After a season of only two-parters, Doctor Who finally produces its first standalone episode: Sleep No More. The episode starts with a warning that we must not watch. As the camera glitches in and out, we meet Rassmussen, who seems overly freaked out by creepy groaning noises in the distance and appears trapped in a space station orbiting around Neptune. He explains that he’s pieced together footage as best he can to show what happened on board.
We then cut to a rescue crew, led by Nagata, who are all anxiously waiting to dock with the space station as they banter. The episode is apparently going to be done in found-footage style, collected from the recordings of the cameras the crew wears on their helmets and those placed around the ships. We’re told specifically not to get too attached to them though, so I guess they’re probably not going to make it to the end.
When they finally dock, they find that there’s actually no crew left. But the ship isn’t empty: it has a time traveller and his companion wandering around its halls without much of a care. That is, until the rescuers surround them with guns at the ready. Under the guise of ‘Engineer and Stress Assessors’, they avoid becoming Swiss cheese, although Nagata affirms that they will follow her command. Good luck with that.
One of the rescuers is called a Grunt, and is specifically designed to be a soldier, although is purposely left lacking in the smarts department. Clara is pretty disgusted at this, but she isn’t given long to dwell on it because a giant monster immediately attacks them. Sent into a panic, the group locks themselves into a lab, and as the creature attempts to claw its way inside the room, the door cuts off its arm. Unexpectedly, it turns to dust and the creature disappears all together.
With one of the crew lost outside the bay, the resident mean-guy of the rescuers, Chopra, thinks the Grunt should be sent out to rescue him, seeing that’s what they’re there for (I wonder who will possibly have a change of heart by episode’s end!). But the bay also contains sleep pods referred to as Morpheus pods by the rescuers, which they don’t seem too worried about at all, until Clara gets sucked into one and is put to sleep. A lovely hologram of The Chorrdettes (or at least women dressed like them) singing “Mr. Sandman” plays on top of the pod, suggesting its occupant is asleep.
The rescuers are still insistent that the pods are nothing to worry about, but even the Doctor isn’t sure what they are. Unexpectedly, the last pod is not vacant like the rest, and after some probing, they open it to find Rassmussen, who’s been asleep this whole time. Rassie activates a hologram to explain the Morpheus pods, which are sleep deprivation pods that allow users to get an ungodly amount of rest in only five minutes, allowing them to work up to a month without actual sleep. These users are cutely referred to as “Wide Awakes”.
The Doctor seems appalled, as even he sleeps (when Clara’s not looking), but he seems to notice that something is different about Clara now. The obvious answer is that we now get footage from Clara’s perspective, even though she’s not wearing a camera. Weird!
The Doctor has a theory: the monster was directly linked to Morpheus and the dust of its users (skin cells, mucus crust…ah, yuck) has mutated into a carnivorous dream creature. And the ship’s missing crew? Digested. He decides that they should first locate the missing rescuer, Deep-Ando, who’s freaking out in a hallway all by himself. But Rassie doesn’t really care about him or the Doctor’s theory, he just wants off the ship. He is, after all, the only surviving member of the crew. Suspicious.
Deep-Ando tries to make his way to safety, but comes into a glitch when the ships computer won’t let him through a doorway without singing a song – a new system the ship’s crew thought would be funny at the time, at least, probably pre-digestion. But there are creatures only moments away, and Deep-Ando doesn’t even know what song…until we hear the familiar “bung-bung-bung-bung…” tune of “Mr. Sandman”. A few bars get him through the doors with no time to spare, but he’s not safe. As video Rassie explains, he was the first to go.
But there are more important matters at hand: the gravity shields are apparently failing, causing the ship to begin falling into Neptune. The Doctor tries his best, but even when “this day couldn’t get any worse’, a dust monster breaks its way into the room and immediately starts chowing down on Rassie. Luckiy, the closer they get to Neptune, the more the creatures break up due to G-forces. The Doctor is able to reinstate the gravity shields, but escaping means only getting away with Clara and Nagata into a cool room.
Meanwhile, Chopra makes his way with the Grunt, and decides the best course of action is to blow up the spaceship. Great. But on the way, an explosion leaves the Grunt in bad shape. In an act of heroism, the Grunt takes on the creatures alone, facing certain death so that Chopra can get to the control room. Chopra, of course, seems to finally see more to the Grunts than what he thought originally, but he doesn’t it make it too far on his own before he too is consumed.
The Doctor decides to review the footage of the rescuers to look for clues, although Nagata seems pretty sure that they don’t actually have head cams. And much to the Doctor’s dismay, who normally likes to be the one to name things, Clara coins the name Sandmen for the creatures.
The Doctor knows that they’ll freeze if they stay in the cool room, so he lets the Sandmen in. He’s worked out that the monsters can’t see and so has them hide in the handy meat carcasses nearby. As the Sandmen search the room blindly, they make their way out, trapping it behind as they leave. This is when it hits him. Missing from the ship, from the rescuers and from Clara herself, are the actual cameras. How could he possibly be viewing footage if there are none?
Dust! Yes, dust. The Sandmen’s way of seeing is through the dust in the air, but it’s apparently being hijacked by someone causing them to be blind. Which I mean, yay, or not, I guess.
Back on the rescue ship, the Doctor has a suspicion that whoever is behind this will be trying to escape. And whom do they find but Rassie, who’s apparently been playing a long con with the video recording as his alibi. Rassie hopes to get the Sandmen off the ship and thus allow them to flourish as they consume the universe. His cargo even includes the original Wide Awake, the first Morpheus user who hasn’t slept in five years, the granddaddy of Sandmen.
As Patient Zero wakes up and immediately attacks the group, Rassie attempts to start up the ship. Using his sonic sunglasses to open the locked doors, the Doctor gets to him in time but Nagata’s solution to stopping him is to shoot. It works, but it isn’t exactly the Doctor’s way of doing things.
None of this is making sense in the Doctor’s mind though, and as they make their way to the TARDIS, a group of Sandmen surround them. After some quick thinking, he disables the gravity shields, sending the ship into Neptune’s orbit, in turn causing the Sandmen to turn back to dust and allowing them to escape. Except for Nagata, who seems to disappear as the camera glitches, which is just really weird!
To add to the terror and confusion, a final message from Rassie indicates that he wasn’t the actual Rassmussen at all, but was actually one of the Sandmen all along. And to make matters worse, his plan never needed the Sandmen to escape to spread. All he needed was for people to watch the recording, as the process of Morpheus just involves an electrical signal that will potentially turn every viewer into a mutated-dream-dust-creature. This was all done as a trap, to create a viral video that people would be entertaining enough to tempt people to watch. Tricky.
- Did everyone notice that we were missing the normal Doctor Who opening titles, which were instead replaced with a screen of code containing character names?
- The narration by Rassie throughout didn’t really do it for me this episode, as it seemed to interrupt the story a lot of the time. The payoff at the end showed it was necessary, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of this season’s earlier episode, Under the Lake, and how much better that worked without it.
- The ending of the episode also left with some pretty big complications. Is it possible that the Sandmen and Morpheus might play a role in Clara’s demise? Although, I can totally see this as being one of those episodes that is never mentioned outright again.
- Were Nagata and the rest of the rescue crew then all Sandmen as well? Seems likely.
- I’m hoping that Grunts will come back into the series again at some point so that we can discover a little more about them. They seemed like a completely overlooked aspect of the episode and, if anything, it felt like they were stuck in to just merely have them. The storyline with Chopra, especially, felt like it was just going through the motions to create some tension, but without any interest or energy put into their arc.
- Definitely going to have “Mr. Sandman” caught in my head all day now. Bung-Bung-Bung-Bung-Bung-Bung-Bung-Bung…