Dear Steven Moffat: Sleep No More


Dear Steven,

Was it wise for the first line of Mark Gatiss’s script to read ‘you must not watch this. You can never unsee it’? Don’t make it too easy for us, for God’s sake. The warning was necessary though. “Sleep No More” was a found footage episode. The technique’s long been redundant in horror cinema – a once innovative way of telling a story that passed into obsolescence through mind numbing repetition and the difficulty all but the best filmmakers had in reconciling its imbecilic constraints with their movie’s nuts and bolts requirements. So before we got anywhere near Gatiss’s incomprehensible plot, there was already reason to fear that so-called format breaking episode; fifty minutes of TV that thought it was offering the audience something different, but was in fact just repackaging a tired monster-on-the-rampage-in-a-futuristic-space-station story using a style that double downed on the episode’s passé credentials. This was cliché on cliché; a terrifying glimpse into Doctor Who’s low budget future.

Those of us that hate found footage movies but have, for one reason or another, been obliged to watch a warehouse full, have our own list of related problems that inevitably rear their monstrous heads. Amongst them, the problems of ontology. Often we’re shown footage edited together that could not have logically have been assembled by anyone (see Josh Trank’s Chronicle) or couldn’t been recorded, so must be faked somehow (see End of Watch).

Gatiss, perhaps aware of this, but determined to make the conceit work despite the pleas of seasoned horror fans on staff, tried to use Doctor Who’s placenta-like ability to absorb conceptual bullshit, to use the limits of found footage to frame, then subvert audience expectations. So the footage we thought was being recorded by helmet cameras and space station terminals, was in fact…er, a feed from the ether, or people’s brains, facilitated by alien technology…or something. And the plot, downloaded from an internet template, with beats that, pun fucking intended – the audience could have pinned to a cork board in their sleep, was revealed to be a ruse: generic on purpose so we’d, er, enjoy it enough to keep watching and internalise an alien signal that would, er, induce perma-sleep and turn us into monsters made of mucus deposits and dead skin.

Gatiss, one imagines, thought he was being clever. Sure, he said, addressing himself in the mirror on the day the script was due, viewers would hate the episode while they watched it, lamenting the lack of conceptual clarity (what force could make a build up of sleep dust sentient, what was Reece Shearsmith’s ultimate goal?), but then he’d pull the rug, Inside No.9 style, just like his old pals Pemberton and Shearsmith did every week, and we’d crawl away with our brains pickled, content we’d been the victims of a master manipulator. What a time to be a Whovian, what a time to be alive.

But sadly the pull left us standing firm, like Peter Venkman’s flowers in Ghostbusters, because the final reveal made no more sense that the head scratching action that preceded it. Shearsmith’s mad scientist, or whatever he was, I’m not sure I got it, had been consumed by the Morpheus machine which he’d created – maybe – to make more efficient soldiers that didn’t need sleep – and he’d become a Sandman, except they look like humanoid stacks of eye waste whereas he had fully human form, including detail like glasses and clothing, though perhaps not, because these were just monsters the monster created to scare viewers so they’d have something compelling to watch, maybe –  and said monster, wanting to create many more like himself, just because – took the footage he’d somehow gathered, though it was never clear how it was generated, and edited it together with a digital signal doubling as a 1,700 year-old found footage movie cliché, so others would find it…somewhere…and watch it, despite his instruction not to, thereby becoming a creature made of human waste like himself.


Does Mark Gatiss have a drinking problem we don’t know about? So the episode, nigh on incomprehensible and conceptually botched, turned out to be pure filler. Once again, in contrast with some of the meatier two part stories we’ve seen this year, this return to the disappointing single episode, showed the wisdom, albeit not yet fully realised, of junking this kind of instalment once and for all. There wasn’t time to get to know, or care about, any of the guest characters, the story had permanent and fatal errors which might have been avoided had there been additional screen time to develop the ideas and fill in the blanks, and it was derivative; confirming our suspicion that Who’s writers struggle to fill these forty-five minuters, and should be thinking bigger, adopting the serial mentality of old.

The next episode better be powerful, Steven. I think you’re going to have to kill a regular or something.

Yours in time and cyberspace,


P.S: Part of me likes the idea of the Doctor and Clara being caught unawares, but wouldn’t it be nice to see something that genuinely wouldn’t go out in a normal episode? Clara in the shower for example.

P.P.S: I’m going to call it and say this was the worst episode of Peep Show ever.

P.P.P.S: ‘Sleep claims us all in the end.’ Whatever, eyeing Clara, could that mean?

P.P.P.P.S:  Brute force, low intelligence – it was reassuring to know that soldiering will be the same 1,700 years from now.

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

Published in: on November 15, 2015 at 13:10  Leave a Comment  
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