You must NOT read this. I’m warning you; you can never unsee it… I jest, of course.
‘Sleep No More’ is a difficult episode to review. Your enjoyment of it will hinge upon your enjoyment of the found footage genre – to an extent, at least. It’s a bold move for Doctor Who that must be applauded, even if not everything works as intended.
The glaring problem is the first-person narration by Gagan Rasmussen. Found footage works so well because of the ambiguities that arise from watching something from one person’s point of view.
Look at Cloverfield, for example. Though an alien is destroying New York, we only ever see a minuscule part of its destruction because the central character holding the camera is fleeing from the rampaging beast. And even when some form of answer about how the alien arrived (warning: spoiler) is proffered in the closing moments (zoom RIGHT into the background and you’ll see something drop into the ocean), it’s so blink-and-you’ll-miss-it that many will miss it anyway. But Cloverfield works exceptionally well.
‘Sleep No More’ doesn’t. Revealing that pretty much everyone dies, and showing that Rasmussen is alive despite being swallowed by a Sandman (more on those in a moment) takes away some of drama. Okay, a lot of it, because this episode also hinges upon the supporting cast. The Doctor and Clara don’t do much at all.
There are no glorious monologues, no hints of Clara’s impeding death. Instead we have Rasmussen, who is pretty much every single character that Reece Shearsmith has played in his career rolled into one; Nagata, who instantly annoys with her overuse of the word ‘pet’; 474, a criminally underused Bethany Black who, despite being a trans woman, is forced to masculinise up as a clone-grown Grunt; and Chopra, perhaps the only likeable one of the bunch. So it comes as no surprise when he, too, dies.
The Sandmen, also, don’t quite gel. Arriving from sleep in your eye (yes, you read that right), these lumbering beasts have more than a passing resemblance to the Time Zombies from 2013. Had a better explanation been given, I think the Sandmen would be brilliant. They look stunning, and their disintegration is creepy to behold.
Apparently Steven Moffat has requested a sequel to this story from writer Mark Gatiss – this is perhaps the only time I’ve been excited by the news of Mark Gatiss penning another episode. I usually hate him, but I do want to see more of the Sandmen.
Also, the fact that the point of view of the ‘camera’ can literally be anywhere owing to the fact that the Sandmen have sand particles in the air that act as their eyes (or something to that effect, I lost it a little) is a glaring example of rushed storytelling. It’s too convenient, and almost feels as though the director cheated somewhat. I get the feeling that this episode was rushed into production, which is unfortunate as it was the episode I was most looking forward to this series.
I also get the feeling that the entire episode was crafted for that parting shot of Gagan Rasmussen revealing to the camera that he had been a Sandman all along, before slowly disintegrating before our very eyes. This sort of body horror is brilliantly creepy, and the idea that the Sandmen are being spread to everyone watching does allow for a sequel to happen.
This has been a very negative review, but ‘Sleep No More’ wasn’t a bad episode. It just wasn’t particularly good, either. It would have worked better if Clara or the Doctor were recording it, for the simple reason that at least it would give them more to do. I think after a few rewatches this may become a favourite of mine. I hope so, anyway.