STORY 262: SLEEP NO MORE
Welcome to a Doctor Who episode so horrible even The Whorist's Kyle Anderson, a man who blocked me on Twitter for making fun of his eternal cheerleading masquerading as objective reviews, found repellent. Of course, a negative Kyle Anderson review of a Doctor Who episode should be taken with a boatload of salt. His negative review could have come about because I in particular had openly criticized him for rarely if ever criticizing anything Doctor Who, especially anything Moffat-related. Therefore, his negative review may have been a way to show that he could, on occasion, be 'highly critical when warranted'.
His negative review could also have come from the fact that Anderson has an unofficial rule of 'one negative review per season' to keep his cred up.
It also could be that Sleep No More was just so flat-out bad even he couldn't sugarcoat it. I suspect that if he went with his usual "this is the GREATEST DOCTOR WHO EPISODE OF ALL TIME, better than last week's, which was the last GREATEST DOCTOR WHO EPISODE OF ALL TIME until next week, when that one will be the GREATEST DOCTOR WHO EPISODE OF ALL TIME" shtick, even those followers of his who think he's brilliant would think he was insane (or what he is: a lackey).
Sleep No More is not horrible in a Death in Heaven or In the Forest of the Night or Love & Monsters bad. Sleep No More IS horrible, but in a shockingly inept, clumsy, stupid, pandering manner, a story that is simultaneously cringe and laugh-inducing. Sleep No More shows just how bad Doctor Who has become, an episode that tries to be 'hip' by using a dying genre to be 'current' but only ends up being insulting to longtime fans and new converts.
In a 'found footage' style, Gagen Rasmussen (Reece Shearsmith) tells us from the get-go "You must not watch this", but watch we do.
Incidentally, when Rasmussen tells us that, it is really writer and self-professed genius Mark Gatiss warning us he was going to give us an hour's worth of crap.
Anyway, Rasmussen tells us he's cobbled together footage from various sources to show us what happened aboard the Le Verrier Space Station. There are four soldiers who've arrived aboard the Le Verrier to investigate the sudden disappearance of the crew. They are Commander Nagata (Elaine Tan), Officer Chopra (Neet Mohan), jokester Deep-Ando (Paul Courtenay Hyu) and the humanoid 474 (Bethany Black), a grunt grown with low intelligence and brute force. Into the space station stumble Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) and her Companion, Some Old Guy (Peter Capaldi). At first, Nagata is distrustful of these two figures, wondering of they are Space Pirates.
As a side note, anytime someone name drops one of the worst Classic Doctor Who stories, again we're in deep trouble.
Anyway, Some Old Guy is horrified to see that Rasmussen, the only original crew member still around, has created the Morpheus Device, a machine that compresses regular sleep in a few minutes. This horrifies The Old Guy, especially since the machine takes the star for a while and for reasons that must have appeared hilarious to our old friend Marky Mark, plays Mr. Sandman (which given the story is set in the 38th Century, would be a song close to 2000 years old).
Anyway, we discover there are monsters on the station, and The Old Guy makes the deduction that they are formed from the sleep dust collected from our eyes, the Morpheus process giving them life into carnivorous lifeforms. They essentially consumed the crew, but why not Rasmussen? Now the crew has to stop the "Sandmen" as they are dubbed by the main character (Clara) from eating them as well. Some of them do meet a rather gruesome end, but The Old Guy manages to defeat them and the survivors flee the station.
As for Rasmussen, he tells us that we shouldn't have watched, but since we did, we now will show this to our family and friends, and as he dissolves into the Sandman he always was, he tells us there is something there, in the corner of our eye.
I confess to a few things regarding Sleep No More. First, despite my years of film reviewing I'm not very familiar with the 'found footage' genre. I never saw The Blair Witch Project (which I'm told is the best of the lot). I never saw Chronicle, or any Paranormal Activity films, or Project X/Almanac, or any of those projects. I've seen Cloverfield (which I didn't like) and Cannibal Holocaust (which I didn't think was as horrifying as I had been told, save for 'the turtle thing'). The genre simply doesn't interest me, primarily because it's always struck me as both lazy and a gimmick. Something like The Blair Witch Project probably works better because it was meant to look like it was pieced together from various sources, but all these other 'found footage' films look like they are shaped just to 'frighten' us rather than be plausible (let alone believable). Therefore, the point of reference with regards to Sleep No More is pretty much lost on me.
Second, Gatiss' script has real howlers of dialogue. From the opening "You must not watch this" to Clara's "Do you ever get the feeling like you're being watched?" (a line I last heard spoken by Bugs Bunny) to "May the gods look favorably upon us all " (having me reply "And may the odds be ever in your favor") to "The dust has been watching us" and perhaps the most succinct line spoken in all Revived Doctor Who ("Doesn't make sense. None of this makes any sense"), the script from the man genuinely convinced he's on a higher intellectual level than Sartre or Serling pushes us to ridicule it again and again.
Sleep crust? Seriously, sleep crust? I don't get sleep crust save when I get allergies (in fact, the last time I had allergies, the heavy amount of sleep crust I had was the tipoff that something was wrong), so the idea that sleep crust could form after the body had less than 40 winks is, well, illogical. Yes, I know Doctor Who has no interest in logic, but sometimes, the sheer stupidity of a concept is beyond even their inept hands.
Playing Mr. Sandman? Seriously? Is Gatiss obsessed with the romanticism of the 1940s and 1950s? If he'd been as bright as he thinks he is, he would have chosen a classical piece (say, Brahms), and not a pop song from the 1950s to drive home his point.
Gatiss has an extraordinarily high opinion of himself as a person and especially a writer, and it comes through at Rasmussen's final speech. When "Rasmussen" is congratulating himself for coming up with a story with lots of twists and a big epic conclusion, one that would terrify its audiences, what is really going on is that Gatiss is through the character telling us, "Oh, aren't I such a brilliant writer. See how clever and brilliant and dark I can get". Marky, I can see right through your overinflated ego. When you were typing that out, you were talking about your own (sense of) greatness. Shameless egocentric lunatic.
In fairness, it's not all Mark Gatiss' fault. People like Kyle Anderson have so convinced Gatiss that he IS this unimpeachable genius (note in Anderson's review how apologetic he is in having to take Gatiss down, just like he did when he mildly criticized Gatiss' Cold War). Gatiss is so transparent with regards to how he sees himself that Rasmussen's final speech should be studied by future screenwriters to demonstrate how a writer's ego can so blind him to his own ineptness.
Visually, the thing's as big a mess as the story. 474 is played by Bethany Black, a transsexual who was born a man but is now a woman. When 474 puts his hands up to Chopra's face and says, "Chopra pretty", I thought 474 was gay (which I thought odd for a product of engineering to express sexual desire, but am I overthinking things). Since the footage was so dark I couldn't tell who or what was what, I thought 474 was male.
The performances are so uninspired. Capaldi at one points looks genuinely pained, as if he realized he wasn't going to get scripts like Blink on a regular basis. Everyone looks trapped, and Shearsmith's Rasmussen was both the villain but a non-entity. Hyu's character was described as a jokester, but we saw no evidence of any of that. You think he'd appreciate being made to sing Mr. Sandman to get away from the Sandmen (who remember, are made up of sleep dust), but this wasn't part of the story. Part of the problem is that because the episode is so compressed, it's forced to give just a quick hint of a character's trait. Therefore, when they get swallowed up by overgrown sleep crust, it does make things less emotionally impacting.
As if the term 'being swallowed up by overgrown sleep crust' could ever make anything menacing. Shearsmith's narration made him look like a nutty narrator, and whether this was the intention or not I cannot say. It was the end result, but perhaps not the intention.
There was nothing clever about Sleep No More. There was nothing 'terrifying' about Sleep No More. There was nothing interesting about Sleep No More. Even some of the worse Doctor Who episodes (of which there are many) had perhaps some redeeming value (perhaps the visuals like with In the Forest of the Night, or perhaps a tolerable performance), but Sleep No More had absolutely nothing good about it. It is worse than a disaster (which even the sycophantic apologist Kyle Anderson would tell us, despite it being extremely hard for him to do so).
Sleep No More is just...nothing, except perhaps insulting to even the most brain-dead Whovian. SLEEP DUST? SLEEP DUST!
In short, Sleep No More is perhaps the worst episode of Doctor Who ever made...but don't worry. I'm sure Kyle Anderson will find almost all future episodes of Doctor Who to be among the Greatest Moments in Television History, just like the last time, and the time before that, and the time before that, and the time before that...
Next Episode: Face the Raven