5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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SLEEP NO MORE
There's an engrossing mystery at the heart of Sleep No More that kept us on the edge of our seats to the end of the episode and beyond. The dark heart of this enigma: how in God's name does Mark Gatiss keep getting invited back to write Doctor Who?
We knew it was Gatiss. Ergo, we weren't exactly tingling with anticipation. "Come on," one of us said bracingly. "He's not the worst Who writer." That's true, we agreed. But he is, reliably, the most mediocre. A silence fell. We're not sure a mediocre episode is better than a terrible one: it's probably more involving being outraged than bored. "Hang on" one of us added. "Look at his recent output. Shouldn't we be moving him out of the mediocre category and into the bad?"
Which is more effect than the actual episode had. Bear in mind that none of us like horror movies because we find them too scary. Bear also in mind that two of us had to watch New Zealand win the Rugby World Cup recently only after they knew the result because they couldn’t stand the suspense. In short, we are grade-A wusses. And we still weren't scared by Sleep No More. Sorry, did we say Sleep No More? We meant to say Snorepheus.
Because it's not just not scary. It's also not clever, it's not logical, and above all it's not entertaining.
It kicks off with Reece Shearsmith. Who doesn't love Reece Shearsmith? Not only was he with Mark Gatiss a member of the sublime League Of Gentlemen, he co-wrote and starred as that series' most pants-wettingly terrifying character Papa Lazarou. These are people who know scary! Promising, right?
The found footage part we were less enthusiastic about. Mark Gatiss was apparently all "It's never been done in Doctor Who before!". Well, yeah, but everybody else has had a go, so it doesn't really qualify as thrillingly ground-breaking. It can be effective if a) you don't make the audience seasick and b) it's done right. We didn't have any trouble with a), but we heard reports that other people did. As for b), um…
No theme, no titles. No objection from us, except retrospectively when we realised they would have been the best part. Then they introduce a bunch of forgettable redshirts who get so little character development that we couldn't care less when they meet their inevitable fates. The best thing we can say about the characters is that Bethany Black is the first transgender actor to appear in Doctor Who. It’s great that she's there, but it's a shame it was in such a flabby episode.
People with guns, deserted station, darkness. How often has this been used before? Rasmussen, meanwhile, continues with his infodump. We can see they have to do this to set up the ending they want, but to us it's a complete waste of a found footage format. If someone has to narrate the bloody thing, you've done it wrong.
The Doctor and Clara turn up and the Doctor delivers an excellent rant about how people don't actually say "space restaurant". This got a genuine guffaw out of us, because one of our writers once wrote a script with the working title "Space Trouble Is My Space Business" for this very reason.
And we discover we're in the 38th century. According to the Doctor, "After the Great Catastrophe, there was a tectonic realignment. India and Japan, they…sort of merged." That seems unlikely, unless the Earth got pleated. The cultural aspects of this, incidentally, are treated with the same kind of delicate sensitivity shown to the Chinese culture in Firefly. Sigh.
So we know we're quite a way into the future. And the future of warfare is thus: business as usual, plus vat-grown soldiers. This demonstrates a thumping lack of imagination. Warfare right now is moving more and more in a mechanised direction (drones, robots, mechas, whoops sorry, those are fictional). That being the case, it seems really, really unlikely that in the future you'd be sending actual humans on this kind of mission.
But robots do't go splat, so humans is what we've got. Humans and monsters, that is. And oh dear. Let's face it, Doctor Who has had some pretty terrible monsters in its past. But this is the first that looks as if it would be more at home bobbing about in a sewer.
And then we're introduced to the Morpheus pods. Uh. First of all, how awkward is that whole "grabbed Clara as she was walking past" thing? Why would you design that in, and how would you manage it with a few cables? No wonder they had to do it offscreen. Clearly they thought Clara voluntarily getting in for her probably alarmingly fatal nap would be too silly, and it would have been, but if so it would have been in good company.
Then there's Rasmussen. If you couldn't tell he was the villain from the moment he showed up in the pod, you were clearly having the nap we wished we were having.
And there's the whole Morpheus thing itself. Not only is it shatteringly unoriginal, but the "controversy" it generates is simply moronic. Obviously the Evil Capitalist thing about having more time for work is yucky, but other than that, what would be wrong with being able to safely skip sleep? You could just as well apply the same arguments to electric light extending the natural day or travelling at a pace faster than a human can manage. Getting a plane from here to Australia undoubtedly frees up more time for "working, working, working", but it also frees up more time for seeing our friends and painting our toenails and watching anime, and we'll take it every time over swimming the Tasman Sea, thanks.
But if you thought that was dumb… the monsters are made of sleep goo. (They call it dust, but what's dusty about it?) The. Monsters. Are. Made. Of. Sleep. Goo. And if you're asking how, don't even bother. All you'll get is some mistiness about evolving and a bunch of incomprehensible bollocks about cameras.
That, alas, was the nail-bitingly exciting part compared to the rest of it. Which is devoted to darkness, screaming, people asking if other people are there, shaky camerawork and a load of technobabble about gravshields. On and on and on it goes, until we were ready to set fire to our eyelashes just to break the tedium. We were divided about the correct description: "Awesomely terrible," one of us said. "Offensively awful," said another. "I wanted to put a pillow over my own face," offered a third. The single highlight is the truly excellent performance of Jenna Coleman and, especially, Peter Capaldi, who has more class in one magnificent eyebrow than in the rest of this production put together.
They clearly think the ending is a devilishly clever twist. The trouble is that even we, who never watch horror movies, have heard about The Ring, so we saw the ending shambling towards us most of the way through.
We've seen some shockers in our time, but this is really, really awful. And guess what? There's going to be a sequel. A sequel by Mark Gatiss. For the first time since this episode started, be very afraid.
THE TYNE OF YOUR LIFE
Couldn't they find a real Geordie? Pet?
REMAIN CALM, HUMAN SCUM
Did the Doctor call humans filthy? That's really, really, really not like him. Is it because he realises the Morpheus machines have handed Clara a death sentence?