After last weeks disappointing conclusion to the Zygon invasion, we're being given a first for Doctor Who in the form of a "found footage" episode. We're warned at the very start of this weeks episode that we "must not watch this" broadcast by a man named Gagan Rassmussen, the lead researcher of Le Verrier Space Station located near Neptune. When someone tells you not to watch something, what do you do? Do you heed their advice, or do you keep watching out of intrigue?
Dressed like a cut-price John Sheridan from Babylon 5, Rassmussen is the inventor of an assisted sleep 'pod' called Morpheus; a device that allows its users to squeeze months worth of sleep into a five minute burst. That in itself sounds like a great tradeoff; who wouldn't want to experience more of life with no apparent downside, right?
As Rassmussen speaks to the camera, warning us that we can "never unsee it," we get a sense of foreboding that something terrible this way comes. Are we watching Doctor Who's Cloverfield moment, or is this an Apollo 18 misfire?
Let's find out.
MR. SANDMAN, BRING ME A TEAM
Sleep No More is a tale told from multiple perspectives, via what we are led to assume are helmet mounted cameras. The story opens when a military team of four arrives at the station to investigate a lack of communication from the crew. As representatives of the 38th century Indo-Japanese alliance, and led by the condescending Commander Nagata, they arrive to find the station seemingly deserted, running on emergency lighting.
This is a rescue mission, and only Grunt 474, Deep-Ando, Chopra and Nagata can uncover what's really at play here. While they don't find any of the crew on their exploration of the station, they do stumble across two unidentified people walking about discussing Japanese restaurant decor. Obviously it's the Doctor and Clara Oswald, who in order to stay on the right side of Nagata take on the identity of engineering stress assessors. Whatever that job entails it's definitely not the weirdest occupation either of them have assumed.
One other thing I enjoyed was that this episode highlighted a future society of Earth, where both India and Japan have formed an alliance that clearly manifests in the diversity of not only its crew, but its holographic programs as well. That isn't to say that major problems with the human race don't exist in the 38th century, where the displacement of the basic tenets of our species is represented by the presence, and treatment, of 474. The fascinating character of 474 is referred to as a "grunt," an artificially bred clone that's grown in a hatchery, albeit one with a supposedly limited intelligence.
Like the original Star Trek series, Doctor Who often speaks to current-day societal problems in our world. How many marginalized groups of people are treated in the same dismissive, aggressive manner that 474 faces from her teammates and society at large? Actress Bethany Black brings a quiet sort of sadness to the role, subtly allowing a glimpse of surreptitious pain during an expression of romantic interest in the character of Chopra; one that's met with open hostility at first, then understanding, respect and finally friendship when she sacrifices her life to save his later in the story.
A sacrifice which was made in vain, given he was killed by the Sandmen not long after.
Even though the signs point towards a better, shared future for our species, something which Doctor Who often does really well, it makes you think about how the human race still has a long way to go today in recognizing how we treat those we unfairly deem to be inferior.
NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE
I'm not really convinced that this was a proper episode of Doctor Who, rather more of an extended "cursed video" in the style of Samara's videotape from 2002's The Ring or Silver Shamrock's Halloween 3: Season of the Witch commercial.
The monster of the week is actually quite an achievement. As far as the idea of a new creature is concerned I'd certainly place it in the same league as the Weeping Angel statues from 2007's Blink. Writer Mark Gatiss has taken a process built into the human condition and given it malevolent purpose. While this "sleepy dust" is hard to take seriously as a potential threat in itself, what happens when you let it germinate for a months worth of time inside the Morpheus device? One short burst won't make a huge difference, sure, but what about a year's worth? Or even five years worth?
The implication here is that Rassmussen has experimented with one unlucky soul, referred to as Patient Zero, who had since been consumed by the collection of dust inside the second generation Morpheus. I can kind of see the logic of how the creature would gain a semblance of sentience, even if it was more instinct in nature, given that one five minute burst inside the device represents a month of rest, and if you're in there for five years in real-time, then that's the equivalent of 43,200 real years.
If that's the case, then like Grunt 474, this dust seems to have been stuck in an accelerated growth pattern and it's pretty easy to see how that would unsettle people. But that wasn't really the point of this whole exercise. The goal here wasn't to document and share the truth about what really happened, but to compose an engaging story to keep the viewers attention while they succumbed to the true purpose of the video.
YOU WILL SHOW THIS FILM TO YOUR FAMILY, WON'T YOU?
It turns out that any and all people who have ever used a Morpheus device were actually carrying the same marker that transformed Patient Zero into the first of the Sandmen. The glitch in video itself, as seen above, acted as the activation key for the transformation process, and if you're one of the millions living on Triton you're basically screwed when the video gets sent out across the solar system.
As Rassmussen stated at the beginning of the episode, there's nothing you can do to "un-see this," and we're going to have to wait for a resolution. The writer of this episode has already confirmed that he's been asked to write a sequel to this story, citing that it ended in a strange way with the Doctor losing the battle with no inclination as to what happened next.
Hopefully we'll see that happen when the 10th series of Doctor Who arrives in 2016, and if they can get Reece Shearsmith back as the transformed Rasmussen that will be even better. The story didn't gel together as successfully as the monsters which inhabited it, but that's fine. I'd rather have an episode where they tried to do something different new than another version of Under the Lake. It was different, and I liked that the BBC decided to go all in with the presentation here, opting not to run a traditional title sequence as it has done for the past 50 years.
Onwards we go to London, circa. 2015.
- We return to London in the present day, and another encounter with Lady Me. Presuming she hasn't taken on another identity, that is.
- Welcome back, Rigsy! Last seen in last year's episode Timeline, it looks like he's been marked for death.
- There's a Cyberman, and a few other things too in this strange, alien-on-Earth town.
That's another recap down, folks. How did you get on with this week's episode? You can follow along with this series of Doctor Who via our StoryStream, and if you like that why not check out the rest of our television coverage here at Polygon at the following link.