Doctor Who - Series 9, Episode 9

Sleep no more

Will Reece Morris-Jones sleep no more after Doctor Who goes found footage in an update of the spooky horror story...

When reviewing this episode I get a few things out of the way – I don't really mind the found footage aesthetic. Whilst not many examples of it being used well exist, it's still a relatively new stylistic choice and overall have produced more good media than this go around of 3D.

This episode is narrated to us by Rassmussen (played by Reese Shearsmith – a frequent collaborator with Mark Gatiss) who is attempting to put together a coherent narrative of what has happened aboard the Le Verrier Space Station in orbit around Neptune. With the crew gone, a military team sent to discover what has happened, and the appearance of The Doctor and Clara, it's safe to say things won't turn out well.

I have to say I sort of liked this episode. As a series, Series 9 has had more quiet horror episodes than recent seasons and as a horror fan I appreciate it. This was a, relative to the rest of the show, subdued episode. The slower pace, despite a few nice ideas, never really came together though.

The idea of toying with the artificial nature of 'found footage' films was interesting, as we got the sense that Rassmussen wasn't always telling us the true, which had a great payoff. It's not a concept that could have been done with only found footage, but the avoidance of the jump scares that have plagued that type of film from inception (until you can time it to the second with recent releases) and instead focusing on a slow, creeping inevitability mixed in nicely with the episodes plot and it's themes.

What didn't work however, was almost everything else. The introduction of Bethany Black as Grunt 474, a vat grown soldier, was a thread never picked up on, nor were any of the concepts such as how a sleepless society worked when there were people who didn't participate. With Soldiers as the rescue party, it would have been interesting to see how the existence of machines like MOBIUS affected personality and performance. What would a society that never sleep be like? Does it truly make you more efficient as a person? Nothing major was needed, but to reduce the whole argument to the cliched 'there are some things science shouldn't tamper with' was a waste of such a good idea.

As for the monsters themselves, well they weren't exactly scary, but they did reinforce the feeling of creeping death...the long sleep that awaits us all. As antagonists, the idea of semi sentient dusk particles that were everywhere and everything was unsettling, but they never really posed a threat. Which made the end of episode reveal all the more entertaining.

I like to think of this episode as an update on the kind of stories people tell each other around a campfire on a dark night, the purpose being to slowly build up tension so when the final reveal comes you jump out of your skin in fright.

In that regard, the episode never really ramped up the levels to anything other than mild unease. Still, that unease and the knowledge that your very enemy is the inevitability of sleep that you may never wake up from...I can but hope there are a few children in the UK suddenly very unsettled when it comes to bedtime.

Image - BBC