I appreciate episodes of Doctor Who that do something different, even if the experimental nature isn't particularly unique in its genre. The 'found footage' idea isn't new and is rather overplayed right now in cinemas (thanks especially to the Paranormal Activity movies), and that didn't really help "Sleep No More". Of course, it's still intriguing to see what a show like Doctor Who could do with the format, but Mark Gatiss's script just felt half-baked. I wouldn't be surprised if it was intended to be another two-parter, but got reduced in scale and Gatiss had to lose a lot of material.
What follows is a bog-standard episode of Who, involving a ragtag crew fighting monsters—'The Sandmen'—created from the 'dust' that collects in the corners of sleeper's eyes. Confused yet? Well, the Le Verrier Space Station's sole survivor is Gagan Rassmussen (Reece Shearsmith), inventor of a sleep pod called 'Morpheus' that condenses a normal human sleep cycle into just five minutes. It's a great way to boost productivity, as people usually sleep for a third of their lives, but the side-effect appears to be... uh, creating large malformed monsters made of rheum.
It's just a shame this story's fun 'twist' and a few smart visuals (the appearance of the Sandmen with their gaping mouths and warped bodies were very cool), can't compensate for a script that isn't very fresh and, occasionally, outright dumb. One particular problem is that Rassmussen's hand-holding throughout the episode completely eliminates any feelings of uncertainty, undoing one of the main reasons audiences like found footage stories (we ditch the usual framework of visual storytelling, which makes things feel unpredictable and dangerous). Having Rassmussen pop up on-screen to explain things to us just worked against itself.
- Reece Shearsmith is one quarter of The League of Gentlemen comedy troupe, along with writer Mark Gatiss. He's also one half of the creative behind excellent horror anthology series Inside No.9, which I like to think is the reason this episode is the ninth of the ninth series. Shearsmith also played Patrick Troughton in Gatiss' TV Movie, An Adventure in Space & Time.
- If 474 is a genetically-engineered soldier, more brawn than brains, why didn't they cast someone more obviously athletic and strong in stature? Bethany Black actually looked like the least capable of the team.
- This is the first episode in Who's history that dispenses with the usual opening credits, to keep a sense of realism within the found footage format.
- I didn't realise until this week that Series 9 is also the first run of Who where permission has been granted to use red blood.