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REVIEW: Doctor Who 9×09 “Sleep No More”

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear. Oh deary me indeed. That’s the best way I can sum up this episode of Doctor Who.

However, let’s be clear – I applaud a television show, comic book series or film series when it tries something new. Attempting to give itself a kick up the arse saves us the job of having to do it ourselves. I guess the problem here is that Doctor Who went to give itself that kick, missed, then just sort of floundered about in the air for fifty minutes, unable to find its own arse. Still, ever the balanced pop culture journalist I am, I’ll try to find some positives about “Sleep No More”. Better make yourself a coffee, we’re going to be here a while!

“Sleep No More” immediately sets itself apart from the rest of this series by being filmed in a ‘found footage’ manner, and sees the Doctor and Clara joining with a rescue mission on-board a seemingly abandoned satellite around Neptune. However, they come across a handful of mysterious capsules that have the power to condense month’s worth of sleep into mere minutes, as well as its crazed inventor, and a growing handful of monsters born from the technological wonders of the inventor’s sleep pods.

Sounds good enough, doesn’t it? Again, shows that have been running for as long as Doctor Who are surely encouraged and expected to experiment with new ideas, and “Sleep No More” certainly fits that bill thanks to its idiosyncratic script. Unfortunately, the execution of the script suggests that ‘new ideas’ was the last thing on everyone’s mind. The satellite in which all the action takes place looks like it was cobbled together from previous Doctor Who episodes. The supporting cast have practically zero personality or chemistry with the Doctor. The Sandmen are actually a little bit scary, but in a sort of we’ve-seen-this-kind-of-enemy-several-times-before scary.

Overall, Mark Gatiss‘ script is unusual to say the least, and arguably fails in what it sets out to accomplish. Perhaps if the production of “Sleep No More” was as idiosyncratic as its script, this episode may have fared better, at least with everyone on Twitter!

“Sleep No More” is one of the few episode in this series that isn’t a two-parter, and yet it certainly finishes on an ambiguous note. As we’re so close to the finale, I might try and be hopeful in thinking that the Rassmussen and the Sandmen will play some vital role in “Heaven Sent” and “Hell Bent”. However, I might also slap myself for being so naive. Stephen Moffat has since revealed that he’d very much like Gattis to pen a sequel to this episode, suggesting that this is almost definitely the last we’ll be seeing of the Sandmen for sometime.

However, with that in mind, does the certainty of this being a standalone adventure alter our perspective on it? “Sleep No More” may have an open ending, but it’s also a very bleak one. To be blunt, the Doctor looses. He escapes the satellite with the monsters still bent on delivering their plans for human extinction. This should be where the Doctor triumphs, but he doesn’t. Having tried to defeat the monsters, and under the impression that he had, he merely gallops back into the TARDIS wailing that none of what’s just happened has made the slightest bit of sense. This is surely where the audience and the Doctor are on the same side.

Does the failure on the part of the Doctor to save the day make “Sleep No More” a bad episode? No, it doesn’t. It’s refreshing to see the Doctor loose every once in a while. It’s just a shame that the episode’s delivery feels so lacking in potential when its story is fairly rare.

“Sleep No More” has all the makings of an episode that will be revisited in 10, 20 or 30 years time and hailed as a lost classic. But like a whole lotta lost classics, it has to be beaten senselessly by the fans first. “Sleep No More” feels like an experiment that everyone gave up on halfway through. It has a lot of personality and individuality for sure, but it’s confusing nature and bleak tone suggest that it’s not the kind of personality people will want to get too close to.

Overall Grade – C

+ Reece Shearsmith gave a very strong performance as the bumbling, naive yet dangerous scientist.

+ “Sleep No More” tries something new, and falls rather magnificently flat on its face. I’d rather have that sort of episode of Doctor Who over a very bog-standard episode that’s overly safe.

– How is Rassmussen still alive?

– Why didn’t any of the rescue crew think to use their guns?

– The sets looked incredibly low-budget and recycled from previous episodes.

Extra Thought

Might “Sleep No More” be the ultimate sign that Stephen Moffat needs to depart from the show? If this is his idea for Doctor Who trying to be different, he’s perhaps more out of touch with the outside world than we’ve given him credit for.

About the author

Fred McNamara