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Recap / Doctor Who S35 E9 "Sleep No More"

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Click here to see the Radio Times magazine poster for this episode: 

The Doctor: "Sleep, that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care. The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath. Balm of hurt minds, chief nourisher in life's great feast." Congratulations, Professor! You've revolutionised the labour market! You've conquered nature!
Rassmussen: Thank you.
The Doctor: You've also created an abomination.

The One With… The Doctor Who Project.

Steven Moffat's episode guide for Series 9 of Doctor Who summarizes the premise of this Mark Gatiss-penned script as follows:

This is footage collected from a space rescue mission. If you value your life, your sanity, and the future of your species, DO NOT WATCH IT.

Le Verrier Station, in orbit around Neptune, has gone silent, and a rescue mission is dispatched from Triton. Lieutenant Nagata's team runs into two strangers — the Doctor and Clara — who've also wound up aboard. But what really happened to the personnel? And what does it have to do with the sleep-negating Morpheus pods?


  • Arc Words: "Story"/storytelling appears again, as Rassmussen's plan involves creating an exciting story that people will watch as a way to create more Sandmen. (Previous appearances in Series 9: The Doctor recounts his encounter with young Davros to Bors, admits he's "a bloke in a box telling stories" to old Davros, and tells the Fisher King "This is where your story ends!" Missy tells Clara a story of the Doctor's cleverness. Ashildr is a storyteller. The Once Upon a Time recap at the top of "The Zygon Invasion".) Averted with regard to "hybrid".
  • Apologetic Attacker: For a few seconds when Chopra triggers 474's programmed self-defence instinct. 474 has to beg others not to come to Chopra's defence so she can let him out of a submission hold, since while she is under threat she cannot stand down.
  • As You Know: 474 is introduced with "We all know what a Grunt looks like." Well, we don't, but we learn throughout the episode.
  • Artificial Gravity: The station is held in orbit by gravity generators. Rassmussen, and later the Doctor, sabotage these at key moments.
  • Artificial Human: Grunts are grown in vats from cloned materials to be used as fodder.
  • Artistic Licence – Physics: When the gravity generators fail, the station starts to fall into Neptune, and everyone on the station experiences the higher gravity of Neptune itself. But, objects in freefall don't experience weight (because they're falling), so the higher gravity is irrelevant. Additionally, Neptune might be a lot more massive than Earth, but it's also a lot larger — so, the gravity even directly at the surface is actually only about 10% higher than that on Earth. The Doctor lampshades this near the end. In Rassmussen's final gloating monologue, he seems to hint that all of it was made up as an exciting story to keep viewers watching and receiving, which would account for the physics, and much else, not making sense.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Rassmussen's plan was to engineer the events of the episode to create a video which converts anyone who watches it into a Sandman. He succeeds, and the Doctor and Clara leave without ever figuring out that's what he was doing. Better yet, Clara's been exposed to the has the viewer. (Although the Doctor appeared to be suspecting that something he hadn't worked out yet was going on, at the end.)
  • Big Bad: The Sandmen. The King Sandman encountered by the Doctor at the end turns out to be a Decoy Leader, with Rasmussen being the real key to spreading the infection.
  • Body Horror:
    • The Sandmen aren't so much men as mucus in the shape of men, which results in lumpy, humanoid forms.
    • Rassmussen's final monologue, laughing evilly as he disintegrates into sand.
  • Brainy Brunette: Clara lampshades this when she accurately identifies the origin of the name Morpheus and then jokes with the Doctor, "Oh, yeah, not just this [indicates her pretty face]".
  • Brown Note:
    • The electronic signal that the Morpheus machine uses to eliminate the need to sleep creates the Sandmen.
    • The footage is occasionally disrupted by static, which is actually the same signal.
  • Close on Title: Unusually for Doctor Who, the title of the episode does not appear until the end credits.
  • Coca-Pepsi, Inc.: By the 38th century, Japan and India have become one nation. The Doctor's reference to a "Great Catastrophe" and geological shifts suggests this was a physical invokedmerger, not just political.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • The Doctor objects to Clara naming the creatures, saying that naming creatures should be left to him, and cites as an example Dr. Quinn's misnaming of the "Silurians", which were actually from a later geological era.
    • The Second Doctor's catchphrase "When I say run, run!" is once again uttered by the Doctor.
    • The poster says "Something in the corner of your eye...", referencing "The Eleventh Hour" and "The Time of Angels", as well as the poem from "Listen".
    • The episode makes heavy use of in-universe footage and has an Unreliable Expositor, much like "Love & Monsters".
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: After the big deal that the episode makes out of 474's Heroic Sacrifice to save Chopra's life, it ends up coming across as a little meaningless when Chopra himself is anti-climatically killed off-screen two scenes later, after which neither character is ever mentioned again.
  • Droste Image: Happens once when the footage shifts to Clara's viewpoint, as she's looking at the Doctor and the live-feed he's hacked into of the very footage in question.
  • Dwindling Party: Deep-Ando, 474 and Chopra are all separated from the group and killed progressively.
  • Eye Scream: Rassmussen demonstrates his true nature by rubbing one of his eyes, causing the entire socket to turn to sand.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: After Rassmussen starts disintegrating into sand, his voice gets noticeably deeper.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In the beginning, each of the team members has a status screen which lists, among other things, their survival rating. With the exception of 474, the expendable grunt, these numbers indicate the order of their deaths (or lack thereof, in Nagata's case).
    • After she gets yanked into a Morpheus pod, Clara's POV is added to the footage. As she definitely has nothing to transmit that with, it hints at the true nature of the camera before it's revealed.
  • Formula-Breaking Episode: The series' first-ever Found Footage adventure. There isn't even a proper title sequence, just a bunch of streaming letters showing the names of the characters and the series title. Also, it's the only standalone story in Series 9.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: The end of the episode has Rassmussen reveal that the Morpheus signal was embedded into the recording that you just watched.
    "You will show this film to your family, won't you? And your friends, and everyone really."
  • Found Footage: The episode begins with Rassmussen addressing a camera and stating that he's tried to arrange the footage of the base into a story.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Chopra, who's separated from his commander, the Doctor and Clara, is left with only 474. Communication starts failing at this point and he believes the Grunt and himself to be the sole survivors. He takes the Doctor's words of "The Sandmen can mean the end of the human race" and decides to have a go at blowing up the entire space station.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: A device that can take the place of sleep creates an abomination.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: 474 knocks out Chopra and carries him through a flaming corridor, getting badly burned. Then she stays behind for one last go at the Sandmen.
  • Hey, That's My Line!: The Doctor gets grumpy when Clara takes it upon herself to name the sleep creatures. "I'm the Doctor. I do the naming."
  • Hypocritical Humour: The Doctor goes on a long poetic rant about how wonderful sleep is and that only humans would be stupid enough to try and stop such an essential life process that all species share. Then Clara points out that he himself never sleeps.note 
  • I Warned You: The blatantly anti-Morpheus Chopra says as much when it turns out the Sandmen were born from Morpheus users. Nagata tells him this is no time to be smug.
  • Lampshade Hanging: The bane of every Found Footage story, the unlikelihood that someone would just happen to be recording all the important parts of the story, is a major plot point here.
  • Late to the Tragedy: The rescue mission, and the Doctor and Clara, both arrive at the space station when everybody has been turned into a Sandman.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: At one point the Doctor mentions that even he has to sleep, and Clara questions when that happens. It then cuts to her POV so that when the Doctor tells her "when you're not looking", he's also saying it directly to the audience.
  • Literary Allusion Title: To Macbeth; the title comes from Act 2, Scene 2.
  • Locked in a Freezer: The Doctor, Clara and some of the rescue team are trapped in a freezer while fleeing the Sandmen, but know that if they stay too long they'll freeze. They end up luring the Sandmen into the freezer and escaping.
  • Madness Mantra: "Mister Sandman, bring me your dreams..."
  • Mad Scientist: Rassmussen is considered one by the Doctor because he created the Morpheus system, which defies nature and creates monsters.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: The episode nearly breaks its own finicky POV rules. Chopra's death scene includes shots that are very close to his POV. A charitable viewer could assume that some of the Sandmen's surveillance dust got onto his rifle, producing the scene's gun-camera shots. It feels weak because the scene happens shortly after the Doctor explains the POV gimmick and stresses that there can't be any shots from Chopra's POV.
  • Magical Security Cam: Played with. The Doctor realises there aren't actually security cameras in the base, and something else is filming everything. The visual receptors of the Sandmen have been filming events.
  • Meaningful Name: or combination of names. Two characters are named Deep-Ando and Chopra, which put together reference the name of Deepak Chopra, known for (among other things) his sleep meditation technique.
  • Monster of the Week: The Sandmen wish to replace humanity on every world.
  • Motifs: Beings returning from death / not being dead even though they appear to be continues as a theme in Series 9 with Rassmussen's deceptions. Previous characters who experienced this:
  • No Body Left Behind: When the Sandmen are destroyed, they crumble into dust.
  • No Ending: The Doctor, Clara, and Nagata head into the TARDIS and travel away just after defeating the Sandmen and the episode ends there, without any explanation as to what ultimately happens to the space station and to Rassmussen, or showing how they part ways with Nagata. The Doctor also never figures out (at least on screen) the full nature of the Sandmen and Rassmussen's plan.
    • An unproduced sequel would’ve had the Doctor realise what he missed this time after thwarting a similar scheme on contemporary Earth and thwart it.
  • Oh, My Gods!: "May the gods look favourably upon you."
  • Patient Zero: Rassmussen has a pod supposedly containing the first recipient of the Morpheus treatment, who has not slept for five years and is now a Sandman.
  • Pinball Protagonist: Rassmussen drives the plot; the Doctor, Clara and the rescue party spend the whole episode dancing unknowingly to his tune.
  • Pragmatic Hero: Rassmussen is shot by Nagata as he is working the controls.
  • Precocious Crush: Although physically adult-sized, 474's crush on Chopra qualifies due to her childlike mental state and her chronological youth, having been force-grown very recently.
  • Red Shirt Army: The Space Marines prove to be utterly useless against the Sandmen, apart from at being killed. Only a small handful are sent in to investigate the station going dark, they panic easily, split up and never even fire their weapons at the non Patient Zero creatures at any point to find out if Five Rounds Rapid works, and each apart from the Lieutenant are killed in the course of the episode.
  • The Sandman: The Monster of the Week is based on this legendary character, which is also made of sand as some interpretations of this character.
  • Saved by Canon: Rassmussen is Swallowed Whole at one point, but since he is the one narrating and hasn't had the chance to compile the footage yet, obviously he has to survive. He lampshades this when he shows up as the narrator again.
  • Schmuck Bait: "Do not watch this. If you do, you will never be able to unsee it." It was Rassmussen's plan all along to entice people into watching the video with this opening line.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: 474's heroic sacrifice to get Chopra back to the shuttle safely comes to nothing as there turns out to be a Sandman waiting inside the shuttle, which kills Chopra.
  • Sentient Sands: The Sandmen are literally humans made from sand. It's later revealed they were made from "sleep dust" (the crusty substance in your eye) and that Sandmen could be created from any human after being exposed to an electronic signal.
  • Sequel Hook: The Doctor is completely unaware Rassmussen has found a way to spread the Morpheus virus.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Doctor quotes a large chunk of the "Macbeth hath murdered sleep" speech from Macbeth.
    • Nagata starts to tell the Doctor "Consider yourself [under her orders]", and he quips back with a quote from the musical Oliver!
    • The voice of the station's AI is clearly modeled on GLaDOS.
    • The Sandmen's faces bear a resemblance to that of the Grunts in Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
    • The holographic personal displays would remind some of those from the Dead Space series.
    • The space station is named after Urbain Le Verrier, the French astronomer who correctly predicted the location of Neptune when it was first discovered.
    • People like Chopra who refuse to use the Morpheus device are derisively referred to as Rip Van Winkles, or "Rips" for short.
  • Sinister Surveillance: Rassmussen is hacking the visual receptors of the Sandmen to see everything that happens.
  • The Sleepless: The plot is kicked off by a device which eliminates the need for sleep.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Nagata is both the leader and the only fully-human woman on the team. 474 is referred to as female during the episode, although being a vat grown, genetically modified soldier makes her physical sex (if any) unknown.
  • Sole Survivor: Nagata is the only member of the guest cast to survive.
  • Space Pirates: Referenced word-for-word by Nagata.
  • Space Whale Aesop: Get enough sleep or you will create carnivorous dust creatures!
  • Space "X": Clara wonders if the Doctor brought her to a "Space Restaurant", having the Doctor launch into a rant about people that just add "Space" to something to make it sound futuristic. Clara feels vindicated when Space Pirates are mentioned as a possible cause for the station going dark.
  • Special Edition Title: For the very first time ever in the 50+ year history of Doctor Who, the title sequence and theme tune do not appear at all in this episode, tying in with the Found Footage format; their place is taken by a Title-Only Opening in the form of a burst of visual static out of which the words "Doctor" and "Who" briefly emerge.
  • Standalone Episode: At least in terms of the fact that it is the only episode of the 12-episode run of Series 9 in which the story is told in one episode, rather than in multiple episodes.
  • Surveillance as the Plot Demands: Invoked. Everything is being filmed and Rassmussen is editing it into a narrative.
  • Swallowed Whole: The Sandmen suck their victims into their giant mouths.
  • Scylla and Charybdis: 474 and Chopra are trapped between fire and Sandmen. 474 carries Chopra through the fire, though is badly wounded in the process.
  • Take That!: Against modern business practices. Morpheus is used by businesses to increase worker activity since the machines make them sleep less.
  • Third-Person Person: 474's simple language skills mean she only speaks in the third person, whether about herself or to others.
  • Title Drop: The Doctor quotes the Macbeth section that provided the episode's title.
    "Glamis hath murdered sleep, therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more."
  • Tomato Surprise: Rassmussen, who narrates the episode, is actually a Sandman.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The soldiers, who never even try to test their advanced weapons against the ordinary Sandmen to see if they can kill them conventionally, which seems like it would work, since 474 is able to remove one's arm with physical force. The more evolved Patient Zero one appears somewhat resistant to the Lieutenant's shots, but we never find out if this is the case for the lesser ones.
  • Trojan Horse: The Morpheus Pod containing Patient Zero will be sent into human civilization using their own shuttle. It is then subverted in that this is not actually Rassmussen's plan but a decoy.
  • Unreliable Narrator: It's unclear at the end how much of this episode "really" happened and how much was faked by Sand!Rassmussen to keep the viewers watching and spread the memetic infection.
  • The Virus: The characters think the sandmen are created by an actual infection carried by dust, but it's really an electronic signal that changes the structure of the brain. By the end of the episode, Clara's been exposed to it. So has the viewer.
  • Verbal Tic: 474's vocabulary is very limited about non-military matters, which is Lampshaded when Chopra complains about it.
  • Vocal Dissonance: 474 has an artificially deepened voice. It goes away as she's dying.
  • Waxing Lyrical:
    Nagata: You can consider yourself...
    The Doctor: Part of the furniture?
  • Wham Line:
  • You Are Number 6: Grunts like 474 have numbers instead of names.

"I do hope you've enjoyed the show. I did try to make it exciting. All those scary bits. All those death-defying scrapes, monsters, and a proper climax with a really big one at the end! Compulsive viewing. I did tell you not to watch. There's nothing left of Rassmussen any more. Only us. Only us. You will show this film to your family, won't you? And your friends. And everyone, really. Then we can all be together, dust to dust. Excuse me, you've got something... there... just in the corner of your eye."