Doctor Who’s “Sleep No More” Is A Dream (And Nightmare) Of An Episode
If you woke up the morning after having watched this week’s episode of Doctor Who and paid more than the normal amount of attention to wiping the sleep from your eyes, we wouldn’t blame you. That said, if you’ve seen the episode, then it’s probably too late for you. Loyal Who viewers are all about to become incubators for giant crusty sleep monsters spawned from our very own eyes.
Showrunner Stephen Moffat and writer Mark Gatiss (‘Victory of the Daleks’, ‘Robot of Sherwood’) entered new territory with ‘Sleep No More’, an episode designed to look as though it was comprised of found footage, shot POV-style. More impressively, it would seem as though the stylistic element is key to the still-unfolding plot—at least we think it’s still unfolding. The episode is the first in the ninth series that isn’t one half of a two-parter. ‘Sleep No More’ stands on it’s own, as does next week’s episode ‘Face The Raven’ (in which Maisie Williams will make a third appearance). It even got its own unique title screen:
Who likes word searches? Though they were difficult to spot when the title screen flashed before our eyes during the episode, it’s easy to make out the names of the episode’s characters as well as the name of the Neptune-adjacent space station where the action takes place.
Set in the 38th century after some kind of “catastrophe” united India and Japan (according to Gatiss, it was Earth colliding with the sun), an Indo-Japanese rescue team boards the Le Verrier space station after receiving a distress signal. The first people they run into are not the station’s crew but Clara and the Doctor. Almost immediately, they’re confronted with danger—heavily foreshadowed by a recorded message we see at the beginning of the show from the station’s lone remaining crew member, scientist Gagan Rassmussen.
After a sudden offensive by crusty space monsters scatters the rescue party, Clara and the Doctor find themselves in a room equipped with a set of Morpheus Sleep Pods—machines that compress a month’s worth of sleep into a five-minute cat nap. The machines, designed by Rassmussen, are sentient. Sensing that Clara is overtired, one pulls her inside a pod, plugging into her brain. She’s released unharmed (or so it seems), unless you consider The Chordettes’ “Mr. Sandman” a real earworm, in which case it might still be playing in your and Clara’s head right now.
Here they meet Rassmussen, who explains the monsters’ origins (they’re the dead skin cells, dust and mucous that would normally build up in our eyes and be wiped away each morning, only they’ve somehow taken on a life of their own, an unforeseen consequence of the machines that now allow an entire planet of humans to sleep for just five minutes a month) and their appetites (human flesh), and their evil superpower (the ability to act as tiny cameras, watching and recording everything).
Unbeknownst to the Doctor and friends, Rassmussen is working with the Sandmen in an attempt to get them to Triton—the new home of the human race/an all-you-can-eat buffet for the Sandmen. The thing is, he doesn’t have to physically ship one there to succeed—his attempt to do so is just a decoy. All the Sandmen need is for a human host to watch this video missive he’s been making. Read: the very episode you’ve just watched.