Doctor Who: Sleep No More

Rassmusen: "I do hope you've enjoyed the show. I did try to make it exciting. All those scary bits. All those death defying scrapes, monsters, and a proper climax with a really big one at the end! Compulsive viewing."

Occasionally an episode of television comes along which takes you completely by surprise. The format is so clever, the storytelling so off the wall, that you spend the whole episode riding a delirious wave of confusion, until an ending arrives so brilliant that it surpasses all expectation.

This was not one of those episodes.

I swear, Rassmusen's dialogue (opening quote) felt like Mark Gatiss giving himself one big self-congratulatory wank. Wasn't that a great story? Wasn't it exciting? Wasn't the tension marvellous? I bet you couldn't look away. It takes a man of supreme confidence to come up with this sort of dialogue -- even Moffat wouldn't be so bold -- but Gatiss is obviously riding high after penning such classics as 'The One With Maureen Lipman', 'The One that Underused James Norton' and "The One Where Matt Smith Sounded Like David Tennant'.

Mark Gatiss frustrates me so much. I know he can write. His work on The League of Gentlemen was impeccable, and his Sherlock scripts border on the majestic. But give him a Time Lord to work with, and more often then not, he can't seem to get his shit together. 'The Unquiet Dead' was excellent, 'The Crimson Horror' was solid, but the rest of his output has been seriously lacking. He tries to make his scripts intelligent -- and I appreciate the effort, really I do -- but it so often comes across as him trying too hard. He tries to be self-referential and scary, but at this point in the game, we've seen it done a dozen time before and by better writers.

The central premise of the episode was compelling. The Morpheus machine was a cool idea, the ship visuals were sweet, and the idea of altering the brain via electronic signals embedded in video media was brilliant. The problem is: we've seen these themes explored before in Aliens, Judge Dredd (2000 AD) and The Ring, and to far better effect. Plus, it took me two viewings to understand exactly how all of the pieces fitted together, and I'm still not entirely sure I understand everything. I'm all for being allowed space to fill in the blanks on my own, but this episode felt at least one info dump short of being coherent.

On a positive note, the ending where Rassmusen dissolved into dust after explaining his true purpose was as creepy as hell. Seriously, it was both impressively executed, and competently acted. Unfortunately, his fellow dust monsters weren't quite as effectively realised. I know there's not much you can do creatively with monsters made out of eye snot, but you could actually see their sagging crotches. Thankfully, director Justin Molotnikov obeyed the key principle of 'less is more' and kept them mostly in the shadows, but when they're so obviously just dudes in rubber suits, there's only so much you can do to make them scary.

I also had a really violent reaction to the character of Negata, pet. Now, Mark Gatiss is from Country Durham, pet. The same place as me, man. So he should know that people do not talk like that. Yes, they say 'pet' and 'man' occasionally, but after every sentence? This kind of talk has a context, and a superior talking to an inferior is not it. I think Gatiss probably did it to establish individuality amongst the crew, but it made Negata sound like a horrible stereotype. We expect dodgy English accents from American shows, but for a Sedgefield native to so obviously drop a bollock seems unforgivable.

Contrary to the rest of the universe, I actually enjoy found footage stories: I found CloverfieldThe Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity pants-soilingly good fun. So, I'm all for trying out new things. The experimental 'Love and Monsters' was clearly the pinnacle of season two [/sarcasm]. But I honestly think this story would have been better told in the conventional way. The found footage format admittedly gave it atmosphere, and I enjoyed watching the Doctor trying to work out where the footage was from -- but it also severely hampered character development.

We never got to know any of the secondary characters, and despite Clara being on screen quite a bit, she didn't actually do much. All she got is one moderately humorous gag about how pretty she is -- which, again, is just annoying considering her imminent departure. I want to see as much of her being brilliant as I can. I don't want to see her shushing a blind monster. It can still hear you, Clara! It's not deaf as well. Plus, the purpose of the found footage was to infect the solar system. Rassmusen wasn't concerned with explaining every detail, or fleshing out the threadbare characters -- so a lot of the episode's more interesting themes remained underdeveloped. Which is a shame really, as I felt there was a decent story hidden somewhere in the mess.

The most interesting aspect of the episode is what happened to Clara. According to the Doctor: the Morpheus process has begun. Does this mean that Clara's been irrevocably altered? Of course, Rassmusen did insist that the contagious dust story was just a distraction, but can we be certain that he was telling the truth? Why could we see Clara's point-of-view on the monitors? What if the Morpheus machine did change Clara in some way? I know Moffat has promised a 'horrifying' fate for her, but to end up a pile of desiccated potato is pretty fucking grim. If that's how it goes down, I'm going to be pissed.

Doctor: "It makes no sense. None of this makes any sense."

Amen to that shit!

Bits and Pieces:

-- Well done, Deep-Ando, for splitting off from the group for no reason whatsoever.

-- Despite being a tad disappointed in tonight's episode [/understatement], I thought Capaldi was brilliant throughout. He didn't phone it in once, and in Gatiss' favour, his dialogue suited Capaldi perfectly.

-- Back in August The Independent reported that Bethany Black was to be the first openly transgender actor on Who. That's cool, right? She played a non-transgender role (also good), and her character sacrificed herself to save her crew mate (hurrah!). But am I the only one slightly bummed that she was cast as a character whose touch elicited utter revulsion, who was described as animalistic and 'unintelligent', and who was designated a number rather than a name?

-- According to the Radio Times, Mark Gatiss has a sequel planned. Cruel prank or deliberately deceptive press release?


Doctor: "Hold my hand."
Clara: "I'm okay."
Doctor: "I'm not."

Negata: "Clara did nowt, pet."

Negata: "Calm down, pet."

Negata: "Don't call me that, ma'am. Give it a rest, pet."

Negata: "Cuts, pet."

Negata: "This isn't a good time to be smug, pet."

Negata: "I wouldn't bet on that, pet."

Negata: "Yeah, well humanity might have something to say about that, pet."

Negata: "Come on, man. We've got to go."

Paul Kelly won first place at a junior school disco by dressing as a Wirrn Grub and dancing in the hippy style. (The prize was a Selection Box containing a mini-Toblerone, a Cabana, and two packets of Tutti Fruttis.) He almost never says 'pet', but occasionally says 'man' when participating in junior school dance-offs.

For mor peaces eye rote, sea hear.


sunbunny said...

Like, I know what you mean. Like, when people like take a stereotype of like a way people in like a certain area like talk and exaggerate it for like effect it can be like super annoying. Like.

Billie Doux said...

I sense there might be some sarcasm in this review.

Juliette said...

Unfortunately, this was the episode I managed to persuade my parents to watch while staying over for the weekend. Though to be honest I'm not sure any other recent episodes would have been much more their thing. We're a Star Trek household!

migmit said...

Disappointing. And too dark for my taste. I mean, literally dark.

FlopHairedWuss said...

'Worst Doctor Who episode eva!' is being bandied around quite a bit and I just don't get it. It was different and original, which is enough to give it points from me. What's lacking is the execution, with interesting ideas, but unfortunately not doing anything particular interesting in terms of developing them. The supporting cast were pretty weak. I can barely remember anyone's name let alone their characters. Characterization on the whole isn't very strong. Peter Capaldi is fine here but he isn't given much to do, as is (isn't?) Clara.

I do like meta when handled well so I do appreciate what they were doing/trying to do here. But like you said it came off a bit pretentious. Also I'm not sure if the plot being intentionally convoluted is brilliant or just lazy.

There was potential here for a really great story, with an ambitious(ish) format and compelling ideas. With a better script, this could have been something special.

So no it's not great or even really that good, but as bad as Fear Her? Twin Dilemma? Invisible Enemy? Last of the Time Lords? Voyage of the Damned? Yeah.... I don't think so.

Also did anyone find the voice in the ending speech a bit hilarious?

Phyllis Strickland said...

The first time evah that I did not finish watching an episode of Dr. Who in the new series, at least in recent memory. After 10 minutes, I deleted it from Tivo. I have better things to do with my time than watch a boring not-making-any-sense episode of anything. Sadly this is not the first time this season that my finger was on the delete button. However, it is the first time I actually pushed it.

Tommy K said...

Twenty minutes in, I found myself staring at the clock, muttering "omigosh, it's not even half over." Interminable and self-congratulatory, lacking characterization, wit and build. I would rather sit through a mini-marathon of "Idiot's Lantern," "Victory of the Daleks" and "Cold War" than watch this episode again. (I am, by the way, uncertain who wrote those other episodes, but they were also stinkers.)

TheShadowKnows said...

I have personally seen every episode of Doctor Who, including the ones that are just audio over still pictures. I feel that gives me some measure of authority to say that, taking the series as a whole, this episode was only fairly bad. However, the Doctor's explanation of the origin of the monsters is probably one of the stupidest things said on the show to date. It actually sounded like the kind of random things the First Doctor used to babble because William Hartnell forgot what was written in the script, or like the "scientific" explanations from el cheapo 1950's science fiction films. I expect a little better than "monsters made from sleep dust because something something" in 2015, even in a science fantasy.

TheShadowKnows said...

"All she got is one moderately humorous gag about how pretty she is -- which, again, is just annoying considering her imminent departure."

That line actually made me think how preposterous it is that Jenna is leaving the show to play Queen Victoria, of all people. Not because Jenna is prettier than the real Queen Victoria - I'm used to that - but because I just don't see any resemblance between them at all. Wrong hair and eye color, wrong complexion, wrong nose and mouth. It's not quite as ridiculous as casting Halle Berry or Jennifer Lopez to play Queen Victoria, but it's not far from it either.

To cite a similar example, Adelaide Kane is also much prettier than the real Mary Queen of Scots, but at least she resembles her in a general way. I can see the thinking that went into her casting on Reign: "Queen Mary was a brunette with dark eyes, and this ridiculously beautiful Australian is a brunette with dark eyes. Close enough, right?" But Jenna as Queen Victoria? No clue how that happened.

Lydia said...

Lol this whole episode was a ride of 'WTF' and I still watched it all the way towards the end. Getting bored of bland characters and bland nonsensical storytelling, and it's getting ridiculous at this point how in all these episodes involving a 'crew' like 1/6 or something like that actually survive and make it till the end. What's the point of these meaningless red shirts getting brutally killed other than for shock value? The concept of Morpheus was super cool, too bad they couldn't come up with a better plot/storyline. Eye snot monsters? I could come up with a better villain in my sleep, pun not intended.

I love Capaldi and Jenna, they're good actors. They don't deserve this crap. Here's to hoping the remaining episodes of the season are worth watching, Doctor Who is just that show, you've gotta swerve past a bunch of pot holes until you get to the smooth roads. I guess that's what you sign up for when you're into such a show. On my rewatch, I'm only sticking to the episodes considered 'phenomenal'. I want more episodes like "Listen" and "Blink" and "Midnight" and less of these utter and dreadful disasters. Oh well. At least this wasn't as cringeworthy as "Love and Monsters", that is by far the worst episode of television in the history of the world, right? Probably not even by a long shot with the amount of awful writers producing TV these days (I'm looking at you, Julie Plec and whoever the eff thought Shadowhunters was a good idea).

sunbunny said...

Okay. I FINALLY watched the whole episode. It was really awful. That is all.