Much like when a sports team pours “all you’ve got” into a big win or a student studies for days and exhausts themselves in passing a big test, letdowns are prone to occur after a big event. Whether it’s the fault of the people in charge for not being able to try and harder or the external observer for expecting a higher level of greatness that can’t be sustained, the fact is that these things do happen. I am, of course, referencing the most recent Doctor Who two-parter “The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion” as the “big win,” which leaves this week’s standalone episode, “Sleep No More,” as the aforementioned letdown.
WARNING: What you’re about to read contains spoilers about this episode and possibly other episodes/seasons of Doctor Who. Proceed at your own risk/reward!
RECAP: In one of the only episodes of Doctor Who to completely omit the opening title sequence (replaced instead by a quick “computer flash” of code with the Doctor’s and Clara’s names briefly highlighted), viewers are shown right away that this episode will follow the “found footage” style of presentation that has become popular over the last 10-15 years, particularly in the horror-film genre. The Doctor and Clara arrive in the 38th Century to Le Verrier Space Station in the orbit of Neptune, less than 24 hours after the station has ominously fallen silent. A team of “special forces” has arrived to investigate, and they team up with the time-traveling duo in an attempt to learn more. When hulking monsters appear and start swallowing team members, it becomes a race against the clock for the Doctor to unravel the mystery, and of course, save all of humanity in the process.
>>> This is the first episode this season to be a “standalone” story, without a “To Be Continued” second part coming next week. This could also have contributed to the mental shift for some viewers in how “good” the episode is; where we’ve been treated recently to longer stories with more time for character development and plot pacing, this episode does feel quite different. The pacing feels rushed at haphazard at times, most of the rescue-mission crew seem generic and under-developed, and the end just didn’t grip me as a satisfying conclusion that answered all the episode’s questions.
>>> The title of the episode is a line from Shakespeare’s MacBeth, which the Doctor also quotes during the episode. The Doctor, of course, is a big Shakespeare fan, having gone head-to-head with him in a friendly fashion in The Shakespeare Code during the Tenth Doctor’s run.
>>> The Doctor makes the claim that he does sleep. This is an issue that has gone largely unexplored in all of the DW run, but the viewing audience doesn’t tune in every week to watch an enigmatic Time Lord catch up on his beauty rest, I suppose. Indeed, the only times the Doctor has ever really been shown “asleep” is when he is drugged or knocked out, most notably following his fourth and tenth regenerations.
>>> In the early part of the episode, the Doctor tells Clara that they’ve landed in the 38th Century, not long after the “Great Catastrophe.” He doesn’t get a chance to elaborate on-screen, but episode writer Mark Gatiss did explain in an interview that this is in reference to a timeline event established in Frontios, a four-part episode from the Fifth Doctor’s run, premiered on TV in 1984. Frontios is the name of one of the last surviving human colonies following the collision of Earth with its Sun, so, y’know… a pretty great catastrophe. An interesting side note, Frontios is also noted for its destruction of the TARDIS, as then-showrunners had decided that they wanted the Doctor to move forward without his convenient means of travel; this idea was quickly scrapped, however, and the plot allowed for the reconstruction of the TARDIS by the concluding part of the story.
>>> I’m genuinely shocked that there was no reference to the Rani in this episode, especially after she has been somewhat returned to DW prominence by recent fan theories that were positing she was Missy (before Missy had been revealed as the regenerated Master, of course). If you’re unfamiliar, the Rani is a renegade Time Lady featured in televised stories during the Sixth and Seventh Doctor’s runs; her first appearance, the episode The Mark of the Rani, dealt heavily with sleep deprivation and human experimentation, themes that were echoed throughout this episode. She also has her own TARDIS, complete with a fully-functional chameleon circuit, so that’s pretty cool too. The Rani’s fate has been left very open-ended, but in a 2012 interview, Steven Moffat stated that he had “no reason to bring back the Rani.”
CLOSING THOUGHTS: The episode as a whole felt like a bit of a letdown comparative to what we the viewers have been treated to in the last few episodes of this season. That’s not to say that it wasn’t without enjoyable aspects, of course, but on the whole, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this was “just another Doctor Who episode.” They can’t all be home runs, I suppose…
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Peter Capaldi as The Doctor
Jenna Louise Coleman as Clara Oswald