I’ve loved the Sandman stories since I first stumbled across them in the local library. I’m not the hugest graphic novels fan, but these are easily my favourite and more than that the whole concept just kind of blows me away. The Endless: a family of, more or less, anthropomorphic personifications of the Big Ideas such as Destiny, Death, Desire – and of course, Dream.
Dream, or Morpheus, or the Sandman, is our lead here, albeit he’s not the main focus of every episode. However, we do start with his capture and century-long imprisonment by a group of cultists trying to snare his big sister, Death. Finding that Dream cannot offer them immortality, or the return of loved ones, or much of a conversation, even, they leave him trapped mostly through fear of retribution if they let him go.
Of course, he does eventually escape, only to find his long absence has badly affected his realm, The Dreaming. And that in turn has had a bad outcome for humankind, not least the thousands who fell into an unawakenable sleep.
First order of business, then, is recovering his tools: his mask (and sigil), the bag of sand, a ruby. This quest will take him to hell and back, literally, plus into the lives of a disparate bunch of characters. Some are familiar: Lucifer Morningstar (wonderfully imagined here as the towering presence of Gwendoline Christie), Cain and Abel, Jo… anna Constantine (oh, such snark! Still works brilliantly). The cast list is fantastic, with so many familiar faces and a host of excellent, near-cameo, acting chops on display.
Biggest shout out of all, though, has to be the aesthetic of the whole thing. Yes, the wonky aspect ratio is more confusing than dreamlike, but oh, the scenes! Some directly from the comics, but overall just gloriously *right*. I have – and have read – some so-so feels about Tom Sturridge in the main role (but then, I can’t imagine anyone capturing the majestic, cold, distant, eternal Dream fully) but for the main part he certainly looks the role, especially all the glowering in early eps. All in all, just glorious to look at, all round (the show, not the actor – although poor sod has to spend the entire first episode naked!).
But appropriately, the real meat here is the stories. There’s a bit of an episodic-ness to it all, which comes straight from the comics, so for instance we have some focused on the horrific escaped nightmare, The Corinthian, and the ‘Vortex’, Rose Walker. One episode is even more hugely dark, as we spend 24 hours in a diner with a certain John Dee, watching his ideal of a wholly truthful population lead to utter societal breakdown, in miniature. My favourite episode is probably The Sound of Her Wings, where we follow Death for a day – and it’s heartbreaking and lovely, all of it.
I think it’s clear that I really loved this adaptation. A lot of that is sheer relief that they haven’t mucked it up. It’s not 100% faithful to the source, but it is completely appropriate to make changes for the medium and millennium (the first comic was published in 1988, so yeah). It helps a lot that the original author, Neil Gaiman, was so involved – you can’t really argue that the changes aren’t okay, when he’s okay’ed them! But they just work, anyway – better than the original, at times, especially given these are adapted from early, foot-finding parts of the whole series.
If I had one or two minor grumbles, it’s that the story happens more around Dream than with him – but again, I know why. I do wonder if people not familiar with the source will struggle a little: one early report from a friend found the first episode far too slow (for fans it was a feast for the eyes) and lacking, well, Morpheus. In one respect, yeah, it would be nice to have more about the Endless, not just around them.
But anyway, I thought it was all fab, and I am utterly delighted that there’s already chat about season 2 (not least because there are a lot of ‘loose ends’, if you don’t already know the story!). There are so many tales and vignettes and characters from so many other sources, all wrapped around each other in this series, and seeing them brought so well to the screen was a joy to my battered little heart.
First broadcast: August 2022
Episodes: 10 @ ~45 mins each
My rating: 9/10