‘Sleep No More’
One of the most fascinating things about Doctor Who is its ability to tell a wide range of stories, covering limitless genres. One week it could be a classic sci-fi tale, the next it could be straight up horror. An episode might handle its material in a non-nonsense fashion, or it could have more fun with the concept. However where Doctor Who often fails is where an episode can’t seem to decide where to place itself on this spectrum. This appears to be the case with this week’s offering, ‘Sleep No More’, an episode that edges on being terrifying but never seems able to commit to it.
The main idea behind the episode isn’t too bad in and of itself; a scientist has invented a machine that allows people to need to only sleep for short periods. However not sleeping somehow gives way to the creation of Sandmen, monsters made from sleep dust that eventually eat their host. A big part of the problem with the monsters is how poorly defined they are. There’s no real explanation for why using the artificial sleep machine Morpheus would cause the sleep dust to take on human form. Also unexplained is why suddenly the Sandmen have appeared now and only on one space station. The monsters also aren’t too terrifying. They’re slow-moving, essentially blind and rather easy to distract. This is another base-set Doctor Who, finding The Doctor and Clara among a team of rescuers who have come to find any survivors. This is a well Doctor Who loves to return to, trapping the core characters in an enclosed space with a few monsters and basic cannon fodder, the activities following the same basic structure as ‘Under the Lake’ only five episodes previously. This time around the team are even less interesting, being given very little time to present personalities within the episode. As such when they begin to be killed off it is incredibly hard to care.
Adding an individual flair to the episode is the use of found footage, a shooting style I have never been a fan of which refuses to go away. At least unlike many found footage films this episode tries to find an explanation for the use of recordings, though it is one that feels far too forced. The mad scientist behind the Sandmen’s creation is splicing together images taken from the Sandmen (as somehow they’re cameras). The scientist also narrates to camera several times throughout the episode, needlessly recapping events we have literally just seen. These interludes are irritating and grind the action to a halt every single time.
It is revealed in the final scene, through another narration, that the scientist has been compiling this story as some means to spread the Sandmen virus (as it’s suddenly a virus). It is a clear attempt to scare the audience one last time, with a slightly The Ring inspired notion that you should show this to all your friends and family. However you have to wonder what sick individual would inflict this episode onto anyone they loved. I only hope that within seven days I will have forgotten this dire episode and never have to see it again.