Sunday 15 November 2015

Sleep No More - Review

Had to watch last night's episode a second time this evening before posting about it. Wasn't entirely sure about it on the first viewing. At heart, it is very much a classic base-under-siege tale - much favoured in the Troughton era. The Doctor even had the "When I say run..." line, which I'm sure was deliberate.
What was different was the way in which the story was presented - entirely assembled from found footage. These were mostly the rescue troopers' helmet cameras - which just happened to film everything exactly like a HD camera would, which was convenient. Then there were the space station's CCTV cameras - until we found out that it didn't have any...
Generally, I run a mile from found-footage movies. They are usually cheap horror films. Two big problems I have are (a) the footage is usually very shaky and you can't tell what the heck is going on - and it gives me a headache, and (b) people film things that they simply never would. Take what wasn't a cheap horror movie - the big (and brainless) Sci-Fi blockbuster Cloverfield. It loses all credibility when you find someone filming when a real person never would. (The chase through the subway tunnel is a prime example). And of course added to this is the fact that no camcorder known to Humankind has batteries that last that long.
Fortunately my two gripes were not present. Not much shaky-cam and what we saw made sense in the context of the story. I must admit that I took Rassmussen's advice and did watch closely - so picked up on the fact that we were seeing some images from the camera-less Clara's point of view straight away.

The monsters - Sandmen - were well enough realised but a bit generic lumpy aliens. The idea that they are made from sleep-gunge is certainly novel. Rassmussen's plan at first seemed to have a touch of the Vervoids about it - highly infectious spores needing to be stopped from reaching a populated planet. Then everything changed in the closing moments and we were led to believe that we couldn't trust what we had just witnessed - and it was all about the footage itself that contained the danger.
As huge fans of the portmanteau horror movies, Gatiss and Shearsmith love things with a twist in the tail. Just watch any episode of Shearsmith & Pemberton's excellent No.9. (I cried my eyes out at the end of the Sheridan Smith / Tom Riley episode in season 2).
How significant was it that the Doctor's last line was "Nothing about this makes any sense..."?

At the Festival on Friday, Mark Gatiss mentioned how great Doctor Who was for being able to cover topical issues without the need of a sledgehammer. This story had things to say about privatisation and hence capitalism - with the whole Morpheus thing being about getting more work out of people by reducing their need for a good 8 hours kip. (Shades of The Sunmakers?) There have been stories for years about workers in the financial industry being pressured to work every hour god sends - which has driven some to suicide and breakdown. The topicality of the Zygon episodes was also mentioned. Who would have known that the dreadful scenes from Paris would be broadcast worldwide just a few hours later... Like I said back in that first Zygon episode review, if you'll pardon the digression, "terrorist" and "asylum-seeker" are not interchangeable phrases. Sadly, I suspect a lot of people won't grasp that over the coming days and weeks. Je suis Paris.

Reece Shearsmith nicely underplayed the mad scientist. No Prof Zaroff histrionics here. Poor Bethany Black was saddled with a bit of a thankless role as the clone-grunt 474. Neet Mohan's Chopra was pretty.

For the first time in the show's history there were no opening titles. The continuity announcer on BBC1 mentioned that the story had been written by Mark Gatiss. Writers don't usually get an on screen mention before the programme starts, so this was obviously designed to take the lack of titles into account.
Where they would have been we had a screen full of letters and numbers. Clara Oswald's name jumped out. It was only when I froze this that I noticed "Doctor Who" written down the middle of the screen like an acrostic, in slightly brighter lettering.
The story title and writer credit were put in during the end credits.
I loved the reference to the naming of the Silurians - an old fan bugbear. Perhaps the Doctor's "Dustmen" might catch on. There may be a sequel where we see they have spaceships shaped like bin lorries. (For the benefit of non-UK readers, dustmen are garbage collectors).
Also liked them addressing the thing about sticking the word "Space" in front of things to make them sound more futuristic. Fortunately Doctor Who hasn't been too guilty of this over the years, but I do recall a reference once to "Space Medicine". Certainly there have never been any "Space Hats".
I came away from the second viewing much happier - it is one of those stories that demands more than one watching. If only to see Chopra again. Chopra pretty.

Chopra. Pretty - until he got dusted.

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