Discussing Doctor Who: Sleep No More

Doctor Who Sleep No More

We hope you got plenty of rest because it’s time to talk about the latest Doctor Who episode “Sleep No More” with my friend Kevin Harvey, author of All You Want to Know About The Bible in Pop Culture.

Previously, we talked about “The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar,” “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood,” “The Girl Who Died” and “The Woman Who Lived,” “The Zygon Invasion” and “The Zygon Invasion.”

After last week’s almost universally praised episode, we get a found footage Doctor Who story that was not quite as well received. In our discussion this week, I explain why Kevin and the rest of the internet are wrong about “Sleep No More.”

“Sleep No More” seemed to be a rather controversial episode, at least in terms of the way people responded to it. What were your thoughts?

Aaron: I fully recognize that I am in the minority here, but I really enjoyed the episode. We’ll talk about some of the specifics later (like the twist and the monsters), but in general I appreciate this as a horror episode of Doctor Who.

Things seemed very much out of the Doctor’s control, even ending with him saying, “This doesn’t make sense.” I thought that was a cool place to take the show for what seems to be a one-off before things get really serious next week and moving forward.

The secondary characters seem weak and flat, but that is to be expected after a season of two-parters that give you time to better understand everyone. I can’t get to know this crew nearly as much as the crew from “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood” because I’m only with them one week … and they all got eaten pretty quickly by the Sandmen.

Was it my favorite episode this season? No, but I felt like it provided a nice break from stories that felt like they had huge ramifications moving forward to one that was just intense for its own sake, without significant connections to the season-long story arc. Though, I’m still hoping the Morpheus dust in Clara’s eye will not be inconsequential.

Doctor Who Sleep No More Clara Morpheus pod

Kevin: Let’s see, the first thing said in this episode was “You must not watch this,” and then the Doctor’s final words before boarding the TARDIS and leaving were “It doesn’t make sense. None of this makes sense.” I think that’s all we need to know about this failed project of an episode.

I agree, the Morpheus dust in Clara’s eyes will probably come up again, but as of now, we have to judge this episode like the College Football Playoff committee is judging football teams—based on only what we know up to this point. And what we know right now is that this was by far the weakest episode of the season, if not all of the Capaldi episodes.

Heck, I would’ve even rather had everyone be wearing helmet cams. The idea of the “dust” around them recording everything was just silly. It was a perfect example of how many things in this episode were the result of the showrunners trying too hard to be unique. I’m all for getting off formula, like with “Blink,” but sometimes we try too hard to be different, and that’s what happened here.

This was the first ever “found footage” episode of Doctor Who. Ignoring your (and everyone else’s) irrational dislike of the episode as a whole, what did you think of that style for the story?

Kevin: Despite my comments about the dust recording them, I didn’t mind them going the “found footage” route. What I have grown to despise about the influx of similar stories in Hollywood lately is the annoying camera man who makes bad jokes and refuses to put down the camera, even to save his life. This wasn’t the case here, and I appreciated that.

I’m still surprised they went this route, though. I think of Doctor Who as a show that sets trends, not copies them two years too late. The only think I can think is that this season they have been purposeful about breaking the fourth wall in multiple episodes, so maybe they thought this was a legitimate way to do it again.

Doctor Who Sleep No More Title screen word search

Aaron: I wondered about the repeated shattering of the fourth wall this season as well. Doing it this often seems intentional.

While I do think “found footage” is becoming overplayed in Hollywood (remember though, it only became a “thing” 15 years ago with Blair Witch Project in 1999), I don’t know many TV shows that have utilized it. I’m sure there have been some (perhaps some readers can let us know), but it seemed fairly original on the small screen.

I also appreciate how tightly they stuck with the found footage by forgoing the opening sequence for the first time in, I believe, the show’s entire run, but sneaking in a little word search that spelled out Doctor Who.

What was your take on Clara this week as she approaches her impending doom?

Aaron: This was an odd week for Clara in my mind. She starts off by being “co-Doctor” again where she is completing his story about their being “stress engineers” before he could finish it. But there were numerous points of the show where I forgot all about her.

Once the action started, the only part where she became remotely relevant to the story was when the Doctor realized where the video footage was coming from. Then the two of them shared what I thought was a poignant moment of reassuring each other that he would find a way to make everything right.

Because of that, again, I really hope there are consequences in the next episode or two for her getting sucked into the Morpheus chamber. If that happens, I will think even more highly of the episode.

Kevin: All I can say is, if this is the episode that begins her demise, I will hate it even more. Clara deserves better than getting turned into sleep dust.

But as this specific episode goes, I don’t think we can judge well her or any other character, based on the “found footage” aspect of the filming. That’s been the case with most everything in this genre. Did anyone ever feel attached to the annoying kids in Cloverfield or Chronicle? No, the filming style makes that too difficult, as was the case here.

I did like her banter with the Doctor about putting “space” in front of every word up in space and her excitement to hear one of the rescue team members say “space pirate.” Dialogue like that is what has made Coleman and Capaldi such a strong pairing. They really feed off of each other well. But alas, we’re down to only three more episodes of them together . . .

But seriously, was that not a cool way to end the episode with it being a ploy for you to watch it and spread the Morpheus code?

Kevin: Uh, no. I saw The Ring already, thank you.

I refer once again to the Doctor’s final words, said just before this part: “It doesn’t make sense. None of this makes any sense.” And did you notice that Nagata simply vanishes from the scene as they’re boarding the TARDIS? Was that an editing mistake, or is there something to that? The Doctor does not leave people behind, but where was she? “None of this makes any sense.”

I was so shocked to not see “To be continued” in the end, after an entire season of two-parters, that the ending just left me frustrated.

Doctor Who Sleep No More Rassmussen Sandman

Aaron: It did bring The Ring to my mind as well, but again I thought it was a unique take on that concept. Rassmussen telling us we “must not watch this” all but guarantees people will watch. It’s like a viral headline, which is an apt comparison as he is wanted to make the Morpheus reprogramming go viral across humanity. What better way that one of the world’s most popular shows?

So … eye crust Sandmen?

Aaron: OK, so I will freely admit these were pretty weak monsters. There was nothing remotely unique about them, except for them unbelievably being made of the eye crust of those who had slept in the Morpheus chambers. They wouldn’t rank in the top 100 of monsters on Doctor Who. They may even fall below the Abzorbaloff. (I want to get that out of the way before I move on to slightly defending them (or at least the show in using them).

But much of the criticism of the monsters misses one key part of the show — it’s designed for kids. The scariest thing for a kid is to take something familiar and turn it on its head. It’s part of what makes the Weeping Angels so fantastic. You walk past those types of statues regularly and maybe once you thought for a second you saw them move. Good villains play on those familiarities and subtle doubts.

With that being said, I think the Sandmen were a swing and a miss. I don’t think they connected like they should, but I don’t think the concept is beyond the pale for Doctor Who. I’m already suspending disbelief at a slightly mad humanoid alien cruising through time and space in an old English police box. How is eye crust coming to life that much more unbelievable?

Kevin: I’m with you. I don’t really have a problem with the origin and idea of the Sandmen. My wife admitted this morning that when she woke up our daughter and saw her eyes all crusty, she immediately thought of Doctor Who and was a little creeped out. I think that’s great!

But once again, because of the “found footage” style of the episode, we never really saw what they did to their victims, and that hurt them. I would be surprised if we ever saw them again, unless it has to do with Clara’s death. (And I’m coming for you, Steven Moffat, if you turn Clara into a Sandman! She needs to die saving someone like the Doctor would, not wiping junk away from the corner of her eye.)

Favorite quotes from this week? 

Kevin: How about “Next time on Doctor Who . . .”? Or just a couple from Clara:

“See? Not just pirates. Space pirates.”

“Morpheus? Named after the god of dreams? . . . Oh yeah. Not just this.” (saying she’s not just a pretty face, after the Doctor looks surprised that she knows who Morpheus is)

Aaron: I knew you would like the “not just a pretty face” moment. I enjoyed that, too.

The way “Mr. Sandman” was integrated in the show was super creepy. Having it play every time someone enters a Morpheus pod was fantastic. Of course, the Doctor didn’t think so as he ripped out the card playing the music.

Having the station’s computer demand Deep-Ando “do the song” as he’s trying to get away from the Sandmen and into the room was perfect. It upped the creep factor of the song and provided a plausible way to delay the opening of an automatic door.

“No, no, no, you don’t get to name things. I’m the Doctor. I do the naming.” — the Doctor to Clara when she first called the monsters “Sandmen”

What spiritual takeaways did you notice from the episode?

Aaron: He is the most pro-life doctor on television. Each week, we see him and/or Clara affirming the inherent value of human life. This week, it was Clara calling “disgusting” the growing of humans in a lab to be essentially a slave military. There is a distinctly Christian ethos within Doctor Who, particularly in how the show treats life. I’m not sure there’s a better secular, entertainment representative for communicating the imago Dei and value of humanity.

Secondly, I appreciate both the Doctor and Clara’s repulsion at the Morpheus chambers and humanity’s desire to rid ourselves of sleep. Instead of seeing sleep as a gift, we treat it as an interruption to our day and, more directly, our work. We are so defined by our job and our labors that sleep becomes a hindrance to our identity.

Sleep serves as a daily reminder that I am not God. I cannot do all that I want to do. I am in constant need of His help to accomplish what is set before me. I must rest in Him (and in my bed). Robbing ourselves of that gift will only bring trouble—perhaps not sleep Sandmen kind of trouble, but trouble nonetheless.

Kevin: I can only echo your thoughts. The Doctor actually says, “Sleep isn’t just a function. It’s blessed.” “Blessed” (with two syllables) means having a sacred nature, being connected with God. Sleep, or rest, does indeed connect us with God, because even he rested on the seventh day of creation. (Which gives us another Doctor/God connection when Clara shows her surprise at his admission of sleeping too.)

If he intended us to not need rest he would’ve not made our bodies with a built-in need for it. But instead, we work hard, work late, drink energy drinks, and get up when it’s still dark and do it all over again. That wasn’t God’s intention.

But we resist it as much as we can anyways. I, for one, would not be surprised if scientists ever strive to come up with their own version of the Morpheus chamber one day. And if that’s the case, then maybe “Sleep No More” will finally make itself useful and do a good job of warning others against the technology. But until that day, I’m fine with never seeing this episode ever again.

For more about Kevin, he blogs at BibleInPopCulture.com, where he talks about the intersection of faith and culture, and you can catch him on Twitter at @PopCultureKevin

Join us again next week when we’ll talk about “Face the Raven.” Here’s some previews to get you ready.

3 Comments

  1. Favorite quote? “Don’t watch this.”

    If only I’d listened. Gotta agree with Kevin on this one. They tried for something special (like Blink and other “creepy” episodes) and missed. Of course, I’m willing to allow a whiff every once and a while. Some shows do it weekly. 😀

    Enjoyed listening in on your discussion.

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.