TV Review / Doctor Who: Series 9, Episode 9: ‘Sleep No More’

Spoilers Ahead!

Written by Mark Gatiss 

Starring Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Reece Shearsmith

"You must not watch this...”

And cue the titles… ah, not this time! You know how we anticipate those descending notes into the vortex after the pre-credits sequence? Not this week, taking a leaf out of the Blair Witch Project’s book, Sleep No More is a found footage episode. Many shows have done this before, (Remember when The X Files did COPS back in 1999?) but how will Doctor Who work? This much anticipated episode from Mark Gatiss, (not always known for great episodes, to be honest) actually really does work well.

Just about, that is.  A second watch of this episode was required to see if it really worked, and despite some rather eye openingly ridiculous science (even for Doctor Who) it just about does its job.  In fact, if you’ve ever seen writer Mark Gatiss’ rather good documentary on the history of horror from a few years back, you’ll spot the genre’s influences in every pore of this rather opinion dividing episode. Certainly, in comparison with the run of excellence we’ve had so far it’s a hard sell with its experimental nature and paper thin plot but the key here is not in the plotting but in the execution. 

A found footage episode is certainly a new thing for Who but it was an experiment in a series that is currently brimming to the top with overly dramatic experimentalist ideas. Did it come over as gimmicky? A little, it has to be said, but not to the point of being an indulgence of creativity. Sure, dropping the title sequence wasn’t as different an experience as we might have hoped, (many a television show has done just that before) but we’re pretty sure that Reece Shearsmith’s mad professor like character Rassmusen, acting as narrator of sorts, didn’t have that particular footage to hand. In fact it’s the pay off at the very end of the episode that makes the whole, seemingly random journey all worth it. 

If you thought that the mutated sleep monsters, or Sandmen, were creepy then the disintegrating Sandman inhabited professor at the end was even more effective in its simplicity. It was a perfectly unexpected moment in the tradition of the best of the old Hammer Horror movies. Even the conceit of our sleep (the type you find in the corner of the eye in the morning after waking up) turning into carnivorous six foot sightless monsters is straight from a pre Comics Code horror comic of the 1950’s. Indeed, the use of the rather famous Mr Sandman by 50’s girl band The Chordettes in the explanation of the Morpheus machines rather horrible purpose was reminiscent of such a time.

All in all then, a curio of an episode that may hold some significance later on and may not. Good or bad depends entirely upon your love for the epic two-parters we’ve seen so far this season. For this writer, a flawed four star pass for its sheer experimentation and effort to do something different.

Mark Gatiss: Has this writer managed to deliver his long awaited good episode? Cautiously, yes!

Music: The Chordettes’ well-known song Mr Sandman is used effectively here. The incidental music is also gone but replaced with a soundtrack of creepy industrial noise that adds much to the atmosphere.

Sleep No More: An effective quotation of Macbeth from The Doctor marks one key moment.

Next: Face The Raven 

(Words: S.Gahan / Image © BBC)

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