“Love And Monsters”, “Blink”, “Midnight”, “Turn Left”…“Doctor Who” has often been happy to experiment with its storytelling format (but thankfully only dabbled once in fellatiory paving stone humour). “Sleep No More” pushes the boundaries further than ever before, and in doing so reminds us why those boundaries existed in the first place.
The episode is presented as an edited collection of footage recorded aboard Le Verrier Space Station by Professor Rassmussen (Reece Shearsmith) warning us cryptically not to watch the broadcast. Aboard the Space Station, in orbit of Neptune in the 38th Century a four man rescue team has come to investigate a communications black out. They encounter the Doctor and Clara and together the group discover the disturbing secret behind Rassmussen’s Morpheus system.
Borrowing liberally from “Event Horizon” and “Forbidden Planet”, Mark Gatiss’ story has a couple of decent ideas at its core and some suitably macabre monsters lumbering through the dimly lit corridors and rooms. Unfortunately the script does the story no favours and the decision to pitch this as a ‘found footage’ tale just doesn’t work, compromising the narrative and side-lining the characters.
It just tries too hard to be scary, aiming for “Aliens” and landing somewhere nearer “Star Trek: First Contact”. The multiple viewpoint nature of found footage dilutes the focus of the episode and so Capaldi’s capacity to elevate weaker material is negated because the Doctor is kind of just along for the ride. Clara, too is relegated to an anonymous background role with the remainder of the episode padded out by the diverse yet interchangeably bland guest cast. Even Shearsmith’s Professor Rasmussen becomes more of a distraction than antagonist thanks to his apparent need to provide linking narration to his assembled footage.
While the monsters look suitably impressive, their origins are much less satisfying. I know “Doctor Who” prides itself on turning the mundane into the menacing, but suddenly sentient sleep dust is taking it a step too far, especially when it’s not really explained how it happened. The Meta textual ending redeems the episode just a little bit although smacks a little too much of the mock macabre tone of “League Of Gentlemen” and “Psychoville”. It suggests that the Sandmen may appear again. Given they’re a foe the Doctor was unable to defeat and simply ran away from, that could prove interesting.
I’m glad “Doctor Who” is in such rude health that it can try the odd experiment like this, so I’m not going to hold it against them that this didn’t really work out – it was worth a try, at least. Next week looks like a “Doctor Who” spin on Diagon Alley from “Harry Potter” so maybe the link between these two episodes is going to be ‘Doctor Who at the movies’.