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Found footage, for the most part, is a played out genre. Horror films have misused this once novel device and turned it into something that’s now old hat. Not to mention, every time a found footage film is released, the same questions are asked about how the camera is filming such professional looking material or how the footage itself has been “found.” So believe me when I tell you, Doctor Who’s latest episode - “Sleep No More” - injects some new found life into this tired genre, and it does so by actually answering those questions.
“Sleep No More” concerns a brand new medical device known as the Morpheus. Thanks to this new device, five minutes is all it takes for a person to experience a month’s worth of sleep. One session in the bed, and your brain’s neurochemical processes are fooled into thinking you’re refreshed, allowing you to physically sleep a lot less. Of course, with any good sci-fi miracle device, some side effects may occur; and occur they do, as the sleep sand of frequent Morpheus users have become a sort of infection that turns them into “sandmen.”
This sleep sand is also sentient, able to watch the events of their host as they are happening. Kind of like a helmet cam, which is where The Doctor and the audience originally think the footage is coming from. As it turns out, the footage is a live feed from the sleep sand of anyone who’s used a Morpheus device - and the entire planet of Neptune is full of people who have used the beds, as they’re quite the rage for the modern professional. So right there, the question of how the footage is being filmed is solved. But the creepiest part about this week’s chilling episode is the question that’s most asked when it comes to found footage: how the hell was the footage “found?”
Well, the sinister Professor Rassmussen, who is the “last surviving crew member” of the Le Verrier station orbiting Neptune, is actually not who he says he is. As it turns out, he’s a sandman himself, with his personality and image being mimicked by the sand that he is composed of. And just when we thought we were safe from an invasion of sandmen, Rassmussen lets us in on a secret: the advisory he gave at the beginning, telling us not to watch the video, was for our own good. Watch the clip below, and see for yourself – but be warned, it cannot be unseen.
You see, the infection that turns sleep sand sentient is embedded in an electronic code… like the one that’s been causing interference during the whole episode’s video feed. With the video now transmitted, anyone who watches it will undergo the transformation process, thus becoming food for the sleep sand that will slowly consume them. For once on Doctor Who, it looks like the bad guys have won.
It makes complete sense that “Sleep No More” is a creation of one of Doctor Who’s best writers, the talented Mark Gatiss, as he’s basically taken the place of Steven Moffat as the best writer on the show, besides the showrunner. Taking a concept so overused as found footage and turning it into a logical story device is absolutely genius, and Gatiss also manages to use this device in the preferred genre of horror. If your kids have been enjoying this season’s run, then they’re probably going to have some issues after this weekend’s haunting tale. While “Sleep No More” is a one-off episode, we’re hoping we’ll get to see another round with the sandmen in the future, as this ending is too big of a cliffhanger not to revisit.
Doctor Who airs on BBC America, Saturdays at 9 PM EST.