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Doctor Who recap: Sleep No More

A world without sleep turns into a real nightmare.

Posted on

Simon Ridgway/BBC America

Doctor Who

TV Show
Sci-fi and Fantasy
run date:
Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas
BBC America
Current Status:
In Season

Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by science fiction’s vision of the future — or by Mark Gatiss. I feel called out by both after “Sleep No More,” which is basically the TV equivalent of that poem my dad wrote me on my 10th birthday about how I hadn’t slept in a decade. I’ve wished more than once that sleep could be optional. Imagine everything we could read or learn in that time; imagine how much easier it would be to pull those all-nighters in college. But the fantasy of staying up all night is basically rooted in a desire for time to ourselves — whole hours with no one to answer to but our own interests. If everyone were awake, we’d have to be plugged in then, too.

Doctor Who’s greatest fear for the future is that we’ll be stripped of everything but our functionality. Religion will militarize, armies will be grown, and even sleep will become an unaffordable luxury for the dedicated employee. Enter Morpheus, a pod designed to condense a month’s worth of rest into five minutes. It’s become a political issue, splitting the population between “Rips” (so named for Rip Van Winkle) who reject the machine and “Wide-Awakes” who embrace it. Morpheus’ inventor, Professor Rassmussen (played by Gatiss’ League of Gentlemen collaborator Reece Shearsmith) operates out of a space station orbiting Neptune in the 38th century. The station fell silent 24 hours ago.

A rescue crew based on Triton arrives to investigate, led by young commander Chief Nagata. Nagata and crew member Deep-Ando, both Wide Awakes, are joined by Chopra, who doesn’t want his sleep “colonized,” and 474, a “grunt” bred for low intelligence and brute force who’s developed a crush on our resident Rip. The team finds Rassmussen’s station apparently empty, aside from — who else? — the Doctor and Clara, who’ve gone space exploring — er, exploring. (“It’s never space restaurant or space champagne or space hat.”) The Doctor’s psychic paper announces them as engine stress assessors, and Nagata agrees to let the pair tag along.

Their expedition is interrupted by Hulk-like dust creatures that chase the crew into a room of the space station. The room is lined with Morpheus pods, one of which grabs Clara, giving Doctor a good 15 seconds of panic before he’s able to get her out. Rassmussen, who’s been hiding a few pods down, explains what just happened with the aid of a hologram pitch lady: The pods are semi-sentient, programmed to take people who need sleep and then alter their brain chemistry, changing what it even means to need sleep in the first place. How better “to get the edge on your competitor, to turn that extra profit”?

The Doctor is not amused. “Sleep is vital,” he argues. “Sleep is wonderful. Even I sleep.” But we’ve never seen it, and neither has Clara. Perspective — our perspective — is key, as the story is told from found footage that Rassmussen claims to have pieced together after the fact. Even the opening credits are different. Whose story is really being told here, and why are we watching at all, when the first thing Rassmussen says is, “You must not watch this”?

The professor wants out of this space station now, but those creatures — which Clara has taken to calling Sandmen, after Morpheus’ signature “Mr. Sandman” tune — change the equation. The Doctor believes the Sandmen to be made of sleep dust: the kind we usually just wipe from our eyes. The longer a person uses the Morpheus chamber, the more the dust accumulates. It’s not clear whether it consumes the host or takes its own form, but those questions make leaving the station even riskier. If they return home now, they risk spreading an infection that they don’t even understand yet. Found footage, hulking monsters, possible airborne contaminants — we’ve got ourselves a horror movie.

NEXT: Death by karaoke