Sleep No More – Doctor Who Review

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Mark Gatiss returns with one of the only stand-alone episodes of the series, Sleep No More. With fellow League of Gentlemen star Reece Shearsmith, grotesque mutant monsters, and a unique style, this may be one of the most memorable episodes of this year.

Reece Shearsmith
Reece Shearsmith

Much has been said about the similarities between this episode and the 1975 serial The Ark in Space (with Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor) in aesthetics and tone, and this seems somewhat deliberate. But Gatiss had a mammoth task ahead of him, condensing all of the horror, mystery and character needed into only one 45 minute episode. I had been very worried that the ‘found footage’ format would be little more than a gimmick to make it more ‘intense’ and perhaps make the characters seem a little closer to the audience. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the whole thing became integral to the plot in the end.

Gatiss has said that this was originally a two-part story, but given the pace of this single part version I can’t really see how that would have worked. The pace was good, gradual, and filled with some really nice, slow creeping moments that really built the tension.

There was a considerable effort made to give the secondary characters into unique and recognisable identities – but they were not really given enough to work with for the most part. Chopra (Neet Mohan) was given a tad more character than the others, but still felt a little weak and so it was hard to really get invested. While he may have been correct in his objections to the Morpheus Project, he was still felt like a character more than a person. The commander, Nagata (Elaine Tan) had a lot of potential but was somewhat sidelined. Alas, this is something that often happens with the generic ‘military ensemble’ in Doctor Who. But this was a better effort than most.

Clara tries the Morpheus machine
Clara tries the Morpheus machine

Reece Shearsmith gives a wonderfully slimy performance as Rassmussen that turns into something hauntingly disturbing. His costume reminded me a lot of the future as depicted in many 70s science fiction shows (such as, well, Doctor Who), and, indeed, the format of monsters on a spaceship is very much right out of the Tom Baker era.

What got a wide smile out of me was the subversion of the ‘something in the corner of your eye’ trope that has been something of a staple of Moffat-Who. Here, rather than some unseen, unseeable creature that is in some way invisible or unknowable – it is a physically, literally a thing in the corner of your eye.

Indeed, the monsters were superbly frightening. The wide, gaping mouths, the shambling walks, and the eerie moaning – it all shot in shadow and grim lighting. Putting the creatures in the shadows, keeping them vague and unknown for a long time really drew me in – you find yourself leaning in and concentrating to get a glimpse of them, only to be horrified when you do.

Ultimately, this episode was a lot more than I had expected. Mark Gatiss can be very hit and miss with his scripts on Doctor Who, but this was certainly a hit.

Next week we Face the Raven!

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Joel Cornah
Joel Cornah is an author, journalist, and blogger. He is the author of a number of novels and novellas including; The Sea-Stone Sword, The Spire of Frozen Fire and The Silent Helm, with the upcoming novel The Sky Slayer, expected some time in 2016. He is an editor for The Science-Fiction and Fantasy Network, head of the Doctor Who department, and member of the Tolkien Society. He is a frequent blogger for the Pack of Aces blog, focussing on issues of Asexuality in media, specialising in sci-fi and fantasy.