Doctor Who series 9: geeky spots in Sleep No More

Spoilers! We dig a little deeper into Mark Gatiss' Sleep No More, with our latest geeky spots and viewing notes...

When you’ve got a renowned Doctor Who fan like Mark Gatiss writing an episode, there’s bound to be a few nods to the shows past. Take them, throw in some cultural references and add a sprinkling of very tenuous similarities and you’ve got yourself this week’s geeky spots article. And if you’ve spotted things we’ve missed, or just have some tenuous theories of your own, please add them to the comments below!

Callback No More

This isn’t the Doctor’s first visit to a space station; the first on-screen trip came in 1968’s The Wheel In Space, when the second Doctor battled Cybermen aboard Space Station W3. Other memorable stations have included Nerva Beacon, from fourth Doctor tales The Ark In Space and Revenge Of The Cybermen, and Satellite Five, which made several appearances during the 2005 series. With its rotating rings, the Le Verrier station is designed in the mould of both of those satellites.

Nagata makes reference to ‘space pirates’; this was of course the theme – and the title – of Patrick Troughton’s penultimate story. On the theme of space things, it’s also worth pointing out that William Hartnell and chums visited The Space Museum back in 1965.

This story takes its title from a line in Macbeth, which the Doctor recites here. He comments that “Shakespeare really knew stuff”; several of the Doctors referenced meeting Shakespeare over the years, but they finally met on screen in 2007’s The Shakespeare Code, during which Shakespeare outwits the Doctor’s psychic paper, confirming to the Doctor that he is a genius.

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Unsurprisingly, the series hasn’t spent much time over the years exploring the Doctor’s claim that he sleeps; the only times we’ve seen him napping are when drugged/knocked out or following his fourth and tenth regenerations. In 2013’s The Day Of The Doctor, the Doctor talks about dreaming in his closing monologue, stating he’s already told Clara he dreams. Presumably she took this to mean figuratively.

The Sandmen aren’t the first blind foe the Doctor has fought; in 2010’s Vincent And The Doctor, the Doctor, Amy and Vincent Van Gogh have trouble with a blind Krafayis.

The Doctor and his companion holding hands has been a common sight during the post-2005 series (particularly during the Rose Tyler era), but there’s precedent for it in the classic series; the second Doctor and Jamie, and the third Doctor and Jo, were often seen hand in hand.

The Doctor refers to the naming of the Silurians, implying that someone else named them, but this isn’t exactly true. In their first story, 1970’s Doctor Who And The Silurians, scientist and Silurian collaborator Dr Quinn (not that one) did indeed believe the creatures to be from Earth’s Silurian era, between 443 and 416 million years ago. However, it was the Doctor who started calling them Silurians.

This drew letters from fans, who pointed out that the creatures couldn’t possibly have existed during that era, and in 1972’s The Sea Devils the Doctor once again pins the blame on Quinn, telling Jo they were actually from the Eocene period – this, too, would be inaccurate. However, when the creatures reappeared in 1984’s Warriors Of The Deep not only was the Doctor back to calling them Silurians, but they had adopted the name themselves. It’s remained as such ever since.

The Doctor refers to ‘the Great Catastrophe’; though there is an event of this name in Big Finish’s Dalek Empire series of audios, writer Mark Gatiss has confirmed that this is in fact a reference to the collision between the Earth and the sun referenced in 1984’s Frontios.

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“When I say run, run” was a popular catchprase of the second Doctor. In his first story, The Power Of The Daleks, he tells his companion Ben “When I say run, run like a rabbit”. He comes closer in The Faceless Ones, with “When I say run, we run”, before finally settling into it in The Evil Of The Daleks. It’s been used occasionally by Doctors since (and also by a certain Mr Holmes in Sherlock), and most recently popped up in last year’s Kill The Moon.

Found References
A shot from Silence In The Library, we presume...

The whole idea of a recording that you mustn’t watch because it will ultimately destroy you is surely inspired by the Ring series of films, based on the 1991 Japanese horror novel Ring by Koji Suzuki.

This episode adopts the ‘found footage’ style of filmmaking. Though the concept has been around since at least 1980 and the film Cannibal Holocaust, it was the release of The Blair Witch Project in 1999 that popularised the genre and spawned a whole wave of found footage films that includes the likes of Paranormal Activity and JJ Abrams’ Cloverfield.

Reece Shearsmith, who plays Rasmussen in this episode (And wears a uniform rather similar to the ones worn in seasons three and four of Babylon 5), is probably best known as one quarter of comedy sketch troupe The League Of Gentlemen – along with Mark Gatiss, who wrote this episode, and Steve Pemberton, who played Strackman Lux in 2008 story Silence In The Library. Shearsmith and Pemberton also co-wrote and starred in Psychoville and Inside No 9.

The space station in this story is named after French mathematician Urbain Le Verrier (1811-1877) whose most famous achievement was using mathematics to explain discrepancies in Uranus’s orbit by correctly predicting the existence of Neptune, the planet being orbited here.

Morpheus, as Clara rightly points out, is the god of dreams in Greek mythology. He’s also a character in the Matrix, presumably for the same reason in that he has the power to take people in and out of their computer-generated ‘dreams’.

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The use of Indian and Japanese culture and language in this story, inspired by Mark Gatiss’s recent trips to those destinations, is reminiscent of the liberal use of Chinese language in Joss Whedon’s series Firefly.

The character of the Sandman, who helps people dream, is a folk tale figure dating back hundreds of years; Danish author Hans Christian Andersen wrote a version of the Sandman story based on these tales back in 1841. Regular readers of this site may be more familiar with the Neil Gaiman comic Sandman, featuring a character who is loosely based on the traditional figure, and the Spider-Man villain Sandman, who isn’t.

When faced with a disembodied computer head, it’s hard not to think about Holly, the ship’s computer aboard Red Dwarf. Holly was usually a two-dimensional rather than three as in this story, but when her IQ was boosted to 12,000 in the episode White Hole she appeared as a holographic floating head.

Even more tenuous this one, but was anyone else reminded of The Flash’s Cisco Ramon when the Doctor was complaining that he’s the one who gets to name the monsters? A running joke on that show is that Cisco is the one who insists on giving the metahumans their ‘cool’ comic book codenames.

The phrase “May the gods look favourably upon you”, used several times during this episode, may have been inspired by the similar line “May the odds be ever in your favour” heard throughout the Hunger Games series.

Finally, there are two musical numbers referenced in this episode – Consider Yourself, from Lionel Bart’s 1960 musical Oliver!, and the Chordettes’ 1954 hit Mr Sandman, which features prominently when Marty McFly travels back to 1955 in Back To The Future.

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When he’s not analysing Doctor Who in too much detail, Pete presents and produces Geeks Say Things, the Den of Geek podcast. You can subscribe and download all four episodes so far here.