This story is assembled from footage discovered in the wreckage of Le Verrier Space Station. A rescue ship from Triton arrives at the station in response to a sudden absence of communications with the station, with four soldiers: Nagata, Chopra, Deep-Ando, and 474, a cloned grunt. They find the station empty with no signs of its crew, when they encounter the Doctor and Clara. They encounter creatures made of a sand-like substance (later called "Sandmen" by Clara) that chase them; Deep-Ando is separated from the others as they take shelter. As the others try to contact Deep-Ando, Clara inadvertently is dragged into a Morpheus sleep pod before the Doctor frees her: Morpheus is claimed to compress a whole month worth of sleep into a five minute period, allowing people to work around the clock. They find Morpheus' inventor, Rassmussen, hiding in another pod, who explains that it works by sending out an electronic signal to the brain, changing it to enable this process. The Doctor fears this has had a side effect, that the Sandmen creatures are made up of the dust that collects in the eye, and now, after consuming the host and other crew on the station, are after them. They return to the rescue ship to find Rassmussen there, along with a Morpheus pod he claims contains the first patient of the Morpheus process. Rassmussen admits that his goal is to aid the Sandmen to leave the station and get to Triton, from which they can infect the rest of the solar system; the gravity shield failure was planned to allow him to send the pod to the rescue ship without attracting attention. Rassmussen attempts to lock the three in a part of the rescue ship with the patient, now a Sandman, but the Doctor engineers their escape, and Nagata shoots Rassmussen before he can launch the ship. The Doctor leads them to the TARDIS, realizing that the events that have happened are too choreographed to seem like a real danger. As they are surrounded by Sandmen, the Doctor deactivates the gravity shields and the three escape into the TARDIS as the station plummets to Neptune. (Wikipedia)
So this is the first episode of this season that I didn’t like. I’d have to watch it again to see if it should be on Robyn’s Doctor Who Skip List, but as of right now I’d be fine not to watch it again. Of course, it’s not on “Love and Monsters,” levels, but at this point can any show ever reach that level of horrible ever again?
Anyway, my main beef with this episode was that it felt like they were trying too hard to scare us. Through the Sandmen, it seems like they were attempting to make us a monster along the line of the Weeping Angels or the Silence, but really it just ended up falling flat to me. The use of the Sandman theme song was clearly supposed to terrify us in the same way that the idea of all the statues and gargoyles being Angels, or the Vashta Nerada waiting in the dark terrified us, but it really wasn’t the same. There was the whole vague post-apocalyptic commentary on capitalism, the main villain being a man who capitalizes on sleep through Morpheus, a sleep pod that allows you to go at least a month without sleep, because time is money and sleep wastes time, blah, blah, blah. I don’t know, I feel like this story has been done before (and not just in Who) so I wasn’t really interested in treading the same waters we always tread when capitalists attempt to show off how clever they are by criticizing capitalism. Honestly, I was dosing off a bit while watching this episode, and while a part of it I’m sure was that it was late while I watched, another part of it was that it was just boring. They were trying too hard to scare us with the Sandmen and the gravity shields failing and the station in danger of being destroyed before they could get off. I think Doctor Who has done these kinds of episodes well and numerous times before, but this time it fell flat and I wasn’t very interested. I did think that they slightly turned Moffat’s signature theme on it’s head in an interesting way. His fall back is always the “Don’t __” plot: don’t blink, don’t look away, don’t breathe, don’t think, etc. This time the point wasn’t “don’t sleep,” it was “this is why you need sleep.” I think that if they had explored that a bit more in a way that didn’t feel forced, this episode would have been better. I also felt like in a season made almost completely of two-parters this one-off had weird pacing. It felt like it was moving too slow for a story that was going to be resolved in one story. The ending wasn’t great either. The only good thing was that the Doctor and Clara got away, which makes me wonder if the Sandmen are going to come back (which, no thank you.)
Some quick thoughts (since that seems to be a thing I do now):
Shout out to them not turning the psychic paper into something dumb like a psychic helmet or something (yes that was shade to the sunglasses).
It felt like the Grunts were another attempt to explore a slave race (like the Ood or the living flesh), but they barely went into it, and 474 died for the dude who was terrible to him, so that was disappointing.
“It’s like the Silurians all over again.” I still don’t get how. Maybe the Doctor was doing that thing where he was trying to name drop another (off-camera?) adventure, but it didn’t really make sense in this context.
There were people of color! Granted, only one survived, but that seems to be how things go when the Doctor and Clara land on some spaceship. The crew never survives. Anyway, I thought setting it in Indo-Japan in the 38th century instead of Britain was cool.
I actually thought the camera-work was kind of clever. It reminded me of Cloverfield, Chronicle, and a bunch of other movies that made the cameras both a way to film and a part of the plot itself. While it ended up being turned into another bootleg Weeping Angel trick, I initially thought it was an interesting way to film the episode.
The first standalone story of the series but also one of the weakest episodes this series. In what is becoming a huge peeve (yes just a peeve, pets are cute, this is just annoying) of mine, this episode seemed to be more in love with its plot device than with the actual plot. With Rasmussen as our narrator, we fall into the trap of having a character integral to the story who we neither know nor is particularly interesting. Unlike the video of the Osgoods explaining the Osgood box at the beginning of the Zygon Invasion, Rasmussen doesn’t just give us the setting of the story, he shows up throughout as narrator and villain. By the show’s closing, I was completely tuning him out, though kudos to the effects team on that face into dust thing if only those talents could have been used on a better story.
I had other issues with the episode, namely the rescue crew from Triton that The Doctor and Clara meet up with. I felt they were so thinly drawn that of the four crewmembers, I only ever felt any real connection to Chopra. Though he had many annoying aspects to his personality: snark, self-righteousness, being unnecessarily nasty and cruel to the Grunt at least he seemed to have some characterization. Rasmussen warns early not to get too attached to the crew, I still felt that not only were they expendable in the episode, they felt expendable to each other. This is completely opposite of how the crew from “Under The Lake” interacted with each other. Though we may not have known them or mourned their loss, they mourned each other which gave their deaths more meaning, in my opinion. Usually, I am a huge fan of episodes featuring Mark Gatiss but the episodes he has written have mostly underwhelmed me. I think he wanted for this episode to be horror-filled, but the Doctor figured out and named the monsters pretty quickly and the reveal just didn’t really do it for me. I am very interested in sleep and as someone who suffers from the occasional bout of insomnia, I would love to see a storyline centered around the psychology of sleep in a more cerebral way. The idea of trading in sleep in order to spend more time working as opposed to more time living, exploring, having adventures - that would have been a more interesting exploration of the Morpheus technology in my opinion. Finally, the episode ended rather abruptly and we know that the Doctor and Clara are moving onto a new adventure next week, which begs the question, will we see more of the Sandmen? I hope not, but I think we will.