“You can’t fight them Doctor. There’s no point. They’re the future. A new life form. A better life form. It’s very clear to me now, they made me understand. And we’re to be their food.”
Doctor Who tried something different this week, it went all Cloverfield on us. Upon hearing this you’d be forgiven if you were a little worried about it. Not only is the found footage genre completely overdone at this point but most of the time it’s not even done well. Luckily “Sleep No More” manages to avoid most of the plot holes associated with the genre and surprisingly, manages to do something new to it at the same time.
The episode starts and launches straight into the plot, opening with a video diary introducing Reece Shearsmith’s character, Prof. Rassmussen. The intentionally vague cold opening has more in common with prestige American TV than it does with Doctor Who but it works well, as does the lack of theme song. Jarring at first but it all adds to the meta found footage effect. After the introduction of some expendable soldiers, including Doctor Who’s first transgender actor, the plot starts to get a little confusing. It does all pretty much come together at the end but there are a couple of moments where we are left scratching our heads. The monsters themselves are a little ridiculous as well, although sleep dust sand people still probably aren’t the most ridiculous monster the show has had, but I’d be lying if I said they weren’t at least a little scary. A lot of this is down to the brilliant direction by Justin Molotnikov, with the dim lighting and pov shots evoking feelings of classic space horrors like Aliens. The almost constant red lighting looked awesome and he managed to avoid the shaky cam and amateurish look that usually goes along with found footage films.
The actors all do a great job, even if a lot of them are only there to be killed off. Clara is perhaps a little sidelined here, but she’s still good and there is more than enough of everyone else to make up for it. Reece Shearsmith is outstandingly hammy as the Professor, being perfectly written by his friend Mark Gatiss. Of course the real standout is, as always, Peter Capaldi as The Doctor. He doesn’t have big speech like last weeks episode but he still stands head and shoulders above the rest of the cast, bringing a brilliant blend of cold and calculated with frequently hilarious. The script, from Doctor Who regular Mark Gatiss has some inspired moments, with the cool India/China mash-up reminding me of the West/East alliance from Firefly. The story was probably too confusing, with too many twists and not all of them landing. Some of this was intentional, with the Doctor’s “it doesn’t make any sense!” echoing this, but it was still probably too confusing for most.
This weeks episode was a bit of mixed bag but for the most part, it worked. The script was overwritten and confused but it was also funny and the narration was a nice touch. The actors were good too, even if Clara and a couple of the new additions were slightly underused. When it’s all said and done though, the main draw of the episode wasn’t the script, or any of the actors, but rather it was the found footage format. It was originally implemented into the world of Doctor Who and was a nice change of pace from the standard format. And, ultimately, because of this none of the problems really mattered, the episode is worth a watch just for how unique it is. The found footage idea may be a gimmick but it’s a good’un.