Saturday, 14 November 2015

Doctor Who: Sleep No More

Rassmusen: 'I do hope you've enjoyed the show. I did try to make it exciting. All those scary bits. All those death defying scrapes, monsters, and a proper climax with a really big one at the end! Compulsive viewing.'

Occasionally an episode of television comes along which takes you completely by surprise. The format is so clever, the storytelling so off the wall, that you spend the whole episode riding a delirious wave of confusion, until an ending arrives so brilliant that it surpasses all expectation. 

This was not one of those episodes.

I swear, Rassmusen's dialogue (opening quote) felt like Mark Gatiss giving himself one big self-congratulatory wank. Wasn't that a great story? Wasn't it exciting? Wasn't the tension marvellous? I bet you couldn't look away. It takes a man of supreme confidence to come up with this sort of dialogue—even Moffat wouldn't be so bold—but Gatiss is obviously riding high after penning such classics as 'The One With Maureen Lipman', 'The One that Underused James Norton' and 'The One Where Matt Smith Sounded Like David Tennant'.

Mark Gatiss frustrates me so much. I know he can write. His work on The League of Gentlemen was impeccable, and his Sherlock scripts border on the majestic, but give him a Time Lord to work with, and he more often than not shits the bed. 'The Unquiet Dead' was excellent, 'The Crimson Horror' was solid, but the rest of his output has been seriously lacking. He tries to make his scripts intelligent—and I appreciate the effort, really I do—but it so often comes across as him trying too hard. He tries to be self-referential and scary, but at this point in the game, we've seen it done a dozen time before and by better writers.

The central premise of the episode was compelling. The Morpheus machine was a cool idea, the ship visuals were sweet, and the idea of altering the brain via electronic signals embedded in video media was brilliant. The problem is: we've seen these themes explored before in Aliens, Judge Dredd (2000 AD) and The Ring, and to far better effect. Plus, it took me two viewings to understand exactly how all of the pieces fitted together, and I'm still not entirely sure I understand everything. I'm all for being allowed space to fill in the blanks on my own, but this episode felt at least one info dump short of being coherent.

On a positive note, the ending where Rassmusen dissolved into dust after explaining his true purpose was as creepy as hell. Seriously, it was both impressively executed, and competently acted. Unfortunately, his fellow dust monsters weren't quite as effectively realised. I know there's not much you can do creatively with monsters made out of eye snot, but you could actually see their sagging crotches. Thankfully, director Justin Molotnikov obeyed the key principle of 'less is more' and kept them mostly in the shadows, but when they're so clearly just dudes in rubber suits, there's only so much you can do to make them scary.

I also had a really violent reaction to the character of Negata, pet. Now, Mark Gatiss is from Country Durham, pet. The same place as me, man. So he should know that people do not fucking talk like that. Yes, they say 'pet' and 'man' occasionally, but after every sentence? This kind of talk has a context, and a superior talking to an inferior is not it. I think Gatiss probably did it to establish individuality amongst the crew, but it made Negata sound like a horrible stereotype. We expect dodgy English accents from American shows, but for a Sedgefield native to so obviously drop a bollock seems unforgivable.

Contrary to the rest of the universe, I actually enjoy found footage stories: I found CloverfieldThe Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity pants-soilingly good fun. So, I'm all for trying out new things. The experimental 'Love and Monsters' was clearly the pinnacle of season two [/sarcasm]. But I honestly think this story would have been better told in the conventional way. The found footage format admittedly gave it atmosphere, and I enjoyed watching the Doctor trying to work out where the footage was from—but it also severely hampered character development.

We never got to know any of the secondary characters, and despite Clara being on screen quite a bit, she didn't actually do much. All she got is one moderately humorous gag about how pretty she is—which, again, is just annoying considering her imminent departure. I want to see as much of her being brilliant as I can. I don't want to see her shushing a blind monster. It can still hear you, Clara! It's not deaf as well. Plus, the purpose of the found footage was to infect the solar system. Rassmusen wasn't concerned with explaining every detail, or fleshing out the threadbare characters—so a lot of the episode's more interesting themes remained underdeveloped. Which is a shame really, as I felt there was a decent story hidden somewhere in the mess.

The most interesting aspect of the episode is what happened to Clara. According to the Doctor: the Morpheus process has begun. Does this mean that Clara's been irrevocably altered? Of course, Rassmusen did insist that the contagious dust story was just a distraction, but can we be certain that he was telling the truth? Why could we see Clara's point-of-view on the monitors? What if the Morpheus machine did change Clara in some way? I know Moffat has promised a 'horrifying' fate for her, but to end up a pile of desiccated potato is pretty fucking grim. If that's how it goes down, I'm going to be pissed.

Doctor: 'It makes no sense. None of this makes any sense.'

Amen to that shit!

Other Thoughts:

—Well done, Deep-Ando, for splitting off from the group for no reason whatsoever.

—Despite being a tad disappointed in tonight's episode, I thought Capaldi was brilliant throughout. He didn't phone it in once, and in Gatiss' favour, his dialogue suited Capaldi perfectly.

—Back in August The Independent reported that Bethany Black was to be the first openly transgender actor on Who. That's cool, right? She played a non-transgender role (also good), and her character sacrificed herself to save her crew mate (hurrah!). But am I the only one slightly bummed that she was cast as a character whose touch elicited utter revulsion, who was described as animalistic and 'unintelligent', and who was designated a number rather than a name?

—According to the Radio Times, Mark Gatiss has a sequel planned. *sad trombone sound*

Quotes:

Doctor: 'Hold my hand.'
Clara: 'I'm okay.'
Doctor: 'I'm not.'

Negata: 'Clara did nowt, pet.'

Negata: 'Calm down, pet.'

Negata: 'Don't call me that, ma'am. Give it a rest, pet.'

Negata: 'Cuts, pet.'

Negata: 'This isn't a good time to be smug, pet.'

Negata: 'I wouldn't bet on that, pet.'

Negata: 'Yeah, well humanity might have something to say about that, pet.'

Negata: 'Come on, man. We've got to go.'

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