After last week’s incredible and subsequently appallingly real-world relevant Zygon Inversion, any episode this week was going to have to be something remarkable.
To give them their due, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss went the right way – from harrowing real-world epithets of war to Ye Olde Classic Who – dark corridors, lumbering monsters, science gone astray, high body-count but not remotely realistic, not enough to punch us in the face three weeks running. Take us away from reality, away from ourselves.
Could have worked.
Did it? Not for me.
The whole found footage thing is good for three things, and Gatiss’ script duly delivers them – stringing out tension, lots of sudden noise and panic and “Run, run, run!,” and some kind of creepy twist at the end that makes your stomach lurch.
In between and all around those moments, it’s possible that Sleep No More might win the award for the most ironically-titled Who episode ever. A bunch of rent-a-corpses wandering round what looked like a re-lit version of the set of Under The Lake, shouting and screaming and dying as possibly the most suggestively-faced monsters since the Vervoids swallowed them up in a big gaping hole, and a script that might conceivably be the least logical thing in New Who. Yes, including the Abzorbaloff, damnit.
This makes no sense! None of this makes any sense!Damn straight, Doctor. As Who-fans, it always helps to keep an open mind about the potential for life in the universe. But even we have to draw the line somewhere, and quite possibly, Night of the Mutant Killer Eye-Goop might just be it.
Now of course, I know, getting meta about it, it was supposed to be the constructed storyline of a man driven mad either by fear, or by the voices of the giant boogers in his head, but still, in terms of construction, the telegraphed way we were introduced to the rescue crew, the way their bickering and bantering added only little to their personality, meaning we didn’t actually give much of a toss when they were swallowed up by the walking snot-rockets. It all added up to a whole lot of not very much at all. There was nothing about it that inspired a re-watch, nothing much in fact that inspired a first watch on the edge of seats – the story was charm-light, the usual fun of Who sacrificed to attempt a thin note of tension and terror, which was then squandered by the use of found footage techniques, lack of investment in characterization or relationships, and monsters that, this far in the 21st century, looked like men in pork scratching suits, with giant, dark vaginas of doom in their head.
Yes, the bit where all the found footage came from every Morpheus user’s points of view was good and creepy. And yes, the ending, with its Weeping Angel idea of the Sandman signal escaping the Verrier station in an electrical signal, was good – predictable, but effective. The point is that compared to the two-part Under The Lake/Before The Flood, the characters felt thin and underdeveloped, so what we were left with was a lot of shouting and running on occasionally tedious found footage cameras, an unwelcome chunk of Macbeth, particularly when Capaldi looked straight down the camera for no especial reason and gave us his King of Scotland, and fake answer after fake answer from Shearsmith’s Rasmussen, while the marauding bogeys did their marauding.
We understand there’s a sequel to the story coming. Despite not enjoying this episode, there’s a degree to which we’re looking forward to that sequel – simply because this episode was left hugely open-ended, with ultimately the victory going to the monsters. There needs to be a resolution to that threat, and with only the first ‘half’ of this story under our belt, and just three episodes left of Series 9, it feels as though this episode gave itself over to the sensation of panic at the expense of the majority of other elements that make effective Who – characterization, plot, charm, and actual hooks to take us forward.
Last week’s Zygon Inversion was probably the best episode so far of what has been an outstanding series. This week’s felt like a significant back-step, not to the comforting escapism we were hoping for, but – to follow the episode’s suit and quote some Shakespeare for no terribly good reason – to a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk