Doctor Who Review: Sleep No More

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Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more.

I’ve been looking forward to this for a very long time – ever since it was first announced that it’d be a found footage episode, actually, for two reasons. I always enjoy Mark Gatiss’ scripts, and to see him engage with a more modern horror trope sounded pretty exciting. That, and any attempts to play around with the format are always fascinating to me – it’s new and exciting, and it pushes the boundaries of what Doctor Who can do, crashing into different genres and telling new types of stories.

The found footage element, in the end, was actually really impressive. I thought it was really clever that the central conceit of the episode – the framing device – became a mechanism for the monsters to spread and attack further. It was a rather clever twist on the concept, actually, in a uniquely Doctor Who way. The final twist, with regards to the nature of the story and the transmission of the virus, was genuinely very clever.

What I really loved, though, was the slow reveal of the fact that no cameras existed through the direction. Obviously, Mark Gatiss deserves plaudits for the concept, but Justin Molotnikov, the director, did a genuinely fantastic job of hiding clues in the camera work. The switch to Clara’s perspective – and the use of Rasmussen’s perspective, when he appears – is a little difficult to notice at first, but as soon as you realise, the tension ramps right up, and the stakes are significantly higher. It’s a genuinely impressive use of the format, and it’s a really compelling, nuanced little trick, which is used very effectively. The whole episode was genuinely quite tense in places; some of the scariest Doctor Who we’ve had all season.

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I was similarly impressed by Reece Shearsmith, who gave an excellent performance as the villain of the piece. Essentially he carried it, for a rather long time; his character very much provided the focus of the piece, akin to the Elton Pope or Sally Sparrow of the episode – the episode positioning the Doctor and Clara as outsiders in their own story this week. That’s always a risky decision, that lives or dies based on the strength of the actor given such a responsibility, but thankfully, Reece Shearsmith managed to pull it off with aplomb.

The Sandmen, as the monsters to go with Shearsmith’s villain, were… interesting, as concepts. They made no sense, obviously; that just isn’t how eye dust sleep stuff (which has no proper name, weirdly) forms. All the blood and mucus that the Doctor referred to simply wouldn’t build up at all in the five minutes that people spent in the Morpheus machines. So, you know, utterly nonsensical monsters, and there were probably much more interesting concepts that could have been examined… but, to be entirely honest, it didn’t count against my enjoyment particularly. They had a clever hook with the found footage device, and an impressive visual design. I’m willing consider these monsters a success, even if they’re not the best things Gatiss has ever come up with.

Admittedly, though, the strengths of the episode do begin to run dry after that; there’s simply not a huge amount going on, and it’s debateable as to how successful it is. There’s not a huge amount here for the Doctor and Clara to do, for example, and the supporting cast here are even less developed than those who appeared in Under the Lake Before the Flood. On top of that too, actually, the resolution was a bit lacking in some regards. Whilst I’m aware that there’s going to be a sequel next year, and it was impressive to see the villain of this piece actually win, I do think that perhaps the end of the episode could have been tightened up a little bit.

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Honestly, though, it doesn’t feel like a huge detrimental factor to this episode. Where I marked Toby Whithouse’s two-parter down for the lack of characterisation of the guest cast, that was because it had little else going on – Sleep No More is making a very clear and deliberate effort to find something new to do, and provide Doctor Who like we’ve never seen it before. I’m a lot more inclined to allow some things past; the characterisation isn’t as much of a problem here as it has been in previous weeks because it’s simply not the focus of the episode.

Sleep No More is an odd one, it must be said. Certainly, I enjoyed it more on my first viewing – curtains drawn, dark room, very atmospheric – as opposed to the second time – in a brightly lit room – where I knew the majority of the plot beats and twists ahead of time. I feel like perhaps this is the sort of episode where it won’t hold up so well to repeat viewings; part of the tension came from not knowing what was happening, and that was undercut somewhat the second time around.

There’s a genuine chance that Mark Gatiss will be the next showrunner for Doctor Who; I really hope that, if he is, there are more experimental episodes like this. And, frankly, even if he isn’t, I’d like Doctor Who to be a little bit more bold, playing around with the format more. Next year, I expect a musical episode!

I enjoyed this episode a lot. I admire it a lot. And I’ll give it 8/10.

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TV Review: The Flash – The Darkness and The Light (2×05)

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I’ve already had my worst nightmare. His name was Reverse-Flash, and I spent a long time being afraid of him. I’m not gonna be afraid anymore.

One of my favourite aspects of the series last year was the character of Harrison Wells, as portrayed by Tom Cavanagh. I’ve written about it at length in the past, but suffice to say, I’m a huge fan, and I’m really glad to see Tom Cavanagh back in the series in a more substantial role. (Technically, there hasn’t actually been a single episode of series 2 without him.)

Now, the Earth 2 Harrison Wells is a very different character to the one we got to know last year; he’s much more abrasive and acerbic, for one thing, and he crucially isn’t actually the Reverse Flash. (Presumably.) Still, though, every interaction that the regular cast has with him is informed by the events of the last series, and it creates a very interesting new position for the character to occupy.

What’s most interesting, I think, was the new Wells’ relationship with Cisco. Amongst the other characters, it was essentially as you’d expect; Cisco’s response to the E-2 Wells, however, was explored in more depth, and afforded a bit more nuance. Carlos Valdes and Tom Cavanagh are both excellent actors; Cisco actively resents and resists against Wells’ presence, creating a palpable sense of animosity between the two men. One scene that stood out in particular to me was when Wells revealed to the group that Cisco was, in fact, a metahuman; it was a very clever way of structuring the reveal, taking the choice away from Cisco, and emphasising once again how dismissive and callous this iteration of Wells is. Good choice on the behalf of the writers here; I was similarly impressed by the parallels drawn between Wells killing Cisco last year and revealing his powers this year, with the actual physical actions being a mirror of one another.

(Similarly interesting is the fact that this Wells has a daughter, actually; that’s something I’m expecting to become very important in the coming weeks, and I think gives some rather heavy hints as to a potential identity for Zoom…)

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Another character from last year who returned as a parallel universe counterpart was Linda Park, showing up as the villain of this story, Dr Light. It was an interesting concept to include – particularly given the reappearance of our Linda Park in this episode – but I do feel that perhaps the potential was entirely filled, and certain possibilities not explored. The appearance of your doppelgänger in such a way is going to throw up a lot of questions, but very few of the characters seemed particularly interested in asking them – surely Cisco would be inclined to enquire as to the existence of alternate versions of himself? It did feel a little like this was an important beat they’d missed, but for all I know, it’s something they’re planning on delving into in the future. So, minor niggle, but not the end of the world.

Certainly, the metahuman plot in this episode was an entertaining one – the idea of weaponised light was an impressive one, especially given that the ability to see is something that is pretty important to Barry when he’s running at such high speeds. Tying this into the speed mirage ability that the Reverse Flash had last year was pretty clever too – it worked well to add just a little bit more tension and intrigue to the character of Wells, as well as simply being a clever resolution to the episode in its own right.

It was also nice to see Linda back, in both capacities; including her as a supporting character for Iris at the Central City Picture News is a really nice touch, and hopefully it’ll lead to further development for both characters. Linda will presumably have something of an increased role over the course of the series, given the importance of the character in the source material, and it’s a smart move on the behalf of the program to begin to further develop her character now.

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Speaking of Barry’s girlfriends, actually, it’s worth bringing up Patty Spivot, who remains utterly charming. She has a lot of chemistry with Barry, and the literal blind date the pair of them went on was wonderfully written (despite a few misgivings about the use of blindness as a device here, but admittedly I’m willing to let it slide). I’m really looking forward to seeing their relationship develop.

There was also progress with the Caitlin/Jay relationship, which I remain unsure about. They’re both two interesting characters that I enjoy seeing on screen together… but I do feel like there were more interesting choices that could have been made with regards to their characters, rather than simply putting them straight into a romantic relationship. Or, frankly, rather than putting them in a relationship so soon – there are another 18 or so episodes left of the series, and it does feel like this has a limited shelf life to it.

(Cisco and Kendra Saunders was quite fun to see as well, actually, because Cisco is eternally hilarious. I wonder how that’ll play out – especially given the identity of Kendra Saunders…)

So! The Darkness and The Light. An enjoyable episode, not without its flaws, but with an abundance of strengths to it as well. It’s most notable, I think, for re-introducing Harrison Wells, and indeed Tom Cavanagh, who has always been one of the strongest performers on The Flash.

8/10

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TV Review: You, Me and the Apocalypse (Episode Seven)

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You, Me and the Apocalypse is a bold, adrenaline-fuelled comedy-drama about the last days of mankind – boasting a relentlessly entertaining mix of action, adventure, romance and wit set against a backdrop of apocalyptic chaos.

The story follows an eclectic group of seemingly unconnected characters around the world as their lives start to intersect in the most unexpected ways, all triggered by the news that a comet is on an unavoidable collision course towards earth.

This is the first episode picking up after the fairly seismic revelations of last week; there was, obviously, a hell of a lot to live up to here. And I think it’s fair to say that this episode absolutely lived up to those expectations – I’d go so far as to say that it was the best episode of the series so far.

There were three main plot threads to this episode; the most important of which being, I think, the meeting between Jamie and Layla – which has been set up for a while now – and their inevitable confrontation. It was honestly fantastic; Layla is a rather wonderful, and very likeable character. There was a danger, I think, that perhaps the audience wouldn’t like her, given what happened between her and Jamie, but they’ve managed to avoid that entirely; Karla Crome, who plays Layla, gave a great performance. She’s a very charismatic character, in many regards – her courtroom scene is very endearing – but there’s a vulnerability to her which I think would earn her the sympathy of much of the audience.

Mat Baynton once again did a fantastic job with his dual role as the two twins; Jamie, dealing with further revelations about Layla, but at the same time overjoyed to meet his daughter, and Ariel, who remains a complete psychopath. It’s a testament to his acting that he can pull this off so well. Joel Fry was also rather wonderful, still; not just as part of a comic double act, but with his quiet conversation to Layla, about the pain she’s caused Jamie over the years. Really excellent stuff.

Stronger still, I’d say, was the Operation Saviour plot thread. Scotty has become one of my favourite characters, hands down; Kyle Soller did a great job of portraying Scotty agonising over his decisions, showing a genuine depth of internal conflict over whether or not he should turn Rhonda into the police. In the end, he did, because of course he did – it was the fate of the world. It was an absolutely tragic set of circumstances, but it was so well realised, in terms of the acting and the writing. An excellent piece of work from all involved.

That, in fact, was my favourite aspect of the episode – compelling though the meeting between Jamie and Layla was, the story of Scotty, Rhonda, Rajesh and General Gaines was thoroughly absorbing on a whole other level. Genuinely impressive stuff here. The final moment, where Gaines was able to set up a meeting between Rhonda, Scotty and Rajesh was lovely; melancholy and bittersweet, it was a rather wonderful moment.

Father Jude and Sister Celine ended up with the more comedic plotline this week; it turned out that the Messiah they were investigating this week was, in fact, hosting a large orgy. It was quite funny in place (”Ruthless, like Brangelina”), but also prompted Jude and Celine to finally formalise – and consummate – their relationship. Which is… well, it’s been inevitable from the start, and the pair certainly had chemistry together, but I do wonder if it was necessarily the most interesting path to lead the two characters down.

All in all, though, I really, really enjoyed this episode. Two very dramatic, compelling plotlines, and one entertaining and funny plotline. This is certainly the best episode so far.

10/10

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