The Sandman – a primer for Doctor Who bloggers

After Nightmare in Silver, you’ll have noticed a few of us discussing Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics. Even drawing a few parallels. So who is this Sandman, you may ask. Is a comic really worthy of discussing in relation to Who? Can supposedly sane people really regard a comic as high literature? Well, let me tell you a few things. Pull up a chair. Ignore the banging. That’s just the Unspeakable Thing in the Cellar. It’ll be fine as long as you don’t talk to it or feed it any fish.

We first encounter the Sandman -Morpheus, Oneiros, Kai’chul, the Lord of the Dreaming, Dream itself given form of its own – battle scarred and weary after returning from some great conflict at the outskirts of space (sound familiar?). I don’t intend to get into some spoilerific examination of the plot. There’s too much good stuff in there for you to discover on your own without me giving the game away. However, a few broad brush strokes won’t hurt.

Morpheus is one of the seven Endless. Anthropomorphic personifications of the great influences on life itself. Destiny, Dream, Desire, Despair, Delirium, Destruction and Death. And, perhaps mirroring those lowly life forms over which they hold sway, and yet are also so closely tied to and which give them form, one of the most dysfunctional families you’ll ever encounter.

Over ten magnificent volumes, Gaiman tells us the Shakespearean, almost Borgiaesque, tale of this family, Dream often (but not always) at the centre of the tale. The saga encompasses high fantasy, dark horror, historical saga and old folklore. Sometimes in the same issue. The parallels with Doctor Who will not be lost on bloggers. This tale is about a Lord of Dreams who can lift us to the heights of elation or into sheer, hiding behind the sofa terror. In one memorable issue, he berates a truly chilling nightmare for not being all it could have become, dismissively banishing him for being just something else for people to be afraid of, rather than a dark mirror to hold up to the souls of us poor mortals.

There are more parallels with the Doctor. Dream is a being who finds it difficult to relate to the beings in his charge. While he takes on some companions, he finds it difficult to truly relate to them, even to his own family. He is distracted, aloof, sometimes even mystified by human (or other races’) behaviour. His sister, Death, on the other hand, proves to be possibly the most human character in the entire run.

The Sandman is, in many ways, the tale of an all powerful entity’s journey to discover the meaning in his existence. And the limits he finds when he embarks on that journey. The Sandman is also a story about stories. About the power of stories. About the stories we tell ourselves to get through the day. About the grand stories we tell each other to make sense of our lives. We range in the saga from the dreams of a small, ill treated cat to the dreams of entire cities themselves. And where do stories exert more power than in the realm of dreams?

If you only read one comic in your life, I would urge you to read this one. Gaiman elevates the art to true literature. I wonder, knowing now of Gaiman’s interest in Doctor Who, whether the Doctor had some influence in his portrait of Dream. I think it might have. I’d love other bloggers to read Sandman and let me know what they think. Thanks for sticking with me. Sorry about the banging. I’ll go and feed the Unspeakable Thing in the Cellar now. Someone has to. But that’s another story.


  1. Great stuff @Galactus . Thanks. Love how you make it relevant to fans of Who. I think ‘Sandman’ is Gaiman’s best work but then I love comics (or Graphic novels) for the richness they can bring to a story. In it can be seen the seeds for much of his later work, especially ‘American Gods’, but I’ve never enjoyed his later stuff as much as I enjoyed ‘Sandman’. It blew me away, month after month, over its 6 (?) year run.

  2. @Craig Thanks. I tend to avoid the term graphic novels. They’re comics. In all their glorious wonder. You’ll find me down the comics shop every payday collecting my monthly order. I would give a shout out to American Gods, though. I think it pricks every Doctor Who fan’s desire to see the ‘backstage’ of existence.

  3. I too think Sandman is the best I’ve seen Gaiman do (I’ve not read EVERYTHING else though). I also heartily recommend it.
    I’ll try to check out American Gods sometime too…

  4. Thanks @Galactus for writing and I’ll echo @craig and @wolfweed’s endorsement of “The Sandman”. I’ve also got the full original run and most of the collected graphic novel format.

    It really does have a lot to offer. There is a full arc over the entire run. Even the one-off short stories that break the longer stories have a point at critical parts of the arc. It’s jam packed with humour, pathos, knowing references to gods, monsters, literary references and visual trickery. I don’t think I’ve read a complete comic run that just seems so right. For me, it seems to be a story that has always been there, in the background, waiting to be discovered. Maybe Neil dreamed it?

    In relation to Who I like to think that The Land of Fiction that the second Doctor encountered in The Mind Robber was a small part of The Dreaming. In the sixties of course, Morpheus was a little tied up, and wasn’t there to meet him. 🙂

  5. Good post, thanks. I’m becoming more interested in the Graphic Novel (Comic) medium and have heard similarly positive things about Watchmen. Any comment?

  6. @WhoHar Well, Watchmen made Time magazine’s list of the 100 greatest novels of the 20th Century, which tells you something about it. Watchmen is set in a more recognisably straightforward superhero world, although that’s straightforward in the loosest possible sense of the term. It’s a deconstruction of what our ideas of superheros and supervillains are, and also the first real attempt to look at what our reaction to the idea of ‘costumed adventurers’ might actually be. It’s a piece of its time, being set at the height of the Cold War, with the Atomic Clock (that measure whereby commentators of the time illustrated how close the world was to nuclear armageddon) set perilously close to midnight. It also features an ending that is, at the very least, morally ambiguous and leaves the reader to make up their own minds about what they’ve just read and who exactly were the heros and the villains. I’d thoroughly recommend it.

  7. One further thought about Sandman. Matthew’s act of bravery in The Kindly Ones, offering to stand together with Dream despite being clearly terrified, was one of the first things I can remember reading that left me with tears in my eyes. That must surely intrigue those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading it.

  8. @WhoHar

    Watchment is very good. If you buy a copy of it though, there are a couple of reprints that have a small section removed. It deals with how one of the characters truly “became” his mask. I haven’t got the details to hand, but I’ll try to dig them out at the weekend if I can as the omission really didn’t make sense to me.

    A lot of his stuff around that period is really worth a look. “V for Vendetta” for one and, very different, “The Ballad of Halo Jones” he did for 2000AD. I could go on for hours about Moore.


    On Matthew, I don’t know if you are familiar with Moore’s “Saga of the Swamp Thing” run, but did you cotton on that Matthew’s character was from that? Mrs Phaseshift pointed it out to me and I felt a bit of a klutz. Especially when it was later verified by Gaiman . Grrrr.

  9. Haven’t seen an ‘abridged’ version of Watchmen. I’d be very dissapointed if there had been attempts to edit out how a certain character had finally adopted their true mask.

    @PhaseShift I’m a big fan of Moore’s run on Swamp Thing but have never picked up on that link between Matthew Cable and Matthew the Raven. Thanks so much for that. Gives me an excuse to go back and enjoy them again.

  10. @Phaseshift The Ballad of Halo Jones is one of the best things I’ve ever seen in comics – brilliant, spare, often sharply satirical writing from Moore and stunning artwork from Gibson. Shame it got bogged down in copyright issues. Loved Watchmen also but somehow missed out on the Sandman (not sure why, loved the bits I have seen). Arkham Asylum also highly recommended

  11. @WhoHar

    I’m informed that any reprint dated after 2003 in any country will be free of the gap, so the special edition will be fine. It impacted some reprints between 98-2003 apparently (a bit all over the place).


    You may find this unbelievable, but it’s the story Rorscharch tells his analyst that is missing. You have the confident bloke before he hears the story, and his life falling apart afterwards. But not the reason for the change. Very odd.


    Hurrah! You’re a comic fan as well! We have a team. Team’s are cool. If I remember, @juniperfish was reading the “Dream Hunters” Sandman special a while ago, and while she’s probably not in communication to avoid spoilers, I’m sure she’ll add to the mix later.

  12. I shouldn’t really be surprised that so many Who fans are comics readers. Comics readers are cool.

    @ScaryB Need to pick up and re-read the Ballad of Halo Jones. Loved Gibson’s art on Robo-Hunter. One of my favourite ever 2000 AD strips.

    @PhaseShift That does surprise me. Why would they remove such an integral part of the story? Not only in the development of the analyst’s character, but also such a vital insight into what finally made Rorscharch what he is.

    To all, I’d highly recommend picking up the work of Grant Morrison. All-Star Superman, We3, Seaguy, Joe the Barbarian – all well worthy of a read.

  13. And, of course, Grant Morrison also did the Arkham Asylum comic that @ScaryB mentions. With artwork by Dave McKean, who did the covers for Sandman. That’s synchronicity right there.

  14. @Craig I hadn’t seen that. Settling down to read right now. And I believe Dave Gibbons of Watchmen fame was an artist back in the Doctor Who Weekly magazine strips that I’m afraid I’m old enough to remember reading. I seem to recall one featuring robotic Roman legionnaires.

  15. thanks @Galactus – seems there’s a few of us 2000AD fans here.

    Actually I had a memory of Judge Death during tNotD (as I think @wolfweed did) but can’t find an iconic image of Death with his hand in a guy’s chest (shower scene – burnt on to my mind, but Google not helping!)

    Anyway, never did get around to Sandman so thanks for this piece.
    Any suggestions where to start? Amazon not exactly helpful on first glance!

    btw Moore had some very early strips in DW weekly as well which wolfweed has linked to before…

  16. @Whisht with regard to Sandman start with Preludes and Nocturnes. Might as well begin at the beginning. Order that one and see whether it encourages you to buy more (I’m sure it will, and can advise on further purchases).

    Yeah, seem to recall Moore wrote for the DW weekly. Think he might even have written the Dave Gibbons drawn piece I remember.

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