Sunday 15 November 2015

Sleep No More (time shift)

With such an honest and inflexible openness to evidence, they could not fail to receive any real truth which might be manifesting itself around them.
- H.P. Lovecraft

Or, if you want to be all obvious about it:

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
- T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

Me:  Where shall we start?

Him:  How late on was that one?  Like, at night?

Me:  It was the same time.  2010 until 2100.

Him:  Do you think that the name was, y'know...?

Me:  I think that what we saw there was Mark Gatiss attempting to write a Steven Moffatesque script.  And, what he actually produced has the same problems - almost exactly - as Nightmare in Silver.  A lot of that would've looked great on paper, but just didn't work.  With the exception of Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, the performances weren't up to the script.  That might be a directing issue.  So...

A Space-Badger drifts by...

Me:  The found footage conceit...

Him:  Oh, it wasn't.  Let's just...  No.  It couldn't decide whether it wanted to be found footage or not, and I feel like it ended halfway through.

Me:  Well, that's 'cause it's set up things to come, hasn't it?  It's the first part in the-

Him:  In the 'Dust Saga'?

Me:  The 'Dust Saga'.  Yeah.  Okay.  I thought...  Reece Shearsmith brought his other performance to it, of the two that he usually delivers - with the exception of the third one he managed to get out in A Field in England.

Him:  I get it.  You don't like him, you don't like Mark Gatiss. 

Me:  It's not that I don't like them, it's just that I think that their best work is an awful long time behind them and that there's nothing actually very new taking place with what they do.  As far as pastiches go, which is what we usually see from Mark Gatiss, that episode referenced: Flesh and Stone, The Invisible Enemy, Predator, Alien, Judge Dredd, Sandman - and I can tell you which issue if you like1 - Oliver, Journey to the Center of the TARDIS, Spider Man 3, Event Horizon, Aliens, Peep Show, Prometheus, Macbeth, Sunshine, 42, Monty Python, Doom, Quake, Pertwee-era Doctor Who, Ring, The Space Pirates, a little bit of Inception and involved Mark Gatiss taking the mick out of Terry Nation while at the same time proving he's no Steven Moffat, because the author's voice throughout that was a bit too loud and far too smug.  It's not a found footage film either.

Him:  Spider Man 3?

Me:  Yeah, it's got Marvel's Sandman in it.  And similar effects when he all falls apart.

Him:  Right.  Was that really a reference?

Me:  Yeah.  Probably.  The way Rassmussen fell apart at the end was very reminiscent of the way that the Sandman falls apart in Spider Man 3.  It's also - oddly enough - not the first found footage Doctor Who.  It's just the first one that's canon.  Do you remember back to the flurry of VAM before Day of the Doctor?

Him:  Yeah, I do remember that. 

Me:  We had one then.  The Last Day.

Him:  The intro was reminiscent of that.  Very.

Me:  Yeah.  It's a cut scene.  Sleep No More comes across more like Peep Show than an actual found footage film.

Him:  But it's not found footage.  It kept cutting to bits that shouldn't have been recorded and perspectives that couldn't have been recorded.  And it was all edited together, which is...  What?

Me:  The only way they're going to get away with that is if it turns out we're still inside someone's dream. 

Him:  We are, aren't we?  We're still inside Clara's dream.2  But that's what I mean.  It ended half-way through.  It was never resolved.

Me:  I think that's going to turn into Clara's doom.3  She's going to turn into a great big pile of walking snot.  Which is Swamp Thing, so he can have that one too.  I thought that Peter Capaldi was really good.  We've got to come up with something positive we can say about it.  Was it scary?

Him:  I feel like it would've been better had we not seen them, 'cause they were essentially just giant humanoid things that were just mouths all the way down, and I've seen that kind of thing...

Me:  Yeah, it was in Nemesis the Warlock back in...  around about 1980?4

Him:  Yeah, there's an enemy in Digital Devil Saga 2 that looks like them as well, but it's orange and has teeth in the mouth. 

Me:  This all felt like...  There was nothing new there.  Nothing we haven't seen before.5  It wasn't brave.  It wasn't adventurous.  It wasn't challenging.  It was...  It was...

Him:  It was weird.

Me:  Yeah.  Again, I thought Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman performed really well, and I think that the supporting cast did the best they could, but...  It just goes to show why we don't get found footage stuff on TV. 

Him:  It wasn't found footage, this is the thing.  I think it would've been really good as found footage, 'cause you wouldn't have seen the dust-snot monsters. 

Me:  It's a straight lift - well, near enough - it's a straight lift from Sunshine.  Oh, I don't know.5

Him:  I never did finish watching Sunshine.

Me:  No.  So, on that bombshell...

Him:  Oh, I dunno, do you want to talk about next week's-

Me:  Face the Raven?

Him:  Is that what it's called?

Me:  Well, it's all about facing ravens, innit?

Him:  I've been trying to think of a pun involving Edgar Allan Poe and dust, but I just can't do it.

Me:  Well, you've got, "I will show you fear in a handful of dust,"6 which was used as advertising for Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, but that's not from Poe.  Which is a shame.

Him:  I've just been trying to think of... a Poen, if you will.

Me:  Ha!

Him:  But I can't.

Me:  Alright then.  D'you want to make a noise like a raven?  Or just some dust?

The Him makes the noise of just some dust.

Me:  And on that bombshell.

Nightmare in Silver 2: Electric Bogies - BOO!
1.  Sandman #3, March 1989.  But, seriously...

Sleep No More is an odd thing.  It's much less than the sum of its parts for a start, many of which're outlined above.  The story's sloppy, the acting quality haphazard and the directing not quite as tight as something like this needs to be.  It's also not found footage, did we mention that?

Whether you think found footage began in The Blair Witch Project rather than The Last Broadcast or Cannibal Holocaust - both of whom have much better claims - it's fair to say that Sleep No More fails the most basic format test by neglecting to kill off all its characters.  Nope, the 'found footage' label is just the high-concept tag, or gimmick, slapped on this episode to make it quicker to explain.  It's a shorthand for something that would've worked much better in almost any other medium.  It's a shame it wasn't pitched to a publisher or even Big Finish instead. 

Sleep No More's also far too pleased with itself to be let off lightly.  The final speech delivered by Rassmussen/Gatiss breaks through the already shattered fourth wall with its self-congratulatory - Kroll save us - attempts at metatextualised post-modernism.  And completely falls on its arse whilst doing so.  If the preceding forty-two (or so) minutes had earned such self-indulgence then fair enough, but they blatantly hadn't.  It also has the unfortunate effect of turning the opening speech about not watching this because you won't be able to unsee it, from story set-up to actual viewer advice.

Still, we should be thankful for small mercies.  Murray Gold barely made his unnecessary presence felt. 

And at least it wasn't the two-parter the Baker Street Boys'd originally planned.

Well, not yet anyway.

2.  Okay, we're not.  But I don't think this time the audience can be blamed for not getting what was going on. 

And if it's anyone's dream, then it's Barbara's.

3.  I don't really.

4.  Actually it was August 1981, in 2000AD Prog 223.  Can't blame a guy for trying.

  I'm nearly convinced that the bits that looked like Reece Shearsmith was reading his lines from a board hidden just off-camera were an homage to The Three Doctors.  Perhaps to make up for the one that was, thankfully, left in the cutting room bin following the final edit of An Adventure in Space and Time.


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