|Wait, these guys were in this episode? Could have fooled me.|
The found-footage aspect of the episode didn't have to end up being as gimmicky and weird as it ended up being. Sometimes when directors try tricks with hand-held cameras the results are shaky and disorienting, and that was very much in full effect here, to the episode's detriment. Instead of being tense and scared about what the hell's going on, the viewer spends to much time working out what they're actually looking at. To the episode's credit, it did try to counteract a lot of the negative aspects of the genre - the standard "how the hell is everything being filmed" question the genre usually pulls up is turned into a nifty part of the overall plot, but it still doesn't make up for the fact that this was not the best execution of that concept.
This episode's cast boasted two important guest stars - Reese Shearsmith as narrator/villain Dr. Rassmussen, and Bethany Black as "474". Shearsmith is forced to carry the episode, and he works well with Gattis' gothic horror roots, having worked with him on similar stuff back in their League of Gentlemen days. Rassmussen is a twist on the classic Frankensteinian archetype, his actual form having been destroyed by his own creations and now impersonating him for the video. Shearsmith was born to play these roles and he is one of the episode's few saving graces, especially in his chilling end-of-episode speech. On the other hand we have Bethany Black, Doctor Who's first ever trans actress (!), whose appearance in the episode was hyped up prior to broadcast. Imagine my disappointment when she was made to play a half-human slave soldier of intermediate gender, whose character barely even has a name and dies in a pointless sacrifice half-way through the episode, barely mentioned again. Why even hype up the appearance if all you're going to do is waste a promising guest star?
|Shearsmith is just good enough to justify this trainwreck.|
To some this episode's gimmick sold it, and that's all right. But given the development of this season, this single-part experiment felt very out of place. Why organise your scary episode for the week after Halloween? Regardless of that, for me this step into the avant-garde was a step in the wrong direction. We want character development and interesting sci-fi ideas, not empty scares and "clever" plot twists - this was exactly the issue that caused Moffat to go into meltdown four years ago. (Writing that just made me remember how long he's been here :/) Sleep No More, when it wasn't being insulting or weird or disorienting, was just a hell of a lot less interesting than it thought it was, and that was its main downfall.
NEXT WEEK: Harry Potter and the Return of the Guest Stars! It's Face The Raven.