Sunday, 15 November 2015

Doctor Who - Sleep No More

Ma Hat, Ma Sandy

Doctor Who - Sleep No More
UK Airdate: 14th November 2015

Warning: Some spoilers.

Okay, I’m calling it right here in the sincere hopes I’m not proved wrong by any of the three, upcoming episodes remaining in this year’s Doctor Who offerings... Sleep No More is the worst episode of the current series.

Having said that, of course, I’ve been rattling on about how it’s been easily the best season we’ve had of Doctor Who since David Tennant left the show so... compared to some of the weaker episodes of the last four or five years... it’s still kinda okay. I think. I’d have to have a think about it I guess.

Mark Gatiss wrote this one and I have a lot of time for him, even though I don’t always like the episodes of Doctor Who that he writes. Now, since this aired last night I’ve seen a lot of people damning the writing of this particular episode but, you know what, I don’t think the writing is all that at fault here. I think  it’s written beautifully and there are some lovely dialogue exchanges between Clara and The Doctor, performed expertly as always by Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi. The idea is kind of sound too... although it is kinda obvious. It took me about six minutes in, since the first encounter with the monsters, to figure out it was a partial remake, in a way, of Forbidden Planet (or Shakespeare’s The Tempest... whatever) in that the threat was some kind of creature created by the characters themselves. Gatiss’ clever spin on this however, rather than making them 'The Ids That March', was to make the monsters intelligent sleep dust, created by the eye and as part of a by-product of the human reaction to the sleep machines mentioned constantly in the show... the Morpheus machines which compress hours of sleep into a five minute or so slot. A bit like the intelligent snow created by The Great Intelligence in the 2012 Christmas Special The Snowmen (reviewed here).

The other thing Gatiss has done is gone for a kind of found footage style show... even going so far as to forego the usual opening credits sequence this time around. However, it’s here that I think the direction of this particular episode really lets it down. The camerawork doesn’t seem to be as shaky and as ‘up close and personal’ as it needs to be to get that frightening effect. It’s possibly realistic but... found footage genre is always only trying to give an ‘impression’ of reality while it’s real goal, usually, is to enhance the scares to make you wet your pants (or in this case perhaps, space pants, but you’d need to watch the episode to find out why they’re now officially space-pants for the duration of the show... Gatiss does some really nice stuff with the dialogue in this). The way this episode is staged and the narrative interrupts to string it all into one whole do smack of trying to spoon feed the regular audience just a little too much, I feel and, while the narrative anchor points do have a kind of purpose of their own, by the time of the very last one, I think this was a little bit of a miscalculation here.

The other thing that Gatiss does is try to have his cake and eat it. Yes, we’ve all seen supposed ‘found footage’ horror films that have forgotten to access the camera reference point at certain places, thus making a nonsense of the credibility of the entire film. However, the point is that we have all seen them, so when this episode starts deliberately doing the same it’s not really much of a reveal when The Doctor hacks the so called footage and we find out the source is something else other than the helmet cams that each of the rescue party in the story are wearing on their hats. This also, of course, negates the necessity for any camera shake... which was one of my criticisms of the episode in the paragraph above... which I’ll happily stand by as it happens because, rationale or no rationale, this looks like it’s trying to be a scary episode and, well... it just isn’t. It fails and, as I said, it all seems a bit too over-prescribed to have the terrifying effect that an episode like this ought to have. Also, the 'stock' looks too clean and of a continually matching quality to really give that ‘edge of reality’ feel, I thought.

A big life saver here could have been another of Murray Gold’s fabulous scores but, because it’s kind of masquerading as a ‘found footage’ story, guess what? Yeah, that’s right, no score here. Absolutely the right choice to make, of course, bearing in mind the content but... it could have really given the episode a big lift, to be sure. Bit of a shame but at least the production team stuck to their guns and saw this through in an appropriate manner, is all I can say to that.

So that’s about all I’ve got on this one. Completely dull and non-entertaining episode... the first truly dreadful one of this series and, hopefully, the last. I reckon the next three episodes are going to be pretty blistering and, dare I say, quite revelatory or perhaps shocking for regular fans of the show so, you know, have got high hopes for how the rest of the series will play out. Going to file Sleep No More under the following category in the meantime: nice experiment, interesting failure.

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