Doctor Who has now entered into the realm of found-footage horror, jumping on a bandwagon that IT left years ago and having one of the dumbest ideas for a monster possible – making it one of the worst episodes in the rebooted run of the show.
In the 38th century a small team of soldiers are sent on a rescue mission to a space station orbiting Neptune where they find The Doctor showing Clara. But trouble is never far behind where The Doctor is found with the station being dominated by dust monsters, all linked to a device known as the Morpheus Pod, a pod that makes sure that humans do not need to sleep anymore.
“Sleep No More” starts off by tempting fate by having one of its characters, Professor Rassmussen (Reece Shearsmith) saying to the audience “You must not watch this. I’m warning you, you can never un-see it.” This was obviously said in the context of the episode but it ended up feeling he is describing the quality of the episode – because it is certainly far from being a classic.
The issue of using a found footage was a concern for many audience members, being seen as no more then a gimmick. Fortunately the writer, Mark Gatiss, and director Justin Molotnikov have the good sense to go down a similar route to the movie Chronicle, using all the cameras in the space station and not restricting itself to one cameraman/woman. The use of soldiers with helmet mounted cameras also avoids the questions of why do people not just drop the cameras.
Gatiss does try and give an examination on why “Sleep No More” is in the found footage style, as silly as it is. The episode’s big failing comes with the Sandmen monsters. The design of the Sandmen is quite effective, being like the monstrous forms the comic book character The Sandman took in Spider-man 3, particularly when they break apart. But it is when the Doctor explains what they are and what they are made of – it will lead to the reaction of ‘my God, that was stupid!’ It is on the same level as the Moon being an egg. The basic concept of the episode is fine, that humanity have found a way to no longer need sleep and writers and directors could easily play around with the possible adverse effects. Ideas could have been that the lack of natural sleep leads to people losing their sanity and sense of reality or that their subconscious or dreams/nightmares could end up being physically manifested in some form. This is Doctor Who, the possibilities are endless. Instead everyone involved thought lets go down the most silly route possible.
The dialogue in the episode is some of the worst in the season, from when The Doctor explains what the Sandmen are: Clara and The Doctor’s moral upstanding against the 38th Century values and when the villain is finally revealed and tells their plan to our hero. It’s B-Movie level bad. “Sleep No More” even rips off an idea from “Before the Flood” – an episode earlier in the season. Both episodes feature a character that is not affected by what was blighting their crew because they were not exposed to a certain thing. At least when “The Zygon Inversion” used previous story ideas they were ideas from previous seasons.
I personally came into this episode thinking it was going to be a cross between Paranormal Activity and Alien but it was more like the Danny Boyle movie Sunshine and the aforementioned Chronicle. The rescue team enter an empty space station that has dust in the air and in Sunshine the crew of the Icarus II find an empty spaceship that is covered in dust with both crews trying to figure out what happened to the previous occupants and find some sort of supernatural threat. The recommendation here is check out Sunshine instead.
The saving grace of the episode is the ending, and not just because it ended. “Sleep No More” does have a very effective cliffhanger and this was when it was at its most creepy as a character talks to the camera and sets up a sequel that has already been commissioned. It is just a shame that the rest of the episode could not match that standard.