Mark Gatiss’ latest script struck me as 40 minutes in search of its admittedly impressive final minute. In that regard it was cut from the same cloth as many of Gatiss’ other episodes of Doctor Who: a cute notion, a striking visual sell or – in one case – a smart-arse title.
The polymath writer has tended to produce rather shoddy episodes that have strong concepts at their core but either devolve into pastiche or simply fizzle out. Of his eight scripts for the series few would suggest that, beyond The Unquiet Dead and The Crimson Horror, there’s much to commend them.
I quite enjoyed Sleep No More, though I wasn’t giving it my undivided attention. In its own right it was a very average runaround (the word ‘romp’ is forbidden in these parts) with a found-footage device, Moffatian monster and nonsensical twist. At times it reminded me of Night Terrors – in that it was the only other time since Doctor Who returned when the production felt lacking.
From the blank-slate supporting characters (making someone say ‘man’ and ‘pet’ every other word is not characterisation), some very wobbly acting and some confusing direction, Sleep No More felt decidedly wonky at times. The plot, if described, is hardly convoluted yet it wasn’t always clear what was going on during the episode and some of the dialogue was wince-worthy.
Worst of all, though the final reveal was the most atmospheric part – and was of a sufficiently Vine-able, GIF-able nature to send a few chills around social media and watching kiddies – there seemed to be absolutely no point whatsoever to it, as Reece Shearsmith’s Gagan Rasmussen admits.
To have the Doctor repeatedly stating that nothing in the narrative made any sense – something known as lampshading – only adds to the suspicion that the episode was written around the very same conceit that ends Ghostwatch. Lose it and the whole thing was, by definition, pointless.
Does that mean there were not moments to enjoy? No, but it does make Sleep No More once of the shonkier, more disposable episodes this season. An unreliable narrator, a first-person shooter directorial style, a enormous twist that almost takes a pot-shot at our predilection for watching things we shouldn’t and a very bad Geordie accent (literally no-one in the north-east calls everyone ‘pet’ – in fact I’m one of the view few who calls anyone pet) and it’s all a bit of mess.
Throw in two of Steven Moffat’s greatest hits – the corner of your eye trick from The Eleventh Hour and the angel is Amy’s eye in The Time Of Angels – plus a handful of sci-fi and horror tropes and Sleep No More adds up to a very odd episode that, like most of Mark Gatiss’ efforts, really doesn’t quite feel finished.
This is the third time in one year where the title sequence has been messed with for reasons that don’t feel like much more than desperately trying to do something different with the damn show. It’s a touchstone in an episode where a shedload of ingredients are hurled at the wall in the hope that no-one notices the paucity of whole.
And that – of the most part – is Mark Gatiss’ contributions to television Doctor Who summed up. He really should adapt Nightshade.