After the last Doctor Who story that we watched, we talked to our kid about how, even at its dopiest and most unlikely, good science fiction should make you think about something in the real world that isn’t quite right. In that case, it was war and radicalization. In this one, I’m reminded of how the stories about Amazon tell us that the warehouse employees’ restroom breaks are monitored and how spending that half-minute washing your hands is a good way to find your advancement prospects limited. For what it’s worth, a co-worker who used to be on my team before moving to another department, who had no reason to lie about it, came to us from the Amazon warehouse a few miles north of Chattanooga, and he said those stories are blown out of proportion and he really enjoyed working there.
Well, true or half-true, within the found-footage horror story about monsters made from sleep mucus, there’s a beautifully angry revelation in Mark Gatiss’s script for “Sleep No More” about the business world of the 38th Century. They’ve figured out a way to compact sleep into five minutes so that workers can keep pushing and get an edge on their corporation’s competitors. It isn’t a wholly original idea – Judge Dredd introduced sleep machines in the late seventies, I think – but the way the episode presents this to the audience via a sales pitch from the company is remarkably devious and real. Compare to how angry the episode “Oxygen” from the next series will be about a similar issue, and then marvel at the missed opportunity of “Kerblam!” in series eleven.
We see Doctor Who on BBC America, whose unfortunate employees are tasked with the unenviable job of finding places to insert commercials. The program always suffers from this, because it’s not made with any kind of rise or fall in the narrative to stick an ad in it. But somehow “Sleep No More” was one of the episodes that I felt was wrecked by ads more than almost any others, and in fact we ended that night in 2015 kind of disappointed with it. It wasn’t until I gave it another spin after the DVD release in the middle of the night that it clicked with me. I think it’s a very strong story with lots of fun little surprises, and who can resist the Doctor and Clara arguing about putting “space” in front of common words just because they’re not on Earth and need to identify a “space restaurant,” or who gets to name the new monsters. Of course the Doctor gets to do that. If you let somebody like Fulton Mackay name them, they end up being called Silurians instead of Eocenes or Devonians.