Doctor Who fans are no stranger to controversy. You know, David Tennant vs. Tom Baker for favorite Doctor. Listen: classic or nonsense? Steven Moffat: the series’ Messiah or Anti-Christ?
The most recent one was just last week with Sleep No More, For some, it was a creepy and atmospheric thriller. For others, it was annoying and confusing–one of the worst episode the series has ever had.
I found both of these perspectives to have elements of truth within them. Sleep No More was creepy and atmospheric. But it turns out that just being creepy isn’t enough to make an episode actually good or enjoyable. But then we should have known that: a few years ago writer Mark Gatiss also penned Night Terrors, which had these killer dolls that turned other people into dolls by touching them. They were really creepy, but the episode was pretty bad.
I don’t know that I’d call Sleep No More bad, exactly, but it wasn’t enjoyable. Not like I am used to with Doctor Who, especially this season. The found footage approach was novel but kept me from being able to engage with any of our characters on an emotional level, in the way that I’d normally want to. A big part of the enjoyment of the series, especially recently, is the sense we get as viewers of being with the Doctor and Clara on their adventures. We are the unseen extra companion, enjoying the magic of their interactions. Having to watch everything through shots that were purposely designed to not look like normal, objective footage means that I’m disconnected from that experience.
Similarly, we don’t really connect to any of the guest characters either. They just don’t do anything particularly interesting, and seem to be there mostly just to die. Plus they feel repetitive: another besieged small group of people trying to avoid lumbering monsters roaming around in an isolated setting?
In addition to that, we have the fact that the episode defies any sense of explanation. Sort of like last year’s Kill the Moon. If I am to believe anything that this episode is saying, by sleeping I’m keeping the sleep dust in my eye from accumulating and turning into deadly monsters? Huh? That sleep dust only comes when I do sleep, so shouldn’t sleeping less actually decrease it? Oh well. It’s not since we learned last year that the earth’s trees have the ability to, of their own will, grow a hundred times overnight in order to protect the earth from a solar flare (but not from all the other things that have threatened it over the years) that we have heard anything so silly.
Of course, it’s hard to know what’s really going on because we’re not sure what we can trust that we’ve actually heard. I’m left wondering if in the end the Orpheus process actually had anything to do with the Sandmen at all. Did they actually come from these sleep-deprived people? If so, how can they know just spread thanks to an embedded signal in a video file? If not, then where did they come from?
Having said that, the actual twist at the end is kind of interesting: the “found footage” aspect of the storytelling seems contrived because it actually is, in story. It is there not by chance, but by deliberate and malevolent design. And the final image, of Rasmussen dissolving before us is definitely scores very high points in the creep-o-meter.
But it’s not really enough to keep me going for the story. I’d have preferred a bit more explanation, and a bit more Doctor being cool. Maybe if he’d returned right afterwards having figured it out, staying around to cure all the people who’d watched the movie…a safer ending, to be sure, but possibly a more exciting, and ultimately satisfying.
Next week (or just a couple of days, really) and we have Face the Raven, a story featuring the return of Ashildr from The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived and the return of Rigsy from last year’s Flatline, in trouble along with the Doctor and Clara. Advanced promotion suggests one character won’t get out alive. Originally, I assumed that would be Rigsy. But now I am hearing rumors and speculations that it might be Clara, and that her departure from the series may be coming earlier than I’d assumed. If so, it’s going to be a pretty devastating couple of days. Clara’s really grown on me as a character over the short “Capaldi” era, and I’m going to be sad to see her go, and even more so if it’s tragic somehow.