The ‘found-footage’ premise has become a very popular approach since The Blair Witch Project was released in 1999, where it has been used to add a degree of verisimilitude to various genres and it is now the turn of our favourite hero to have his tale told in this manner. Immediately, this story looks different, because, for the first time ever, the Doctor Who opening sequence is completely absent from a story. Gone, too, is Murray Gold’s incidental music. We are left alone with the sets, the lights, the cameras and the actors…
It is fitting that, as with other unusual stories, this episode is
helmed by a newcomer to the series, in the shape of Justin Molotnikov.
The camerawork is either static or hand-held and we are initially led to
believe that the sources for the images are helmet cams and security
cams. Molotnikov effectively builds up tension and real scares when the
Sandmen attack as well as brief, but awe-inspiring views of Neptune from
orbit and, of course, the end, which is genuinely unsettling. The set
design is as good as ever and, with no non-diegetic music, the sound
plays a more important role than usual.
There is effective world-building – the Indo-Japanese fusion, the
genetically engineered Grunts and, most notably, the concept of
Morpheus, the system that compresses sleep into five minutes.
Characterisation is, perhaps inevitably, sketchy, but this is helped by
some good guest performances, notably Amy Tan as Nagata
(Indo-Japanese-Geordie, going by her accent!) and Bethany Black as Grunt
474 – designed to be less than human, yet involuntarily striving to be
more so. Best of all is Reece Shearsmith as Rasmussen, the final member
of the League of Gentlemen to appear in the programme. The regulars are
more reactive than is usual, but this is no Eric Saward script and the
Doctor soon takes charge. However, there is more going on in Mark
Gatiss’s script than meets the eye. There are no cameras either in the
helmets of the troops or the station itself. Moreover, events occur
seemingly only for effect. In an inspired twist, it turns out that the
episode itself is the means for the infection to spread, in the most
metafictional the programme has been. It is therefore not, found footage
after all – it is an edited mixture of a sinister reality version of Peep Show and the video from The Ring.
It is a real pity, therefore that the script shows all the marks of a
first draft. Personally I don’t find the idea of sleep dust forming the
base of a malevolent new entity particularly ridiculous, especially when
the realisation in as effective as it is here, but the way in which the
plot develops, though understandable, is oddly paced and resolutions
are few. Perhaps this is intentional – even the Doctor says that events
make no sense – however, there is a slight sense of dissatisfaction left
at the end, which is only partly assuaged by the promise of a sequel.
Nevertheless, this is a gripping tale that definitely works. I hope that
the sequel (which I hope is called "Rheum With a View") builds on the
foundation laid down.
NEXT: "Face the Raven"