“Sleep No More” definitely numbers among Doctor Who’s worst episodes. Although it may not be the absolute worst in history, I can’t think of one that I’ve disliked more. That said, it’s not an episode to inspire a great deal of, well, anything. My singular thought as the episode ended was just “What the fuck did I just watch?”
The episode begins by skipping the opening credits in favor of jumping straight into a confusing and frustrating forty-five minutes of found footage nonsense. The story—a pretty standard base under siege plot—is introduced by creepy scientist Rasmussen, who is too-obviously some kind of villain, and we’re then introduced one by one to the unfortunately forgettable members of a doomed rescue party.
The only character this week who got anything like a development arc was Chopra, but even he was sadly one note. The show cast its first transgender actor, Bethany Black, as genetically engineered “grunt” 474, but her talents are largely wasted in the role, and the secondary plot where 474’s self-sacrifice helps Chopra to see the grunt’s humanity is underdone, unconvincing, and ultimately irrelevant as both characters involved die within moments of each other. Deep-Ando is separated from the rest of the group early on and dies alone as well. Rescue party leader Nagata was barely present and contributed little, but she did at least get to escape with the Doctor and Clara in the Tardis at the end.
Speaking of Clara, she fades into the background here almost as much as any of the secondary cast members this week. With Jenna Coleman’s definitely impending departure from the show and Clara’s possibly impending death (hey, it is rumored) coming as soon as next week, it’s incredibly saddening to see her once again marginalized in the story with almost nothing to do. It’s no comfort, either, that the Doctor is just as ineffectual this week. It only makes me wonder what the point of this episode is at all.
I have seen some posts praising the found footage format and the horror elements of the episode, but I didn’t find it compelling or frightening in the least. The shaky camera work was occasionally nauseating, but never managed to convey the sense of panic that I think was intended. The monster of the week was more silly than anything else, and if the sleep dust monsters weren’t absurd enough to look at, with their rather disgusting-looking heads like huge gaping (and vaguely scatological) orifices, the Doctor’s various theories and explanations made the monsters just plain ridiculous.
It’s not a great sign when even the Doctor ends the episode with an exasperated exclamation that none of it makes sense, and that’s exactly what happened here. The whole way through the episode, I kept waiting for it all to finally congeal into something resembling a coherent story, but it just never happened.