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Sleep No More

Viewers doubted the evidence of their own eyes in one of the most innovative episodes of Doctor Who ever broadcast…stories…

The Fact of Fiction

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) gets the nasty feeling he’s being watched.

Exploring the hidden depths of Doctor Who’s most intriguing stories…

Adecade before Sleep No More was shown, writer Mark Gatiss developed a story idea based on the “oddly sinister” 1950s pop song Mr Sandman for then-showrunner Russell T Davies – a 1950s-set adventure about a living tune able to possess people. That 1950s story eventually mutated into The Idiot’s Lantern (2006) – but the idea of using what Davies had called “the creepiest song” never quite went away…

Who was he, though – this Mr Sandman, who’ll bring you a dream? In Eventyr, fortalte for Børn (‘Fairy tales told for children’, 1841), Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75) described the traditional ‘Sandman’, or Ole Lukøje – ‘Old Close-eye’, in Danish – who helps children to sleep at night: “he comes up the stairs very softly, for he walks in his socks, then he opens the doors without the slightest noise, and throws a small quantity of very fine dust in their eyes…”

That’s the nice version. In Nachtstücke (‘Night pieces’, 1817), the German writer ETA Hoffmann (1776-1822) described a different kind of Sandman altogether – “a wicked man, who comes to children when they won’t go to bed, and throws a handful of sand into their eyes, so that they start out bleeding from their heads. He puts their eyes in a bag and carries them to the crescent moon to feed his own children…”

It’s apt, then, that Sleep No More swipes its style from ‘found footage’ horror movies like The Blair Witch Project (1999), Paranormal Activity and REC (both 2007). Because Sleep No More’s Sandmen plainly come from the horrible Hoffmann tradition; and so Sleep No More ends with a particularly horrible image – arguably the single most horrible image in all of Doctor Who.

FIRST BROADCAST: 14 November 2015

Static. “You must not watch this,” warns a voice.

00m 10s “You can never unsee it,” continues Gagan Rassmussen (Reece Shearsmith), addressing the camera. Sleep No More scripter Mark Gatiss wrote the part of Rassmussen specifically for Shearsmith, a fellow member of the black comedy troupe The League of Gentlemen. In their DVD/BD commentary for the episode, Gatiss and Shearsmith describe how Rassmussen was “channelling” a similarly craven civil servant played by Ian Hendry in the spy thriller The Internecine Project (1974).

Shearsmith had previously played Second Doctor actor Patrick Troughton in the Gatiss-authored drama charting the origins of Doctor Who, An Adventure in Space and Time (2013).

The Bells of Saint John (2013) also opened with a warning given directly to the watching audience – in that case, not to click on a strange Wi-Fi symbol…

We’re in orbit around Neptune, claims Rassmussen, aboard “Le Verrier lab” – a space station named after Neptune’s discoverer, the French mathematician Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier (1811-77).

It’s apt that Sleep No More swipes its style from ’found footage’ horror movies.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Contents include: • Former Doctor Who showrunners Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat, and writers Jenny T Colgan and Paul Cornell, talk exclusively about their new Target Books • Production Notes from Russell T Davies • A tribute to the late Peter Miles, who played Davros’ assistant Nyder in 1975’s Genesis of the Daleks • The never-before-told story behind the creation of Doctor Who's 2010-17 logo • The history of Doctor Who releases from BBC Records and Tapes • Behind the making-of Infinity, a new Doctor Who video game starring Michelle Gomez as Missy and Ingrid Oliver as Osgood • DWM goes to the Gallifrey One convention in Los Angeles • Out of the TARDIS with impressionist Jon Culshaw • Christel Dee’s guide to cosplaying the Doctor’s distinctive orange spacesuit • Part One of The Clockwise War, a new comic strip adventure featuring the Doctor and Bill • The Fact of Fiction reveals the hidden depths to the 2015 Twelfth Doctor story Sleep No More • An interview with DJ and drummer Klaus Joynson, who has paid homage to Doctor Who in his album New Adventures in Time & Space • Previews, book and audio reviews, news, The Blogs of Doom, prize-winning competitions and much, much more!