Written by Mark Gatiss, and guest starring his fellow The League Of Gentlemen co-star Reece Shearsmith, this was an episode I was looking forward to. So, another spoiler alert, it’s a shame I wasn’t keen on it.
The entire episode is a video pieced together from various recordings by scientist Gagan Rassmussen (Reece Shearsmith), who narrates it.
It is in a space station near Neptune from the 38th century. It had stopped communicating, so a rescue team was sent, who arrive at around the same time the Doctor and Clara do. They are then pursued by zombie-like creatures made of dust. After escaping them, they find Rassmussen and his invention, Morpheus sleep pods. Morpheus contracts sleep into just 5 minutes, so you have the same benefits but take up
less time, giving you an edge over your work competitors.
The Doctor isn’t happy that a basic, key function such as sleep has been tampered with, and theorises that doing that has created the dust creatures, who Clara names as Sandmen. The Doctor says they are made from the mucus or “sleep” that is in people’s eyes.
They are impervious to weapons, but aren’t immortal by any means. In fact, they can easily fall apart altogether, such as if the gravity shields are turned off. They completely take over humans and turn them into one of them.
Many of the rescue crew except the captain end up killed, as apparently does Rassmussen. But he in fact faked his death, and was behind the whole thing. He wants to help the Sandmen to spread around the universe, but is killed by the captain before he can. The Doctor, Clara and the captain escape, but the Doctor thinks something isn’t right. It all seems too pre-planned to follow a set course of events somehow.
Rassmussen ends the video by saying he planned the whole thing so people would keep watching the video, giving it enough time to transmit a signal of the Sandmen. This will ensure the Sandmen will infect everyone who watches the video. Rassmussen turns into sand.
This episode has echoes of many “found footage” horror films, the most well known example is probably still The Blair Witch Project. But the ending is more akin to Ring, as a cursed video which spreads the more people watch it.
I like the idea of “found footage” films as a narrative device in theory, but I’ve seldom liked the result. The Blair Witch Project for example I think was a great marketing gimmick, but it’s not that good a film, to be honest. I was looking forward to this episode, but I was disapointed. I guess “found footage” is a tricky thing to get right. Perhaps it’s easy for the gimmick to get in the way of the plot.
‘Sleep No More’ generally seems to have been quite poorly received. Creatures made out of sleep mucus in your eye might be a bit of a hokey concept. We don’t get much chance to know the guest characters. Rassmussen is fine as a kind of a mad scientist type, but he’s not very 3-dimensional. Of the crew, the tough captain Nagata is probably the most fully-developed, but she’s still a little thin in terms of characterisation. Deep-Ando is killed off fairly quickly. Chopra’s unwillingless to use Morpheus helps the Doctor figure out the mystery, but little else happens with him, except his interactions with 474, a clone who is treated as a second class citizen. There are implications she may have feelings for him, but nothing much is done with this. It’s a shame really, as I think all those characters might have potentially been interesting.
There are good ideas in this episode. They make good use of the song ‘Mr. Sandman’ by the Chordettes, and the corporate computer hologram is quite funny. But the ideas are all thrown together in an untidy pile. You can’t help comparing it to ‘Under The Lake’/’Before The Flood’, which were much stronger episodes and handled the plot and character better. The idea that sleep can be something that can be turned against you could be a terrifying one, but this episode doesn’t really deliver terror. ‘Sleep No More’ is not awful, but it overall feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.