REVIEW: Doctor Who – The Sandman (2002)

An audio drama for Doctor Who by Big Finish (#37 in the main range)

Every culture has a monster that haunts the dreams of small children striking fear in their hearts. Examples being The Boogeyman, The Sackman, El Coco, A Cuca, Babau, or The Baba Yaga. All names given to such a terrifying creature – but what about the Sandman? Have you heard of him? The Sandman is a creature that haunts The Clutch, it has hunted the Galyari people for centuries, wearing their skins for his clothing and ensuring they will never set foot on their homeward ever again. Killings have started escalating and only the Galyari orchestrator can placate him for now. Imagine if you will, this creature is The Doctor himself!! – an amazing premise for an episode if I’ve ever seen one!

“The Clutch is a fleet in constant motion, ships jostling for position, in an endless migration between the stars. For the Galyari, forbidden by an ancient curse from settling on a world ever again, the Clutch is home. But the curse travels with them! The Sandman, a figure of myth and folklore, preys on the young and old alike. He lurks in the shadows and it is death to look upon him. All too soon after the TARDIS arrives, it is evident that the Doctor and the Galyari share a dark history, and Evelyn is shocked to discover that, on the Clutch, it is her friend who is the monster. The Sandman, according to the tales, also goes by the name of the Doctor!”

Sadly, this episode is a little uneven, but still pretty good despite the issues. The issues are that the premise builds to a big reveal that happens in part two, then it turns into a typical “running through corridors” story. When The Doctor is portraying The Sandman, things are pretty crazy. One is left wondering exactly how much bluffing he is doing, or if we are even getting the truth at all. It turns out, The Doctor was pretty ruthless to the Galyari race, but for a good reason…

It turns out The Galyari used to be a colonization-based war race that would overrun a planet, kill all of the inhabitants, call it “Galyar” then move on to the next planet, rinse and repeat. The Doctor was there for one such invasion and stepped in to save the local inhabitants. The only way he could figure out a way to stop the massacres was to create a monster persona and destroy something that caused their warrior culture. The Galyari possessed a large egg-like device called “the racial memory artifact” that existed as some sort of hive-mind that collectively kept the entire race up-to-date on their plans for universal conquest. Without their racial memory to cling to, and with a crippling fear of the Doctor’s wrath implanted into their collective consciousness, they changed for the better. Truly a shame we found all of this out so soon, because the second half is basically just running away from soldiers and trying to figure out who a killer is pretending to be “The Sandman”

One of the funnier moments in this entire episode was the puzzling fact that simply looking at The Doctor causes the Galyari so much pain nobody dares to do it. it turns out that the Galyari were once able to camouflage themselves (much like chameleons, which is also what their overall appearance is like) and possessed super-vision. The enhanced vision stayed part of their biology, even after a millennia of evolution, so looking at The Doctor’s horrendously multi-colored jacket literally hurts their eyes, gives them headaches and causes illness. Pretty great stuff.

Overall I liked this drama, but felt that they “jumped the shark” far too early on, with the reveal happening in the middle. After that, it was basically “paint by numbers” until the end. That isn’t to say the resolution is bad or anything, it’s just not nearly as good as the overall premise promised it to be. That said, The Sandman is still one of the better dramas from this line so far, and Colin Baker and Maggie Stables as Evelyn Smythe are still my favorite pairing. With Evelyn being older, she takes none of the Doctor’s nonsense and calls him out on basically everything. The way she reacted to “The Sandman’s” ridiculous evil incarnate gimmick was great, you could hear her utter disgust seething through her lips. I am sad that Stables is no longer with us, because she was amazing in this role. Check this one out – for the premise alone, it’s worth it.

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