Crumbling Into Dust
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Sleep No More is the first stand-alone episode this season, coalescing with the adage of being in many ways the most bemusing episode as well. Mark Gatiss has confirmed that a sequel to this episode is on its way, to which there was a rousing chorus of furtively nervous glances between Whovians who weren’t too fond of this found footage hour. It’s fine that there is going to be a follow-up to the Sandmen, considering the final twist of the episode that is as much of a “we will get to this at some point in the future” Who cliffhanger as there ever has been. Frankly, this episode as a stand-alone doesn’t entirely work, functioning more like a one-parter whose writer was hoping that he would be able to get to it at some point or another. Characters don’t entirely coalesce, the narrative jumps around extensively, and the episode comes to a close just as the narrative ball snaps and a plethora of threads just seemingly spring throughout the air. Sleep No More is a fairly disappointing episode, trapped within its own aesthetic creativity to truly tell a gripping story, vestiges of which were scattered around like the dust that becomes so vital as a plot point. The crafting of a terrorizing dread largely works towards the horror atmosphere the episode is aiming at, but without legitimate character stakes and the thinness of the writing, it largely falls flat.
The appeal of Sleep No More largely lies in how it was filmed. The intricacies of the shooting is quite interesting in and of itself, but if the script had been given as much focus as the actual camerawork, this episode would have gone substantial places. Found footage as a directorial tool has become sort of a joke within cinematic realms and it’s difficult not to see how the once unique experience dwindled and crashed so superbly. The first major breakthrough of found footage that truly made its mark (in my recent memory, anyhow), was the first Paranormal Activity film. It felt original and truly terrifying in the meta presentation of situational irony, but after that became an unseemly gimmick retreated over and over until Paramount Studios no longer felt that it was a financially sound franchise to continue. Doctor Who tackling found footage could have worked remarkably well, considering the sci-fi nature of the stories and the intricate nature of time travel. It turns into a gimmick, however, about five minutes in. There’s the occasional “ooh” moment, but Who has, overall, proven itself to be a much stronger beast than one that provides the occasional gimmick.
The characters are by far the weakest link in the episode, existing as mere ciphers to move the plot forward but never feeling like legitimate people in and of themselves. Chopra, Nagata, Deep-Ando, and 474 are the primary characters introduced here and only 474 manages to leave behind an impression at all, if an impression that feels a bit redundant. In the phenomenal series six two-parter The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People, the Doctor and his companions had stumbled upon creatures that were essentially being bred in vats. They were created to be disposable labor for all intents and purposes, never to be treated as anything more than cattle that would inevitably waste away, just to be replaced by another batch. They slowly began to realize how ephemeral they were, how useless as seen by the “truer” humans. They revolted and the ensuing chaos was ugly, to say the least. I got strong wisps of that episode from 474, right down to Clara’s significant disgust at his creation. 474 was created to be nothing more than a physical embodiment of brute force with a low intelligence level. He was expendable and the episode’s tackling of how 474 belongs and what his existence means to his own self is the closest it gets to a complex understanding of identity and even character. It’s a shame that he ultimately gets so little to do. The other three, as aforementioned, are ciphers and in the worst sense possible. At the onset, it is obvious that they are going to die, but that in this episode’s construction, ought to have made the events that much more intriguing and poignant. Except that they die and you don’t even really notice.
It wouldn’t be a Doctor Who episode if there wasn’t some sense of a moral at the center of the narrative, although this one plays a bit more like a public service announcement brought by the national association of physicians more than a naturally engrained narrative thematic construction. In the thirty-eighth century, tectonic movement has shifted so sharply from the modern-day that Japan has essentially hit the Indian subcontinent, forming the cleverly named Indo-Japan. In Indo-Japan, a new machine entitled Morpheus has been invented, a machine that most college students and working individuals would actually be quite intrigued in, if waiting until a sales event to actually pick up. What Morpheus does, beyond providing a neat callback to the Alien films, is put people into sleep for what constitutes to roughly about five minutes. But what is five minutes of real time constitutes a month’s worth of sleep. Five minutes within Morpheus lends one’s self towards complete rejuvenation and a refreshed mindset from where you feel like you can conquer the day completely. Before this sounds like too much of a good thing, beings within Morpheus essentially become a readymade food source. As neat of a parallel that is on the surface, the details become more muddled the further one thinks about it. It doesn’t help that the details are often lost throughout with big reveals that are fairly obvious to begin with. Doctor Who has pulled great twists and turns throughout its run, but rarely has it telegraphed them so blatantly that they lose all of their revelatory power. The most significant twist, unfortunately, is how much of a letdown this episode truly was, leaving behind a sleepy mist that was far more powerful than the episode ever intended.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Morpheus, named after the God of Dreams.”
+“Oh yeah, oh yeah. Not just this.” I’m going to miss you so much, Clara.
+“The future is here. The future is now.”
+“You’ve also created an abomination.”
+“Macbeth shall sleep no more.”
+“Sleep is essential, not an inconvenience.” I felt like Capaldi was speaking directly towards me
+“You’re helping them wipe out humanity.”
Episode Title: Sleep No More
Written by: Mark Gatiss
Directed by: Justin Molotnikov
Image Courtesy: Radio Times