Sunday, 15 November 2015

Review - 'Doctor Who', S09E09 - 'Sleep No More'

Doctor Who aims for a fairly significant shift in format, in this episode, as in goes for what, at first, seems very much like a fairly conventional 'found footage' style horror film. You know the sort of film I mean - things like The Blaire Witch Project and Cloverfield, among others, where we see the action playing out as it is being recorded by a character with a camera. It is a style that is intended to blur the line between fiction and reality, and to increase that important sense of immersion, as the viewer brought directly into the action - seeing it from first-person point of view.

It feels like an audacious decision for a show like Doctor Who to change its format so significantly - and, creative flourishes like this, in general, feel like something which should be acknowledged and celebrated, so that they happen more often. It's really just a shame that, based on my own personal dislike for most of the 'found footage' films I've seen, this episode should already have a fairly significant mark against it, for me, before it even really starts. It feels unfair - and, it probably is. But, sometimes, you just can't put aside your own personal biases.

The point I'm getting at, here, is that (as unfair as it may seem) this is an episode that had its work cut out for it to overcome my initial dislike. Fortunately, though, the episode did have a few surprises for me.

When a space station in orbit around Neptune goes silent, a team is sent to investigate - and, if necessary, rescue any survivors. Among the team, we have Nagata (Elaine Tan), the young and unproven leader: Deep-Ando (Paul Courtenay Hyu); the 'clown' of the team (though, he isn't really given enough screen time to show it); Chopra (Neet Mohan), whose political leanings clearly place him at odds with the rest of his team; and, 474 (Bethany Black), one of a line of cloned soldiers who have become popular at that point in the human race's future. With the exception of 474 (whose clear struggle to form any sort of connection with the rest of her team, particularly Chopra, wins her some sympathy), they are a fairly conventional group - and, none of them are given enough screen time to make a very strong impression.

While investigating the seemingly abandoned space station, though, the group come across two more new arrivals - the Doctor and Clara. From there, it's not long until the group finds themselves under attack from strange creatures that seem to be made out of sand. Eventually, they discover the sole surviving member of the station's original crew, Professor Rassmassen (Reece Shearsmith), who reveals that the existence of these creatures seems to be, somehow, tied to the Morpheus machines invented by Rassmassen, himself - machines which allow a user to get the benefits of a months worth of sleep in only five minutes, so that they can stay awake and productive.

The framing device for all of this is Rassmussen himself, who, we are told, is piecing together footage from various sources after to the fact in order to document what had happened on that station.

It's an effective enough set-up for the episode's basic premise - the opening scene of Rassmussen addressing the audience directly, in order to tell us that we shouldn't actually watch the footage he has put together since we wont be able 'unsee it', is definitely an enticing promise for more of the 'family friendly' style of horror that Doctor Who has successfully managed to create in the past. Unfortunately, while the design of the 'sand-men' (as Clara soon comes to call them) is certainly effective, the episode, as a whole, really only manages to create the occasional creepy moment - and, never anything close to a proper scare.

As a life-long fan of science-fiction and fantasy, there are a lot of outlandish idea that I am quite willing to accept - providing that I'm given a decent explanation and proper context. That being said, though, I have to admit that monsters created out of the stuff that forms in the corners of your eyes while you sleep, and that evolved thanks to a machine which allows us to go without sleep, might have been a bit much for me. Thankfully, though, we do eventually learn that this particular but of nonsense was likely just the Doctor's own initial theories as he tried to define something that he had never encountered before. The truth, it turns out, is something more complicated than that.

Also, while I wasn't a fan of the 'found footage' at the beginning (and, the episode didn't really do much to win me over), I do have to admit that I appreciated the clever way in which the episode made use of it. Those moments where, at first, it seemed inconsistent, and like we were seeing things from a point of view we shouldn't be seeing? Well, it turned out that that was actually tied to the central mystery of the episode in a fascinating way - so, that definitely counts for something.

The strangest aspect of the whole experience, though, would have to be the way that it ended. So far, this season, we have seen a series of two-part stories - and, based on the way in which this episode ends, it seems as though this was intended as another one. But, judging by the preview of the next episode, it seems as though focus will be shifted to an entirely new story next week - meaning that the surprisingly grim revelation that this episode ends on will be the end of the story, for the time being. I can only assume that this is a story which will be returned to eventually - because, it clearly isn't over.

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