Arriving on Netflix today, The Sandman is a new series based on the award-winning DC comic series by Neil Gaiman. The original comic series ran for 75 issues between 1989 and 1996, made the New York Times Bestseller List, and continues to be one of the most beloved graphic novels of all time. And, surprise surprise, despite being aware of its existence and popularity while growing up, I’ve never actually read any of it and knew very little of what it was even about! Developed and executive produced by Gaiman, showrunner Allan Heinberg, and David S. Goyer, and featuring an all-star cast, this 10-part series should hopefully appeal to fans of the graphic novel. As a newcomer, it most certainly appealed to me.
Tom Sturridge is The Sandman, also known as Morpheus, or simply Dream. He is one of the Endless, a dysfunctional family of immortal siblings, each presiding over a different aspect of the human condition and ruler of their own realm. A few other siblings do crop up as the season progresses but the focus is primarily on the master of dreams and his particular realm, known as the Dreaming, a place where our deepest fears and fantasies are given shape.
The year is 1916 and we are shown just a brief glimpse and explanation of the Dreaming realm and the power that Dream holds before he is unexpectedly captured. His captor is Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance), Lord Magus of the Order of Ancient Mysteries. Roderick has got his hands on a book of spells and wants to use one of them to capture the angel of death with a view to bartering with her for the return of his dead son. Instead, Roderick gets Dream and strips him of his clothes and the tools that he needs in order to carry out his work – a helmet, a bag of sand and a ruby. He contains Dream within a glass bubble down in the basement of his gothic mansion and behind a magic circle that’s drawn on the floor.
Dream remains captive there for 100 years before eventually finding an opportunity for escape. During that time he never utters a single word, ignoring Roderick’s pleas and offers of a deal. Guards are warned never to fall asleep in Dream’s presence for fear of providing a means of escape and the human race begins to suffer in Dream’s absence as the Dreaming realm starts to unravel, afflicted with a condition dubbed ‘sleepy sickness’ which means that 1 million people are unable to wake from their sleep. When Roderick eventually dies, his remaining son takes over the role of captor, and over the years the helmet, sand and ruby all find their way into the hands of others. Upon his release, Dream sets about locating his missing tools before rebuilding his decaying realm and restoring order. His search takes him to Hell, and a meeting with Lucifer Morningstar, who is brilliantly portrayed by Gwendoline Christie with a wonderful, calm menace.
There’s a very distinct finale midway through The Sandman which gives a very strange feeling of two separate seasons and storylines being combined into one. The first half focuses on Dream attempting to recover his tools before starting to restore order. The second introduces us to Rose Walker, who is a ‘Dream Vortex’, a person capable of breaking down the barriers of the Dreaming, thereby threatening the existence of the universe.
There is also a main bad guy that features throughout and binds both stories together. The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook) is one of Dream’s nightmare creations, now loose in the waking world and with plans of his own. It is also around the midway point that we get two very enjoyable episodes that are completely different to the rest of the season. In the episode ’24/7′ we see John Dee (David Thewlis) in possession of the ruby, visiting a diner and using its power to force the staff and customers to tell the truth, with disastrous consequences. This is followed by ‘The Sound of Her Wings’ where we are introduced to one of Dream’s siblings, Death. As Death and Dream walk the streets and parks of England, Dream is fascinated as Death goes about her duties, visiting people whose time has come, providing a friendly smile as they move on. It’s all beautifully done – fascinating, funny and sad in equal measure and I kind of wished for more of that throughout the season.
I mentioned earlier about the all-star cast and while some of them do make regular appearances throughout the season, it’s amazing how many we get introduced to only for them to not feature very much in the overall story. Charles Dance, Joely Richardson and David Thewlis all come and go, some within the space of just one episode. And Jenna Coleman feels like she’s being introduced as a major character, only to then disappear completely. And, as well as Death, we’re also briefly introduced to siblings Desire and Despair, both of whom seem like very interesting characters that I would have liked to have seen more of.
As a newcomer to The Sandman, I quickly fell in love with its dark, rich storytelling and I really hope it manages to meet the expectations of its devoted fanbase. There are obviously a wealth of wonderful stories and characters from the graphic novels still to draw on and I’m sure that now the foundations have been laid, future seasons will be able to explore and expand upon some of the blink and you’ll miss them elements established in this season. Portraying stories from earlier in history is also an interesting concept, one that is introduced in episode six and that I would love to see more of.
Web developer by day, with a movie and TV watchlist that continues to grow as much as my spare time reduces! My favourite movie is Inception and, despite what everyone says, I do not have a man-crush on Tom Cruise.