Sunday, 15 November 2015

Review: Doctor Who - Sleep No More

Mark Gatiss delivers the first single-parter of the year in 'Sleep No More' but did it scare us wide awake or send us to bed early...?

'Excuse me, you've got something there... Just in the corner of your eye.'

Mark Gatiss' episodes divide Doctor Who fans like no other writer's output. Usually I would say that it is totally unwarranted (many of his previous episodes, like 'Robot of Sherwood', 'Cold War' or 'The Unquiet Dead' are traditional, even cosy, Doctor Who that could fit into any of the modern series' eras). Here, however, you have to concede that 'Sleep No More' is a controversial episode that won't please everyone. It even gets rid of the beloved title sequence!

Those who disagreed with the Doctor's dalliance with fourth-wall breaking back in 'Before The Flood' will love this week which, as Doctor Who's first 'found footage' episode, has a lot of talking directly to the audience. As it is, the use of the storytelling technique is a part of the plot so it isn't a superfluous gimmick like in a lot of films that use it. The novelty also remains fresh throughout thanks to some neat direction from Justin Molotnikov and some tight script work by Mark Gatiss. He is said to have been working on this episode for a long time and it shows in the level of backstory we learn about this world (the Great Catastrophe that caused a tectonic plate shift that aligned Japan and India, for example).

What doesn't seem so well considered are the monsters, the Sandmen. It's a classic Who device to take something everyday and make it sinister, be it statues, murals or even wi-fi, and turning the sleep in your eye into a threatening force is a masterstroke. Yet their exact nature could have been better defined. I've now seen the episode twice and am still not sure if they are created from the sleep building up and making itself a body or converting its human host? This might have been intentionally ambiguous to add to the creepiness but you find yourself thinking about it while watching thereby pulling you out of the story, which is never a good thing.

More so than Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman (though the Doctor did get some great ominous lines while looking right at us), this week the show belongs to guest star Reece Shearsmith, an actor who has long deserved a proper Doctor Who appearance (after playing Patrick Troughton in An Adventure In Space And Time, the biopic about the show's beginnings). He fits the role perfectly, and pitches it with the same suitable mix of sinister and camp that he does in his anthology horror/thriller series Inside No. 9.

Actually the whole episode arguably felt more like an instalment of that series than Doctor Who with its open-ended twist ending. Yes, make no mistake the Doctor did not win here. In fact, he didn't impact too much on the plot at all, come to think of it. It's this sort of thing that will make this story controversial. For me, this was an admirable, if not perfect, episode that dared to be different but for others... Who knows, 'Sleep No More' might haunt Doctor Who fans' dreams as it intended - but perhaps not entirely for the right reasons.

Hey, Mr Sandman - sleep is weaponised against us (er, I think) in 'Sleep No More.'

Next week: Rigsy returns when he calls the Doctor and Clara in to investigate a mysterious street. Are the trio brave enough to 'Face The Raven'? 8.10PM. Saturday 21st. BBC One.

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