Anyone else ever get the feeling that you spend most of your time being tired these days? As that horrible thing called adulthood takes hold sleep seems to slip further and further down the list of priorities, ahead of essentials like boxed set marathons and Halo sessions (geeking ‘aint easy). We substitute the land nod with the grind of caffeine in enough quantities to launch a space shuttle but can only get us so far. It someone made us the offering of never having to sleep again, chances are we’d all start donning the Phillip J. Fry “Just take my money” pose. In this week’s Doctor Who, we meet a future human society able to offer just that, but is getting our 8 hours a night much more critical than we ever imagined?
Sleep No More – The Doctor and Clara along with a military rescue team investigate a distress signal from a Neptune orbiting science facility in the 38th century specialising in anti-sleep technology, with facility chief Rasmussen (Reece Shearsmith- The League of Gentlemen, The World’s End) as its only survivor. When things take a turn for the strange, they get a harsh reminder that tiredness can kill.
Last week’s phenomenal offering gave us the best Who episode of the Capaldi era and this week’s follow up deliveries what’s arguably it’s most risky and ambitious episode. The majority of it is delivered in a found footage format (the one horror movies are still milking to death). However, director Justin Molotnikov has clearly done is his homework on the mass ranks of films using it badly and as a result the format is not only tolerable but highly contributory. Firstly, it wisely doesn’t go on full shaky cam. The handheld elements are still an included feature but used sparing for dramatic emphasis when the Sand Men creatures attack or the station’s gravity shields go down, sending the station hurtling towards Neptune. It makes the increasingly popular and effective choice of using multiple cameras to stop the narrative bogging down and allows for good quick cuts. The military team all come with Aliens style helmet cameras, and the station itself has plenty of security cameras too offering no shortage of perspectives. At times, things even drift into first-person shooter territory. There’s even a good central narration to it all with Reece Shearsmith ‘s (whose League of Gentlemen buddy, Mark Gatis’s wrote the episode) providing journal-based entries, implying he’s piecing all the footage together afterwards and get some good narration that speeds up the early exposition.
Sleep No More surpasses the previously creepy Under the Lake, the season’s best horror-based offering. The dingy, poorly-lit corridors of the station feel in the spirit of the Dead Space game franchise (though obviously not as terrifying). Then, there are the Sand Men monsters themselves who look fantastic with their shambling forms and huge gaping mouths. The discovery of their blindness is a great story twist that allows the characters to get in close proximity to them in a good state of fear and tension. The weakness comes in the supporting cast. Any Who regular will fully accept that most of the military unit are “Red Shirts” but even unlike some previous episodes this season, none of the bunch stands out as likeable enough to give their demises the proper impact. Even the nice idea of the bred for combat “Grunt” comes across as more annoying than anything else despite getting the more meaningful story arc. It also sees Clara taking more of a back seat role, primarily existing a conduit of the Morpheus anti-sleep technology after becoming an unwilling volunteer (anyone else flash into Back to Future when “the song” kicked in?). The story in itself is very satisfying though with some brilliant twists as it develops. The only issue with it is the ending. Although the final effects is awesomely creepy, its implications leave things feeling rather open and unfinished. Though that’s quite likely an intentional nod to certain inspiring horror films that always end implying they’ll be more (this is not a two part story but may by picked up again later in the season.)
Sleep No More is a great science fiction-centred story of an episode some suburb horror elements and a good handling of a risky filmy technique. The laughs are a bit fewer due to the heavy tension but The Doctor’s “space” naming rant is a nice little gem. The episode may have a few technical issues, but it's definitely nothing on last week’s showstopper. It’s unique episode with some real individual charms. So sleep with one eye open, gripping your pillow tight, because on this week’s Who you’re in for a fright.