moves gradually and cleverly from being a gimmick to being the entire point of the episode. This is handled smartly on multiple levels, including Gatiss’s script, Justin Molotnikov’s direction, and Reece Shearsmith’s performance, which is a beautifully clever blend of familiar forms of Doctor Who acting that shifts cleverly with each twist. The final scene is particularly beautiful, with just the right amount of ecstatic thrill in his evil plan and clear relish in his transformation into dust. What a finish.
On top of that, many of the ideas here are genuinely great. I imagine Jack and Jane will both be over the moon with aspects of this. The leisure time destroyed by unchecked capitalist growth rises up and consumes us, our dreams taking revenge on us for our failure to attend to them. The dust is watching us, and the story it tells about us will kill us. I mean, these are just the sorts of sentences you live to write as an anarcho-Marxist occultist television critic, you know?
There are, however, two significant weaknesses. The first is, simply put, the irreducible flaws of Gatiss. Even when he, as he does here, has genuinely brilliant ideas, he’s rarely inclined to push them particularly far. Given a concept with all the metaphorical heft and conceptual possibility of sleep monsters, we really should have something more interesting than the smashy brutes that are the Sandmen. He doesn’t even go as far as indulging in the obvious grossness of literal snot monsters with people getting transformed into Sandmen and crumbling to dusty snot as they die or anything. Just smashing, and a bunch of kills in the form of “oh no one got in the room with you and we cut to black.”
Beyond that, he remains infuriatingly rubbish at giving his characters interesting arcs or things to do. The supporting cast makes that of Under the Lake/Before the Flood look like Osgood or Ashildir; they’re banal cannon fodder for corridor runs. Clara gets to trip and fall into a box. The Doctor urgently explains the plot, only direct to camera. The clever ideas remain the only drama on offer, and one is never meant to do more than appreciate that they exist. And this is depressingly typical of him. Tndeed, it’s the “in a nutshell” problem with literally every single one of his scripts for both Doctor Who and Sherlock: interesting things happen, but not to people.
But the other real problem, oddly enough, is Peter Capaldi. Every actor to have played the Doctor eventually hits the episode where they go on complete autopilot. Capaldi deftly avoided it in Under the Lake/Before the Flood, where it would have been easy, but here, forced to do the same sort of filler dialogue only with the added constraint of having to stare down a camera lens for most of it he finally finds himself defeated by a script. He’s completely out to sea here, and by the time he has to wistfully quote Macbeth and then deliver an urgent moral lecture on the importance of sleep has visibly just given up caring about anything but what’s for lunch. It’s clear that he’s capable of doing interesting things with the shooting style, as with moments when he looks at an unexpected camera (most obviously the peering at Clara after she’s become a POV character and the look to “CCTV” camera immediately after the scene where he points out that there aren’t any). But there aren’t enough of them to keep him interested, and instead he just sleepwalks through an episode that, to be fair, asked for no more than that.
Despite this, it works and works well, simply because the ideas are good enough and there’s been enough work put into the structure to keep it going. (A similar case can be made for The Crimson Horror, Gatiss’s previous finest, and another structurally Doctor-lite story.) Like The Woman Who Lived, it’s genuinely nice to see Doctor Who willing to be a bit strange, even if there are some rough spots as a result. As an end-of-season palate cleanser, it’s very good, and certainly much more solid than In the Forest of the Night was. But all the same, “this is the sort of thing Gatiss is best at” is faint praise, even if it’s not quite clear what’s being damned with it.
- I assume Jack will particularly enjoy the similarities between this and China Mieville’s “The Dusty Hat,” which he reviewed for the tentatively defunct Weird Kitties project.
- I’m not criticizing the failure to do anything with Clara’s Morpheus infection here on the assumption that it’s going to come up at some point in the next three episodes, but if that doesn’t pan out then it’s a massive oversight.
- The supporting cast may be drably written, but Bethany Black is clearly having an absolute blast as 474, and is just throwing everything she’s got into doing interesting things with the performance. The chat with her in this week’s Doctor Who Magazine is an absolute hoot, incidentally; worth the cover price for it alone. Highlights include her geeking out about Malcolm Hulke.
- I am, incidentally, happy to accept the production team-imposed canon that 474 is cisgender. There doesn’t seem to be much on-screen evidence for it, mind you, but I suppose there’s some, in that one does not imagine that a genetically identical and programmed clone line is likely to be given much leeway to explore their gender identity in the course of their presumably brief lives.That said, I’m going to have to insist that Nagata, Chopra, Deep-Ando, and Rassmussen are all trans, especially since there’s literally no evidence whatsoever that they’re cis.
- I’m not quite sure about the “Japan and India have fused” concept, or the weird “may the gods look favorably upon you” catchphrase (which is just way too phonetically close to “may the odds be ever in your favor” to work). It always feels slightly strange to me when Doctor Who does this sort of very superficial play with other cultures, and mashing up two very different Asian cultures indiscriminately and in low lighting feels like one of the most extraordinarily superficial moves it’s made.
- I really enjoy the sheer sadism to parents involved in an episode of Doctor Who that ends at 9pm and suggests to children that they may get turned into monsters in their sleep. It’s shamelessly irresponsible in that way that Doctor Who is at its best.
- On a slightly broader note, amidst the rumors and predictable outrage about the probability (given Sherlock’s existence) of a few months than longer delay between Seasons Nine and Ten, it’s worth noting that the past three actors to play the Doctor acquired injuries requiring surgery during their time in the part (Tennant back, Smith and Capaldi knee). Never mind “why don’t we get a full season every year,” why aren’t we making fewer episodes per year so that we don’t fucking kill the actors? The forced enthusiasm of Doctor Who Extra has never seemed so grim.
- Quite excited for next week, as Dollard is the one writer this season that’s basically new to me. She worked on The Game, and was involved in what were probably its two best episodes, but I have no real impressions of her style. Debut writers have generally been among the highlights of the Moffat era, and so I’m excited for another.
- The Zygon Inversion
- The Zygon Invasion
- The Girl Who Died
- The Magician’s Apprentice
- Sleep No More
- The Woman Who Lived
- The Witch’s Familiar
- Under the Lake
- Before the Flood
November 14, 2015 @ 8:17 pm
Ooof. This was an odd one, a real curate’s egg – parts of it really are excellent. But they’re mashed up (and it is mashed up rather than blended) with really rubbish and uninspired parts, so there’s a kind of quality whiplash going on throughout.
November 14, 2015 @ 8:18 pm
I’m glad someone liked it! This was the first episode in a long long long while that I actively disliked. I thought it was incoherent and genuinely have no idea what happened in it.
This must be what my parents feel like every week watching the show!!
November 14, 2015 @ 8:24 pm
I’m surprised at how much you liked this. I felt like the episode took a brilliant concept and went in the absolute least interesting direction it could possibly take. It should have been either more experimental and dreamlike or more angry and Marxist. I would’ve preferred the Sandmen to have a more ethereal, unexplained, possibly magical origin—the pure form of monsters in our dreams suddenly able to escape into our world because sleep in the only barrier keeping them inside us. And I would’ve like more of the Marxist angle, with sleep deprivation as exploitation of the masses being used in more than, like, two lines of dialogue.
I actually enjoyed Capaldi here. His “space hats” bit was a good example of mediocre lines saved by a spectacular actor. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that most of his lines were written with the Seventh Doctor in mind, only inside an uber-stereotypical Second Doctor sort of story. Even worse, we get a return to a Series 7 sort of Clara, with nothing for Coleman to latch onto.
Honestly, this is honestly my least favorite sort of Doctor Who episode. There’s just nothing interesting for me to talk or think about. All of the good stuff is only vaguely gestured at, and I spent most of the episode thinking of ways it could’ve been made better. I think this episode simply doesn’t have anything much to say or to make me feel. It exists because they needed another 45 minutes of Doctor Who to air on a Saturday night, and I suppose this sort of feels like Doctor Who, only without the bits that make it compelling. And yes it’s a bad episode, and not all of them can be to my subjective liking. But to me, it’s bad in the most uninteresting way imaginable, and so I’d say it’s Mark Gatiss’ second-worst story. At least Victory of the Daleks wins at something.
November 14, 2015 @ 8:57 pm
Also, putting this above The Woman Who Lived and The Witch’s Familiar is unforgivable! Unforgivable, I say! There’s far more interesting stuff to unpack in either of those, and they’re also executed far better. Watching this, I found myself thinking the sorts of critiques that I usually roll my eyes at on Gallifrey Base.
November 14, 2015 @ 9:07 pm
“And I would’ve like more of the Marxist angle, with sleep deprivation as exploitation of the masses being used in more than, like, two lines of dialogue”
Especially with that ending, that Doctor Who itself is a tool of the villain!
November 15, 2015 @ 8:10 am
I did love the (presumably accidental) suggestion that structures stories around spectacle at the expense of logical structure is something you do to simply to inflate audience figures, and that the people who do that are terrible human beings. As a criticism of, say, the RTD era it would be ridiculously hyperbolic and desperately snobbish, but it’s till pretty funny.
November 15, 2015 @ 3:23 pm
November 14, 2015 @ 8:26 pm
Not sure Clara does have the infection any more. We see that in a film made by an unreliable narrator, the whole thing is a kind of feverish dream. We know the “virus” transmits by the video, not the sleep pods by this stage in its development anyway.
November 19, 2015 @ 6:41 pm
I think I need to see what they do with it, but this definitely has the potential to rank up there with Ursula from Love & Monsters as an example of something that most people simply don’t “get”. Unreliable narrators are very, very hard to pull off in visual media simply because of the way they have to work, and the lack of explanation that comes along with them (precisely because of the unreliability) makes it harder to process.
November 14, 2015 @ 8:26 pm
I thought it was great. Yes, the characters were empty and only served as archetypes, but they’re functional enough to get across the central points and that’s good enough with a story so clearly focused on a message.
And what a message. Capitalism is destroying your dreams and therefore literally destroying your sense of self and turning you into a featureless unit. And you should be critical of any story created under capitalist hegemony because the ideological underpinnings are likely going to be shaped by the powers that be.
I wasn’t even annoyed by found footage, because the use of it highlighted how it is overused because it makes money. It served to underline the point that narratives are shaped by capitalism.
I honestly didn’t expect it out of Gatiss, I thought he was a bog standard Guardian New Labour type.
November 15, 2015 @ 4:34 pm
“Capitalism is robbing you of you chance to dream and so now your sleep is coming back to get you” is a brilliant and wonderfully Doctor Who’y conceit.
But I’m pretty positive that “and now all of your un-dreamed dreams are coming to get you” would have made a much better episode than “and now, sentient eye gunk…”
Or, at least boring sentient eye gunk as it was realised here.
November 14, 2015 @ 8:35 pm
I’m surprised you didn’t mention the lack of a credit sequence which effectively made the entire episode a cold open; or the way it turned the Troughton ‘staring at us out of a TV screen’ trope into the mise en scene of the story.
The Sandmen, dust golems made of eye gunk, are probably the best pseudo-science monsters we’ve had but, as such, seemed to belong more to season eight with the Foretold and the Boneless. Favourite line – ‘It’s the Silurians all over again’.
I’m genuinely at a loss to say what I felt about this episode. I know it’s going to divide opinion but I’m oddly unsure what side of the divide I’m falling on. Which probably means it’s great.
Certainly a surprising bit of writing from Gattis.
November 14, 2015 @ 8:41 pm
A lot of people on Twitter seem to be actively hating this episode, which I loved for reasons that have nothing to do with its actual quality. The slow reveal of “the episode IS the monster” was predictable to me only because “META!” is almost a starting point for my own fiction. While watching it I felt like this episode was written for me, it was so Right Up My Street, and I am cursed to love it unconditionally.
As a burgeoning typography geek I did quite like the fusing of Japanese and Indian alphabets we saw as an overlay for that one shot, that was fun. I wish if the show was going to throw cultures together willy-nilly it would at least luxuriate in the spectacle a bit more, but there was at least some effort to make Indo-Japan cohere, not so much a “mashing up” of two cultures, more like…like a…
Oh, what’s the word?
November 14, 2015 @ 9:21 pm
A synthesis. Fusion. Union of opposites. An alchemy.
November 14, 2015 @ 10:29 pm
You mean… like a hybrid?
November 15, 2015 @ 8:03 am
The word I was looking for was “conglomerate”, thankyouverymuch.
November 15, 2015 @ 11:00 am
“You mean… like a corporate amalgamation?”
November 16, 2015 @ 5:24 pm
Like Phil, I found this the best story Gatiss has ever written. For me, the creepy atmospherics of the found footage format made it especially scary. But it really was the metafictional angles that stood out as his real innovation. Gatiss has essentially written a villain in Rasmussen the Sandman who’s hijacked the Doctor’s own ability to hijack the narrative, and utterly defeats him with it.
More details below, essentially posted this late because Phil’s told me he likes reading them.
Sex and Violins
November 14, 2015 @ 8:43 pm
This review pretty much summarizes my opinions on the episode. An interesting concept executed very badly. I’m a sucker for an aggressively high-concept episode, so this ought to be right up my alley, but, for most of the reasons articulated above, (the plot being straight-up nonsensical and the badly executed characters), it just doesn’t work.
I am similarly excited for next week, even if it does seem to have ripped off at least some ideas from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.
November 14, 2015 @ 9:24 pm
And Harry Potter, and Alif the Unseen, and JS & MN.
November 14, 2015 @ 9:21 pm
I, conversely, am not surprised that you liked this one, and mentally predicted that you would think it was Gatiss’s best episode.
I dig the ideas, and especially the changes in the nature of the plot. The way that the realization that some of these POV shots must be Clara’s sneaks up on you. The way the nature of what it means that this is an edited version of events prepared by Shearsmith’s character changes over the course of the episode. This is Gatiss as a radical experimenter in a way I never thought I would see.
But, but, but. I can’t help feel that “sapient sleep booger monsters” is a silly and insufficiently justified concept. This isn’t a suspension of disbelief objection so much as a “this is a kind of silly that doesn’t work for me at all” objection. Obviously that’s inherently subjective, but still I find the explanations for the more far-fetched elements of the plot kind of insufficient to justify them.
Also, I’m not entirely sure whether the found footage approach helps or hurts the episode.
If Clara dies because she stupidly ended up in one of the sleep thingies I’ll be pissed as fuck
November 14, 2015 @ 10:29 pm
It fell apart the moment I was supposed to believe that the crew of the ship, humans – who no longer sleep for more than five minutes – produced enough eye gunk to form at least six or seven monsters?
Just… no. No, no, no, no, no. No. I don’t get eye gunk when I take a ten minute nap, for Christ sake.
November 16, 2015 @ 10:30 am
“If Clara dies because she stupidly ended up in one of the sleep thingies”
My prediction: She does but not before she inadvertently spreads the Morpheus virus throughout time and space. The doctor tries to both save Clara and clean up the mess, but realising he won’t be able to do both, she opts to take it out of his hands and does the heroic sacrifice thing.
November 17, 2015 @ 8:13 am
I feel that Doctor Who should not dip straight into Just So stories. “And then boy washed his eyes and told his tribe to do the same and sleep demons drowned, and they washed their eyes every morning since” I can see Uncle Reemus right here. Doctor Who as soft as it is, is still science fiction. I should maintain the aesthetic.
November 14, 2015 @ 9:22 pm
Nah, it was bollocks.
At first it was just boring bollocks. Then, after a while, the indications of some clever ideas appeared, and I perked up, thinking that it might end up being good after all. But it ended up fumbling all its ideas, and went back to being just boring bollocks after all.
It’s frustrating because there was clever stuff there. The bit where Clara ends up inside the Morpheus machine had great potential, for instance. We half-see the Doctor and Clara getting into this scrape from the point of view of characters who aren’t paying much attention to them because they have their own issues to deal with. What a splendid idea! Except that the characters and their relationships are so dull, and Clara’s peril turns out to be entirely perfunctory, that the whole thing is just wasted. And it’s like that all the way through.
One might give out some cleverness points for the bit where Reece Shearsmith comes on at the end to explain that the reason the entire episode has made no bloody sense is because of his diabolical plan, but at the end of the day you’ve still spent 45 minutes watching an episode that makes no bloody sense.
My wife fell asleep. Afterwards we had a look on the #drwho hashtag on Twitter. Not only were all the tweets we say negative, they overwhelmingly made the same point: it was boring. (Most memorable was the one that went “Sleep No More? Care no more, more like”.)
Quoting Shakespeare is fine. I love Shakespeare. But when you’re at the point of reciting entire passages of dialogue, you’ve gone beyond apt quotation and into cribbing a load of reliably excellent dialogue because you can’t think of anything good to write yourself.
Worst Gatiss episode yet. At least Victory of the Daleks had jammy dodgers.
November 14, 2015 @ 9:45 pm
On reflection, what this episode really brings to mind is my time in experimental theatre. I performed in a number of experimental theatre projects (and co-created a few), and they were generally pretty successful, mainly because we always remembered that there was an audience who had taken the time and trouble (and expense) to be there and we did our best to make sure they were entertained. Meanwhile, I also did sit through far too many experimental theatre projects that had evidently decided that, since they had declared they were doing experimental theatre, they didn’t need to bother with any of those dull conventions of providing the audience with an engaging drama. (Top tip: if you ever see an experimental theatre production where the description includes “the action is interrupted by sporadic bursts of gunfire”, avoid at all costs. This is the certain sign of a load of dull wank. I wish I could say this precise phenomenon was unusual.)
So yes, there may be some level of academic interest in what Gattis is doing – or trying to do – in this episode. But it still fails as drama.
November 14, 2015 @ 9:56 pm
This episode was the opposite of Victory to the Daleks in some ways. Most of the stuff on screen was fun to look at, but the high concept was stupid and didn’t make sense. Here, the stuff on screen was drab and stupid, but some of the ideas behind it were interesting.
Sadly, this will inevitably be revisited in a couple of episodes when they think they’ve been clever enough to make us forget that they left the entire plot hanging.
I do find that there is a thing more tedious than running around corridors, and that is running around corridors in found footage style. Please never do it again.
November 14, 2015 @ 10:25 pm
“One might give out some cleverness points for the bit where Reece Shearsmith comes on at the end to explain that the reason the entire episode has made no bloody sense is because of his diabolical plan, but at the end of the day you’ve still spent 45 minutes watching an episode that makes no bloody sense.”
The worst part is that explaining that his story doesn’t make sense doesn’t explain how his story can’t make sense – did anything we see actually happen? Are Clara and the Doctor actually there is reality going through a story that literally makes no sense? Or did the Sandmen create an episode of Doctor Who to attack the Earth?
November 15, 2015 @ 12:13 am
What didn’t make sense?
November 15, 2015 @ 12:48 am
All the stuff the Doctor explicitly pointed out didn’t make sense, for one. Why did the gravity engines fail? Why were the monsters blind when it was cold even though every other speck of dust could see just fine? More generally, given that the Morpheus machine eliminated long sleeps, how was anyone creating eye dust in the first place? Why was the scientist hiding in the machine – if everything was set-up, surely there are better ways to lure people in in the first place. Ultimately, what actually occurred? Ramussen says that the whole point of the video was to make you watch it – how did he create the unrealistic narrative given that, to the characters within the narrative, reality was tangible?
November 15, 2015 @ 3:21 am
Whilst I didn’t enjoy this (bit boring and very loud), it was fairly clear that the gravity engines failing was part of the plan by the Sandmen to make the episode more exciting (and possibly loud) to keep their victims watching until the end.
November 15, 2015 @ 6:32 am
All of this, plus literally every single part of the script that involved the word “gravity”.
November 14, 2015 @ 9:42 pm
Am I the only person who absolutely LOVES the idea of getting rid of sleep? Because I fucking hate sleep. A third of my life, stolen by the needs of the disgusting flesh-sack, and it doesn’t even have the benefit of being highly enjoyable and an opportunity for creative play like eating. But no, obviously we have to kill capitalism first, and then sleep, otherwise instead of getting that third of our life back, it would just be stolen from us by our employers like the rest of our time.
Basically everything else I had to say about this episode has been said by others. Conceptually brilliant, but needed to either be more hallucinatory or more Marxist, the base was visually uninteresting, and the cast had barely more characterization than the snot monsters.
November 15, 2015 @ 5:53 am
Yeah. The actual criticism isn’t capitalism getting rid of sleep, but replacing sleep with more time for us to work.
I’d love to lose sleep. And I think you could play it the other way – a time when all our ideologies fall silent but our bodies tick over. A time of introspection where none of our corporations or ‘duties’ can find us (server downtime, perhaps, to reserve the company’s costs?). The half of our life we’d missed out on for so long. Like a sort of… hidden street, or something.
November 15, 2015 @ 6:28 am
I think it’s highly likely that as soon as we eliminate sleep working hours will double, just like as soon as it became the norm for women to seek employmen house prices suddenly necessitated a dual income.
November 15, 2015 @ 4:20 pm
I got into a big argument with a friend after Soylent started getting news coverage. He was excited over the idea of spending less time worrying over meals because food wasn’t a big thing to him. OTOH, my very first thought was that within 10 years tops, Soylent will be the only thing you can buy with Food Stamps, and you won’t even be allowed to buy it with any flavoring added, just a glue-like paste, because “enjoying your meal” should be a reward for hardworking people instead of something “moochers and looters” should expect.
November 16, 2015 @ 5:44 am
I’ll swap if you like? You can have all the tedious doing-stuff, and I’ll just spend all day in bed.
November 14, 2015 @ 10:30 pm
Rather shocked you put this ahead of The Woman who Lived (and In the Forest) I mean, even if you didn’t like the climax of TWwL, at worst that episode was an interesting witty failure, trying to do something more
Whereas this episode was a mediocre idea’s interesting failure. Rather than make the end of sleep deal with dreams and nightmares escaping, this episode wanted us to fear evolved eye dust.
The episode was against mega capitalism (how rare for Gatiss a point of view!) but that wasn’t radical 35 years ago with ALIEN and it really isn’t now. Some British Conservative voters are as well. Just shows the mess we’re in
November 16, 2015 @ 5:55 pm
Surely the main interesting idea here was “evil bloke makes a Doctor Who episode to help further his evil plan”? It wasn’t executed as well as it could have been, but that’s what I took away from it as the main clever thing about the story (or the thing the story was trying to be clever with), not the actual not sleeping thing. Which, to be honest, was almost irrelevant.
Whereas The Woman Who Lived, whilst a pretty good story, didn’t strike me as even really trying to do anything all that clever.
November 17, 2015 @ 9:10 am
See for me SnM was basically the characters being chased by monsters, running from room to room, trying to get away, finding a traitor, traitor gets killed etc It all feels generic and a bit contrived. And then for a final stinger it turns out the contrived bit was deliberate. To make you watch, but even that’s not well explained.
You can imagine a better version, something like Conundrum (which does this same trick about half way through and then builds on it) but that’s not what we got.
Whereas for me Woman who Lived, takes one of those characters whose lives are drastically changed at the end of a New series episode and then (for the first time ever) meets them again.
What’s more, it puts the typical Who plot of an evil alien into the background, to focus on the Doctor and this character talking, verbally dancing, giving and taking information. The first 20 minutes are basically a duologue. As Tregenna said, Leandro isn’t the one to fear, Me is the real danger. And then you’ve got the mix of moods, and tones, while SnM is just about scaring with occasional laughs. Standard Who MO
November 14, 2015 @ 11:22 pm
Rassmussen: Inside is a man who hasn’t slept in five years!
[Steven Moffat emerges, grumbling about filming schedules for Sherlock and BBC budgets]
This was definitely a mess, but did have moments of brilliance, I kind of loved the slow revelation of the implications of “We don’t have helmet cams”. Also, I guess in 2015 we need some sort of formalist play to make base under seiges even the least bit interesting. Shame Whithouse missed that memo.
November 16, 2015 @ 12:49 am
That was funnier than anything in the actual episode.
November 14, 2015 @ 11:37 pm
Notably, Sleep No More was the first episode to actually benefit from my antipodean ritual of watching Doctor Who first thing Sunday morning – I still had gunk under my eyes as I was watching it. However it did not benefit from my other ritual of putting on the kettle during the cold-opening and using the title sequence to get a cuppa. I spent the first fifteen minutes of this episode thinking “any minute….now“.
Nothing else much to say on it – enjoyable, but I wouldn’t call it Gatiss’s finest. I was particularly impressed with how the scenes shot from Clara’s perspective transitioned from accidental production oversight to deliberate clue. Oh, and I thought the weirdness of the phrasing “may the gods look favourably upon you” was intentional – a suggestion that the rescue crew was not speaking in English.
As a tangential waffle – I’m super buzzed that the Doctor Who Festival is gracing Australia’s shores next weekend, and trust it will be worth travelling across the country for. Though I was slightly miffed when Moffat was not named amongst the autograph opportunities. Every time I look at my Joking Apart DVD, I can’t help but be rueful at what might have been.
Roderick T. Long
November 15, 2015 @ 2:35 am
I feel like the main ideas were done better previously: the sentient dust in the Vashta Nerada two-parter, and the dust-in-the-eye in the angels/Byzantium two-parter.
November 15, 2015 @ 4:22 am
The Byzantium also had the “the angel reaches out through its image, so watching it on telly means it can get you”, actually.
November 15, 2015 @ 8:15 am
Both good points, but if we’re looking for older episodes that this is clearly riffing off, I suggest Mark of the Rani. Which, hilariously, this feels worse than in at least two ways.
November 15, 2015 @ 4:02 am
“I suppose that now you’ve become sentient you will want to move out of Edgeware..”
DId anyone get a strong vibe that this was inspired from the Nebulous episode “The Dust has Landed”?… Which Gatiss starred in as the not-very-subtly-coded Doctor stand in.
November 15, 2015 @ 4:12 am
“Every morning we wake up and wipe the sleep from our eyes…and that keeps us safe…safe from the monsters inside.” This would have been a decent speech if it was actually justified by the story it was in. As is, it screams “I want to do that Moffat thing and scare the kids but I can’t be arsed to do it properly, oh well no-one will mind.” I applaud Capaldi for even getting through it with a straight face.
November 20, 2015 @ 2:20 pm
In my opinion, “… I can’t be arsed to do it properly oh well no-one will mind” is Gatiss’ work in a nutshell.
November 15, 2015 @ 4:26 am
In terms of genre collisions, it felt to me like a mashup of Doctor Who and Doom. Doom has a backstory about a Mars base being taken over by a malign influence, but in practice it’s ignored because the only real motive is to kill the monsters and get out. The lighting style also matches Doom, and it’s arguable that doom is the first PC first person shooter that is sufficiently immersive.
Lovecraft in Brooklyn
November 15, 2015 @ 6:18 am
But Doom got its style from Alien, which this felt like more than Doom. And Alien may have been based on The Ark in Space, and Ridley Scott got his start on Doctor Who. So it’s all one big loop.
Lovecraft in Brooklyn
November 15, 2015 @ 6:23 am
It also had nods to Bioshock, and I think i heard GLADOS in there.
November 20, 2015 @ 2:18 pm
With a dash of “Escape Velocity” thrown in.
November 15, 2015 @ 5:29 am
It was a genuinely clever the way the episode relied upon our awareness of the limitations and persistent failures of the found footage genre in order to trick us.
And I, of course, liked the gestures towards a critique of capitalist time regimentation.
And I liked hearing Capaldi quoting Shakespeare.
Elsewise, this didn’t have much going for it.
Feeble characterisation, and an incoherent plot relying on an incoherent concept. Generic space marines running around in generic dark horror corridors. People explaining the plot to each other with some pointless verbal conflict sprinkled on top. Visual Big Finish again. The Sandmen were boring, characterless, lumbering monsters… though the basic idea of evolved sleep dust was wonderfully barmy and had splendid (unmined) potential. The dustcam thing didn’t really work (the ‘CCTV’ pictures would be wobbly and floaty) which kind-of undermines the clever trickery I began by praising. (If you’re going to hinge a story on cleverly taking advantage of a genre failing, you have to get the rest of your version of the genre right.) The speech about the importance of sleep was unearned, with the vitality of it apparently being down to the fact that lack of it might bring about gunk monsters (who knew?). There was no real engagement with dreams, or private interior time – which are what’s really interesting about sleep.
No, this wasn’t good – though it had some good stuff in it.
(Politically, I’m very unsure about hiring Bethany Black to play 474, though I suppose I should bow to her contentedness with it. And, of course, the faint critique of capitalism is rather undermined when the Doctor starts philosophising about how ‘humans’ as a group hate sleep.)
Oh, and I don’t see much relationship between this and Mieville’s ‘Dusty Hat’ at all, I’m afraid. Nor do I quite agree with PHil about Capaldi – he seemed perfectly normal to me.
November 15, 2015 @ 1:13 pm
Agree with you about Capaldi’s acting
He never gives it a “full on” moment like he does in Under the Lake, but that’s because Capaldi is aware of the way it’s filmed, either in shaky close-up or still long shot, he knows a really big drama moment wouldn’t work. As others have pointed out, he’s a director himself.
So because of the different style he gives a slightly quieter performance than usual, but there’s still lots going on, and we’re miles away from Cold War or Lazarus Experiment style phoned-in acting
November 15, 2015 @ 5:41 am
Is no one going to talk about “The Invisible Enemy”?
November 15, 2015 @ 5:49 am
Loved the central twist – destroying the world with a Doctor Who episode. It’s not just turning the narrative against the viewer, but actually constructing a Doctor Who episode good enough to keep the viewer hooked through the whole process, picking and choosing which elements would be considered ‘entertaining’ and ‘gripping’ enough television for people to sit through until they turn into bogies. And subliminal messaging undertones in there too, obviously.
I’ll probably break something if it turns out Clara’s Morpheus plot isn’t finished yet. Firstly, I don’t want her fate to be turning into the most boring monster of the season. Secondly, I don’t want it to stem from her “falling” into a machine. Ugh.
Better than In the Forest of the Night? Nah – just my preference, but when it comes to experimenting, Forest is just unabashedly ridiculous and magical, like a forty-five minute TV poem.
November 15, 2015 @ 6:03 am
Could someone perhaps explain to Gatiss how gravity works? Possibly with a lump of four by two?
November 15, 2015 @ 7:17 am
And could Peter Harness sit in on the lesson? 😉
November 15, 2015 @ 6:04 am
Yeah, I was also left cold.
But for me the thing that stuck out was: if you’re going to hinge your big reveal around things “not making sense”, then it would be best to not have spent the last five years ramming Doctor Who that doesn’t make sense except as a self-aware narrative at us.
I mean, around here all we talk about is the fact that the reality of a plot is essentially irrelevant, and that Doctor Who works by differing story conventions from one episode to the next. So to have the Doctor suddenly object to that, and to have the bad guy suddenly taunt us with it hardly felt like a shocking revelation.
Less satisfying than if he had actually told us that the episode Was All A Dream.
Actually – that would have been much better.
Lovecraft in Brooklyn
November 15, 2015 @ 6:20 am
If you told somebody who only watched old Doctor Who base under siege stories that Neil Gaiman had written a few episodes, they’d probably imagine something like Sleep No More. That’s not really a bad thing.
Or maybe more of a parody; I dunno, I spent so much time as a kid reading Sandman that thats all it brought to mind. Though the monsters were a bit more like the Spider-Man Sandman mixed with Clayface, but nowhere near as cool.
I still dug it as a creepy little horror flick, and I love narratives that don’t make sense anyway. And the Mr Sandman bit felt very Bioshock, and I swear I heard GLADOS in there.
November 15, 2015 @ 7:01 am
Did anyone else notice Clara’s POV shots had the same warm colour-tone as a DW episode, in contrast with the colder hues of the found footage? Same with the TARDIS’ POV shots which I thought was a nice touch.
November 15, 2015 @ 7:16 am
It used the word “colonised”! Specifically, a Desi character used the word “colonised”! Come to think of it, I wonder if the India-Japan collision was Mark’s way of making up a little for new Who’s odd racial skewing, in which Black characters greatly outnumber Desi characters – the opposite of Britain’s racial makeup. (Perhaps with the US market in mind?) I hope all those characters on the walls were meaningful and not just random decoration.
Did we get enough information to say that 474 was cisgender?
I still can’t quite believe there was no “the Doctor won, everything’s basically OK”. Surely that’s the first time in the show’s history without one.
November 15, 2015 @ 7:39 am
I daresay the characters on the walls will be meaningful… in the 38th century. Not sure how you expect them to be meaningful in this century, though. They were a rather clever combination of kanji/kana and Indian letterforms which, to my eyes at least, managed to look like a consistent, coherent script.
Replying to your other comment. The glitch thing did appear near the beginning, and frequently thoughout it (my son, in one of his two perspicacious comments, asked me what it was. His other comment was, very early on, ‘Where are the cameras?’). I assumed that the glitch needed repeated exposure to work its business on the brain.
November 15, 2015 @ 7:54 am
That makes sense – I thought the glitch’s previous appearances were just, well, glitches. Maybe an additional line – “You’ve seen it dozens of times already, there it is again” – would’ve made it clearer. (Actually, perhaps Mr Gatiss missed a trick: have Rasmussen add, “But don’t worry, it won’t take effect until you see the trigger code. Oops! There it was!”)
I was worried the script we saw might just be a jumble of randomly selected characters, but if they actually worked out a futuristic script, good on ’em!
Lovecraft in Brooklyn
November 15, 2015 @ 3:34 pm
I watch Doctor Who on a legal Australian stream, so it’s usually got glitches and artifacts and stuff – ironically, my connection was good this week so there were fewer glitches than usual. It was still impossible to tell what was intentional or not.
November 15, 2015 @ 7:23 am
PS Why didn’t he just put in the glitch thing at the start of the episode?
November 15, 2015 @ 7:40 am
In the absence of a specific classic line from Tumblr, may I offer the following from the comments on the Daily Telegraph review of it? The comment appears to not only be about this episode, but Doctor Who in general:
“It is simply a vehicle for homosexual BBC writers to spout more left wing politics. Reason enough to nuke the BBC from orbit, just to be sure.”
November 15, 2015 @ 7:50 am
AHA HA HAH AHAHA HAHAHAHA
November 15, 2015 @ 11:49 am
As so often, its the world the Right spend so much of their time building up through their fantasising constructions, yet its also the world I want to live in. Is there somewhere you can get your name down for it?
November 15, 2015 @ 11:59 am
Or do you get your name down by positing to this site? That would explain why they’re making the Captchas so hard. It’s a conspiracy I tells you!
November 15, 2015 @ 10:04 am
Haven’t rewatched yet, which is generally not a good sign. Most of what everyone has said kind of boils it down for me. I think I gave it a 6 or 7 at GB.
About the lack of characterization — to some extent, I think that’s deliberate, and that’s because of 474. Of all the supporting characters, she’s the only one who actually has characterization (even the villain is just a generic mustache twirler). That she’s a Grunt, however, is where there’s a real nice bit of critique here. Through the focused characterization of 474, the episode ends up aligning itself with the proletariat. And I rather appreciated that.
I didn’t catch much in the way of alchemical motifs. Doesn’t mean they’re not there, but nothing really stood out to me. The shot I liked the most, though, was the infinite recursion of Clara’s POV, looking at the monitor of her own POV, and seeing an unending stream of Doctors tailing out before her. Given that this is a subtle “mirror shot” I think it’s rather telling.
My rankings for the season:
The Girl Who Died
The Witch’s Familiar
The Zygon Inversion
The Zygon Invasion
The Woman Who Lived
The Magician’s Apprentice
Sleep No More
Under the Lake
Before the Flood
November 15, 2015 @ 11:40 am
I’m not criticizing the failure to do anything with Clara’s Morpheus infection here on the assumption that it’s going to come up at some point in the next three episodes, but if that doesn’t pan out then it’s a massive oversight.
In theory I agree with this, but in practice I’m struggling to see how things will be improved by referencing it again. All I can think of is this:
MOFFAT: Mark, I need Clara to be on the verge of death for episode 10 to work. Can you hit her with some terrifying imminent hideous fate for us to springboard off?
GATISS: Um… how about she could at any moment turn into a giant pile of sleepcrud that looks like a snot-blancmange in a Scream mask?
MOFFAT: BEST SEASON EVER!
November 15, 2015 @ 11:42 am
I think Sleep No more is a work of metatextual genius. As Phil has said, Doctor Who as a programme regularly enters another genre and distorts it to fit in the Doctor Who universe. Sleep no more centres on him entering a programme with rubber costumed monsters; an insane scientist villain eventually transformed into a monster himself, roughly fleshed out supporting characters; filmed by multiple cameras and a limited amount of sets primarily consisting of reused corridors; all set in a future Earth Empire on a space station.
In short, 21st century Doctor Who enters a 1970’s episode of Doctor who and looses, while the 1970’s Doctor who is so resilient it goes on to try and infect the future.
All this while being transmitted on Saturday night prime time immediately following a light entertainment dance competition. Brilliant.
For all there are criticisms that can be made about Sleep No More, it’s difficult to criticise its ambition.
I also liked the Indian/Japanese future, a refreshing subversion of the 1970’s Earth Empires but around the idea of a British or at best American future empire. Yes, it’s just background material barely fleshed out, but very much in keeping with how 70’s stories would drop a few lines here and there (The Butcher of Brisbane and the Filipino Army at the final advance on Reykjavik come to mind).
November 15, 2015 @ 4:59 pm
Ok, you’ve convinced me. I now love it!
November 15, 2015 @ 5:33 pm
Totally agree! (Hope you’re not just being tongue in cheek…)
November 15, 2015 @ 11:45 am
I found it so boring that I didn’t actually realise that it being incoherent was a plot point; I’d assumed I just wasn’t paying enough attention for it to make sense.
Weirdly for an episode hyped as ‘Doctor Who does a found footage episode’ and the concept being central to the plot, it didn’t seem to put much effort into looking too much like found footage. Other episodes use CCTV all the time, so that didn’t add to it, and the POV shots didn’t sell themselves that well for me.
Also weirdly the first standalone episode of the season felt like it left plenty to explain and follow up in a second part but I’m pretty sure that was probably deliberate and they could very well revisit aspects, like others have said. That might just be me though, I’d assumed it was another 2-parter and I didn’t realise it wasn’t until right near the end.
November 15, 2015 @ 2:34 pm
You’d think for an episode that’s meant to seduce us into watching, it would be more … seductive. Instead, this was the least engaging 45 minutes I’ve spent with a television in years. I worry that the meta-meta takeaway here is that I’ll watch (and comment on) anything that has the Doctor Who label slapped on it.
The one thing I’d hold onto in the narrative is the crazy ambiguity of the Clara-viewpoint “continuity error,” which begins as extra-textual, gets explained into the narrative, then falls halfway out again. Otherwise, start over!
On to production design: another generic corridor-and-lab ensemble, now with Orientalizing frills. Maybe this points to the fact that set designers usually draw on existing sources to simulate expected environments rather than create novel ones, but the off-Earth/future episodes aren’t well served by this approach at all. I’d be very happy with simpler but less conventional production design. Also, unless we’re all still traumatized by the CSO from Underworld, there’s a lot more that could be done — on budget — with digital overlays or even just matte paintings. At least the tepid production design here can’t be accused of detracting from a good story …
November 15, 2015 @ 2:52 pm
My Gods, this hadn’t occurred to me before, but I absolutely love the implicit idea that Rassmussen somehow drew the Doctor onto the station because he knew it would boost viewing figures. It’s like: how much more meta can you get?
November 15, 2015 @ 3:40 pm
I knew sooner or later our takes on the season would diverge. 🙂
For me this was easily the worst so far of series 9, neck and neck with Victory for worst Gatiss (depending on whether you give Matt Smith more credit for trying or Peter Capaldi more credit for knowing he ought to just phone this one in), probably my least favorite episode since “A Town Called Mercy,” and there are some real dogs in that intervening stretch.
Others have pretty much covered my main disappointments, but basically we had two mildly interesting ideas squandered, one borrowed from “Mark of the Rani” (against all odds, a much better story) and the other an attempt to cross “The Time of Angels” and “Blink”; a monster so difficult to take seriously that even the designers said “will this do?” and moved on to something else; and a mildly clever approach to the filming that resulted in all the action feeling less immediate and personal than it otherwise would have. I’d like to say I could barely stay awake watching it, and then I’d have given Gatiss credit for writing something so dull it actually would have enhanced his concept, but no: I was wide awake and bored out of my skull. Well, we had to get one dud in the mix.
My rankings so far would probably look like this:
November 15, 2015 @ 5:32 pm
Not going to add too much more verbiage to this page but, just in the interests of making it clear that this episode has its fans… best of the season so far for me, and easily, easily the best Gatiss script ever.
I am having a somewhat fraught discussion on Facebook right now though with several people who hated it because “it was too scary for children, the Doctor should never lose, much less wander off at the end having missed the point of the entire adventure”. A controversial one for sure. Who’d have thought that Mr Gatiss even had that in him?
November 15, 2015 @ 7:25 pm
This is the first episode in a long time that I have thoroughly disliked, by and large from a stylistic standpoint. The “found footage” conceit distanced me from the story. It may yet grow on me, and I do like to see the show take risks, but there it is. Also, oddly, this is the only show where I have laughed at the premise (monster from eye sleep) but not in a good way.
November 16, 2015 @ 6:01 am
I normally hate the “found footage” gimmick, but this was pretty much working for me right up to “Everything you thought you were watching was wrong; go back and re-evaluate”, at which point I decided it was brilliant. When Sheersmith’s eye socket decayed as he gloated that he was showing us this story because it was going to happen to us, I realised: he’s not the narrator of Blair Witch at all; he’s the Cryptkeeper!
the disused yeti
November 16, 2015 @ 10:30 am
Okay strip away the gimmicks of this episode and what essentially have you got:
Running down corridors.
Chased by men in rubber costumes.
Characters spouting half-baked gobbledegook.
November 16, 2015 @ 11:15 pm
Even before watching the episode – while watching the preview last week – I said, “This looks like a cross between The Ring and Event Horizon.” Which although I didn’t catch on to the twist at the end during the show, my initial prediction was pretty damn close to. So Gatiss as usual – combining some interesting original ideas with a lot of knock-offs from other people’s stuff and then not doing very much with any of it.
November 17, 2015 @ 12:37 pm
I loved PC’s performance, keeping it down because the Doctor KNEW something wasn’t right – with the plot, the situation, and Clara when she emerged from the pod. And because it wasn’t about the Doctor – it was about the story not being quite right. His comic timing with the Holly-esque ad was brilliant: acting being interrupted by something that isn’t there.
BUT. How many layers of metatext does it take to shed light on this? You could argue that all the discussions we’re reading are exactly what MG wanted, that the whole point is that ‘Monsters can’t make good Doctor Who.’
Hence, though dust-Rasmussen thinks he won, the ‘drama’ he created was so boring, fragmented and emotionally unengaging compared to real Doctor Who he actually lost ‘cos no-one will watch it. (apart from total Who geeks who don’t sleep anyway – they’re too busy watching The Space Pirates).
I applaud the calls for deeper exploration and critique of capitalist sleep deprived society; or more surreal sequences to Mr Sandman (staying just the right side of Doctor Who The Musical); or more sense of threat to people we care about (there’s no sense of drama UNLESS we invest in the other characters); or some actual messages slipped into the video, like the survival chances on the rescue team index pages. But that would have made it great Doctor Who, and the monsters would therefore win.
So Gatiss leaves it to the (re)viewers to write all the interesting stuff themselves to compensate for what we actually got on screen. Either brilliantly meta believing in his audience, or…
November 17, 2015 @ 5:47 pm
The sandmen looked exactly like the monsters from the movie The Attack Of The The Eye Creatures which makes sense but CHRIST what a movie to reference.
November 22, 2015 @ 10:12 am
I still need to work out if I like this, but haven’t watched it a second time yet. I did miss the development of the anything to do with dreams in the episode which would have been more interesting to me than eye-gunk – which is the bit that kind of brought it down for me, i.e. the whole of how that would work.
One thing I did adore though was how us the viewers, with the marine characters discovered the Doctor and Clara – it somehow felt quite exciting discovering them from the outside.
November 24, 2015 @ 9:42 am
I feel like this was a very CLEVER episode. Not wise, and in some places not very smart. But clever.
November 24, 2015 @ 9:45 am
“GlaDOS, open the door!”
“You didn’t sing the magic song.”
“They’re coming to eat me, for God’s sake!”